While there’s a lot to see and do in Rome, it’s possible to see the top sights in just two days. More days are recommended though, especially if you want to visit the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica.
This whirlwind itinerary takes you to the Colosseum and Roman Forum and the city’s major monuments. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s impossible to see it in a day as well!
Symbol of Rome, the Roman Colosseum is one of Rome’s top sights and one of Italy’s most visited monuments. Ticket lines can be very long. Avoid the long ticket line by buying a Colosseum and Roman Forum pass online. All visitors have to wait in the security line to pass through the metal detector. Big purses, bags, and luggage are not allowed inside. The Colosseum ticket also includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. You can save them for later though if you don’t want to visit them right after the Colosseum.
Because tour groups have a special entrance and get through security more quickly, it’s wise to book a guided tour. In addition, some of these tours take visitors to parts of the Colosseum not normally open to the public.
Book through these links for 5% off these small group tours:
* Colosseum Arena Floor and Roman Forum
* Colosseum Highlights Tour with Roman Forum
The Roman Forum
The Foro Romano, Roman Forum, is Rome’s most important archaeological site. Building started as early as the 7th century BC. Some of the oldest ruins are at the end near the Palatine Hill.
By the first century BC, the Forum was teeming with religious, business and political activity. It was the social and legal center of everyday life. Now it’s a huge complex of ruined temples, basilicas, and triumphal arches, stretching from Campidoglio to the Palatine Hill.
The huge Arch of Costatine, erected in 315 AD near the Colosseum, is probably the best known monument. The Temple of Venus and Rome, built on a hill in 135 AD, is the largest temple. Walking along the Via Sacra, Sacred Road, through the Forum you’ll pass many of the most important buildings. Plan to spend an hour or two wandering through the Forum.
The Palatine Hill
According the legend, Romulus founded Rome on this hill in 754 BC. Later it became the residential area for emperors and aristocrats. Now the Palatine Hill is another set of ruins to explore that include an ancient stadium. You can also enjoy the views from the hill. Visit the museum to see the finds from the excavations, including some good mosaics.
Trevi Fountain Plus Gelato or Coffee Break
On your way to the Trevi Fountain treat yourself to a gelato at one of Rome’s top gelato shops. San Crispino, on Via Panetteria, makes excellent artisan gelato, served only in cups. San Crispino’s pistachio gelato was awarded the world’s best gelato in 2017.
Visit the spectacular Trevi Fountain, on the square below the Quirinale Palace (home of Italy’s president). Completed in 1762, the Renaissance fountain is a good contrast to Rome’s ancient sites. It’s usually very crowded. Try to get close enough to toss a coin into the fountain, said to ensure your return to Rome.
For a coffee break, go to Caffe Sant’Eustachio, near the Pantheon on Piazza di Sant’Eustachio. It serves what many say is the best coffee in Rome.
The Pantheon is perhaps the finest example of the very best of ancient Rome. The simple harmonious structure results from its perfect cylindrical proportions – the diameter of the dome is equal to the height of the building.
Dominating Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon are a Renaissance fountain and an Egyptian obelisk. Cafes and restaurants ring the square. It’s a nice place to have an apertivo or after dinner drink, enjoying the view of the Pantheon and people-watching. Several good restaurants can be found in the area. My favorite is Armando al Pantheon on Salita de’ Crescenzi.
Campo dei Fiori is filled with a market and flower vendors in the morning. If you’re more interested in nightlife, however, the bars come alive in the evening. So you might want to save this square until the end or come back again later.
Piazza di Spagna
Piazza di Spagna is known for its spectacular steps, the Spanish Steps, designed by Francesco De Sanctis between 1723 and 1726. At the top of the steps overlooking the square is the Church of Trinità dei Monti. On the square is Bernini’s 1629 fountain, La Barcaccia. Fanning out from the piazza below are streets with designer shops as well as sites of historical and cultural interest. At the foot of the steps is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House. Not to be missed is the Café Greco, a good coffee stop, in Via dei Condotti.
Campidoglio (Capitol Hill)
Next head to Piazza Venezia, a transportation hub and home of the imposing Vittoriano Monument (Monument to Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II). Michelangelo designed the piazza which is flanked by three buildings. Palazzo Senatorio, the seat of the Mayor of Rome, stands in the center. The identical Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, on the sides, are home to the Capitoline Museums.
The Capitoline Museums are said to be the oldest museums in the world. In Palazzo Nuovo are Greek and Roman sculptures. Palazzo dei Conservatori has art galleries, sculptures, and frescoes. More than 200 paintings from 14th to 18th century artists are on display in art galleries. One ticket is good for both museums.
From the early beginnings of Rome, this famous hill was the site of the ruling authorities and theater for official public celebrations. Walk around the area to enjoy views of the city and Roman Forum.
The next stop is Piazza Navona with its 3 famous fountains. Viewed from above, the square’s outline is that of an arena because it was built on top of an ancient Roman stadium. In the piazza are three sumptuous fountains: the Fountain of the Moor, the Fountain of Neptune and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers (the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata). During the Christmas holiday season, the piazza usually hosts a Christmas market.
Tre Scalini, on Piazza Navona, is a good place to try the famous tartufo ice cream. If you want to enjoy the piazza and rest for awhile, grab a seat outside. However if you just want the ice cream, go inside and get it to go for half the price.
Where to Stay:
JK Place, near the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, is a top boutique hotel choice.
Singer Palace Hotel, on Via del Corso, a top shopping street, has a rooftop restaurant.
St. Regis Grand Hotel has been recently remodeled and is a luxurious choice.
* Get a guide book: Rick Steves Rome 2020 or Rick Steves Pocket Rome
* See more Recommended Rome Books: Food, Tips, and Local Life
* Buy these Rome museum and site tickets before you go
Make the most of one day in Rome with this Rome in a day tour that includes seeing top sights and guided tours of both the Colosseum and Vatican Museums. Get a 5% discount through this link.
This post contains affiliate links to sites I believe are of benefit to travelers. There is no cost to you but the small amount of revenue helps defer the cost of bringing you this free information.