Rome in a day: a practical guide to discover the essentials of the city

If Audrey Hepburn fell in love with the Eternal City in 24 hours, so can you. I'll tell you the best itinerary to make the most of your brief stay in the capital.

Nuria Rozas

Nuria Rozas

9 min read

Rome in a day: a practical guide to discover the essentials of the city

Vatican City in the heart of Rome | © Christopher Czermak

As the proud Italians say of their homeland: "Roma, non basta una vita". In other words, a lifetime is not enough to get to know the Eternal City. 24 hours will only give you enough time to whet your appetite and to get to know the Italian capital for the first time. After this first taste, you'll be left wanting much more!

Are you planning your trip to Rome and don't know where to start? In this 1-day guide I'll help you plan your route around the city, take you on a tour of the Rome of postcards and films and give you some gastronomic tips to help you make the most of your time and get the most out of it. Here we go!

1. Breakfast like a champ in Rome

Outside the Pasteleria Dagnino in Rome| ©The  Beehive
Outside the Pasteleria Dagnino in Rome| ©The Beehive

Buongiorno, principessa! As the saying goes, "the early bird catches the worm. Get up early to enjoy the dolce far niente (the pleasure of doing nothing) with a mind-blowing breakfast. There is no better pleasure on holiday than gazing at the best panoramic views of Rome with a cappuccino, and then some, in your hand. I tell you from experience!

Option 1: The Dagnino patisserie: the sweetest option

If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love the Sicilian pastry shop Dagnino, located near Piazza Repubblica and the oldest of its kind in Rome. Opened in 1955, its owners have kept the atmosphere and charm of the place intact as the years have passed.

Besides its delicious desserts, the emblematic space is well worth a visit. In the cafeteria's lounge you can admire the paintings and carved wooden figures of women representing the cities of Sicily. Its shop windows, filled with cakes and other succulent delights, also host contemporary art exhibitions.

Option 2: breakfast in the café of an architectural jewel

For foodies and savoury lovers, the Chiostro del Bramante café offers not only traditional breakfasts with brownies, muffins, homemade cheesecake with chestnuts (especially in the Roman autumn) and fresh juices, but also brunch with a breathtaking view of the cloister. Yes, you read that right. It's the café of a former convent of Renaissance architecture converted into an exhibition hall today, combining the classic with the modern.

After recharging your batteries with lunch, you can visit the brand new exhibitions, some as significant as the one dedicated to Banksy, one of the greatest exponents of street art. Enjoy your artistic and culinary treat!

Book a private tour of Rome

2. Take an early morning tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

Old paper entrance to the Colosseum| ©Unsplash
Old paper entrance to the Colosseum| ©Unsplash

After an early start and a good caffeine fix at one of these places, the best is yet to come! Head to the Colosseum, the most majestic and monumental building in the city, to learn about the history of ancient Rome on one of the many guided tours you can book.

Any advice? Buy your tickets well in advance

Did you know that until the 20th century, no other building in the world had a larger capacity than the Colosseum? You will discover this and other anecdotes through the eyes of an expert guide who will accompany you throughout your tour if you book a tour. I recommend that you buy your tickets to the Colosseum well in advance, as it is one of the seven wonders of the modern world and is usually packed with tourists. The queues are kilometres long!

On the guided tour you will discover that the amphitheatre was created to give the people "bread and circuses", and above all, a lot of circuses, as it was intended to host the bloody games used by the emperors to entertain the plebs. Here you could watch the spectacle of animal fighting and the gladiatorial games, which, according to myth, ended with the death of the vanquished.

Useful information about the Colosseum

In this article I detail how to buy tickets to the Colosseum, the opening times of the Colosseum, how to get discounts and cheap tickets to the Colosseum, how to visit the Colosseum with children and I give you some tips for visiting the colossal monument so that you don't have to worry about anything.

Buy tickets for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill

3. Cross the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Vittorio Emmanuele monument

Via dei Fori Imperiali| ©Rabax63
Via dei Fori Imperiali| ©Rabax63

After your visit to the Colosseum, cross Via dei Fori Imperiali, one of the main streets of the historic centre, to reach the imposing classical marble temple dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuele. This is one of Rome's finest monuments, built in an ancient medieval quarter in honour of the King of Italy and the soldiers of World War I.

Next to the central monument to Victor Emmanuel II is also a tomb with an 'eternal flame' commemorating the soldiers who died and could not be identified after the Great War. It will make your hair stand on end! The aim is to ensure that history never repeats itself.

Book a private tour of Rome

4. Toss the traditional coin at the Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain| ©Michele Bitetto
Trevi Fountain| ©Michele Bitetto

Come to the Trevi Fountain, probably the best fountain in Rome and one of the most famous and famous in the world. After taking a selfie and tossing the obligatory coin (or don't you want to go back a second time?) take a few minutes to contemplate this Baroque masterpiece. You'll be spellbound!

This enclave was one of the locations for the film 'La Dolce Vita', in which the sensual protagonist took a bath. Who could, right? Well, don't even think of doing it because you'll pay a €500 fine for the luxury dip. In this case, you'll have to make do with observing the artistic ensemble designed by Nicola Salvi and the monumental statue of Neptune from afar.

Nuria's Traveller Tip

If you have time, I suggest you return to the Trevi Fountain at night for a second time, which is the time of day when, thanks to the lighting, it looks at its most majestic.

5. Enjoy a good traditional pasta, you deserve it!

Pasta in Rome| ©Amirali Mirhashemian
Pasta in Rome| ©Amirali Mirhashemian

After you've been walking around all morning, take a break, which in the Italian capital is synonymous with pasta and pizza. Do you want to know where the Romans eat without breaking the bank? Trust me. A few steps from the Trevi Fountain, in a narrow alleyway, you'll come across a small, rustic and cosy restaurant, L'Archetto, which has a menu with... 100 different types of pasta!

On its menu you'll find classic dishes such as spaghetti with clams, carbonara, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), amatriciana, with salmon... Which is the best? If you can't decide on just one pasta, I suggest you order the tasting menu with three different types of spaghetti with sauce.

Another option for foodies is to book a gastronomic tour where you can try the best of Italian cuisine: pasta, ice cream, fried artichokes as well as wine and other delicacies. Can't your mouth water?

Book a food tour in Rome

6. Visit the Pantheon, an architectural jewel

The famous Pantheon in Rome| ©Ana Rey
The famous Pantheon in Rome| ©Ana Rey

To wash down the binge, we walk a short distance (about 8 minutes from the Trevi Fountain) to Rome's Pantheon, one of the greatest architectural achievements of ancient Rome, so much so that it has been standing for almost 2,000 years. So much so that it has been standing for almost 2,000 years, its impressive eight-column portico welcomes us!

This symbolic temple holds some of the best secrets of the Eternal City. I'll reveal one. Raphael, one of the great painters of the Renaissance, is buried here. Its impressive dome is well worth a visit.

How can you get tickets?

Tickets cost 5 euros and must be bought in advance, but I recommend you book a guided tour of the Pantheon because there is so much to see and learn about that, unless you are an art expert, the presence of a guide will be very useful.

In any case, in this article I detail everything you need to know before visiting the Pantheon so that you can start to get your teeth into it.

Book a guided tour of the Pantheon

7. Continue strolling to the famous Piazza Navona

Enjoying the Piazza Navona| ©Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Enjoying the Piazza Navona| ©Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Once again we stop to admire the Piazza Navona, a veritable open-air museum. If you visit Rome in winter you will be captivated by its magical Christmas market.

Piazza Navona, in the heart of the Eternal City, reinvents the phrase "all roads lead to Rome" because all roads lead to Piazza Navona. Don't miss the beautiful fountain by Bernini, which depicts the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata.

Book a tour of fountains and squares in Rome

8. Take a short break for a gelato

Various types of gelato| ©Lama Roscu
Various types of gelato| ©Lama Roscu

One of the reasons Audrey Hepburn fell in love with Rome was its gelato. And she was right. After this intense day of sightseeing, I recommend you stop at Don Nino for one of the best ice creams in Rome and in the world. They are delicious!

The owner, Francesco Mastroianni, is a five-time Italian ice cream champion. A passion he inherited from his father and grandfather. Try some of his specialities, such as the pistachio ice cream and the hand-roasted Langhe hazelnut. Your mouth will be watering!

9. Take the bus to the Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City| ©Paul Macdonald
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City| ©Paul Macdonald

The day is coming to an end, but one of the jewels of the Eternal City remains: the Vatican, home to the impressive Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Dome, the Basilica and the imposing square with Bernini's colonnade. Make the most of your time here because it is the largest temple in the world, and you won't have enough days to see it all!

But don't worry because here are some tips for visiting the Vatican, so that you can see as much as possible and not die trying. In this article I also explain how to get cheap, free or discounted tickets to the Vatican. My personal favourite option is to take a guided tour of the Vatican with an expert guide - you are in front of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces, you can't miss a single detail!

Book your ticket for the Vatican

10. End a magical day with dinner in Trastevere - Ciao Roma!

Facade of the Antica Pesa| ©Claudia Cristina
Facade of the Antica Pesa| ©Claudia Cristina

If you want to say goodbye to Rome in style by enjoying a pleasant evening in the Trastevere neighbourhood at night, I suggest you book a table at the Antica Pesa, a Michelin-starred restaurant located in a former 17th century customs post, from which it derives its name. It has a spectacular garden from which to watch the sunset or the moonlight on Rome's starry summer nights!

This family-run restaurant, which has been run by four generations of the Panella family since 1922, reworks traditional Roman recipes and uses locally sourced seasonal produce, with a nod to modern trends. In its art-filled dining room, actors such as Leonardo di Caprio have been seated.

Latest practical tips

Rome metro map| ©ATAC
Rome metro map| ©ATAC

Your day in the Eternal City has probably left you wanting more. Don't worry because you can always come back to Rome. For now, here are a couple of tips to help you make the most of your stay, saving time on transport or at mealtimes.

Some gastronomic suggestions

If you love to eat and prefer something economical, here is a brief culinary guide to Trastevere for all budgets, where you will find numerous restaurants and bars where you can try some of the best Italian specialities. I guarantee you won't go hungry in the Eternal City!

How late is the metro?

If you're flying back early in the morning, catch the last metro in Rome at 23:30 on weekdays and on Fridays and Saturdays until 1:30; if, on the other hand, you want to let yourself be carried away by the fun Roman nightlife and have an after-dinner drink, I suggest you take a taxi. They are a bit more expensive than in Spain, but don't worry, because they are not prohibitively expensive.