Only have three days in Rome? It is more than possible to do the Roman tourist trail in a limited amount of days. Here’s what to see and do when in Rome.
Some time last year, I jaunted over to Italy for Rome, which had just welcomed summer. Planning my itinerary for Rome initially was a massive headache because there is so much to see and do.
I decided the best strategy would be to split Rome into categories, namely: Christian Rome, Ancient Rome, Heart of Rome. Basically, Christian Rome is the Vatican City, the latter covers the Colosseum and the surrounding areas. The last category comprises the other must-sees when in Rome.
My itinerary aims to place the attractions as close to each other, so they each flow nicely into each other.
This is a three-day itinerary, but in reality I executed this into two days. I managed that by squeezing both Christian and Ancient Rome in a day… and it was exhausting! And I had to skip meals. Skipping meals in Italy – blasphemy! Don’t be like me, and use this more enjoyable plan to make full use of your time in this beautiful, historic city.
Day 1: Christian Rome
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica
1. Vatican City
Technically speaking, the Vatican City is not Rome – it’s a whole country that just happens to be located in Rome.
I was there in the peak periods of June to August. So the first piece of advice floating about is to join a tour to skip the long lines… Turns out this was NOT a gimmick. I joined a tour group and we waltzed a long line of people queuing to get in. At 9am. In the June summer heat. Not cute. There you go, legit piece of advice: join a tour.
2. Vatican Museums
The tour brought us to the Musei Vaticani first, or Vatican Museums. Here you will see notable pieces of art and its history, such as the Apollo, Laocoon and His Sons, Renaissance masterpieces and Raphael’s tapestry gallery.
My personal favourite is the Gallery of Maps, for amazingly accurate (at that time) topographical maps of Italy that are gorgeously frescoed on the walls.
The Raphael Rooms are not to be missed, which consist of a row of connected rooms intended to be apartments for a pope. I may not be an artsy person but it was interesting to see how the art styles vary with the period as you move along.
Think morbid dramatic war scenes to dreamy sequences up in clouds. While it is called Raphael Rooms, not all of the frescoed art was done by the artist. He died before he could complete the work, so his disciples took over.
3. Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is a must-see, it being the most famous artifact in all of Vatican City. No pictures allowed here – but that never stopped many a tourist from sneaking in photos.
Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment on one end of the chapel is something to be admired. Tip: move towards the back of the chapel to have a more comfortable view of the ceiling. I decided to plant myself in the middle of the chapel and craned my neck upwards the whole time. Oof, that neck pain.
4. St Peter’s Basilica
The St Peter’s Basilica was incredibly impressive. Rightfully so, as it’s one of two largest churches in the world. I had seen my fair share of cathedrals and churches at this point, and I didn’t think I’d be that awestruck.
My favourite part were the vast and high ceilings which were beautifully embellished with Renaissance art and gilded gold details.
5. Swiss Guards
Once you exit St Peter’s Basilica, look for Swiss Guards. These stoic men are unmissable, with their cartoony Renaissance garb in the brightest shades of yellow and purple.
6. Castel Sant’ Angelo
Right outside the fringes of Vatican City, you can walk the Castel Sant’ Angelo aka Castle of the Holy Angel. Originally intended as a mausoleum for Roman Emperor Hadrian, it was later used as a fortress and castle, and now a museum. You can get to the roof and take a panoramic view of Rome.
Day 2: Ancient Rome
Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum
Once you exit the ‘Colosseo’ metro stop, the Colosseum immediately greets you. Tickets to the colosseum will get you into Palantine Hill as well. I spent about an hour in the Colosseum. After that, I walked over to Palatine Hill.
2. Palatine Hill
The Colosseum had about a 30-minute queue to enter, but Palatine Hill had none.
It’s basically a nice park at the top of a hill, with remnants of ancient Roman houses. A notable area of Palatine Hill is a clearing that used to be a race-track for chariots. Now it’s used to host concerts. Lady Gaga performed there.
3. Roman Forum
After this, move on to the Roman Forum. More ancient ruins here, and I much preferred the iconic Roman Forums versus Palatine Hill. One of the highlights was getting up close and personal to the site where Julius Caesar’s body was publicly burnt.
Day 3: The Heart of Rome
Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona
1. Piazza del Popolo
With many lively piazzas, Rome is prime destination if people-watching is up your alley. Taking the metro, I alighted at the ‘Flaminio’ station for the Piazza del Popolo. This piazza is a public square, characterised by the two domes. There are some pretty good buskers entertaining passers-by here.
Follow the road between the two domes here and work your way down Corso road.
2. Via del Corso
Corso Road is an extremely crowded lane of shops. You’ll keep finding your way to this street, as it seems to be the intersection to a lot of Roman tourist checkpoints. There are signs along this road to lead you to an attraction.
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, and an architectural wonder today. Make sure to check out the giant dome ceiling within the Pantheon, which to date is one of the largest unsupported dome in the world.
4. Piazza Navona
From the Pantheon, move along to Piazza Navona. I suggest grabbing gelato from one of the many gelaterias here, and sit by the Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. This ornately imposing fountain is built around an Egyptian obelisk. This square has an abundance of street artists at work here. You can also purchase some of their works; art is always a good souvenir.
5. Trevi Fountain
From Piazza Navona, I walked to the Trevi Fountain. At the time of my visit, it was unfortunately under restoration. I found it hilarious that people were still trying their hardest to throw wishing coins over the barricade.
6. Spanish Steps
My last stop is the Spanish Steps. If you’re feeling church-y, pop into the Trinita dei Monti church at the top of the stairs.
Close to The Spanish Steps is the Ristorante alla Rampa. Here I had dinner and rested my weary feet. The tiramisu here is fantastic and a must-try. End your trip just strolling through the Piazza di Spagna and its surrounding areas after dusk – it gets even more colourful at night!