Perfect Rome itineraries
How long should you spend in Rome? Whether you have one, two, or three days, here's what to see and do in the time you have to spend in Rome, Italy.
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The panorama from atop St. Peter's dome. I'd give Rome a lifetime—though I guess you could settle for a minimum of three to four days.
Then again, I'm not on your vacation schedule, and for all I know you have but a precious day or two to spend on the wonders of the Eternal City.
With that in mind, here are several perfect itineraries that'll help you pack as much sightseeing as possible into however much time you have to spend in Rome.
How to spend 1, 2, or 3 days in Rome
There are actually two kinds of vacation days: days in which you actually do have 24 hours to do everything you want... and days were you have to spend part of the time traveling—either arriving in town, or heading off to the next destination.
Most "suggested itineraries" out there assume that you have full days. I travel all the time, so I know that's not always true. Often, you spend the morning of that first day flying in, collecting your bags, going through customs, catching a train downtown, and checking into your hotel.
To that end, here are both kinds of itineraries to help you cram the most into whatever amount of time you have in Rome.
If you are lucky and have full days in Rome
These are the itineraries for those who genuinely have full days to spend in the Eternal City.
(See below if you have more than 3 days.)
If part of your first day in Rome is spent arriving
If Rome is the first stop on your Italian vacation and "Day 1" is the day you are arriving in town, you will spend part of that day just traveling—say, getting from the airport or train station to your hotel. In that case, "Day 1" is really just lunch and an afternoon, and you'll have to adjust your ambitions accordingly.
- One day in Rome (arriving in Rome day 1)
- Two days in Rome (arriving in Rome day 1)
- Three days in Rome (arriving in Rome day 1)
I figure, if you have more than three days in Rome, you'll want to start branching out into lesser-known sights and experiences that appeal to you personally—and who am I to tell you what to do?
To that end, I've compiled quick lists of both the top sights in Rome and of my own favorite sights and experiences after living there for total of about five years, on and off, since I was 11 years old.
You might also spend a fourth or fifth day one a side trip—out to the ghost town ruins of Rome's ancient port, Ostia Antica (like Pompeii, but less crowded and just a Metro ride from Rome); or head to Tivoli, with the emperor Hadrian's ancient villa and several sumptuous Renaissance gardens; or spend a day in the wine-sotted Castelli Romani hilltowns south of the city.
This is merely a blueprint. You really should spend your time on whatever catches your own interest. Some people would rather get a root canal than spend a day strolling the boutique-lined streets radiating from the Spanish Steps, but for others a day of window-shopping would rank as the highlight of their trip. Same goes for cramming a dozen churches and museums into a single day: heaven for some, hell on earth for others. For some less-famous sights to visit, check out Reid's List: Rome.
Adjusting the schedule: Keep in mind that you may have to adjust these itineraries in case one of the days you're in town happens to fall on a Monday (when most museums are closed) or a Sunday (when many things are closed, and those that remain open tend to operate on shorter hours). » more
- Consider daily tours: Prefer to leave some of the planning and information-providing to a professional? Consider signing up for a guided tour—doesn't have to be a standard bus tour; our partners at Viator and Context Travel offer loads of neighborhood and thematic walking tours, private guides, and other fun ways to explore the capital as well. » more
- Save time by booking ahead: You can avoid long lines to get into the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums—and ensure entry to the Galleria Borghese, which releases a limited number of tickets per day—by paying a few euro extra to reserve tickets and an entry time before you leave. Also, you have to book (free) papal audience tickets in advance.
- An alternative day in Rome: All these itineraries are designed for the first-time visitor who wants to be sure he or she gets to all the highlights—all the must-sees. But what if you want to avoid the crowds that pack those highlights, or you've already done the Vatican, St. Peter's, the Forum, and the Colosseum and are looking for less famous—but still rewarding—sights? As luck would have it, I have whipped up Reid's List of Rome sights and experiences devoted entirely to this purpose. These are sights from the B-list (sometimes the C-list) that I happen to love and that are definitely worthy of your time—in some cases, perhaps more worthy than some of the more famous sights.
- Seeing Rome for cruise passengers: If you're arriving in Rome by ship (or, more accurately, arriving into Civitavecchia, which is the cruise ship port for Rome but is actually located an hour north of the city), you are not prisoner to the cruise ship's overpriced shore excursions. You can arrange your own tour (or your own transport into Rome), either with our partners at Viator.com, or completely D.I.Y. » more
- Full-day itineraries for one, two, or three days in Rome
- "Arriving" itineraries for one, two, or three days in Rome
- Rome city layout
- Top sights in Rome
- How to get around Rome
- Rome FAQ
- Itineraries for Venice
- Itineraries for Florence
- Itineraries for Italy (one week, two weeks)
This material was last updated May 2012. All information was accurate at the time.
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