Originally Published: September 16, 2019

So you planned a city trip to Rome? They say a lifetime isn’t enough to see all of the Eternal City. What are the absolute must-sees and how do you prevent from getting stuck in tourist crowds all weekend without seeing the ‘real Rome’? Let us guide you with this itinerary of things to do in Rome in 3 days.

Rome is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, filled with ancient ruins, remains from the Roman empire, the most important churches in the world – and of course the best pizza and most delicious pasta you’ll ever eat! Obviously, a weekend is not enough to see it all. So our advice? Don’t try, because the best thing to do in The Eternal City is to get lost in its narrow alleys and beautiful piazzas without a plan.

Make your pick of sights that you absolutely want to see and be flexible about the rest. Rome is so much more than the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican Museums. It’s also filled with undiscovered neighborhoods that boast the coolest street art and the yummiest food, smaller museums that will surprise you and lush parks that offer all kinds of cool activities.

Rome colosseum

Day 1: Ancient Rome

Of course, you want to dedicate one of your 3 days in Rome to the remnants of the Roman Empire. Start your city walk at the Colosseum, probably Rome’s most-visited tourist site, along with the Fori Imperiali and Circo Massimo located next to it.

If you’re really into Roman history and gladiators, you can buy a ticket to see the Colosseum on the inside (buy them beforehand on the website to avoid the line). Otherwise, you can also walk around it and save your time to see something else. There’s not that much more to see once you are inside, unless you take a guided tour that will actually give you some context information.

The same goes for the Fori Imperiali: walking around the grounds, you can actually see a lot of the ruins already without buying a ticket. If you do want to go inside (which you will definitely need at least a few hours for), booking a guided tour will give you a much better understanding of what you’re looking at.

Most people walk from Piazza Venezia, along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, up to the Colosseum and then around the Fori Imperiali. But if you arrive from the side of Circo Massimo, follow Via di S. Teodoro and then take Via Monte Tarpeo up the Palatine hill. You’ll have a beautiful view from higher up over the ruins and Colosseum.

Also, don’t forget to visit the Ghetto Ebraico, one of the oldest Jewish ghettos in the world and home to a beautiful synagogue, kosher bakeries and typical Jewish-Roman trattorias. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants in Via del Portico d’Ottavia. The typical specialty here is carciofi alla giudia, delicious fried artichokes.

Cross the street, take the Ponte Fabricio and visit the Isola Tiberina – the only island on the Tiber river. The tiny island houses a hospital, bar and a restaurant. If you take Ponte Cestio on the other side to cross the river again, you’ll get to Trastevere, one of Rome’s most characteristic and coziest neighborhoods. Take some time to get lost in its tiny streets and discover the many beautiful piazzas and finish the day with a spritz on the terrace.

Day 2: Must-see sights

Don’t want to go home without having checked off all those amazing sights on your list? In one morning or afternoon, you can see Piazza del Popolo, Villa Borghese, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The total walking distance is 3 km, but if you regularly stop along the way you might take up to 2.5 hours to see it all, so you’ll have time for other things the rest of your 3 days in Rome.

Starting at Piazza del Popolo with its impressive obelisk, you can take Via del Corso (one of the main shopping streets and also one of Rome’s busier pedestrian roads) and follow it for about 10 minutes until you reach the Spanish Steps, but with a small detour, you’ll have a beautiful view over the city center. Take the stairs up to Il Pincio, the panoramic platform of Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s most beautiful parks. Keep following Viale della Trinità dei Monti until you get to the top of the Spanish Steps. Descend the stairs and marvel at one of the most beautiful piazzas of Rome, with its Fontana della Barcaccia (literally: the fountain of the ugly boat).

From here, it’s only a five-minute walk to the Trevi Fountain, but be prepared for some crowds. Trevi is always surrounded by an impressive amount of tourists unless you come very early in the morning or late at night. Don’t forget to throw a coin into the fountain – the legend says it means you’ll come back someday.

Next stop? The Pantheon, one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the world and a very impressive piece of architecture, as it has a central opening (oculus) in its dome, the biggest unsupported dome in the world. Entrance is free and there might be a line but you’re usually inside within twenty minutes.

Before continuing your walk, don’t forget to have a coffee at Sant’Eustachio, who is said to have the best coffee in Rome. Order at the register (gran caffè is the specialty they are so famous for) and drink your coffee standing up at the bar (if you sit down on the terrace and wait to be served, you’ll pay almost double the price). Getting hungry? Be sure to pass by Antico Forno Roscioli before or after you visit the beautiful Piazza Navona with its impressive fountains, take a few pieces of pizza and eat them on the go – just like the Romans do.

outside of antico forno roscioli

If you’re interested in seeing the Vatican Museums keep at least an entire morning or afternoon free in your 3 days in Rome itinerary: the museums and its gardens are so big you could easily spend a whole day there. Be sure to order your tickets online beforehand if you don’t want to stand in line for up to two hours. On the official website of the Vatican Museums, you pay €17 per person for an entrance ticket and €4 extra for the online reservation fee. If you want to see Saint Peter’s Basilica from the inside too, try to go right before closing time: lines tend to get shorter at the end of the day. Don’t fall for “guides” trying to offer you “skip the line”-tickets: visiting the church is for free.

Day 3: Beyond the tourist crowds

Crossed all the must-sees off your list? You’ll have the last day for exploring the less well-known side of Rome. A good place to start is Testaccio, a former working-class neighborhood south of the city center. Start at Tram Depot, a very cute open-air bar where you can stop for a coffee or refreshment. Keep walking straight along Via Galvani until you reach the Jumping Wolf mural by street artist ROA. Just a bit further down the same street, you’ll find Mercato Testaccio, a collection of small street food vendors with the yummiest snacks and sandwiches – a great place to stop for lunch!

Be sure to pass by The Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome, right next to the pyramid. Yes, Testaccio has a pyramid! It was built by Gaius Cestius, a Roman praetor who was so fascinated by the Egyptian culture. He wanted to be buried like a pharaoh after his death in 12 b.c. Besides being a beautiful, tranquil place where you can pay your respect to the graves of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, there’s a cat sanctuary attached to it, so while strolling through the cemetery you’ll likely walk into some feline friends.

Another great neighborhood to discover if you love street art, cheap food, and some undiscovered cultural highlights, is Ostiense, south of Testaccio. Just follow the Via delle Conce from the pyramid until you get to Porto Fluviale, a great restaurant in Ostiense surrounded by amazing street art. Be sure to check out the big pelican on the corner of Via del Porto Fluviale and Via delle Conce: it’s made with a type of paint that filters car emissions from the air.

If you’re up for visiting a museum, be sure to go to Centrale Montemartini. This former electricity plant combines old machines and an industrial back-drop with ancient Roman statues, a combination that works surprisingly well. For some reason, the museum usually doesn’t attract many visitors, making it perfect for a relaxed afternoon.

Was Saint Peter too busy to visit but you don’t want to miss out on the experience? Visit the Basilica di San Paolo fuori le mura in Ostiense. This immense church was actually built before Saint Peter and is equally impressive, minus the big tourist crowds. The colorful fresco on the façade, the never-ending line of columns inside the church and the beautifully decorated courtyard of the monastery: everything is equally astonishing.

basilica di san paolo ostiense
Basilica di San Paolo

Still have time and energy left for an aperitivo, dinner and some nightlife? Be sure to take the metro or a taxi to the east side of Rome to the neighborhood of Pigneto. This up and coming area boasts lots of street art, cool bars, cheap osteria’s, vintage boutiques, vegan restaurants and a vibrant nightlife.

Have dinner at Necci, a cozy restaurant with a lush garden, and check out the hidden cocktail bar Spirito next-door. Enter burger restaurant Premiata Panineria, pick up the old telephone in the corner and wait for the secret door to open. Inside, you’ll find a great pick of liquors, wines and beers: the perfect place to finish your day.

A perfect way to fill your evenings after your sightseeing is to take an evening food tour! Check out all of Eating Europe’s award-winning food tours here.

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