Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, for good reason. Though it’s the kind of place where you could easily spend two weeks, you can also get a lot out of the Italian capital in just 3 days. This itinerary covers all of the major sites you’ll want to see in Rome and then some.
When your time is limited, you should always stay central to avoid wasting time transporting to and from the center of the city. Though I’m not a fan of having an itinerary that is too structured, in Rome, there are two major attractions you should pre-buy your tickets for in order to save yourself time: the Colosseum and the Vatican Museum. I recommend saving each of these for separate days to give yourself room to be flexible on the rest of the trip. Here is a sample itinerary to make the best of 3 days in Rome.
If you want to get one of the big ones out of the way, get tickets for the Colosseum for your first day. This also includes entrance for the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. The tickets are good for two days so if you feel like you didn’t get to see everything you wanted to, you can come back the following day. If you didn’t listen and pre-buy your entrance, I suggest you buy your tickets at the Palatine entrance to save you time. Since most people want to see the Colosseum, that entrance is most crowded. The sites are massive and even for the casual visitor, you will spend at least half a day there. If you are particularly interested in Roman ruins, I suggest you set aside all day for this and that you get an audio guide which will guide you through the monuments and explain their history. An audio guide might be a worthwhile investment regardless.
I suggest starting with the Colosseum, as that is probably what will be most interesting for you to see and hear about. You don’t want to get too tired out walking through the vast ruins before you get to there. The areas have separate entrances so you can tour the inside of the Colosseum in the morning, break for lunch and then see the Roman Forum and Palatine in the early afternoon. If it’s a hot day, I recommend taking a lot of water. There is no shade along the long stretches of the sites and you’ll want to keep hydrated.
If you have time and you’re not exhausted when you’re done there, you can check out the nearby Plaza Venezia, which is home to more modern Roman monuments including the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II and Trejan’s Column. This plaza is intersected by major streets like Via del Corso, where you can find many large stores and restaurants.
After an exhausting first day, this is a less structured part of the trip that will cover some of the other major historical sites of Rome. Start at the Trevi Fountain, which, like all the popular sites, is busier in the afternoon than it is in the early morning or late evening. Out of all the things to see in Rome, the Trevi Fountain is my favorite. So it’s definitely better to see it when it’s less crowded. As I experienced on a late night excursion in Rome, if you happen to be in the area after a night out, pass by and see it when there are no other visitors. After you throw your coin in the fountain to guarantee your return to Rome (so they say), you can make your way to the Pantheon. I’m of the opinion that while worthwhile, the inside of the Colosseum doesn’t hold a candle to how impressive it looks on the outside. I have the exact opposite opinion about the Pantheon. The inside with its perfectly domed ceiling is absolutely stunning. The way the light shines through the Oculus at the top of the monument changes throughout the day and colors how you see the inside of the monument. And yes, if it’s raining outside, it will be raining inside the Pantheon as well through the Oculus.
After your visit to the Pantheon, you can make your way through the winding streets to Piazza Navona where you can admire more of the city’s great monuments and architecture. It’s also a great place to have lunch outside in one of their cafes in the plaza. After that, you can make your way back north to see the Spanish Steps. You’ll have great views from the top of the Piazza di Spagna below. Once you’re already up there, you might as well go inside the Trinita dei Monti church. Afterwards, you can check out the Piazza de Popolo which is less than 10 minutes walk from the Spanish Steps. This square has a variety of grandiose churches, fountains, and monuments.
If you’re up for a night out, there are many great restaurants, pubs, and wine bars scattered throughout the city. if you take a walk on the Via de Prieta between the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, you’ll find a lot of great places to wine and dine. You can get lost walking in and out of the small side streets and it’s all safe and populated so you can get around and enjoy the nightlife.
On day 3, you’ll cross over the River Tiber into Vatican City. The walk along the river is quite nice if you have some extra time. Remember how I told you to pre-buy your tickets to the Vatican Museum? Let me be more specific, you should book your tour for the afternoon. That will free up your morning to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica. The earlier you get there, the better, as the lines can get insane in the afternoon. This is doubly true on Wednesdays and Sundays, when the pope holds service. It’s an amazing experience if you happen to be around to catch it, but know that this brings massive crowds to the area which means your chances of getting into the Basilica without waiting in line for 3 hours become slim to none. If you’re going on any other day, you can be one of the first visitors in St. Peter’s before having lunch and heading into the Vatican Museum at your reserved time. I can’t stress enough how important it is to pre-buy these tickets. Here you’ll be able to see amazing art and sculpture from some of the most renowned artists the world has ever seen. It is a long walk around the museum’s beautiful halls filled with timeless masterpieces to their prized Sistine Chapel. The last thing you want to do is miss it. The second to last thing you want to do is start that walk after waiting outside in the sun for 2 hours to get in. I do recommend walking to or from Vatican City back to central Rome, but not both. You can take a train from the nearby Ottaviano or Cipro stations back to Rome.
Depending on how long you spend admiring the treasures of Vatican City, you may or may not have time in the afternoon to spend more time in Rome and do any other last minute sightseeing. For example, if you plan on visiting the Dome or Grottoes of St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll take longer to finish everything later than if you just want to see the parts that require no admission. Remember to take that time into consideration when you book your tour of the Vatican Museum so you don’t have to cut your visit to the Basilica short.
At the very least, you’ll have the rest of your evening to enjoy more pasta, pizza, and wine in the Eternal City before you depart the next morning.