Rome is an inexhaustible source of incredible places to visit, both its most famous monuments and its secret corners. Temples, ruins and fountains, and all the splendour of the Renaissance and Baroque periods make the Eternal City a unique place in the world.
Although three days is not enough time to really get to know Rome, they are more than enough to see the most beautiful sights of the city and even stroll around its streets enjoying its unmistakable atmosphere. Here's the ideal itinerary for a 3-day trip to Rome, with tips and tricks to see a lot in less time.
Day 1: Explore the Vatican and the Historical Centre
The best way to start your visit to Rome is by taking in the city's most iconic sights- be prepared to be left open-mouthed as soon as you start your trip!
Vatican City is the first stop on the itinerary. Although you won't technically be in Rome during this visit, both the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica could be enough to make a trip to the Eternal City unforgettable.
The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums, a museum that houses an impressive collection of religious and modern art, rooms dedicated to the exhibition of archaeological remains, and even a museum of papal carriages.
But let's get to the point: to visit the famous chapel painted by Michelangelo you have two options, either buy your tickets for the Sistine Chapel or take a tour of the Vatican Museums with an official guide who will tell you all the details about this place full of history.
The ideal is to visit the Sistine Chapel as early in the day as possible. It opens at 9am (every day of the week except Sundays), so you'll be very grateful to be there at around 8.30am to avoid the hordes of tourists that plague this place at midday.
Of course, you can take advantage of the visit to see a couple of things in the Vatican Museums. For me, the most impressive thing after the Sistine Chapel was a walk through the Pinacoteca Vaticana and a visit to the Gallery of Maps.
St. Peter's Basilica
Leave the Vatican Museums and go to the majestic St. Peter's Square. To do so, go along Viale Vaticano until you turn right into Via Leone IV. Continue along Viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo, then Via di Porta Angelica until you see the columns lining the square. Look for the entrance and marvel at the spectacle that suddenly rises before your eyes.
By the time you arrive, there will be plenty of tourists queuing to enter the temple, so you may be interested to know that you can take a tour of St Peter's Basilica with an official guide to skip the queue and also get an in-depth history of everything you see inside.
This Renaissance marvel has a lot to see inside: the Baldacchino, Michelangelo's Pieta, the tomb of Alexander VII and the Vatican Grottoes are most impressive, but something that I think takes this visit to the next level is going up to the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Inside, you'll get a close-up view of the frescoes and inscriptions that decorate it, and outside you'll have incredible views of the Vatican and Rome.
One thing to note is that on Wednesdays the basilica doesn't open until 1pm for the Papal Audience, a blessing by the Pope himself to the faithful gathered in the square. On Sundays it is also closed to the public.
And remember: you will not be allowed into St Peter's Basilica unless your shoulders and knees are covered, so avoid shorts, skirts, dresses and sleeveless tops.
Originally, it was built as the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, almost two thousand years ago. Since then, Castel Sant'Angelo, on the banks of the Tiber River, has been a tomb, a fortress for the Pope in case of attack, a castle and, nowadays, a museum.
Inside, you can see the papal flats, Hadrian's mausoleum, and tour the bastions from which defensive cannons still point, and best of all, climb to the rooftop to enjoy the views of Rome. On a 3-day trip to Rome I don't consider it necessary to explore the interior as part of the itinerary, but if you're particularly interested, you'll find all the information you need here: Rome Castel Sant'Angelo Tickets: how to buy, prices and schedules.
Piazza del Popolo
From Castel Sant'Angelo you can take a pleasant stroll along the banks of the Tiber until you reach the Piazza del Popolo, the place where travellers used to arrive in Rome.
In the centre of this square you will see an Egyptian obelisk from the time of Ramses II, and on both sides the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria del Miracoli, located on both sides of the Via Corso.
You can stop to rest for a while and then look for a place to eat. On recommendation, I went to the trattoria dal Pollarolo 1936, at Via di Ripetta, 4, and I liked it very much. It's an unpretentious place, not at all touristy, serving authentic pizza and pasta, and good value for money.
Piazza di Spagna
The afternoon visits are the most beautiful and recognisable places in Rome. From Piazza del Popolo, walk down Via del Babuino and in less than 10 minutes you will have reached Piazza di Spagna, whose main attractions are its famous steps, leading to the beautiful church of Trinità dei Monti, and the Fontana della Barcaccia.
The staircase, which in spring and summer is filled with floral decorations and people, was used as a backdrop for Audrey Hepburn in the film 'Roman Holiday' - it's not just the Trevi Fountain that's famous for being in a film! Speaking of which, it's the next stop of the day.
The Trevi Fountain
What a fantastic work of art. For its symbolism, for the elegance of its execution, for the magic of the place at sunset, for how much it has inspired artists from all over the world...
You will always find people in front of it or throwing coins into the water, following the tradition that says that throwing one coin will bring you back to Rome in the future, two coins will bring you an Italian love and three coins will bring you a marriage (or a divorce). But you have to do it right: throw the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder.
If you don't fancy finding the Piazza di Trevi crowded to its four corners, you can visit the Trevi Fountain at another time: either at dawn or after midnight there will be very few people and these are two very special times to see this place.
A short walk from the Trevi Fountain is the Piazza della Rotonda, home to the incredible Pantheon of Agrippa (also known as the church of Santa Maria Rotonda). It's the best preserved Ancient Roman building in the city, and while the outside is stunning, the best part is inside.
Going when there's still some light is a beautiful experience as the building has a spectacular dome with an oculus through which sunlight enters and reflects off the mosaics and statues housed in the Pantheon.
Originally built as a temple dedicated to the entire mythology of the Roman gods, the Pantheon was converted for use as a Christian church in the early 7th century. Inside you can see the tombs of some Italian monarchs and the tomb of the painter Raphael.
Day 2: Visit the monuments and ruins of Ancient Rome
You have already seen the most spectacular of Rome's Renaissance and Baroque eras, but there are still some of its most remarkable monuments to discover and delve deeper into the history of the Empire.
Built in antiquity as the place par excellence to hold public spectacles, the Colosseum evokes images of gladiators fighting to life and death in the arena and is also an important place for Catholic worship, as this is where the first Christians died for their faith.
It is one of the most popular places in Rome for tourists and for this reason I advise you to make it the first thing you visit on the second day of your trip. To skip the line and wait as little as possible, it is best to book your tickets for the Colosseum online. You can also take a guided tour of the Colosseum, lasting about 2.5 hours, which will allow you to enter the Colosseum directly and learn about its history from an expert guide.
Another option is to buy a Roma Pass, as it includes admission to the Colosseum and other attractions, plus a public transport pass for several days. In fact, the Roma Pass is perfect for a 3-day trip to the Eternal City. Please note that even if you are using a tourist pass to access the Colosseum, you need to book the day and time of your entrance, which I recommend you do as early as possible to ensure an early time in the day.
The Colosseum is open every day from 8:30am until 7pm, except on 25 December and 1 January. The Colosseum is located in Piazza del Colosseo, and is best reached from the Colosseo metro stop on the B line. For other ways to get to the monument, don't miss the post How to get to the Colosseum in Rome.
The Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
Next visit: a journey to the heart of Rome in ancient times! In the time of the Empire, what is known today as the Roman Forum was the centre of public life in the city. There you'll see ruins of buildings dedicated to commerce and political life, and you'll get an idea of what daily life was like in ancient times.
The Colosseum ticket allows you to enter the Roman Forum, located on the Palatine Hill, one of Rome's seven hills, as long as you do both visits on the same day (which is why I recommend you do this visit immediately after, wink wink, and well, because they're very close to each other and the itinerary looks great that way).
It is best to enter the Roman Forum through the Via di San Gregorio entrance, where there is less queuing to enter, and exit through the door that is closest to the Colosseum.
At this point you will be getting hungry, and I recommend you stop for lunch now. Ristorante Fiammetta at Piazza Fiammetta, 10, is a traditional restaurant with a cute terrace serving authentic Roman cuisine, where you can eat for between 20 and 25 € per person.
Another option is the Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, closer to the Colosseum. It's a family-run restaurant where you can try homemade pasta dishes (and the meat main courses are not far behind). Also, for about 20 € per person. The restaurant's address is Via della Madonna Dei Monti, 9.
And while you're deciding where to eat, you might want to explore other options. Therefore, I have written an article about my favourite restaurants in Rome that might help you choose a place: 10 places to eat in Rome.
Baths of Caracalla
Although time has taken its toll on the baths, and their state of preservation is a far cry from other sites such as the Colosseum or the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla is still an interesting visit and I personally think that a walk through these ruins has a very special charm.
You can imagine the hundreds of bathers who came daily to the Baths spending the day in its gardens, its library and exercising and taking care of their hygiene. It is a building that really represents the splendour of Ancient Rome like no other, as it is synonymous with having achieved a level of wellbeing (reserved only for citizens) comparable to modern times.
The Baths of Caracalla are open every day of the year except 25th December. To get there from the Colosseum, walk down Via di San Gregorio, continue along Viale delle Terme di Caracalla and turn into Via Antonina.
The Mouth of Truth
I haven't told you this before, but look, at this point it's best to watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck's 'Roman Holiday' before your trip, because in addition to the scene in Piazza di Spagna, the stars of the film also visit the famous Bocca della Verità, the famous marble mask which, according to legend, bites the hand of a liar.
It is located in the Piazza della Bocca della Verità, which is just opposite the Tiber Island, where the Church of Santa Maria di Cosmedin is located. Its inner portico houses the Bocca della Verità. The square is quite beautiful and in front of the church you can also visit a temple dedicated to Hercules and the Fountain of the Tritons.
To get there from the Baths of Caracalla, the best way is to walk: retrace your steps until you reach Via di San Gregorio and continue straight on along Via dei Cherchi until you reach Piazza della Bocca della Verità.
To end the day, the last visit is on the other side of the river Tiber: a former working class neighbourhood that today is one of the most beautiful places in the city and a neighbourhood that has never ceased to be fashionable among locals and tourists alike. The cobblestone streets of Trastevere are lined with charming buildings and nooks and crannies and some of Rome's best pizzerias.
A great place to dine is Pizzeria Ai Marmi, at Viale di Trastevere, 53-59. It's open until 2:30 in the morning and you'll see many people eating pizza at the tables on the terrace or standing up, as the place looks more like a kitchen than a restaurant. But there's a reason why it's always crowded: their pizzas are to die for.
Day 3: Explore Rome's history and venture into its Catacombs
To end your trip to Rome, the best thing to do is to get away from the centre and discover other parts of the city, including the secrets hidden beneath its streets and monuments.
Via Appia and the Catacombs
Built in 312 B.C., it is one of the oldest surviving roads in the world, which is fortunate as it shows the great importance it had for the Roman Empire, linking the capital with the settlements in the south of the territory and the movement of troops and goods.
Much of what you can see today on the Appian Way is the original stone used in its construction, and along its route you can see several places of interest in the Parco dell'Appia Antica, one of the 10 best parks in Rome.
To start this visit, go to the starting point of the road, at Porta San Sebastiano. From the centre, there are several buses that take you there, such as the 118 or the 160, although the most direct is the 628 from Piazza Navona.
From Porta San Sebastiano it's a ten-minute walk to the church of Domino Quo Vadis, a 9th-century temple that marks the beginning of the points of interest on the Appian Way.
Afterwards, you can visit the Catacombs of Rome. Two are open to the public: the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian. The former offers the longest tour and inside you can see the tombs of the first 16 popes as well as the resting places of several Christian martyrs.
To visit the Catacombs, it is best to read the full guide I have written as it will tell you exactly how to book a tour and what to see there: Rome Catacombs Tickets: how to buy and prices.
After the visit to the Catacombs, or if you don't feel like going inside to tour them, continue along the Appian Way to the tomb of Cecilia Metella and the Circus of Maxentius, about a 10 to 15 minute walk.
At this point I recommend you stop for lunch. Ai Fienaroli, at Via Piemonte, 125, has a menu of exquisite dishes such as bluefin tuna tartar with crusty bread and fennel cream, sea bass carpaccio with pistachios and black truffle, and my favourite, artichokes with beans. The price is higher than other recommendations in this article, at around €40 per person.
The Borghese Gallery, in the gardens of Villa Borghese, houses one of the most impressive collections in Rome with works by artists such as Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio.
From the Via Appia, it's a short walk and you can enjoy a less crowded but equally interesting museum tour. The Borghese Gallery is open daily from 9:00 to 19:00, except on Mondays, when it is closed to the public.
You can enter the Borghese Gallery with a Roma Pass, but in case you want to buy your tickets independently I recommend you read this informative article first: Borghese Gardens and Gallery Tours & Tickets.
Once you have visited the Borghese Gallery, stroll through the gardens of Villa Borghese to see its best sculptures and head west towards Piazza del Popolo. You'll find the Terrazza del Pincio, a place to enjoy one of the best views in Rome, especially at sunset. If you've already visited Piazza Navona or you're not too interested, I recommend you stay in the area and enjoy the views while you take a break from these intense days of travelling.
It's back to the centre for a last stop at Piazza Navona, the city's main square, so you won't leave Rome without seeing it. Here you can see a wonderful trio of fountains and have a coffee or an ice-cream or sit down to rest from this day full of experiences. This is, for me, one of the most beautiful squares in Rome.
As you have seen, visiting Rome in three days is possible if you know how to do it. Don't be afraid to include a large number of visits in the same day, because as you've read it's very easy to get from one point to another as the sights are very concentrated in the city centre. Now, enjoy your getaway!