Rome. It's immense. It's intense. It's intriguing. It has a constant vibe you can only get from a city that has over 3,000 years of history behind it. So, what can you do if you're limited to just THREE short days in this amazing city? We've provided a breakdown below of what we'd recommend for each day. Instead of having a strict structured plan, keep these locations in your pocket and let Rome take you where it takes you. Some of our best experiences and finds in major cities have been in route to a site we were going to visit! Here's a map of the location of each spot, just so you don't get too lost! (Click Here).
Day 1- Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
Ah, the Colosseum. It's the top tourist attraction in Rome. Remember the saying "When in Rome...?" Well you aren't exactly doing as the Romans do, but you will be doing what- every. single. tourist. does. We don't mean that lightly. The Colosseum is a major tourist destination and it is CROWDED. Plan for that. We actually went there later in the day (around 4pm) and breezed through the line quite quickly. But, even with the crowds, you can't go to Rome without seeing this amazing structure!
Go early or late in the day.
Check the operating times for the Colosseum before you go as it varies throughout the year.
You can buy your ticket at the Roman Forum to avoid the line ups.
There's a joint ticket available that includes the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum and is good until closing time the day after you purchase it.
This triumphal arch from the fourth century is situated right in between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. It's worth taking a peak at and snapping a picture or two. This is where tourists tend to congregate before going into the sites around it, but it's a good place to grab a bite to eat from a street vendor, or sit on a side wall/lawn for a few minutes, if you're in the mood as well.
Palatine Hill is frankly pretty. Yep. We said "pretty." It's a great way to stroll through Roman ruins amongst cypresses and orange groves and enjoy the scenery. Since it's so close to the Colosseum, it only makes sense to stop at this lovely site along the way. Plus, as mentioned in the Colosseum's tips above- you can purchase a joint ticket that includes this site. If you're short on time however, skip it and head straight to the Roman Forum.
You can't go to Rome and not visit the heart of what is known to all of us as Roman- The Roman Forum. This is the place where Mark Anthony delivered his 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' speech after Julius Caesar was assassinated. This is part of the adventure in visiting Rome- recognizing locations that you've heard about through your history lessons, and just life itself- then seeing it right in front of you. Nothing can quite prepare you how intriguing those moments really are. This area (along with Palatine Hill) are admittedly touristy, but they are spread out over such a large area, it's much easier to stroll along than the Colosseum.
Roman Forum Tips:
If you go in summer, be prepared that the Roman Forum can get VERY hot. There is very little shade and lots of direct sun. If you can fit it in the morning, or later in the day- that's perfect. If not, bring water and sunscreen!
If You Have Time
Some other sites to see if you manage to speed through the ones above:
If art, sculptures and architecture are your thing- these museums are fantastic. Tip: Go to the top floor cafe to get awesome views of the city.
Museum of Imperial Forums and the Trajan's Markets
This is a great place to visit to delve into the ruins of the Roman Empire. This site is relatively new (it opened in 2007) as Roman ruins continue to be discovered and excavated.
St. Clement Basilica
This church gives some awesome history into Rome. The architecture of the church itself is gorgeous, but what lies underneath is what is truly unique. Beneath the church lies the ruins of 8th to 11th century frescoes, and even deeper below ground the best preserved of the Mithraic temples uncovered in Rome. There's even an underground stream that would have been part of Rome's advanced drainage system. And you can view it all! Tip: The church is free, but you must pay to go underground. It's worth it.
Day 2- Central Rome
This day involves a bit more walking as the sites are spread around, but walking honestly makes the most sense to truly get a grasp of this amazing city.
The Pantheon another heavy tourist destination, but it's worth the crowds to see it's amazing coffered dome with the daylight pouring in through the center opening, massive Egyptian granite columns and original huge (HUGE!) Roman doors. Oh, did we mention the Tomb of Raphael is also at the Pantheon! This is in fact the greatest surviving complete Roman structure. So yeah. This is a must-see for sure.
It's crowded. Is that a surprise? Rome is crowded! This site is best to see in early morning or a weekday to get the best pictures and not go crowd-crazy.
The best things in life are free, and it's totally free to get into the Pantheon; though they do ask that you be quiet.
Ahhhh the romance that seeps out of Trevi Fountain is amazing! It's so romantic that when we walked up to this site, a couple was getting married by it! This site is even amazing at night when the fountain is beautifully lit. The story goes that the spring that fed the aqueduct was found by a virgin, and this scene is visualized through the sculptures on the fountain. This impressive site is a must-see for anyone visiting Rome.
Trevi Fountain Tips:
It is said if you want to return to Rome, you are to throw a coin into the fountain via your right hand over your left shoulder. It's estimated that over 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day!
It's crowded here pretty much all the time. Just be patient and move our way to the front.
The Spanish Steps
At the Piazza di Spagna lie the Spanish Steps, the biggest meet and greet location in all of Rome! When we were there, we couldn't really figure out what the point of this location is other than to "oooo and ahhhh" at the steps, but it's worth it to see them and get a good feel of Rome city life. Fun Fact: Though they are called the Spanish Steps, they were actually commissioned by a French Ambassador.
If You Have Time
Some other sites worth a visit:
St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception (Santa Maria della Concezione)
If you're in the mood for creepy, this is the place to go! Inside the crypt of this church lie the remains of 4,000 Capuchin monks. And no, they aren't buried. They are exposed! Their skeletons have been arranged in intricate designs. Some are even standing up fully clothed. It is by far one of the most interesting things you will see in your life, but only if you can handle/stomach LOTS o' skeletons. Tip: No cameras allowed here!
Visit the Many Piazzas
In Rome, the Piazzas (city squares) are where the Roman people's spirit can really be seen. A couple notable Piazza's worth visiting are the Piazza Campo de' Fiori and the Piazza Navona. Piazza Campo de' Fiori hosts a fruit, vegetable and fish market Mondays- Saturdays in the mornings and is otherwise fabulous for people watching. Piazza Navona seeps with history and it's unusual elliptical shape is from the stadium and racetrack that was built there in AD86. That's so old our minds can't even comprehend it! It's definitely worth giving some time towards just sitting and people watching. We do this for a few hours in every city we go to.
An amazing dome, works by Michelangelo, a Statue of St. Peter that's been touched by millions... all of these are impressive, but it's not what is most amazing about St. Peter's Basilica. What we found most amazing, was the utter amazement and devotion pouring out of others. We don't consider ourselves religious (pretty much at all), but when standing in St. Peter's Basilica watching others see these sites- it can literally bring tears to your eyes and be overwhelming. Beyond that though- St. Peter's Basilica is an amazing structure.
Tips for St. Peter's Basilica:
Lines, Lines, Lines! Security lines for St. Peter's Basilica can be unreal. This is more of a head's up than a tip we guess, because there's not too much you can do about it!
Wear good walking shoes. The Basilica & Vatican are huge so just be prepared to walk a lot.
Don't bring a backpack because you can't bring it in.
Be sure to wear attire that is fully covering your shoulders, and just avoid wearing shorts because your knees aren't supposed to be exposed. It'll ensure you aren't dismissed after waiting in the long security line because you're too "exposed." This does happen, as it happened to a person right in front of us in line.
It's actually a good idea to bring a jacket or shawl any day you wear a tank top in Rome and plan to visit a church.
Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel
This is the largest museum complex in the world. Be prepared for that! When we visited, we took in a lot of the Vatican Museum at first. It does seem to get repetitive after awhile (not to mention a lot of the stuff in there HAD to be stolen from other cultures throughout history... but that's a whole different blog post.) After it started to seem repetitive to us (and we wanted to get to the Castel Sant'Angelo) we bee lined it to the Sistine Chapel. Well, we tried to bee line it. Again, it's the LARGEST museum complex in the world! Ha! Once we got to the Sistine Chapel, we were a bit disappointed. Here you are in the SISTINE CHAPEL- Michelangelo's greatest work! While everyone is quiet as is required, you are wall to wall with other people and everyone's pushing you. You kind of imagine it very easily turning into a stampede. It's also a LOT smaller than it appears in pretty much every image you've ever seen of it. We were surprised by that. But we saw it and it's something we can cross off our bucket list! We definitely recommend going to see it, just be aware of these things so you aren't too surprised.
Vatican Museum tips:
Prioritize! Pick the areas of the museum that sound most appealing to you, so you can walk right through areas that you'd rather not see.
If You Have Time
Okay, so rather than IF you have time- we really suggest trying to fit this site in. It's pretty remarkable and gives amazing views of Rome at the top.
This building has served as an imperial tomb, a Papal citadel, a medieval prison and an army barracks. With each change in function, you can see on its exterior the different areas that have been added on. It's very interesting because you can climb pretty literally through every level of the Castel Sant'Angelo. The top with the amazing views and the statue of the Archangel Michael were our favourites. It's one of the few statues that have ever had us awestruck. It's quite the powerful pose when you're standing right beneath it.
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Gregory and Laura Brinkmann are travel, lifestyle and wedding photographers based out of Ontario, Canada who adore traveling. Please follow Brink of the World for more tips, ideas, and advice... and sometimes just some silliness.