How To Spend Your 3 Days In Rome.
I had been to Italy once before and loved it, so I had no doubt I would enjoy Rome. But it was even better than I imagined.
The history, art, architecture, and food of Rome all come together to make one of the most scenic, tasty, and fascinating destinations we’ve ever visited.
This itinerary includes the most iconic sights of Rome, all packed into three busy days. You’ll be busy, but hopefully not exhausted by the time you leave. I want to be sure you have down time to wander Rome’s streets, sip an Aperol spritz, and sample plenty of gelato.
Best Area To Stay In Rome
After researching the best areas to stay in Rome, I consistently read that first timers will enjoy Centro Storico, the historic city center. This was darn good advice that I pass along to you. If you’re going to spend a significant amount of time getting to Rome, I recommend making the most of your short time in the city by staying close to most of the attractions you’ll visit. The hotels in this area are more expensive, but in my opinion, it’s worth it.
I selected Hotel Stendahl for our stay, and it was perfect. If we walked out the front door and turned left, we were at the Spanish Steps in under ten minutes. Turn right and we arrived at Trevi Fountain in the same amount of time. The Barberini Metro stop was across the street, giving access to anywhere we needed to be in Rome. Dozens of great restaurants were nearby along with cafes and gelato shops.
Our room in Hotel Stendahl was small, but that is typical in Europe. We had everything we needed, along with a nice view of the nearby Piazza Barberini. Breakfast was included each day. It wasn’t my favorite hotel breakfast ever, but it was sufficient. And fortunately they served nice, strong coffee, just the way I like it!
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Getting Around Rome
Of all the cities we’ve visited in the world, Rome might be the easiest to get around. The Centro Storico, or historic center, where most visitors spend their time, is very walkable. There’s an excellent Metro, and both Ubers and taxis are everywhere. Here’s a few tips for each category.
Walking In Rome
Rome’s nickname is the City of Seven Hills, so you won’t always be on flat ground while strolling the streets. However, if you’re in reasonably good shape, you’ll be able to walk to most of the top sights. The width of the sidewalks vary, but there is always a place for pedestrians to walk. If you are on a narrower sidewalk, do watch out for oncoming traffic, sometimes larger vehicles spill over from the road to the sidewalk (Jason’s arm was brushed by a sideview mirror of a cargo van while walking to the Spanish Steps).
Taxis In Rome
Taxis are plentiful all over Rome and we took one to and from the airport. There is a flat rate which is currently 50 Euros. But other than the airport, we never needed a taxi again.
I have since read that taxis in Rome are more expensive than other European cities. I can’t verify that, but that’s just another reason to walk or use the Metro instead.
Uber In Rome
A little background; taxi drivers of Rome fought hard to prevent Uber from coming to their city. I do understand their concerns, however, Uber is now operating legally in the city. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
We never opted to use an Uber in Rome, but while we were there, we met up with friends for dinner and they did use Uber. They said it was easy and affordable. Uber prices to and from the airport are regulated, and are currently 60 Euros. Also, the cheapest Uber options are not available; only Black, Lux, and Van options are offered.
Metro in Rome
While Rome’s Metro system is pretty small, it is cheap, clean, and easy to use. There are just three lines crisscrossing the city; Line A, B, and C. One way tickets are currently 1.5 Euros, which was the perfect option for us when we used it. I found that our Google maps perfectly navigated the Roman Metro system.
My only complaint about the Metro is that many of the ticket machines were out of order. However, we later learned that one-way tickets could be purchased using a credit card at the entry to each line. If you’re not going to use it frequently, this was far more efficient process.
Trains In Rome
If you’ll be headed to other Italian cities, or out of town for a day trip, the Italian train system, Trenitalia, is an easy way to get there. We took the train to and from Venice and found it to be very clean and on-time. I was told by friends that the trains in Italy aren’t usually on time, but that wasnt’ our experience.
I do recommend purchasing train tickets in advance and paying to select your seats. If you know you’ll use the train prior to your trip, buy the tickets in your home country. While Trenitalia’s English website was easy to use, my credit cards were repeatedly rejected when training to make a purchase on my computer in Rome. Fortunately we have several cards and one of them finally worked.
Rome Travel Tips For First Timers
After a very successful first trip to Rome, I have some tips to share. There are many articles about this topic, so I’m not trying to repeat the most common tips, but instead add my own, unique thoughts that might help you better enjoy your time in this ancient city.
Come prepared to walk miles and miles over cobblestones
Any European city will require miles and miles of walking. But if you’re staying in Centro Storico, much of that walking will be on ancient, cobblestone streets. In addition, some of the most famous sites may involve stairs, hills, and uneven ground. The result may be unusually sore muscles, and some you didn’t know you had.
It’s always wise to bring good walking shoes. And take breaks when you need them. Jason and I both walk a great deal at home, and yet we were surprised how sore our legs were after the first day. Come prepared for at least 20,000 steps a day.
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Allow time to wander aimlessly
During our visit Jason had a few meetings with his team back home via Zoom. So while he remained in the hotel room, I took that opportunity to stroll randomly through the streets of Rome. The major attractions are absolutely worth seeing, but so are the small streets and alleyways where Romans live. I loved seeing rows of scooters parked along the street, popping into little known churches, and watching as locals came and went from their homes and nearby shops.
Eat everything–this isn’t the time for a diet
I assume I gained weight after our time in Rome, but I don’t care. I was not going to pass up one single bite of Italian food. Come with a spirit of adventure, willing to try anything and everything. I set a personal goal to eat gelato every day from a different shop and I proudly achieved it. While I eat a vegetarian diet at home, I made a few exceptions so I could try classic Roman pasta dishes. I never felt stuffed, because we paced ourselves–and walked a ridiculous amount each day–but we really enjoyed the food in this amazing city.
Enjoy aperitivo every night
While Romans eat dinner later in the evening–typically starting at 8 p.m.–the real start to their evenings is with aperitivo. This time for drinks, snacks, and socializing, is an essential part of the culture that I highly recommend experiencing. We found aperitivo can start as early as 6 p.m., but may last until 9. One of the most popular beverages for this experience is the Aperol Spritz, which I describe in more detail in this article, Cocktails Around the World.
One night we went in search of a place for aperitivo, only to find all the restaurants were full. So we purchased to-go drinks and sipped them next to a fountain where couples, friends, and families had gathered. It was one of my favorite evenings in Rome.
3 Days In Rome
I know that three days in Rome really isn’t sufficient, but for many people, it’s the first stop on a longer Italian journey. So here’s what I recommend for a Rome 3-day itinerary.
Day One In Rome
If Rome is your first stop in Europe, you’re likely still recovering from jet lag, so I recommend scheduling an afternoon tour of the Colosseum, which I describe below. This will allow you time to get up whenever you feel like it, grab breakfast, and start walking around the area.
Climb The Spanish Steps
Assuming you are staying somewhere in Centro Storico, the Spanish Steps should be a short walk from your hotel. This iconic set of stairs has been seen in many movies, most notably Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Designed by French architect Francesco de Sanctis and built between 1723 and 1725, this is an easy site to check off your list.
Walk up or down, take a few photos and move on to the next site. For the best pictures, get here early so you won’t have large tour groups in your shots.
Toss A Coin In Trevi Fountain
A walk from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain should take about ten minutes, maybe a bit longer if you’re enjoying all the sites along the way and possibly popping into a cafe for a quick espresso.
I was surprised how beautiful the Trevi Fountain was in person. I’d seen dozens of photos, but they just don’t do it justice. Granted, this is probably the most crowded attraction in Rome, but I didn’t care, I was really awed by its beauty.
In 1730 Pope Clement XII launched a competition to design Trevi Fountain which was ultimately completed in 1762. It’s undergone major restorations many times, most recently in 2014. Like the Spanish Steps, it has also appeared in many movies.
Legend has it that if you toss one coin into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome. Technically you’re supposed to toss the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder. Since I absolutely fell in love with Rome, I wasn’t taking any chances and tossed the coin exactly as instructed.
Book The Colosseum Underground Tour
I knew we would see the Colosseum while visiting Rome, so right after booking our flights and hotels, I immediately booked the Colosseum underground tour that also includes the Roman Forum. I expected to enjoy it, but it exceeded all expectations.
This particular tour started at the Roman Forum, the center of civic life in ancient Rome. Here you’ll find a vast collection of ruins from temples, homes, and government buildings. A guided tour makes all the difference. Instead of staring at piles of rocks and columns and not knowing what they are, our guide explained all the major ruins and what they used to be. He also shared with us drawings of what archeologists believe the center of Rome looked like during its peak.
Next we walked to the Colosseum and where we proceeded immediately to the gladiator tunnels. Just recently opened to the public, this is the area where both gladiators and beast waited their turn to fight on stage. Only guided tours are permitted in this area, and just a few groups are allowed each day. If this interests you, be sure to book this tour in advance, it fills up quickly.
Finally we ascended into the main part of the Colosseum. The views were even better than I expected, especially since we were here on a bright, sunny day.
Come prepared for miles of walking and several steep staircases during this tour. Wear comfortable shoes and bring along some water.
Day Two In Rome
If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a fan of getting up early to beat the crowds. To allow yourself some time to adjust to local time, I recommended taking it easy on day one. However, by day two I’m back to encouraging you to get up early, this time to enjoy an uncrowded experience at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Book The Early Morning Vatican City Tour
Vatican City is home to the pope and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. While it’s located in Rome, it is actually its own country. It’s the smallest country in the world with just 109 acres and less than a thousand residents. What visitors to Rome want to see in the Vatican is St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.
There is a way to enter St. Peter’s Basilica even before it opens to the public, and that is with a guided tour. Just a few tour groups are permitted each day to enter early. So I booked a combination tour that included early access to St. Peter’s along with the Vatican Museums.
Vatican City is a fair distance from Centro Storico, so we opted to take the Metro. We gathered at 7 a.m. in the morning at a coffee shop just outside the walls of Vatican City. Fortunately we were offered coffee and pastries to help wake us up. Then our guide led us into Vatican City and eventually we entered St. Peter’s. No more than two dozen people were inside this vast cathedral making it a very peaceful experience.
I was awed by the size of St. Peter’s, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it is the largest church in the world. But I was also awed by the elaborate chapels, gold mosaics, and massive marble columns. Despite having seen dozens of cathedrals all over Europe, this one is by far the most beautiful.
We were allowed twenty minutes inside, which was a bit short, I would have preferred longer, but we had to move on to the Vatican Museums. The walk to the Vatican Museums was about fifteen minutes. As it was now later in the morning, it was getting crowded. But I was willing to deal with the crowds at the museum in exchange for the quiet time we were allowed at St. Peter’s.
Our guide walked us through the major galleries of the museum, and concluded at the most iconic exhibition, The Sistine Chapel. Built by Pope Sixtus IV, what’s truly special about the chapel are the frescoes painted by Michaelangelo. The work began in 1508 and concluded three years later. The central scenes in the mural are from the Book of Genesis, the first book of the bible.
This tour lasted almost four hours, and there was never an opportunity to sit down. I’ll admit I was pretty tired of walking and standing for such a long time. If this is daunting to you, consider separating the two experiences. You’ll see I’ve left the afternoon open so you can take a nap (like we did!).
Book The Guided Pantheon Tour In The Evening
Located in Piazza della Rotonda, the Pantheon should be a short walk from anywhere in Centro Storico. From Trevi Fountain it’s just eight minutes.
Before our trip to Rome I had no idea what the Pantheon was. So this turned out to be one of my favorite surprises. Built as a temple to all gods during the Roman Empire, this was later converted into a Catholic church. While the outside isn’t particularly stunning, the inside is seriously impressive.
Since the Pantheon is free, most people wander in, enjoy the architecture, and then walk out. After taking a guided tour and learning so much about this temple turned church, I highly recommend doing the same.
Our guide met us outside and walked us around the structure. We learned that thermal baths accommodating up to 3,000 people were originally located at the back. Then we returned to the front and entered the church.
The most stunning feature of the Pantheon is the oculus, a large hole in the domed ceiling. It’s believed that the oculus was created to allow light to enter and for worshipers to contemplate the heavens. In 2,000 years it has never been covered. In fact when it rains, there are 18 holes in the floor that allow the water to drain.
Starting at 5:30 p.m. and lasting just 45 minutes, you’ll be just in time to enjoy aperitivo when the tour ends. Fortunately, there are plenty of options nearby.
Day Three in Rome
Most of day three in Rome is focused on a food tour. You’ll have some time before and after the tour to see other sights, or return to any you particularly enjoyed.
Explore Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most famous squares, and for good reason. Its size alone is impressive, as are the number of shops, restaurants, and cafes surrounding it. Built on the site of the former Stadium of Domitian, this has been a gathering spot for Romans since the first century A.D.
The fountain in the center is worth the walk here. The massive Fountain Of Four Rivers was commissioned by Pope Innocent X and unveiled to the public in 1651. Take some time to stroll through the piazza soaking in the activity of visitors and locals.
Enjoy A Food Tour Of Rome
Now it’s time to eat. Well, I’ll admit I did that pretty much all the time while in Rome, but now it’s time to take a food tour of this amazing city.
While there are several good food tour companies in Europe, my favorite is Secret Food Tours. I’ve had the chance to take their tours in Los Angeles and Madrid, and they are always top rate. For much greater detail, be sure to read my article, The Absolutely Best Food Tour In Rome.
If your tour is on a Sunday, you’ll start in Piazza Navona at a cafe where you’ll enjoy a cup of coffee. Then you’ll be treated to five stops and sample pizza, pasta, cannoli, charcuterie, and gelato. Along the way your guide will share the history of the food and the city. You’ll leave with a full stomach and much more knowledge than you had at the beginning.
See The Colosseum At Night
We were so impressed by the Colosseum that we decided to return and see it at night. Boy, am I glad we did that. We walked, but there is a Metro stop here, so if you’re tired of walking, you have options.
We did not enter the Colosseum again, but simply walked around the outside to enjoy seeing it lit up at night. It was much quieter than we experienced during the day. I later learned there is a guided Colosseum tour at night–definitely something to consider for a future trip
Nearby we discovered walkways through portions of the Roman Forum that do not require a ticket. We passed only a handful of people and essentially had the place to ourselves.
If you have the time, I would highly recommend returning to the Colosseum at night. It was one of the highlights of our trip. Eventually we found a nearby restaurant and enjoyed dinner al fresco.
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