Rome, the Eternal City. A place of romance, food, history, wine - what more can you ask for when travelling to a far off destination. Rome was all I ever dreamed it could be and very quickly became one of my favourite major cities in the world.
It is definitely easy to spend a solid 5-7 days in Rome, but if you’re on the go, sometimes you don’t have that long to dedicate to one city. I say definitely give it 3 days and you’ll be able to see all of the major sites.
Here is my 3 day recommended itinerary for the Eternal City.
A stunning landmark in the heart of Rome, Trevi Fountain is nothing less than magical. I heard the water of the fountain rushing as I approached, before I could actually see it, and the sense of excitement it gave me was out of this world. It was one of the first places I truly experienced when I started my exploration of Rome and I will never forget it. Luckily, when I arrived at the fountain, it was a little later in the day so there weren’t as many people around it. I really suggest that if you want to see the fountain without insane crowds, it is best to show up early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
About a 10 minute walk from Trevi Fountain are the Spanish Steps. They just kind of snuck up on me as I wasn’t even planning to visit them. At the top of the stairs is the Trinità dei Monti, a 16th century French church and at the bottom of the stairs is the early Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia “Fountain of the Old Boat”. Climbing the 138 stairs to the top of the Spanish Steps, I was awarded with beautiful views of the city. The Spanish Steps are a great place to sit and people watch while sipping a coffee.
Not far from the Spanish Steps is the Villa Borghese Park. It is the 3rd largest park in Rome and it is magical to walk through. I spent a couple hours strolling through the pathways that were lined with sculptures, wandering in and out of the various buildings in the park, wandering through the secret gardens, and simply sitting to enjoy the peace of the park. During my visit, the Borghese Gallery & Museum were closed so I wasn’t able to check that out, but I have added it to my itinerary for the next visit. I didn't realize until after I left, but you can also rent a small boat and float around the Laghetto di Villa Borghese! For a spectacular view over the city, swing by Caffe del Pincio for a snack and cappuccino, and then wander over to the Terrazza del Pincio.
The Colosseum is one of the most iconic landmarks in Rome and personally, it was my favourite. Back in my university days, I took a few Art History classes and I had the privilege of studying the Colosseum in depth. It had always been a dream of mine to travel to Italy and see it in real life. When the time came, I could hardly contain my excitement. I chose the tour that included the underground as well as the rooftop (you can just purchase a single entry ticket, but I highly recommend a tour as not everything is open to you without being part of a tour group). Travelling through the underground portion of the Colosseum was so surreal. To be standing where the animals were held and and where the Gladiators would await their turn to fight, was mind blowing. Once my group made it up to the roof, I was able to get the full scope of the Colosseum. I could picture it full of people cheering for the battle taking place on the floor. Ahh what a day, it was the highlight of Rome!
Generally, if you purchased a tour for the Colosseum, it will include the Roman Forum. Again, you can purchase a single entry ticket to the Colosseum and it will include entry to the Roman Forum, but there is not much signage in the Roman Forum so it is nice to have a guide to explain everything. It was incredible to walk through these ruins where the phrase “all roads lead to Rome” was born. Home to several ancient government buildings, the once medical district of ancient Rome, and the first buildings for religious activities, the Roman Forum is a sight to behold. Really, it was like walking through a time warp.
The Altar of the Fatherland is a national monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. You don’t need tickets to enter the building, only for entering the museum or riding the elevators. It was getting late in the day and I still had some things I wanted to see, so I didn’t have the chance to go in the building. For me though, it was simply the stunning architecture and the look of this magnificent building that caught my eye. It is an imposing structure and can be seen from almost anywhere in Rome. Even if you don’t have the chance to go inside, take a few minutes to stand in front of it and admire its beauty. Keep in mind though, it is forbidden to sit on the stairs.
The Pantheon is one of the few free, majors sights in Italy. Initially the Pantheon was a Roman temple and is one of the best preserved. It is now a Catholic church. There is some serious mystery surrounding this building as the structure itself was way before it’s time and it is the only building of its time that has survived still intact. The domed ceiling in the Pantheon was my favourite part of the whole structure. At the top of the dome is an open circle or an oculus, with no covering and in ancient days, this is how light would enter the building. Still to this day, the oculus is not covered so when it rains outside, it also rains inside. The Pantheon definitely has to be included on your list of things to do in Rome. The mystery and intrigue surrounding the building makes it totally worth the stop.
I’m sure I could write many pages about my trip to the Vatican, but I will keep it short and simple. In discussing the Vatican with people, I have had many respond with ‘I am not Catholic or religious so I have no desire to visit the Vatican”. My response to this is, that you would be doing yourself a disservice. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the Vatican is an iconic and historical place, not just for Rome or Italy, not just for the Catholic faith, but for the entire world. Not only is it the only country within a city (which I still find super cool), but the pure elegance of the art and the architecture, should be enough to make anyone want to see it.
I opted for a tour of the Vatican, both to escape the lines (without a tour you have to wait in multiple security lines) as well as to walk with someone who could provide adequate explanations. There is a lot to see so expect to give at least half a day to this momentous site.
I’m not even sure I can eloquently describe the feeling of seeing the Sistine Chapel. To stand in a silent room and look up at the famous piece that Michelangelo painted while on his back, gave me shivers. I just wanted to stand there forever and memorize every little piece. Cameras are not allowed, and this rule is STRICTLY enforced, so sadly I don't have a picture to share.
Moving into St. Peter’s Basilica, I was absolutely mind-blown. It was the largest and most ornate building I have ever set foot in. I was mesmerized as I wandered through. I am not a Catholic, but to be in the heart of the Catholic faith, one of the world’s largest religions, was a surreal experience.
Close to the Vatican, I wandered past Castel Sant’ Angelo on my last day in Rome. The Vatican was a heavy experience so afterwards, I just wanted to get lost in the streets of Rome, and I had not explored this side of the river yet. I ended up at Cast Sant’ Angelo. I didn’t know anything about this building, I didn’t even know what it was called, but it looked so different from the other buildings in Rome and that’s what drew me in. It was closed on the day that I was there so I just spent some time on the bridge out front, enjoying the beauty of the structure, the river flowing underneath me and all the people taking in the amazement of Rome. I learned afterwards that this building has a long history. Initially, it was built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family, it was then used by the popes as a fortress and a castle (it even has a tunnel that connects it to the Vatican!), and is now a museum showcasing a chamber of ashes as well as the cells in which many historical figures were incarcerated. Next time I am in Rome, I will definitely be visiting.
Seriously. Wander through the churches, through the small side streets, through the shops, through the buildings. Rome has so much to see and it is a magical city to just get lost in. Take your last day and soak it all up, let Rome into your soul, you won’t regret it.
Of course there is so much more to see in Rome than what I have listed here. But if you are short on time and only have a few days, these are the places that I think deserve a visit. The rest….well, it looks like you’ll have to visit again.