Rome is a neverending destination full of incredible places to visit, both its most famous monuments and its secret corners. Temples, ruins and fountains, and all the splendor of the Renaissance and Baroque periods make the Eternal City a unique place in the world.
While three days is not enough time to fully discover 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 is the ideal itinerary for a 3-day trip to Rome, with tips and tricks to see a lot of things in less time.
Day 1: Explore the Vatican and the Historic Center
The best way to start your visit to Rome is by visiting the most iconic places in the city - be prepared to be amazed 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 an unforgettable trip to the Eternal City.
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 enough talk, let's get down to business: to visit the famous chapel painted by Michelangelo you have two options, either buy your tickets for the Sistine Chapel or go on a tour of the Vatican Museums with an official guide who will tell you all the details about this place full of history.
Ideally, it is best to visit the Sistine Chapel as early in the day as possible. The opening is at 9 a.m. (every day of the week except Sundays), so try and be there by 8:30 a.m. to avoid the hordes of tourists that plague this place at noon. You'll thank me later!
Of course, while you're here, take your time and see other jaw-dropping rooms of the Vatican Museums. For me, the most impressive experience after seeing the Sistine Chapel with my own eyes was a walk through the Vatican Picture Gallery and a visit to the Gallery of Maps.
St. Peter's Basilica
Exit the Vatican Museums and go to the majestic St. Peter's Square. To do so, go along Viale Vaticano until you turn right onto 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 grandiosity that suddenly rises before your eyes.
By the time you arrive, there will be a lot of tourists lining up to enter the temple, so you may be interested to know that you can take a guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica with an official guide to skip the line and also learn about the history of everything you see inside.
This Renaissance marvel has a lot to see inside: the Baldacchino, Michelangelo's Pietà, the tomb of Alexander VII and the Vatican Grottoes are most impressive, but one thing that I think takes this visit to the next level is climbing the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Inside, you'll get a close-up look at the frescoes and inscriptions that decorate it, and outside you'll have incredible views of the Vatican and Rome.
One thing to keep in mind is that on Wednesdays the basilica does not open until 1 p.m. for the celebration of the papal audience, a blessing by the Pope in person to the faithful gathered in the square. On Sundays, it is also closed to the public.
And remember: they won't let you into St. Peter's Basilica if you don't have your shoulders and knees covered, so avoid shorts, skirts, dresses, and sleeveless tops (or, just cover your shoulder and knees with a fowl scarf).
Originally, it was built as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian, almost two thousand years ago. Since then, the 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 apartments, Hadrian's mausoleum, and tour the bastions where defensive cannons still stand, and best of all, climb to the roof to enjoy the views of Rome. On a 3-day trip to Rome, I don't consider it entirely necessary to explore its interior as part of the itinerary, but if you feel like it, here's all the information you need: Castel Sant'Angelo Tickets.
Piazza del Popolo
From Castel Sant'Angelo you can take a pleasant stroll along the banks of the Tiber until you reach Piazza del Popolo, the place where travelers used to arrive in Rome.
In the center of this square you will see an Egyptian obelisk from the time of Ramses II, and on both sides of Via Corso the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria del Miracoli.
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, in Via di Ripetta, 4, and I really liked it. It is an unpretentious place, not at all touristy and where they serve authentic pizza and pasta, with a good quality-price ratio.
Piazza di Spagna
The afternoon visits are the most charming and recognizable 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 staircase, leading to the church of Trinità dei Monti, and the Barcaccia Fountain.
The steps, which in spring and summer are filled with floral decorations and people, served as a backdrop for Audrey Hepburn in the movie 'Roman Holiday'. Not only Trevi Fountain is famous for appearing in a movie! And 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 that the place has at nightfall, for how much it has inspired all kinds of 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 find you an Italian lover and three coins will bring you a marriage (or a divorce). Remember: you have to throw the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder.
If you do not feel like visiting the Piazza di Trevi while it's jam-packed with tourists, you can make this visit at another time: either at dawn or after midnight there will be very few people and the lighting will be simply superb.
A short walk from the Trevi Fountain is the Piazza della Rotonda, where the incredible Pantheon of Agrippa (also known as the church of Santa Maria Rotonda) is located. It is the best-preserved Ancient Rome building in the city, and although it looks amazing on the outside, you will be completely blown away if you go in.
Make sure to visit the Pantheon while there's still some light of day since the building has a spectacular dome with an oculus through which sunlight enters and reflects on the mosaics and statues housed in the Pantheon.
Originally built as a temple dedicated to the entire mythology of 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 monuments and ruins of Ancient Rome
You have already seen the most spectacular of Rome's Renaissance and Baroque eras, but you still have to discover its most remarkable monuments and delve into the history of the Empire.
Erected in ancient times as the place to hold public events, the Colosseum evokes images of gladiators fighting for their lives in the arena and is also an important place for Catholic worship, since it was here that the first Christians died for their faith.
It is one of the most popular places for tourists visiting Rome and for this reason I advise you to visit it first thing in the morning. To skip the line and avoid any wait, it is best to book online your tickets for the Colosseum. You can also take a guided tour of the Colosseum, of about 2 and a half hours, which will allow you to access this monument directly and learn about its history from an expert guide.
Another option is to purchase a Roma Pass, as it includes admission to the Colosseum and other attractions, plus a multi-day public transport pass. In fact, the Rome Pass is perfect for a 3-day trip to the Eternal City. Keep in mind that even if you are going to use a tourist pass to access the Colosseum, you have to make a reservation ahead for the day and time of your entrance, something I recommend you do as early as possible to ensure you get in first thing in the morning.
The Colosseum is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., except on December 25th and January 1st. The Colosseum is located in Piazza del Colosseo, and the best way to get there is to go to the subway stop Colosseo on line B.
The Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
Next visit: a journey into the heart of Rome in ancient times! In the time of the Empire, what is now known as the Roman Forum was the center of public life in the city. Here you will see ruins of buildings dedicated to commerce and political life, and get a glimpse of what daily life was like in ancient times.
The Colosseum ticket allows you to enter the Roman Forum, located on the Monte Palatino, one of the seven hills of Rome, as long as you make both visits on the same day (this is why I recommend you to make this visit immediately after! And well, because they are very close to each other and the itinerary is quite neat this way).
It is best to enter the Roman Forum through the Via di San Gregorio entrance, where there is less queue to enter, and exit through the door that is closer to the Colosseum.
At this point, you will most likely be getting hungry, and I recommend you to stop for lunch now. Restaurant Fiammetta in Piazza Fiammetta, 10, is a traditional restaurant with a very nice terrace to dine al fresco, where they serve authentic Roman cuisine. Here, 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 restaurant run by a local family where you can try homemade pasta dishes and hearty meat courses. Also, for about € 20 per person. The address of the restaurant is Via della Madonna Dei Monti, 9.
In case you want to explore other options, I've written an article about my favorite 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 far from other places like the Colosseum or the Pantheon, it is still an interesting visit and I personally think that a walk through these ruins has a very special charm to it.
You can imagine the hundreds of bathers who came on the daily to the Baths, spending the day in its gardens, its library, practicing exercise, and of course, bathing. It is a building that really represents the splendor of Ancient Rome like no other since it is synonymous with having conquered a level of well-being comparable to modern times (although it was still a privilege reserved only to those with the status of citizen).
The Baths of Caracalla are open every day of the year except December 25th. To get there from the Colosseum, walk down Via di San Gregorio, continue along Viale delle Terme di Caracalla and turn into Via Antonina.
La Bocca della Verità
I haven't told you before, but look, at this point you should watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck's 'Roman Holiday' before your trip, because in addition to the scene in Piazza di Spagna, the protagonists of the film also visit the famous Bocca della Verità, the famous marble mask that, according to legend, bites the hand of liars.
It is located in Piazza della Bocca della Verità, which is right in front of the Tiber Island, where you will find the Church of Santa Maria di Cosmedin. 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 up to 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 Tiber River: a former working-class neighborhood that today is one of the most beautiful places in the city, and a neighborhood that has kept itself fashionable among both locals and tourists. In the cobblestone streets of Trastevere you will find a cozy atmosphere, charming buildings and corners, and some of the best pizzerias in Rome.
I recommend you to take a walk in the area and visit the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere and discover the iconic surrounding streets covered in vines.
A great place for dinner is Pizzeria Ai Marmi, in Viale di Trastevere, 53-59. It is open until 2:30 a.m. and you will 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 is a reason why it is always crowded: their pizzas are to die for.
Day 3: Walk through Rome's history and venture into its Catacombs
To end your trip to Rome on a high note, get away from the center and discover other parts of the city, including the secrets hidden under its streets and monuments.
Appian Way and the Catacombs
Built in 312 B.C., it is one of the oldest surviving roads in the world, which is fortunate because it shows the great importance it had for the Roman Empire by connecting the capital with the settlements to the south and allowing troops and goods to be transported.
Much of what can be seen 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.
To start this visit, go to the starting point of the roadway, at Porta San Sebastiano. From the center, several buses will take you there, such as the 118 or 160, although the most direct is the 628 from Piazza Navona.
From Porta San Sebastiano it is enough to walk about ten minutes to reach the church of Domino Quo Vadis, a ninth-century temple that marks the beginning of the points of interest of the Appian Way.
Afterward, you can visit the Catacombs of Rome. There are two that 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, the best thing to do is to read the complete guide I have written and learn how to book a tour and what to see there: Catacombs Tickets.
After the visit to the Catacombs, or if you don't feel like venturing inside 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, in Via Piemonte, 125, has a menu of exquisite dishes such as red tuna tartar with crusty bread and fennel cream, sea bass carpaccio with pistachios and black truffle, and my favorite, artichokes with beans. The price is higher than other recommendations in this article, 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 will take you very little time to get there walking and you can enjoy a stroll through a less crowded but equally interesting museum. The Borghese Gallery is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., except on Mondays, when it is closed to the public.
You can access the Borghese Gallery with a Roma Pass, but in case you want to buy your tickets independently I recommend you to read this informative article before: Borghese Gardens and Gallery Tours & Tickets.
Once you have visited the Borghese Gallery, take a stroll through its gardens and head west towards Piazza del Popolo. You will find the Terrazza del Pincio, a place from where you can enjoy one of the best views of Rome, especially at sunset. If you have already visited Piazza Navona or are not too interested, I recommend that you stay in the area and enjoy the views while you rest from these intense days of travel.
It's time to return to the city center and make the last stop at Piazza Navona, the main square of the city so you won't leave Rome without seeing it. Here you can see a wonderful trio of fountains and have a coffee 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 can see, 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 on the same day, because as you have read it is very easy to get from one point to another since the places of interest are very concentrated in the center of the city. Now, have fun on your getaway to Rome!