From the time that Romulus founded the city (allegedly) some 3,000 years ago, Rome has been a beacon for travelers and an epicenter of human history. With a story that goes back almost three millennia, Rome, or the Eternal City, is filled with more ancient treasure than probably anywhere on earth. In many ways, Rome itself is a historical artifact, a maze of relics from times past, a living monument to a people that have endured and inspired civilizations across the globe.
You could spend the rest of your life in Rome and still not experience everything it has to offer, so figuring out what to do and see in just a few short days can be overwhelming. We will break down how to fit the most important sights into just two days, while still having time to explore and enjoy all that Roman culture has to offer.
Get ready to see the best of Rome in just two days, from ancient wonders like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Pantheon, to Renaissance classics like the Sistine Chapel and Bernini sculptures. This itinerary may stand on its own, or fit into days one and two of our 9-Day Italy Itinerary.
|1||Rome||Ancient Rome (Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill|
Victor Emmanuel Monument
Borghese Gallery and National Roman Museum
|2||Rome, the Vatican||St. Peter’s Square & Basilica|
The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
Explore Rome: Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona
Also in This Article
Arriving in Rome
For this itinerary, you will want two full days and three nights in Rome. The itinerary is based on an arrival into the city in the evening before the first day. There are no planned activities the night that you arrive in Rome. You’ll be exhausted when you land, so check into your hotel, enjoy your first Roman meal, and get a good nights rest to be ready to go the next morning (day one).
The primary airport, Fiumicino, is located 20 miles outside the city, so you will need to either catch a taxi or take a train from the airport. The train to Termini Station, which is the main station in Rome, takes about 30 minutes, and leaves every 15 to 30 minutes. Tickets cost €14 per person, while a taxi would set you back closer to €50 depending on where you are staying in the city (and Uber/Lift isn’t an option in Italy). The train leaves right from the airport and unless you are in a big rush, we’d recommend it.
During our trip, we arrived late into Rome after a delayed flight. After getting lost finding our Airbnb, we spent a short evening enjoying our first taste of Italian pizza and a few glasses of red wine at Il Sori, which ended up being one of our favorite places for a drink in Rome. If you are feeling jet-lagged, call it an early night to catch up on sleep in preparation for the busy day ahead.
Where to stay
We stayed in San Lorenzo, a less touristy neighborhood that is a little out of the way but still walkable and much less expensive than staying in the heart of the city.
Below we’ve laid out the most efficient way to spend your first day in Rome. You’ll notice that the total walking time for today is 1 hour 30 minutes, but this is spread out over the day. We tend to walk as much as possible, not just for the exercise, but because it saves money and is a great way to experience more of the city. Utilizing the metro or taking a taxi are perfectly viable options, especially between some of the more distant stops.
This map displays the location of each of the key sights for day one. Beside you will see the expected amount of time to walk from the previous stop.
Rome Walking Map
- The Colosseum
- The Roman Forum
1 min from Colosseum
- Capitoline Hill
3 min from Forum
- Victor Emmanuel Monument
4 min from Capitoline Hill
- The Pantheon
12 min from Victor Emmanuel
- The Spanish Steps
14 min from the Pantheon
- Borghese Gallery
22 min from the Spanish Steps
- The National Roman Museum
23 min from Borghese Gallery
Time frame | 1 – 3 hours
Colosseum and Forum | €16 ($19)
Colosseum and Forum + Tour | €33 ($40)
You can purchase tickets online here.
Start your first morning in Rome diving right into the ancient classics: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, and Capitoline Hill. These sights are very popular and tend to get crowded later in the day, so it is best to get an early start and visit them in the morning.
To go inside the Colosseum and the Forum, you will have to buy tickets and wait in (typically long) lines to get in. We had heard mixed reviews about whether going in was worth it, and we were satisfied by appreciating these ancient wonders from the outside so we opted to skip going in to save a little time and money.
The Arch of Constantine is located just outside of the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum is just a quick walk from the Colosseum. You can also get a perfect view overlooking the Roman Forum by walking up the side of Capitoline Hill.
Victor Emmanuel Monument
Timeframe | 30 minutes – 1 hour
Continue on to the impressive Victor Emmanuel Monument, built from 1888 to 1935 to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy since the 6th century. You can walk around the steps of the massive monument and go inside for free. There is a panoramic viewing platform inside that overlooks the Colosseum and Roman Forum which costs €7 per person to access via elevator.
Grab a croissant and cappuccino and take a break while marveling at the grandeur of the monument.
Fun fact: Victor Emmanuel’s mustache on the bronze statue in the center of the monument is 3 feet long!
Time frame | 30 minutes
Next, walk about 10 minutes from the Victor Emmanuel Monument to the Pantheon. This ancient Roman feat of architecture is one of those tourist attractions that actually lives up the hype. It is truly impressive in person. Formerly a Roman temple, the Pantheon is now used as a Catholic Church and even holds Mass open to the public. If you want to go inside (its free!), make sure to avoid visiting while Mass is being held.
Fun Fact: The tip of the dome on the Pantheon is actually open to the outside. When we were there, there was a small puddle on the ground inside from rain the previous night.
Timeframe | 30 minutes
Head towards the Borghese Gallery, stopping at the Spanish Steps along the way. Designed in 1723 by French architect Francesco De Sancti, there are 138 steps to the top of the stairs, where the Trinità dei Monti church sits. The Spanish Steps are a very touristy spot and will almost certainly be very crowded, but they are worth a quick visit.
Tip: Due to large crowds, you are no longer allowed to sit on the Spanish Steps.
Timeframe | 1 – 2 hours
Adult | €13 ($14.60)
Age 18-25 | €2 ($2.40)
Tuesday – Sunday
9:00 AM – 7:00 PM
The Borghese Gallery houses a vast collection of Renaissance paintings and sculptures in equally impressive and ornate rooms. The highlight for us was the Bernini sculptures, particularly the famous Apollo and Daphne and the Rape of Proserpina.
Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in the beautiful Borghese Gardens surrounding the gallery.
Tip: Reservations are required for the Borghese Gallery. You can purchase tickets ahead of time here.
National Roman Museum (Palazzo Massimo)
Timeframe | 1 – 2 hours
Adult | €18 ($22)
EU citizens aged 18-25 | €14 ($17)
Children under 18 | free
9:00 AM – 7:45 pm
You can purchase tickets ahead of time here.
Lastly, end your sightseeing journey at the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo, not to be confused with the National Museum of Rome (we made this mistake and ended up at the wrong place and very confused), one of the largest collections of ancient art in the world.
This museum is pretty low key, simple, and quiet, a sharp contrast from the bustling and ornate Borghese Gallery. The gallery is huge, but if your patience for art is dwindling by this point in the day, be sure to at least see the Terme Boxer (Boxer at Rest) and and Discobolus (Discuss Thrower”), two incredibly lifelike Greek bronze sculptures.
After a busy day, spend your evening unwinding with a taste of Italian food and a good glass (or bottle) of wine. We recommend Ditirambo for dinner and Enoteca il Piccolo for a glass of wine.
For more on our favorite budget friendly places to eat and drink in Rome, check out our post:
The morning and early afternoon on day two will be spent visiting the Vatican, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.
Getting to the Vatican
The Vatican is located just to the west of Rome.
You can get to the Vatican from Rome by taking a taxi, metro or bus. We sacrificed a little extra cost for the convenience of taking a taxi to ensure that we were able to arrive at St. Peter’s promptly when it opened.
The Vatican Walking Map
There are 3 key sites to see in the Vatican, all within close walking distance.
- St. Peter’s Square
- St. Peter’s Basilica
1 min from St. Peter’s Square
- The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
15 min from St. Peters Basilica
St. Peter’s Square & Basilica
Time frame | 1 – 2 hours
St. Peter’s Basilica Entrance | Free
Climb Dome + Campanile | €5 ($3)
Take elevator to Dome | €8 ($10)
April – September | 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM
October – March | 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Start the morning at St. Peter’s Square before heading to the Vatican Museums. St. Peter’s Basilica opens at 8:00 AM. We got there right when it opened and it was definitely a good decision. There were no lines when we arrived, and we were able to walk immediately into St. Peters. By the time we left, around 10:00 AM, the lines were insane, hundreds of people long and wrapped all around the square.
Entrance to St Peter’s Basilica is free. Inside St. Peter’s, be sure to see Michelangelo’s famous Pieta, a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ.
Climbing the Dome & Campanile
Timeframe | 1 hour
To get up close with the the inside of Michelangelo’s Dome, climb up 231 steps up to a small overhang where you can walk 360 degrees around the dome. It was really cool to see the mosaics that cover in the interior of the dome up close. From below you can’t tell the images were made up entirely of small squares – they look more like paintings.
From inside the dome, you can continue to climb 320 additional steps up a narrow corridor to the Cupola of St. Peter’s. The climb is claustrophobic and gets really hot as the staircase continues to narrow, but the view at the top of St Peter’s Square below and the city of Rome in the distance was worth the sweat and 551 total steps!
Fun Fact: Michelangelo’s Dome in St Peter’s Basilica is the tallest dome in the world, rising to a height of 448 feet.
The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
Timeframe | 2 – 4 hours
Adult | € 16 ($19.50)
Children (age 6-18) | € 8 ($9.80)
Students (age 19-26) | € 8 ($9.80)
Free the last Sunday of each month
Closed Sunday (except last Sunday of each month)
Mon – Sat | 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM (ticket office closes 4:00 pm)
Last Sunday of each month | 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM (ticket office closes 12:30 pm)
Find more information and make a reservation here
To visit the Vatican Museums, you should make a reservation ahead of time. You can select a specific entrance time that allows you to bypass the line. If you don’t have a reservation, the lines are incredible long. We made a reservation for 10:30 AM at the Vatican Museums, which gave us just enough time to visit St Peter’s and climb the dome before taking the 15 minute walk to the museum.
The museums are huge, become very crowded and can be difficult to navigate. You could easily spend hours here, so be sure to prioritize what you want to see. For an additional fee, you can get a guided tour of the museums. We skipped the tour and instead used Rick Steve’s Vatican Museums Tour and Sistine Chapel Tour audio guides to take our own self-guided tour. The audio guide was super helpful in helping us prioritize what to see, and gave us just the right amount of background information on key pieces of artwork.
Expect long lines to enter, but Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is obviously a must see. It’s even more impressive in person than you could imagine. The room itself is huge, and every square inch is covered in perfectly designed frescos painted by the master himself.
Our favorite painting in the Vatican Museums, outside the Sistine Chapel, was the School of Athens in the Raphael Rooms, a huge fresco masterpiece depicting a gathering of great classical mathematicians, philosophers and scientists like Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras.
Tip: If you plan to use Rick Steve’s audio guide, be sure to bring headphones to follow along.
Once you have satisfied your art interests, head back to Rome and grab lunch at Pan e Salame, serving impressive charcuterie boards and delicious sandwiches on freshly baked bread.
Time frame | any remaining time in the afternoon/evening
In the afternoon, there are no reservations or concrete plans, so you have flexibility with how much time you want to spend in the Vatican Museums. Spend the afternoon wandering through Rome, catching any sights you may have missed yesterday.
Make sure to stop and toss a coin into the famous Trevi Fountain. Although the fountain is crowded and touristy, its worth seeing – you’d be amiss to go to Rome without visiting the Trevi Fountain.
Fun Fact: Over the course of a year, a total of over one million euros worth of coins are removed from the fountain. The money is donated to a Roman charity called Caritas, which uses the money to help disadvantaged people in Rome purchase groceries.
Grab a gelato and stroll through a few of Rome’s classic plazas, including Piazza Navona and Campo di Fiori. You’ll find these squares bustling with people and street vendors selling local products (and also some trying to sell you cheap junk, so beware).
Getting Around in Rome
Rome is a big city, but its actually very walkable as many of the sights are close together. We are strong believers that walking is the best way to explore a city. You stumble into cool bars and restaurants and spot things you wouldn’t have planned on seeking out. That being said, on our first day in Rome we logged a total of 35,000 steps, so be sure to pack comfortable clothes!
Each single one-way use of the bus or metro costs 1.50 euro. You may also purchase a day pass for Rome’s public transportation which covers the metro and bus:
1 day pass | €7 ($8)
2 day pass | €12.50 ($15)
3 day pass | €18 ($22)
If all that walking doesn’t sound appealing to you, you may want to get the Roma Pass, which gives you free use of all public transportation (metro and bus) in Rome and discounts on museums and historical sites. You have the option to select a 48 hour or 72 hour pass:
48 hour Roma Pass | €32
Free admission to first museum/archeological site
72 hour Roma Pass | €52
Free admission to first two museum/archeological site
The Roma Pass also allows you to skip the line at the Colosseum if you use it for your free admission.
Keep in mind that the Roma Pass does not cover the Vatican Museums or St. Peter’s Basilica. Entrance to the Colosseum costs €16 (and most museums are similarly priced), so you would have to use €16 worth of public transportation (11 trips on the bus or metro) to make the 48 pass worthwhile. We did not purchase Roma Passes, as they weren’t going to save us any money after doing the math.
Find more information on the Roma Pass here.
What to Eat
There are an abundance of overpriced touristy restaurants in Rome, so finding authentic places to eat can be tough. Be sure to avoid restaurants with pictures of the food in the window, as these are tourist traps, and most likely to be overpriced for poor quality food.
We’ve compiled a list of a few of our favorite budget friendly restaurants and bars in Rome to help you get started in figuring out where to eat.
Looking for more ideas on how to spend your time in Italy? Check out our full 9-day Italy itinerary which includes 2 days in Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice.
For all things Italy: Italy Travel Guide
Questions or comments about Rome? Let us know in the comments section below!