Rome is known as the “eternal city”, but you don’t to spend an eternity in Rome to visit the main sights to see. A fairly compact city, most of the sights can be seen within 48 hours in Rome. Although it would also be great to spend more time to visit some of the beautiful parks, do a spot of shopping and maybe go on a day trip. Here’s an ideal itinerary for first-time visitors to Rome.
Day 1 in Rome: Wander through 2000 Years of History
The thing that amazed me the first time I visited Rome, was just how old some of the buildings are (especially compared to my native Australia). And many of them were right there in the midst of a bustling city. My number one recommendation to you is to spend your first day wandering around this amazing city on foot, with one of the many tourist maps, never quite sure what is going to be around the next corner. Make sure you visit the following.
The Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre in the world, build in the first century AD. A combined ticket to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum (valid for 2 days) costs €12 for adults. Buy your ticket online and print out to skip the ticket queue (but not the security queue for the Colosseum). The impressive Arch of Constantine is adjacent to the Colosseum.
Just a short distance from the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill contains the ruins of several large villas. Continue onwards to enter the Roman Forum, located between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. Formerly the political, legal and religious centre of the ancient Roman Empire, the forum contains many impressive ruins such as the Temple of Julius Caesar and Arch of Titus. Note that re-entrance is not allowed and no food is available, so take something to eat if visiting around lunch time.
The Capitoline Hills
Located on the Capitoline Hills, the Piazza del Campidoglio is a Michelangelo-designed piazza. It has a replica of a statue of Marcus Aurelius in the centre, plus offers views of the Forum. Close to the Capitoline Hills is the Il Vittoriano Monument, a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. It’s hard to miss and is also known as the “wedding cake”, for obvious reasons.
The Pantheon was constructed in 125AD and is free to enter. It’s the only building from the Graeco-Roman world which has remained substantially intact and in continuous use throughout to the present day, most recently as a Christian Church. The hole in the centre of the ceiling is a design feature to stop the dome collapsing.
Close by is the Piazza Navona, the most delightful piazza of Old Rome. It was established in the 15th century and contains monuments built by Bernini and Borromini. It’s popular for sitting in the sun and sipping a coffee or eating a gelato, whilst watching street performers.
Don’t also miss the Trevi Fountain. At this opulent fountain, throw in a coin to guarantee your return to Rome. Finally, there are over 900 churches in Rome, so make sure you duck into one or two in passing. You don’t know what masterpieces you may find.
Day 2 in Rome: A (Vatican) City In a City
On your second day, cross the Tiber River (either on foot or via a tram or the Metro A), to enter another country, the Vatican City. Note that Wednesdays are more crowded than usual, as there is an address from the Pope. Unless you want to see it, switch around Day 1 and Day 2. At the Vatican City, there’s two main sights to see.
St Peter’s Basilica and Square
The centre of the Catholic world, St Peter’s was built between 1506 and 1626. It was principally designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The largest church in the world, the interior measures 15,160 square metres, and the interior height under the dome is 120m. Entrance is free, although it’s also worthwhile ascending to the dome for the views over Rome (€7 by elevator, €5 by stairs, as of 2015). Be prepared for queues to pass through the metal detector. Plus make sure you’re covered up for the strict dress coat (shoulders covered, no shorts or mini-skirts).
Head around the outskirts of the Vatican City to reach the Vatican Museum. Check in advance to make sure it’s open. It’s closed on some holidays plus every Sunday, except for the last Sunday of the month when it’s open but free (and crowded). Entrance is €16 for adults. It’s possible to reserve online in advance for an extra €4 per person, but luckily I’ve never had a long queue for the entrance. The highlight of a visit to the Museum is the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s frescoes, which is reached on a one-way journey, also including the famous Raphael Rooms. Other highlights include the ancient statuses and the Egyptian rooms. Again, no shorts, miniskirts or uncovered shoulders are permitted.
An Extra Tip
Around the Vatican City area, be prepared to pay up for lunch. The area is littered with tourist traps, and there’s not many alternatives without a long walk often under the hot sun.
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