Rome is easily one of our favourite cities in Europe. It is absolutely stuffed full of sights, with thousands of years of history layered upon itself – you’ll find everything here from Roman ruins to Renaissance art. It’s also home to fantastic food, the Vatican City and sights like the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum and the Spanish Steps.
Certainly three days is not enough to see absolutely everything that Rome has to offer, but it’s definitely enough to see all the highlights if you manage your time effectively.
With that in mind, we wanted to share what we think is an excellent three day itinerary for Rome, which covers the attractions that visitors to Rome are most likely going to want to Visit. This covers all the major highlights across three days in Rome.
Following the itinerary, this post is then full of tips and advice for visiting Rome that will help you get the most out of your stay, as well as save money on attraction entry, transport and accommodation. To get the most out of your trip and to be sure you see all the major attractions, you will need to do a bit of forward planning and even reserve your entry time to the key attractions – otherwise you’ll waste your time standing in lines unnecessarily. Don’t worry though, we explain everything in this post to help you save time!
Now, let’s get started with our idea of the perfect:
3 Day Rome Itinerary
1. Vatican City
The Vatican City is the first thing on our list for your visit to Rome. It’s a country of it’s own, inside Rome, and is home to world-famous sites including the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.
We recommend you come here early and head straight for the Vatican Museum with your skip the line ticket (more on this later, in the section on saving money). Doors to the Vatican Museum open at 9am, so we recommend you arrange your entry for as close to then as you can manage. The Vatican Museum gets really crowded as the day progresses, so getting here early will let you enjoy it for a while before it gets too busy.
There’s loads to see in the Vatican Museums, which span 7km of exhibits, so you could spend a whole lot of time here. Our favourites include the Map Room, the Sistine Chapel, and the fabulous double helix exit stairwell, but we’re sure you’ll discover treasures of your own.
Next, it’s back outside and on to St. Peter’s Basilica. Again, our recommendation is to have a ticket that lets you skip the line, which at busy times can stretch right about the piazza. You’ll still have to go through security, but it will be a matter of minutes rather than hours.
Once through, you’ll be able to enjoy visiting the world’s largest church, and what is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. With designers including Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo, it’s a truly Renaissance building, and is a work of art in itself – before you even start to consider all the artworks within! If you’re up to it, we highly recommend the climb to the top of the dome. This offers superb views across the city, as well as the chance to see the Basilica from above.
Once you’re done with the Vatican, you can head on to our next stop. Don’t feel you need to rush though – the Vatican City is definitely going to be a highlight of the day, and you are welcome to spend a few hours exploring at your leisure. The rest of Rome will wait. When you’re ready, a short walk will take you to the next stop on our list:
2. Castel Sant’Angelo
From Spring to Fall, last admission to Castel Sant’Angelo is at 6pm, for the rest of the year it is at 1pm. So as long as you are here by then you will be good for the remainder of the day as nowhere else on today’s list has a closing time.
Originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian, the Castel Sant’Angelo has been sitting on the banks of the river Tiber for nearly two thousand years. In that time it has evolved from its initial role as a tomb, becoming a fortress, a castle, and finally, a museum.
Today it is open to the public, and you can climb right to the top, for gorgeous views of the city. You’ll also be able to marvel at the building techniques that have allowed it to survive for two millennia.
3. Piazza del Popolo
From the Castel Sant’Angelo it’s a pleasant twenty minute walk along the banks of the river Tiber to the Piazza del Popolo. This was the location of the northern gate of Rome, and is where, for countless years before trains, planes and cars, travellers would actually arrive into Rome.
From here, three roads span southwards in a trident formation, with the central road, the Via del Corso, running dead straight through the centre of Rome to the Piazza Venezia. Originally this would have been the route from the northern gate of Rome to the Roman Forum.
In the centre of the Piazza is an Egyptian obelisk, dating from the rule of Rameses II, which was brought to Rome in 10BC, and put in this plaza in the 16th century. On the south side of the Piazza are the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto, and Santa Maria del Miracoli, sitting either side of Via Corso.
4. Spanish Steps
We’re going to continue our first day by taking in a few of Rome’s highlights that you can take as long or as little time to visit as you wish. First on the list are the Spanish Steps.
You can access these by walking in a south easterly direction through the Villa Borghese Gardens and down Viale della Trinita dei Monti.
This 135 step staircase was opened in 1735 to link the Spanish Embassy near the bottom of the steps to the Trinita dei Monti staircase at the top, and are today a popular spot to stop, eat Gelato, and watch the world go by. They were made particularly popular in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn.
5. Trevi Fountain
Continuing our must-visit Rome highlights, our next stop in our wanders through Rome is the Trevi Fountain. This is the world’s largest Baroque fountain, and is always a popular location – whatever time of day (or night!) you visit. Built in the early 18th century, it is said that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you are guaranteed to return to Rome.
This seems to be a popular past time, as over three thousand euro’s worth of coins are throw into the fountain each day. These go to a good cause – each night the coins are removed from the fountain and used by a charity that helps those in need purchase food.
6. The Pantheon
A little walk from the Trevi Fountain is the incredible Pantheon. This building, which has been standing for almost 2,000 years, is the best preserved Ancient Roman monument in Rome, and I dare you not to be impressed by it’s incredible dome, which even today, two thousand years since it was built, still holds the record as the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
Originally built as a temple to the Roman gods, the Pantheon was converted for use as a Christian church in 609 AD, which is the main reason it survives in such excellent condition today. It’s also notable for being home to the graves of a number of important folk, including the painter Raphael and two Italian Kings.
7. Piazza Navona
Wow, this has been a busy first day in Rome! We recommend finishing your adventure off with a visit to the Piazza Navona. This has been a designated public space since the 15th century, and is full of gorgeous Baroque architecture. It’s most famous feature is undoubtedly Bernini’s fountain, which stands at the center – the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which dates from 1651.
The Piazza is a fun place to be, and often features street performers and markets, depending on the time of day and week that you visit. There are also a lot of options here for dining and drinking as well, although bear in mind that you always pay more in Rome at the more popular locations, especially if they have a terrace or view. We ate at Caffe Domiziano, which has two seating areas. It’s cheaper to sit in the section on Corsia Agonale rather than on the main square. The food is the same, just the price is different.
Our second day in Rome starts with another Rome highlight – the Coliseum. Built in Roman times as a space for holding public spectacles, the Coliseum is most famous for being the home of gladiators, who would battle it out in front of audiences that could number as many as 80,000 people.
The Coliseum is the largest amphitheatre in the world, and despite suffering some damage in it’s two thousand years of existence, is still hugely impressive to visit. It’s one of the most popular destinations in Rome for visitors, so again, our advice is to come as early as you can, and take advantage of a pass or advance ticket purchase options so you can skip the ticket queue and go straight to the security line.
9. Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
Your Coliseum ticket is also good for entry to the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill (as long as you visit on the same day), which is conveniently located right next door. If you don’t buy a ticket in advance for the Coliseum, or have a ticket with skip the line privileges, then we suggest you visit the Roman Forum first, as the queues for tickets are much shorter, and since they include the Coliseum you’ll get in faster there once you’re finished at the Forum.
So what’s special about the Forum? A lot! This was the seat of power during the reign of the Roman Empire, as well as the central marketplace and business district. Basically, Roman life for centuries revolved around this area of Rome, and no visit to the city is complete without walking these ancient ruins.
10. Mouth of Truth
Time for a bit of fun! If you’ve seen the movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, you’ll remember that Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn pop their hands into the mouth of this massive stone figure, which is said to bite off the hands of liars.
It’s not exactly known when or how this belief originated, but the good news is that you too can visit the Mouth of Truth, or Bocca del Verita, and pop your own hand in for a photo opportunity. You’ll find it outside the entrance to the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church, which is also worth visiting. In can get busy here in the summer months, but the line is kept moving fairly quickly, so you won’t have to wait too long.
11. Pyramid of Caius Cestius
Did you know that Rome has a two thousand year old Egyptian style Pyramid? Well, it does. The Pyramid of Cestius was built around 12BC, at a time when Rome was obsessed with all things Egypt, to serve as the tomb for a wealthy Roman.
The tomb has since been looted, and little is known about its original occupant, but the marble covered 36 meter high pyramid is the only one of its kind in Europe, and we think is definitely worth your time to visit. It’s now incorporated into the Aurelian Walls of the city (which helped to ensure it’s preservation), and one of the best places to see if from is the non-catholic cemetery of Rome.
Whilst you’re at the cemetery, which is a beautifully peaceful spot, do take the time to visit the grave of the English poet Keats, one whose “name is writ in water”, who died in Rome at the young age of 25, far before his recognition as one of the greatest English poets of all time.
12. Baths of Caracalla
Those Romans really liked to build stuff on a big scale. The Baths of Caracalla are no different. This vast bathing complex could accommodate up to 1600 bathers at one time, in a complex that covered over 62 acres.
Whilst time has taken it’s toll on the Baths, they are still open to visitors. You can wander between the mighty walls and appreciate the vast scale of the operation and the millions of bricks that were used to construct them, as well as some of the surviving details like the mosaic floors. It’s not at the top of visitors lists to Rome, but is definitely one of our favourite spots to visit in the city, so we urge you to include it in your itinerary, especially as you’re already in the area.
13. St. John in the Lateran
The Papal Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome and the seat of the Pope in the city, and as such, is one of the most important churches in the city. Whilst nearly everyone makes it to St. Peter’s Basilica, less people make it out here, to what is in fact the oldest Basilica in the city, making this a quieter and more relaxing place to visit.
Highlights include the Lateran Obelisk, the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world, the Borromini designed Knave, the Cloister and the Scala Sancta. These lasts are a stairway of 28 steps, found in a building just across the road from the Basilica itself, which are said to be the same steps that Jesus walked up on his way to trial in Jersualem. Today, pilgrims to Rome can be seen climbing the stairs on their knees, which is the only way you’re allowed to ascend.
14. Appian Way and The Catacombs
For the third day on our three day Rome itinerary, we suggest you take a break from the city centre sight-seeing and head out along the Appian Way.
Built in 312BC, this is believed to be one of the oldest surviving roads in the world, and was of enormous importance to the Roman Empire, linking the capital to southern settlements including Naples and Brindisi, and allowing for the quick movement of troops and goods. At the time, it was the widest and longest road in the world, and in testament to the quality of it’s construction, much of what you can see today is still original stonework. Those Romans built things to last!
There are a variety of attractions to see along the Appian Way, beyond the road itself, and the key sights are to be found along the first ten miles of the road, in the Parco dell’Appia Antica. To get to these, you’ll want to head to the start point of the road, the Porta San Sebastiano, which you can reach via public transport from the city. From here, it’s a ten minute walk to the first major sight on the Appian Way, the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, which dates from the 9th century.
After the Church, there are two Catacombs you can visit, the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian. The former are slightly larger and were the burial place of 16 popes, numerous Christians and a number of martyrs.
Following on from the Catacombs, you can continue your journey along the Appian Way should you so wish, to the tomb of Cecilia Metella and the Circus Maxentius, which are about another 10 – 15 minute walk along the Appian Way. All in all, from the Porta San Sebastiano to the tomb of Cecilia Metella, you’re looking at about a thirty minute walk, with plenty of attractions on the way. Whilst you can continue on at this point should you wish, we’d suggest returning to the city now, and heading to the:
15. Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery is in the Villa Borghese gardens, and houses the Borghese collection, a collection of art that is easily one of the finest in Rome. With incredible pieces from the likes of Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio, to name but a few, this museum is truly a must visit.
It’s not huge, spread across two floors and twenty rooms, but the high quality of work on display means that everything you see is basically a masterpiece. It’s also guaranteed not to be too crowded, as they only allow 360 people in at a time. Compare this to the 30,000 visitors a day that the Vatican Museum hosts, and you will enjoy being able to breathe whilst you appreciate the art on display.
It’ll take forty five minutes to an hour to get to the Borghese Gallery from the Circus Maxentius part of the Appian Way, so you need to factor this in when planning your routes. Also, be aware that if you visit on a Sunday that public transport can be reduced.
The reason I mention this is because the Borghese Gallery has timed entry and reservation is mandatory – even with a pass. To reserve, just call the reservation line: +39-06-32-810. Once you enter, you have two hours to see the Gallery. Alternatively, if you wanted to do a guided tour, your tour company will arrange the time for you, although again, these need to be booked in advance. Read about our experience touring the Borghese Gallery with Walks of Italy here
16. Villa Borghese Gardens
Once you’re done with the Borghese Gallery, we recommend heading over the west side of the Gardens, towards the Piazza del Popolo.
The view from the terrace overlooking the Piazza del Popolo is one of our favourite views in Rome. It’s particularly good at sunset – so do your best to time your visit here to enjoy that and reflect on three wonderful days spent exploring Rome!
How to Save Money And Skip the Lines in Rome
As with many cities around the world, Rome has a number of passes that help you get free and discounted admission, as well as skip the line privileges at key attractions – including many of the above.
Regular readers will know that we’re big fans of these passes, and the card we recommend for our three day Rome itinerary is the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card. This is brought to you by the same folks who also run some of our other favourite city passes including the London Pass and the Barcelona Pass, and consists of two physical passes – an OMNIA card and a Rome Pass.
Here’s what the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card covers:
- Free entry with Skip the Line access to the Vatican attractions, including the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of St. John in the Lateran and the Cloister
- Free audio guide at St. Peter’s Basilica
- Free entry to two out of six listed attractions, which includes the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Castel Sant’Angelo and the Borghese Gallery.
- Skip the line entry at the Coliseum and Roman Forum (these count as one attraction when visiting using the card in the same day)
- Discounted entry at attractions once you have used up your two free visits – this will be the concession rate
- Discounted entry at over thirty other sights in Rome, including the Baths of Caracalla and Appia Way attractions
- A 72 hour travelcard for Rome which covers all the major public transport, including buses, trams and metro
- A 3 Day Hop-on Hop-off Bus ticket
- A detailed guidebook to Rome and map of the city
As you can see, this pass includes a lot. One of the most valuable aspects of it, in my mind, is the skip the line access at the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Coliseum. I cannot stress enough how important these features are. The line for the Vatican museum in particular can be hours long (seriously, hours), and in the heat of the summer this can be a torturous experience.
The Omnia Vatican and Rome Card gets you past this queue and straight in to the security line, and the same applies at St. Peters Basilica and the Coliseum. Seriously, don’t waste your time in Rome standing in line.
To get the most out of the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card though, you have to be a little bit clever, and plan ahead. Or, you can just follow my itinerary, as I’ve ordered the attractions in a way that will save you the most money when using the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card.
As you can see, there’s a list of six attractions, of which you can choose two that you get free entry to with the card. As these are not all the same price, to maximise your savings you want to try and use your free entry on the most expensive attractions.
Once you’ve used those two entries up, you will get a discounted admission when you use your card. Based on the itinerary above, we recommend you use the pass for free entry to the National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo, and then for the combined entry ticket to the Coliseum and Roman Forum. This will save you €34.50.
The other thing to be aware of is that you need to book your entry into the Vatican Museum in advance, as skip the line access is run on a timed system. Once you order your pass online, you will be able to pre-book your time for entry. My advice, as you can see in the itinerary, is to book the earliest entry you can. The Vatican Museum gets very busy, and the first hour or so in the morning is the quietest time to visit.
You might be wondering how much you will save with the Pass. Well, if you follow the itinerary above, purchasing skip the line tickets for attraction where available, you’d be looking at around €100 in entry fees. Then there’s the travel card which is currently worth €18, and the Hop-on Hop-off bus which is valued at €32. So a total value for this itinerary of €150. Currently, a 72 hour Omnia Vatican and Rome Card is €113, which we think is excellent value. They also regularly run sales, making it even more of a bargain.
You can of course book tickets individually for some of these attractions which include skip the line access. This will be more economical if you only plan on visiting some of these attractions, although does require a bit more advance planning and you’ll have to make a number of individual purchases.
For example, you can book Vatican tickets directly here, and Coliseum tickets directly here. If you go down this route, make sure you choose the option that lets you print the ticket yourself so you can proceed directly to the security line. Also be aware that there are many sites that sell tickets at a mark-up, so do only buy from the official site for each attraction.
For us, the true value of the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card isn’t the cost saving – even though it does offer that. Instead, it’s the fact that it makes it so much easier and hassle free to visit Rome. You’ll get to all the attractions you’re really going to want to see without spending time standing in line. And that’s why we think it’s worth investing in. You can buy yours from the official site, here.
Getting Around Rome
Rome is really easy to get around, with much of it very walkable. The itinerary we’re laid out is designed to be logical and easy to follow, so you won’t waste time getting from place to place. Getting from each location to the next should be either a short walk, or a single bus or metro ride away.
If you decide to buy the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card it includes free public transport for your three days in the city, as well as the Hop on Hop Off bus. Alternatively, you can either buy a travelcard yourself, or just buy tickets as you go. A one way ticket, known as a “B.I.T” costs €1.50 and is valid for 100 minutes from when you activate it.
With the B.I.T. you can change transport types as you go, with the exception being you cannot re-enter the metro system if you leave it. These single tickets can be bought from metro stations as well as convenience stores and newsagents, and need to be activated with a timestamp when you board the first transport. For buses this will require putting the card into a machine located on the bus. Metro entry barriers will automatically timestamp your ticket as you insert them at the barrier.
Not stamping your ticket is the same as travelling without a ticket, and you can be penalised for doing this.
Where to Stay in Rome
Rome certainly has no shortage of places to stay. On the majority of our visits we’ve stayed in some form of apartment or vacation rental, usually through AirBnB. If you’re interested in using AirBnB, this link will give you a discount off your first stay. If you can’t find what you want on AirBnB, we’ve got a definitive list of AirBnB alternatives to help you get a decent vacation rental.
If you’d prefer a hotel, Rome has everything from budget hostels to five star hotels. We’d advise checking the hotel listings on HotelsCombined for Rome, which searches all the major hotel websites to help you find the best deals.
When to Visit Rome
With a Mediterranean climate, Rome is a city that can be visited throughout the year. However, it gets very busy and very hot in the summer months, especially in August, so we’d advise avoiding August if you can. If you must visit in August, we highly recommend you pick up the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card so you don’t have to queue for attractions in the unshaded heat.
We’ve visited Rome at all times of year, and our favourite time to visit is April / May, which we think offers a good balance between nice weather and less crowded attractions.
Another thing to be aware of is that many museums and attractions are closed on Mondays. In addition, there is free entry to lots of the key attractions in Rome on the first Sunday of every month – we’d suggest avoiding this day if you possibly can as the crowds are unbelievable!
Practicalities for Visiting Rome
Safety: In our many visits to Rome we’ve never had any safety problems although pickpocketing is not uncommon in crowded tourist areas. As always, practice basic safety precautions. Keep valuables concealed, don’t carry large quantities of cash, only use official taxis and so on.
Power: Electricity is of the 220v standard, with the 2 pin European style plug. Travellers from countries like the UK and the US will need an adapter, and US travellers need to check their equipment supports the 220v standard – it will be written clearly on the power adapter.
Currency: Rome is a part of the Eurozone, meaning the currency is the Euro. You can get these from ATM’s, banks and currency exchanges, although credit cards are of course widely accepted. We suggest using a credit card where you can – just ensure it has no foreign currency transaction fee.
Internet: Internet access is widely available in the form of WiFi all around the city and in hotels and coffee shops, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting online. You can also pick up local SIM cards if you have an unlocked phone. Travellers from the UK on the Three network will be able to use their Feel At Home data, which is a great deal if you’re a regular traveller from the UK.
Water: The water in the taps is safe to drink, although many locals prefer the taste of bottled water. You can also drink the water that comes out of the taps in the fountains, so just carry a drinking water bottle with you and hydrate as you go. Of course, if you don’t like the taste, bottled water is widely available.
Clothing. Many of the attractions in Rome are holy places, and you need to be dressed appropriately. There are big signs up explaining what you should wear, but generally, you need to have clothing that covers your knees and shoulders. This can be an issue with warm weather clothing choices, particularly in summer, so we advise that if you choose to wear tank tops or shorts to keep items to cover your shoulders and knees with you like shawls, scarfs, long skirts, or pants that convert into shorts.
Any Tours You Recommend in Rome?
We’ve taken a number of tours in Rome, and can definitely recommend these if you’re looking for a guided experience. The two companies we recommend are Context Travel (10% off tours with this link) and Walks of Italy (10% discount with code “Lozula10”).
With Walks of Italy, we can recommend the “Pristine Sistine” tour, which gets you early access to the Vatican Museums before they open to the public, which is even better than skip the line access.
We also took the “VIP Caesar’s Palace tour with the Colosseum & Roman Forum” tour, which covered the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, as well as the 1st century BC home of Emperor Augustus, previously off limits to the public. Finally, we took a tour of the Borghese Gallery on the “Borghese Gallery Tour with Tickets”.
We also did tours with Context Travel, who offer very small group tours for the intellectually curious. These were fairly specialised tours, one focusing on Rome, the Grand Tour and the Romantic Poets, and the other on the history of the Popes and Rome political power.
We’ve written fairly extensively about our tours in Rome, and I link to these reviews in the further reading section below to help you decide if these are going to be good options for you.
Next Steps for Visiting Rome
Having read all the above, I hope everything is clear. I admit, Rome is a wonderful city to visit, but planning in all the attractions and avoiding those dreaded queues might feel a little overwhelming. With that in mind, here’s a quick checklist to help make sure you get the most out of your stay.
- Plan when you are going and book your flights and accommodation
- Decide which attractions you really want to visit based on the above itinerary, and any other research you have done
- Decide if something like the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card is going to be for you, and purchase it in advance. If you aren’t interested in the Vatican attractions, you might consider the Roma Pass instead, which includes transport and a number of other attractions in Rome.
- Make your reservations in advance for all the attractions you know you want to visit. Our suggestions would be to book in advance for the Vatican Museum, the Coliseum (advance reservation not necessary with the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card), and the Borghese Gallery (advance reservation will be made for you with most guided tours).
- Enjoy your trip to Rome knowing you’re not going to waste time in line for anything but gelato!
Further Reading for your Visit to Rome
Well, that was a lot of content to help you plan your trip to Rome! As well as the above, we have a number of other resources we’d like to recommend to help you out, both content we’ve written ourselves, and resources we’ve found online. Between this post and these resources, you should be able to put together the perfect trip to Rome!
- We’ve taken a number of tours in Rome. You can read about our experience visiting the Vatican, Coliseum and Roman Forum with Walks of Italy in Rome here, and our experience at the Borghese Gallery here. With Context Travel, you can read about the Grand Tour and the Romantic Poets tour here, and Popes, Power and Parties here.
- If you’re planning on visiting Rome in summer, read our tips for visiting a European city in summer to stay sane
- Looking to visit more of Italy? Check out our content on Venice, Milan and Florence for inspiration!
- If you’re looking for a physical (or Kindle!) guidebook, we recommend the Rick Steves Rome guide, which has lots of practical information to help you make the most of your stay
And that sums up our idea of how to spend the perfect three days exploring Rome! We hope you found this itinerary useful. Are you planning a trip to Rome? What do you want to see when you do? Let us know in the comments below!