You just arrived in Rome with a couple of days to kill. How is it possible to see everything there is to see in such a short time? This is the guide to making the most of Rome in the shortest time possible.
Hopefully, check-in at the hotel has been fairly straightforward, so it’s now time to venture out in search of some good food. A meal in the old Trastevere part of the city has several benefits. First, there are a multitude of tourist-style sidewalk restaurants and pizzerias to choose from, and second, they are within walking distance of several major sites, including the well-preserved Pantheon.
Rome is as attractive at night as it is by day, with the heat of a Roman summer, night walks can save a few hours of excessive sweating during the day. Any of the little alleys between the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps is perfectly located to allow a generous meal of pasta and a good jug of wine to be wandered around quite easily.
Head to the Spanish steps to sit and hang out with the locals, while the view from the top of the steps in front of the Trinita dei Monti church offers an excellent view of the city. Stroll around the Trevi Fountain and buy dessert in the form of ice cream and try your luck with the change. Throw a coin over your shoulder to come back, two coins to come back and get kissed, or three coins to come back and get married.
Keep walking through the streets until you reach Piazza Venezia, named for the Palazzo that dominates the square that resembles the Doge’s Palace in Venice. The second-floor balcony may sound familiar, it was the podium from which the dictator ‘il duce’ Mussolini delivered his fascist speeches. The other landmark that dominates the square is the unmistakable monument to Vittorio Emanuele II.
This has earned several nicknames over the years, including the wedding cake and the typewriter. The Unknown Soldier’s Tomb is here under armed guard along with the Eternal Flame. If the monument is open, there is a fantastic view over the rooftops of Rome, a glimpse of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum behind it. It is closed at dusk, but many of the ruins are illuminated at night.
If the night air has revived you, there is the option to check out the local nightlife as there are many bars and clubs open in the central area of the city. There are also some in other squares such as Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori that remain open until dawn. Otherwise, head back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow.
It’s worth getting an early start, especially in summer to avoid crowds and temperatures, but luckily the city isn’t too spread out to get from one place to another. The metro system is basic to say the least, there are only two metro lines running through the city and the buses are clearly marked with destinations. Termini is the central bus and metro terminal. Tickets must be purchased before boarding and validated at the yellow machines, starting at EUR 1 per trip.
No visit to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican. San Pietro is on the western side of the Tiber River with the dome of Saint Peter visible from most of the city. The halls of the Vatican museum are open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and the last entry is just before 3:30 p.m., during the busy summer months. It is open until 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays and low season, while it is closed on Sundays and religious celebrations. It takes a long time to walk through the museum’s 7 km of rooms to reach the Sistine Chapel, where you can admire the details and marvel at the creation on the ceiling by Michelangelo. It is worth having some kind of description of the frescoes on hand to explain what you are looking at. The Pope delivers his public address on Wednesday mornings at 11 a.m.
If you’re still hungry for more, there’s the vast interior of the Basilica, the crypt below, and the view from the dome above onto the square. This is probably a good time for lunch before tackling the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Take plenty of water with you in the summer months, as sneaky vendors will sell small bottles at exorbitant prices. Throughout lunch it also takes you out of the hottest part of the day.
Entrance tickets to the Colosseum can be bought at the door, but if the line is too long, you can go to the ticket office at the base of Palatine Hill and buy them there. The line here is generally much shorter as there are not many tourists going up the hill. The remains of the emperors’ palace are located at the top overlooking the forum and quite strategically in the temple of the Vestal Virgins. This hill is also said to be where Romulus founded Rome.
Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, which was an exercise in recycling ancient monuments conducted by Emperor Constantine to reward himself for defeating Maxentius. The Colosseum has been damaged over the last 1800 years by earthquakes, invaders, and marble traders, but recent restoration projects have seen some parts restored to give a good idea of their original condition.
Via Sacre leads from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum, the center of the ancient Roman commercial world. The ruins include the original forum, Julius Caesar’s funeral pyre, the Senate building, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, and the Arch of Septimus Severus. The forum was buried during several hundred years of flooding, each layer having been stripped to reveal another Roman era and, in some cases, where two eras have merged, as in the case of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The door in the middle of the exposed wall shows where the ground level was during the 8th century, when the 2nd century temple was converted into a church.
There are many tour guides available as history students and licensed guides offer their services with tours of the forum and parceum. The stories they tell really help bring the ruins to life. Across the street is Trajan’s Forum with the very striking Trajan’s Column. This marks the limit of ancient Rome and the continuation of the modern city. Unfortunately, most of ancient Rome lies below Via dei Fiori Imperiali, the road built by Mussolini for his troops to climb up and down before going into battle.
The rest of the day can be spent people-watching in any of the cafes on Piazza Navona and admiring Bernini’s sculpted Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or relaxing in the shade in the 17-century Villa Borghese park. XVII. Then go back to those clubs you missed last night.
This really depends on when you decide to leave. An early afternoon departure may allow you to take one of three options as long as you start early. The Baths of Caracalla is a 10 hectare space that once hosted 1,600 people to take advantage of the baths, shops, libraries, gardens and public entertainment. These open at 9 a.m. M. And they close 1 hour before sunset and at 2 p.m. M. Mondays. You would need around 3-4 hours, including travel time, to see them.
The other option is to visit one of the vast catacombs that are buried under the city. It’s miles and miles of tunnels, burial vaults, and churches dug by early Christians to escape persecution by the Romans. The burial vaults are countless meters high and the tunnels span several levels. The resulting rabbit hole requires a guide to get you around safely. You can choose between those on Via Appia Antica, which are the largest, or the Catacombs of San Calisto, which are next to the Catacombs of San Sebastiano. They open at 8.30 a.m., closing at noon, reopening in the afternoon from 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Again, it would take 3-4 hours to take a site.
The third and last option is to put aside everything touristy and enjoy authentic gastronomic experiences. The food markets north of the Vatican take place along Viale dele Millizie and those in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, near Termini, offer a selection of fresh and locally produced products.
There you have it, all the main attractions of Rome achievable in just 2 days. The choice now is, do I really want to leave yet?