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Home to thousands of years of rich history, mouth-watering cuisine, and enthralling cultural delights, Rome deserves a spot on any traveler’s bucket list.
On our recent trip through Italy, Sam and I spent three fabulous days exploring The Eternal City. Even though our time was brief, we were able to squeeze in visits to many of the city’s must-see attractions. Squeezing into our jeans after consuming an embarrassingly large amount of Nutella gelato proved to be more difficult.
If you’re short on time, don’t worry! Here’s our first-timer’s itinerary for spending three days in Rome:
The Colosseum is among the most famous landmarks in Europe, and it is an absolute must-see in Rome.
Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian and ultimately completed in 80AD, the Colosseum was built as a gift to the Roman people. It was the largest freestanding amphitheater in the ancient world, holding as many as 50,000 spectators at a time.
The Colosseum’s history is hardly sunshine and daisies. Many of the spectacles it housed were gladiatorial battles to the death (as anyone who has wept through The Gladiator knows all too well).
Even though much of the Colosseum has been destroyed, enough of it remains intact to give visitors a glimpse into the ancient Roman world.
Since tickets to the Colosseum include admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, we recommend purchasing tickets at the nearby Palatine Hill entrance since that line is typically shorter. To save even more time, you can purchase your ticket online in advance (a €2 booking fee will be added).
Large backpacks and beverages are not allowed past security. If you’re traveling in summer, take an empty water bottle and fill it at a fountain once you’re inside.
After you finish in the Colosseum, head over to the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum was the center of business, politics, and religious life for ancient Romans. Ruins of the bustling city center remain today.
In order to get the most out of your visit, we recommend taking a guidebook or audioguide (Rick Steves has a free one), as navigating the Roman Forum without assistance can be difficult and, frankly, quite boring.
Because there is no shade in the Roman Forum, we suggest wearing a hat and taking a water bottle to avoid dehydration or heat stroke.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes with sturdy soles, as you will be doing a lot of walking over uneven terrain.
According to legend, Palatine Hill is the site where Romulus founded the city in 753BC. It was also the site of Ancient Rome’s most exclusive neighborhood, home to Emperor Augustus and other members of society’s elite.
Palatine Hill offers some incredible views of the Roman Forum, so be sure to have your camera handy.
I admit we were dead exhausted by the time we finished at Palatine Hill, so there is no shame in returning to your hotel for a mid-afternoon nap!
After an hour or so of rest and a scoop (or three) of gelato, head over to the Pantheon.
Originally a Roman temple, the Pantheon was later converted into a church dedicated to Saint Mary and the martyrs. Due to continuous use, the Pantheon is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman structures.
Admission is free!
Further Reading: What I Wish I Knew Before Traveling Italy by Train
A beautiful public square, Piazza Navona is a great place to soak in Roman culture. It is filled with lavish fountains, aspiring artists, and street performers.
Cafes line the square, but as we typically find restaurants in such areas cost more than our annual salaries, we chose to eat dinner elsewhere.
Most of this day will be spent in another sovereign state contained within Rome—Vatican City.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest and most breathtaking churches in the world. Not surprising, since Vatican City is the Pope’s home.
Everything about the church is exquisite, but perhaps the most impressive feature is the dome designed by Michelangelo.
Admission to St. Peter’s Basilica is free, but be prepared to wait in extremely long, un-shaded lines. Try to arrive early to beat the crowds.
Climbing the dome costs either €5 or €7 (depending on whether you use the elevator), but the views from the top are well worth the expense (and the agonizing pain you’ll feel in your legs after climbing 551 steps).
We used Rick Steves’ free podcast as an audioguide.
Home to a vast collection of artistic masterpieces, the Vatican Museum is one of the most impressive museums we’ve visited.
What I most enjoyed was the beautifully painted ceilings. Of course, the most impressive ceiling was inside our final stop: The Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo’s masterfully painted frescos are counted among the greatest artistic achievements of all time.
Entry to the museum costs €16. Expect extremely long lines (we waited more than an hour). Skip-the-line passes are available online, though an extra €4 booking fee will be added.
Further Reading: Ups and Downs of Visiting Vatican City
After a well-deserved nap (and another scoop of gelato), head to Trevi Fountain.
Trevi Fountain is the biggest Baroque fountain in the city, and it is undoubtedly the most famous. Legend claims tossing a coin into the fountain guarantees a return visit to Rome.
We arrived around dusk and the fountain was mobbed with people. Attempting to push through the crowd to toss my coin was a near-impossible endeavor and I was lucky to escape with my life. It felt more like a scene from Braveheart than Roman Holiday.
But I just couldn’t leave Rome without doing it.
For the final stop of the night, head to the Spanish Steps. Spend some time relaxing and people watching (and enjoy a break from all that walking!).
We were disappointed that the steps were roped off for repairs when we visited.
By day three, we were worn out from all the walking, lines, and heat, and I had roughly 600 blisters on each foot. So we decided to take our final day in the city slower.
Trastevere is a picturesque neighborhood across the Tiber from many of Rome’s other attractions. Rather than working through a list of places to see, the best way to explore Trastevere is simply to take a casual stroll through its winding streets.
We found our time in Trastevere to be a nice change from the hectic pace we kept the previous two days.
Be sure to stop for lunch and gelato at one of the many quaint restaurants in the area.
Further Reading: Exploring Trastevere, Rome
On our last evening in Rome, we wanted a taste of Italian culture. So after an amazing dinner of bruschetta and pasta, we headed to Teatro dell’Opera di Roma to catch a performance.
We found tickets to the opera to be quite affordable. And though Rome is not considered the primier opera destination in Italy, we enjoyed the performance.
The theater itself is beautiful. Our only complaint was that it did not seem to be properly air conditioned, and the balcony where we sat was sweltering.
Purchase tickets here.
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