It’s taken more than 2,700 years to build the city of Rome as it is now, so is it possible to see it in less than 24 hours? Yes … but you’ll need a foot massage at the end of one crazy, jam-packed day.
From its ancient monuments to Renaissance masterpieces, traditional cuisine and buzzing piazza life, here’s what makes up the beautiful chaos that is Rome.
7:30 a.m. Caffeine kick-start
Romans kick off their days with a cappuccino and a fresh cornetto (around €4, $5).
For a top-notch breakfast, try Cristalli di Zucchero (via di Val Tellina, 114; +39 06 5823 0323) in Monteverde.
It’s a superb bar-pasticceria that has been awarded the highest accolade by Gambero Rosso and simply has to be done if you’re serious about our plans for Rome. There are smaller branches across the city.
8:30 a.m. St Peter’s Basilica
You’ll have more time to admire Michaelangelo’s famed dome and the Pietà, his marble sculpture of Mary holding the body of Christ.
When he’s in Rome, the Pope speaks on Sunday at midday at one of the windows in the building to the right of the Basilica. In July and August he resides outside Rome at Castel Gandolfo.
10 a.m. Vatican Museums
At which point, it’s a quick march around the walls of Vatican City to the entrance of the Vatican Museums. Savvy visitors book ahead online to avoid the queues.
Highlights of this vast collection of artistic and historic wealth include Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms and the ancient Greek sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons dating from the first century BC.
12 p.m. Ice-cream pit stop
If you get yourself out of the Vatican Museums by midday, there’s time for a well-earned pit stop at Old Bridge (viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo), a tiny gelateria opposite the Vatican walls.
It sells some of the most delicious ice-cream in Rome.
Options: If the Vatican Museums really aren’t your thing, a modern alternative is the MAXXI (via Guido Reni, 4A; +39 06 3996 7350).
This is Zaha Hadid’s award-winning modern-art space – take bus 32 from via Ottaviano and get off at Ponte della Musica; tram 19 will also take you close to the MAXXI. Afterward, get a No. 2 tram back to Piazza del Popolo and from there walk up via del Corso, where you can pick up the trail at the Pantheon.
1 p.m. Three Squares
From the Vatican Museums, walk back toward St Peter’s Basilica and up via della Conciliazione for a photo opportunity by Castel Sant Angel (Lungotevere Castello, 50; +39 06 6896 003). And don’t miss the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, now a museum and art gallery.
Walk over the pedestrian Ponte Sant Angelo and along via dei Banchi Nuovi and then via del Governo Vecchio. This will bring you into the area of three of Rome’s most atmospheric public squares: Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori and the Pantheon, all are within a five-minute walk of each other.
Here, you can peruse Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s dramatic Fountain of the Four Rivers (top marks if you can name them: the Danube, the Ganges, Rio de la Plata and the Nile) and Borromini’s Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona.
2 p.m. Lunch
Campo de’ Fiori has a market most mornings and is a good place for lunch – Forno Campo de’ Fiori does delicious pizza to go. Lunch can be rounded off with a coffee near the Pantheon.
Caffe Sant Eustachio – Piazza Sant’Eustachio, 82; +39 06 6880 2048; is a tourist trap but it fights a close battle for the title of “best coffee in Rome” with Tazza d’Oro, on the other side of the Pantheon – Via degli Orfani, 84; +39 06 6789 792.
A peek inside the Pantheon (piazza della Rotonda) is a must, if only to wonder why Hadrian never had that hole in the roof covered up.
Short answer: it’s part of the architectural ingenuity that means this concrete Roman dome is still standing after almost 2,000 years.
If you find yourself with 15 minutes to spare, pop into the church of San Luigi dei Francesi (via S. Giovanna d’Arco, 5; +39 06 688 271), around the corner from Caffe Sant Eustachio.
The church is home to three of Caravaggio’s Biblical paintings. Both sites are free to enter.
3:30 p.m. Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
(Via del Corso, 305; +39 06 6797 323)
For an idea of how one of Renaissance Rome’s premier dynasties lived, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj gives a delightful and not-too-long tour of grand ballrooms and galleries housing works by Jan Brueghel, Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio and Garofalo.
The most important piece in the collection is Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X Pamphilj.
Options: Palazzo Altemps (Piazza Sant’Apollinare 46; +39 06 3996 7700; $8 (€7); open Monday-Sunday 9 a.m.-7:45 p.m., closed Saturday) is a good alternative to Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.
It’s a gem of Renaissance architecture near Piazza Navona, housing impressive Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures.
The Capitoline Museums (Piazza del Campidoglio) are also a good choice.
Highlights include the iconic Colossus of Constantine, as well as famous bronzes, including Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the Boy with Thorn and the emblem of Rome: a bronze she-wolf suckling the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus.
If you can’t face any more museums, you’re within striking distance of two of Rome’s most overrated and overcrowded tourist sites: the Trevi Fountain (Piazza di Trevi) and the so-called Spanish steps (Trinità dei Monti, Piazza di Spagna).
See them if you must, avoid if you can, or come back later when everyone else is in bed. The designer boutiques of via dei Condotti also provide some retail relief. Look out for a good variety of stores around Campo de’ Fiori, via di Campo Marzio or via del Governo Vecchio for a more affordable and diverse shopping experience.
5 p.m. The Colosseum
After dodging the traffic in piazza Venezia (check out the mammoth wedding-cake-like Vittorio Emanuele II monument), you can make your way down via dei Fori Imperiali and see the Roman Forum on your right and, in front of you, the Colosseum.
It’s been standing there since 80AD and, although it’s not in the best of health it has so far managed to survive the creep of urban development and the near-constant rattle of taxis, buses and scooters that flow past on their daily business.
A single ticket gets you into the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, a great viewpoint from which to admire Circus Maximus, the Capitoline Hill and Rome’s many church domes and bell towers in the late afternoon sun.
Options: Happy to get a passing glimpse of the Colosseum? There are other activities that could fill the hours until it’s aperitivo time.
Visit the city on a Segway (hire them at Rome by Segway) or rent pedal cars and bikes in Villa Borghese, Rome’s city-center park.
8 p.m. Pizza or pasta?
You’ve seen the major sites of modern and ancient Rome: the last decision of the day is where to eat.
For great pizzas near the Colosseum, try Li Rioni (via SS. Quattro, 24; +39 6 7045 0605) or Alle Carrette (via Madonna dei Monte, 95; +39 06 679 2770).
The ivy-draped buildings and cobbled streets of Monti (around via dei Serpenti and Viminale) come alive at sundown with cosmopolitan Romans and an international crowd clunking ice in their glasses.
To feel right at home, try asking for an Aperol-spritz, Campari-spritz or prosecco before dinner.
L’Asino d’Oro (Via del Boschetto, 73; +39 06 4891 3832) is a good choice for a quiet meal.
Rome’s most-famed nightlife quarter is Trastevere, which also offers divine pizzas (Ai Marmi is good, get there early – viale Trastevere, 53; +39 06 580 0919) and plenty of decent trattorias.
Alternatively, for excellent Roman pasta dishes try Felice (via Mastro Giorgio, 29; +39 06 5746 800) or Da Bucatino (via della Robbia, 84/86; +39 06 5746 886)
We also recommend Tanto pe’ Magna (Via Giustino de Jacobis, 9; +39 06 5160 7422) in Garbatella. Book in advance for this popular spot.
11 p.m. After hours
If you’ve an ounce of energy left, a good choice is to head to INIT. (Via della Stazione Tuscolana 133) and enjoy a few drinks while listening to live indie music.
Other good nightspots include Micca Club (via Pietro Micca, 7a-Porta Maggiore; +39 06 8744 0079).
If you’ve made it this far, we make that around 18 hours of soaking up this fantastic city – time to sleep. You’ve earned it.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.