First things first: 3 days in Rome will never be enough. However, if you’re looking for a great place to start your Italian adventure, Rome is a fabulous place to start. For us, American Airlines offers a direct flight between Dallas and Rome from April to November. As a result, it’s often where we start our itineraries.
Fun fact: Our honeymoon in Rome is the first time my husband travelled abroad.
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3 Days in Rome: Day One
No matter what time you arrive in Rome, today is the day to get acclimated. Choose a hotel in the city center and take advantage of the fact that the Metro won’t go near anywhere you want to go. Grab your walking shoes, stretch your legs, get some fresh air, have a great meal, and get to bed early so you can wake up on Roman time.
☑ Arrive at Rome FCO, grab your bags, and board the Leonardo Express. This fast train will take you into the heart of ancient Rome in about 30 minutes. From there, you can grab a cab (or walk) to your hotel.
☑ Drop your luggage at your hotel. If your room isn’t ready, store your luggage and head out for the day.
☑ Choose a route in Frommers’ 24 Great Walks of Rome that starts or ends near your hotel so you can get your bearings. Don’t get so engrossed in the book that you forget to look around you. If you would rather listen, download a Rick Steves audio tour and head out on a DIY guided tour of Rome.
☑ If you find yourself near Piazza Navona, pick up a fresh and easy lunch or midday snack at Che Pasta. Finish it off with gelato from Gelateria del Teatro. Or, meander towards the Pantheon for the classic Roman gelato experience at Giolitti. You’ll want to pay in advance before taking your ticket to the back. Practice your Italian if you’re feeling adventurous.
☑ Rome’s Spanish Steps can be a great place for people watching, especially around sunset. Make sure to climb to the top for a beautiful view of the city.
☑ Opt for an easy, delicious dinner. We love Origano near Campo di Fiori for pizza or pasta, Mastro Ciccia near Piazza Navona for pizza (or anything on the menu), or Da Remo for pizza (if you’re staying near Testaccio).
☑ Take the scenic route on foot back to your hotel. The floodlit monuments are a sight to behold. Get a good night’s sleep so you can hit the ground running for the next few days.
3 Days in Rome: Day Two
There comes a point in every Rome itinerary when one must choose their own adventure. Are you an early riser or a night owl? (We can teach you how to be both!) Either way, book a morning tour to kick off your second day in Rome!
Are you an art person, a science person, or a history person? If you’re a history person, do you have a certain topic that you’re interested in? If you’re an art person, are you interested in Roman sculpture or religious art? Do you want to see frescos or portraits? Are you in Rome for a pilgrimage or trying to see the top sites?
Unsure? It’s okay. Rome is a place for everyone, and on your first trip, you’ll have to make difficult choices on what to see first. I’ve written more details about the best tours in Rome on my personal blog – but for the sake of planning purposes, I’ll give you a few options.
Morning Tours in Rome:
For a General Tour of Rome and / or Art and Architecture:
☑ This fountains and squares tour of Rome will give you the opportunity to see Rome before it gets too crowded. You’ll learn more about the artists whose works shaped the beautiful public squares of Rome and get a sense of Roman history.
☑ Alternatively, if you want a tour with a brief history of Rome and a pizza lesson from a master chef, this Rome walking tour and cooking class is an excellent combination and will take care of your lunch plans for the day!
☑ If you’re a true art aficionado, head to the Villa Borghese and visit the gallery and stroll through the gardens. (It’s also a beautiful place to be at sunset, so you could always plan your visit for later in the day.)
For Religious Rome and a Religious Art Tour in Rome:
☑ There is nothing I feel more strongly about than visiting the Vatican Museums with an early access tour. This Vatican Museum tour will provide the briefest of introductions to the huge Vatican collection and give you the opportunity to view the Sistine Chapel in a meaningful way. This tour needs to be a part of planning any trip to the Vatican. Once you finish, head over to St. Peter’s Basilica for a DIY tour with the Rick Steves audio app or using his book.
☑ Depending on the day you are visiting, you can also book a tour for the Papal Blessing in St. Peter’s Square. Again, this is one of those experiences where you will want the foresight and planning of a local, professional guide versus leaving it up to chance.
For the History of the Ancient Romans:
☑ Seeing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum can be an absolutely daunting experience. Just like the Vatican, I think you should book a tour of the Colosseum and Ancient Rome. This half-day tour will give you an introduction into Roman history, architecture, and help the Roman ruins come alive for anyone. (We adore Igor – he is one of the best guides ever!)
☑ If you want a more in-depth look at the ancient Romans, book a tour of the Capitoline Museum. This tour is for serious history buffs. The material is dense. My husband loved it.
Take a Break in the Afternoon
☑ After you finish a morning tour, you’ll be ready for lunch and some rest. Check out Elise’s list for the best pasta restaurants in Rome, choose one close to your tour or your hotel.
☑ Head back to your room for a little bit of R&R after lunch. Whether you spend your afternoon at the hotel spa, taking a swim, or merely recharging with a 20-minute power nap, you’ll want to get a bit of rest to go out in the late afternoon.
Evening in Rome
☑ Depending on how you spent your morning, I highly recommend taking an evening tour of the eternal city. I have more than a few favorite walking tours of Rome at night. One tour starts the Colosseum; the other tour tour starts near the Spanish Steps at the Piazza del Popolo. Both of these tours are great introductions of Rome, if you didn’t choose an intro tour this morning.
☑ If you want to explore Rome by stomach, consider booking a food tour of Rome. You can choose a tour that focuses on the culinary delights of either Trastevere or Testaccio, which will show you another side of Rome that most tourists don’t see on their first trip to Rome.
☑ If you’re looking to DIY your own tour, I recommend starting your evening by watching the sunset over Vatican City, making your way down to the Castel Sant Angelo, across the Ponte Sant Angelo and walking through the Centro Storico, hitting all the monuments along the way.
☑ Have dinner like a Roman by opting for a later dinner reservation. If you’re continuing on by train or by car tomorrow, you might want to head to Eataly and pick up provisions for the journey and try some of their in-store restaurants.
3 Days in Rome: Day Three
☑ Spend the last of your three days in Rome doing something you love. Take a stroll in the Borghese Gardens. Watch the sunrise over the Roman Forum. Experience the Trevi Fountain without a crowd. Enjoy a slow morning with a coffee and a pastry. You can squeeze in a tour or a papal blessing if you plan everything in advance and pack before you head out for the morning.
☑ I always recommend booking your transfers in the afternoon. This will provide you enough time to book a morning activity (or finish your souvenir shopping and packing) and keep you out of cities during the heat of the day and the busiest times for day trippers.
Rome Travel Tips
☑ Make peace with the fact that you’re never going to see it all in one trip. A trip of a lifetime or bucket list trip to Rome needs to be far longer than three days. Day trips to Tivoli and Ostia Antica are best saved for later trips or longer trips to Rome. Tuscany, Assisi, and Pompeii aren’t day trips. There is plenty to see in Rome and every time we go back, we find something new to enjoy.
☑ Public transportation isn’t great in Rome. It really is a city that should be walked. The exception is getting from the airport to the city center.
☑ In rare cases, I recommend cabs or private transportation to and from the airport. The Leonardo Express is the way to go during rush hour.
☑ Walk in every single church you come across. You never know what you’ll find. Sometimes the most plain churches hold the greatest surprises.
☑ Utilize skip-the-line tours and passes whenever possible. No one wants to spend their vacation in line and there are so many options to prevent doing so.
☑ Pack smart: Make sure you pack a dress that hits below the knee and a cardigan or shawl to cover your shoulders. Men will want to bring a pair of pants. Religious tradition is very much observed at St. Peter’s, Santa Maria Maggiore and some of the other well-known churches in Rome.
☑ Be prepared to get out early and stay out late to enjoy the best of Rome. My most memorable moments include the Trevi Fountain early in the morning, experiencing blue hour at the Roman Forum, and watching the skies fade from twilight blue to inky black over the Tiber River. Rest during the day so you can enjoy the best times of the day in Rome.