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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 as a first contact with the Italian capital. After this first crush, you will be left wanting much more!

Are you organizing your trip to Rome and don't know where to start? In this 1-day guide I will help you plan your route through the city, take you on a walk through the Rome of postcards and movies and give you some gastronomic tips to make the most of your time and make it worth twice as much. Here we go!

1. Breakfast like a champion 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 one of those breakfasts that will knock your socks off. There is no better pleasure on vacation than contemplating 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 without letting the years pass by.

In addition to its delicious desserts, the emblematic space is worth a visit. In the cafeteria 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 cafe of an architectural jewel

For foodies and savory 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 a brunch with a breathtaking view of the cloister. Yes, you read that right. This is the cafe 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 their 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 enjoyment!

Book a private tour of Rome

2. Early morning tour of the Colosseum and 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 in 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 the tickets well in advance

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

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

Useful information about the Colosseum

In this article I detail the opening hours of the Colosseum, how to get discounts and cheap tickets for the Colosseum, how to visit the Colosseum with children and give you some tips for visiting the colossal monument so you do not worry about anything.

Book a visit to the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill

3. Cross 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 center, until you 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 honor of the king of Italy and the soldiers of World War I.

Next to the central monument honoring 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 goal is that history will never repeat itself.

Book a private tour of hidden Rome

4. Toss the traditional coin at the Trevi Fountain

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

Go to the Trevi Fountain, which is 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 come back a second time?) contemplate this baroque masterpiece for a few minutes. You will be spellbound!

This enclave was one of the sets of the movie 'La Dolce Vita', in which the sensual protagonist took a bath. Who could, right? Well, don't even think of doing it because you will pay a fine of 500 € for the luxury dip. In this case, you'll have to settle for 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 go back to the Trevi Fountain at night for the second time, which is the time of day when, thanks to the lighting, it looks more 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. Want to know where the Romans eat without breaking the bank? Trust me. A few steps from the Trevi Fountain, in a narrow alley you will find a tiny, rustic and cozy restaurant, the L'Archetto, which has a menu with... 100 different types of pasta!

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

After refueling, for less than 15 euros (a dish and drink) in the heart of Rome, we continue with the exciting walk through the Eternal City.

Book a gastronomic 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 walked a bit (about 8 minutes from the Trevi Fountain) to reach the Pantheon of Rome, one of the greatest architectural achievements of ancient Rome. 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 there. Its impressive dome is well worth a visit.

How can you get tickets?

Since it is a place of religious worship, admission is free and from Monday to Friday you won't need a reservation. However, on holidays and weekends you will need to book at least one day in advance. In this article I detail everything you should know before visiting.

7. Stroll on to the famous Piazza Navona

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

Once again we make a stop on the way to contemplate Piazza Navona, a real 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.

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 ice cream. And there was no shortage of reasons. After this intense day of sightseeing, I advise you to stop at Don Nino to taste one of the best ice creams in Rome and the world. They are delicious!

Its owner, Francesco Mastroianni, has been five times Italian ice cream champion. A passion he has inherited from his father and grandfather. Try some of his specialties, 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 because it is the largest temple in the world, you will not have enough days to see it all!

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

Book your ticket to the Vatican

10. End a magical day with dinner in Trastevere, Chao 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 neighborhood at night, I suggest you book a table at 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 moonlight on starry summer nights in Rome!

This family 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. Its lounge, filled with works of art, has seated actors of the stature of Leonardo di Caprio.

Last practical tips

Rome subway map| ©ATAC
Rome subway map| ©ATAC

Surely your day in the Eternal City will have left you wanting more. Don't worry because you can always come back to Rome. For now, here are a couple of tips that can help you make the most of your stay by saving time on transportation or at lunchtime.

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 specialties. I guarantee that in the Eternal City, you won't go hungry!

How late is the subway?

If you have the plane back early in the morning, take the last metro in Rome at 11:30 pm on weekdays and on Fridays and Saturdays until 1:30 am; if, on the other hand, you want to let yourself be carried away by the fun Roman night and have a drink afterwards, I suggest you take a cab. They are a bit more expensive than in Spain, but don't worry, because they are not prohibitively expensive.