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Rome is one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe. Like Berlin, it has layers of historical eras and, in a way, is like an outdoor museum. Empires have come and gone in the Eternal City, and they left behind some magnificent structures for us to savour.
Size-wise, Rome is also one of Europe’s largest cities. If you find yourself with 3 days in Rome, here’s a hassle-free itinerary to help you navigate the city more conveniently. Rome is hectic, so each day focuses on an area of the city.
Piazza is the Italian word for Square. Expect to visit a lot of piazzas in Rome.
Further information on Italy can be found in my Italy country guide.
This day covers the iconic sites of Rome in the central historical area.
Start with the buzzing Piazza Navona, a baroque square set on the site of Domitian’s Stadium. Lined with shops and cafes, and full with street entertainers and stalls, Bernini’s fountains are a refuge from Rome’s blistering summer sunshine. This was one of my favourite places in Rome.
PIAZZA DELLA ROTUNDA:
Having explored the side streets off Piazza Navona, head east towards Piazza della Rotunda where the Pantheon lies. It dates back to the 2nd century where the emperor Hadrian oversaw construction. Learn about the unusual method of Dome construction.
If politics is your thing, travel north east from Piazza della Rotunda to Piazza di Montecitorio where the Italian parliament is located.
Exit Piazza della Rotunda using Via dei Pastini and continue east for a couple of hundred metres to the Trevi Fountain, my favourite site in Rome by far. It is one of the busiest sites in the Italian capital and one with some folklore.
Standing with your back to the water and throwing a coin over your left shoulder apparently guarantees a return visit to the city. Throwing two coins means a love affair and three means you will find love and marry. Despite the crowds, I was mesmerised.
PIAZZA DELLA REPUBBLICA:
If by now you are looking for some airy spaces, then Piazza del Quirinale and Piazza della Repubblica will suit. Piazza del Quirinale is south east of the Trevi fountain and is the location of the Presidential Palace. Head further east from here to Piazza della Repubblica, constructed when Rome became capital city of a united Italy in the late 19th century. With Termini Station nearby, this is a good end point to day one.
This day focuses on the North and North West of the city.
When you visit Rome, not only are you visiting Italy but you can also tick another country off your list, that of Vatican City. It’s an independent city state located within the environs of Rome and is a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics.
As small as the Vatican City is, allocate half a day for sightseeing. If you are spending more than 3 days in Rome, you could allocate an entire day to the Vatican area.
Ottaviano is the nearest metro station to the Vatican. Heading directly south from Ottaviano leads into St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro), one of the world’s greatest gathering points.
Located on the burial site of St. Peter the Apostle, St. Peter’s Basilica is the centrepiece building of the Vatican. It is the largest Catholic Church in the world. Construction on the basilica began in the 16th century and a number of architects worked on it including Bernini and Michelangelo.
The Pope holds Papal audience sessions and Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, and in St. Peter’s Square during the summer.
The Vatican Museums are another significant part of the city state. While the Sistine Chapel is the most visited section, the entire museum area has a sumptuous collection of art and sculptures. Unless you want to queue for up to two hours, book the museum part of your trip in advance.
CASTEL SANT’ ANGELO:
Departing Vatican City using Via della Consiliazone brings visitors to Castel Sant’ Angelo, a 2nd century fortress. In the past, it has been used as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, a prison and a residence for popes.
NORTH CENTRAL ROME:
Walk north along the Tiber for approximately 1km to the Flaminio area. Piazza del Popolo is the main site here along with the Villa Borghese complex.
Head south from this square along Via del Corso to the intersection with Via dei Condotti. If €3,000 handbags are your thing, you will be catered for in Via dei Condotti amongst the great design stores.
Continue east from Via dei Condotti to Piazza di Spagna, site of the famous Spanish Steps. As Spagna metro station is located in this area, you can return to your base via the metro system.
Exiting Colosseo metro station one will be confronted with the Colosseum, another one of Rome’s iconic sites. One of the busiest sites in Rome, booking in advance will save a lot of hassle. The outside structure is impressive but, to be honest, it’s a dark tourism site that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
While I’m not sure if the structure is haunted but I got an uneasy feeling there. Maybe I just wasn’t keen on the idea that so much suffering could be used as entertainment.
Right beside the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. Dating back to the three eras of ancient Rome, the Forum is best visited on a guided tour or using an audio guide. The impact of it will be lost without a contextual explanation.
Continuing beyond the Forum will bring you to the Capitoline Museums complex which holds one of the finest art and sculpture collections in the world. The centre point of the complex is the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio and his Cordonata staircase leading to the square.
The chaotic Piazza Venezia is located beside the Capitol. The main feature of this square is the white marble Victor Emmanuel monument. Built to celebrate Italian unity, it is an impressive build with a striking location that delivers great views of the city.
The eternal flame marks the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and is guarded constantly. Its museum focuses on the history of Italian unity. The Victor Emmanuel monument was one of the pleasant surprises of my trip to Rome.
If you have time, you could walk south from Piazza Venezia to Isola Tiberina, the island located in the Tiber River.
There is no metro station near Piazza Venezia but there is a tram stop and a bus stop for a number of services.
ACCOMMODATION & TRANSPORT
Accommodation is expensive in central Rome. If you’re on a budget and have no option but to stay on the outer edges of the city, I recommend staying near a metro station. Rome’s metro system is efficient and inexpensive.
Booking.com is an excellent resource for locating accommodation within your price range and within the area desired.
The Roma Pass allows you to travel for free on public transport for the duration of the pass (2 or 3 days), although not the airport route. The Roma Pass also allows for reductions and concessions in various museums.
3 DAYS IN ROME: FINAL THOUGHTS
Rome was known as the Eternal City in ancient times from the belief that it would last forever. Thankfully, some bits of it have which makes it a great city to discover the old and the new.
Some people advise not to over-plan a visit to Rome but I disagree. By having a strategy in place, visitors will easily maximise their time in this large, hectic but beautiful city.