How to make the best of a Rome stopover

There are some cities in the world where you can spend an entire month and not see everything there is to see. Rome is definitely one of those cities. However, when your time is limited, you have to make do.

On a trip to Morocco, a group of friends and I flew Alitalia. God bless Italy and all the great things they have to offer, but reliable air transport is not one of them. We had our entire vacation planned only to find out that our returning flight had been cancelled and we had been rebooked without notice on a different flight with an overnight stopover in Rome. At the last minute, we had to change our entire Morocco itinerary and book a hotel in Italy. If it had been anywhere else I would have been furious, but it was Rome, so we made the best of it and spent one night enjoying the hell out of it.

Piazza Venezia in Rome
Piazza Venezia in Rome

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with the right attitude and very little sleep, you can see most of it in a day. Our inbound flight arrived at 4:30 pm and our flight home departed the next morning at about 9 am. This should give you an idea of how much you can do with that kind of time.

Upon arriving to the airport, we took a cab into central Rome in the interest of saving time. We dropped our bags off at our hotel and took off walking. First stop: the Fontana di Trevi. It was still late afternoon so it was packed as usual. After exchanging some money around the area, we went to dinner. When you’re spending just one night in a culinary hub like Rome, you want to make sure your dinner is top-notch so I recommend using Yelp and Trip Advisor to find the perfect meal. We went nearby to La Fontana di Venere, where we had scrumptious pasta dishes, irresistible desserts, and a parting shot of limoncello. Since this one-night stopover, I’ve been back to Rome and I can assure you that you probably won’t have a bad meal no matter where you go. So if you want to make your meal even shorter, you can stop at any hole-in-the-wall and get great pizza or pasta. But it doesn’t hurt to always double check other diners’ reviews.

After a good meal, we were off on foot to check out all of the attractions in Rome. To this day, I don’t know how we were able to see everything we did with such limited time, but rest assured, it’s possible. We set off toward Piazza Venezia, which is home to the giant monument for Victor Emmanuel II, and about halfway from the Trevi fountain to the Colosseum. The way to the Colosseum from there takes you through the Roman Forum, which are the ruins of ancient buildings. By this time, it was already dark out, but the ruins are aptly lit for nighttime viewing. FInally, we came upon the majestic Colosseum. Even if you have more time to spend in Rome, I recommend taking a gander at this great structure at night, as the lights make it a beautiful sight to behold. And frankly, you’re not missing much by not being able to go inside, day or night, I maintain that the Colosseum is more impressive from the outside.

St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

We stopped by briefly at some of the bars around the Colosseum for a drink and a short rest. Then we decided to cross the River Tiber to the Vatican. According to Google Maps, this is about a 51 minute walk. There are plenty of things to see along the way so we didn’t even feel it. Along the way are sites like the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Unlike the Colosseum, the Pantheon is better enjoyed from the inside so if you’re on a similar walking adventure, you can save that for a time when it is open for visitors. Across the river, we finally came upon St. Peter’s Basilica. You will understand why the Vatican is considered its own country when you see the size of that basilica. Like all these sites, the great thing about seeing it in the middle of the night, aside from the fact that it’s beautifully lit up is that it’s not crawling with people like it is during the day.

Fontana di Trevi
Fontana di Trevi at night.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped for gelato and returned to the Fontana di Trevi, this time completely empty for us to enjoy. No hordes of tourists blocking our view. Just a quiet chilly night in Rome with the fountain on display just for us. Over 6 miles later and with 2 hours to spare, we made our way back to the hotel for a quick nap before our morning flight.


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