Rome, the Eternal City. I spent a weekend in Rome while I was in Italy last summer, and despite the heat and crowds, I still really enjoyed it. There’s a reason it’s popular, after all! For me, one of the thrills of Rome is the age of everything – like a lot of places in Italy, the history is very present. It’s so different from the US where life is focused on today and the future. When I visit cities with histories like Rome, I’m always reminded to slow down and realize that the arc of history is long, and I need to focus on the time that I have. That and, in a thousand years, it’s not going to matter that I messed up very simple Italian when ordering food. Hopefully.
Anyway, I really loved my time in Rome, short though it was, and I’m feeling nostalgic. So, without further ado, here’s my experience/tips for three days in Rome.
For me, the day started just with getting into the city since I was staying in Orvieto. Once there, however, the Capitoline Museums are phenomenal! There’s a lot to see, so if you think this something you really want to do, you’ll want to look into a map of where the different exhibits are. The Capitoline Museums, besides having an amazing vantage point, also showcase Rome’s history. I recommend at least two hours here, though I could have spent a lot more time wandering the collections and looking over the Roman Forum.
Lunch in Italy is very important because the food is amazing, and you need to enjoy it as much as possible. While there are many great restaurants in Rome, I fell in love with Spaghetteria L’Archetto. It’s a little out of the way, and being me, I obviously got a little turned around. Traveling with friends who also had no sense of direction did not help, but once we got there, it was completely worth it! They had so many options at very reasonable prices. I ended up with Spaghetti Tropici with pineapples in it because it sounded unique. All the food I saw was fantastic though – I definitely sampled my friends’ dishes – and you know it must have been good since I actually remember it. I had a lot of great food in Italy, but this was one of my favorites!
After a hearty lunch, it’s time for more history. I recommend spending the afternoon at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. These are central parts of the city’s history, so there are a lot of tourists, but if the history interests you, I think it is worth it – and you can also switch things up and go in the morning when it’s less busy. Make sure to have water either way though! There are places to stop and fill a bottle, but you need to have that water bottle in the first place. Hawkers also sell them for 1-2 euros while you wait in line though, so you can always buy one.
Honestly, after doing all the walking on this first day, I was pretty much wiped out. As I recall, I basically found the Airbnb, collapsed for an hour, walked about a block to the nearest restaurant, and came back to sleep. If you’re better rested or better hydrated or both, Rome is a cosmopolitan city, and I’m sure there are a lot of great things to do in the evening that I just did not. This day will really help you get your steps in though, and you will see some amazing parts of history!
If you are in Rome and have any interest in religion or art or key players in world history, you have to go to the Vatican. Saturday was devoted entirely to this marvel, and I do not regret that at all. Because of a national holiday (Republic Day, June 2), the bus we needed to take was on a detour, so we eventually just took an Uber to the Vatican, which honestly I kind of recommend.
Reason 1: It’s a little terrifying but also incredibly entertaining to sit in the back seat as your driver navigates narrow streets.
Reason 2: For whatever reason, all the Ubers take some form of Mercedes, which was pretty nifty.
When you get to the Vatican, you first need to get in line. The entire time you wait, people will try to convince you to take tours to get in faster. In my opinion, it isn’t worth it since they can be two or three times the regular price of admission, and you are then stuck on a tour itinerary. That said, they’re very persistent, and I found suddenly becoming really invested in a conversation or saying can get them to go away. Otherwise, saying “I don’t speak English” in Arabic despite my very white, very American appearance is also confusing enough to deter most. Total, I waited in line about two hours. I recommend water, podcasts, and comfortable shoes.
When we finally got into the Vatican, we decided to take advantage of the café before standing/walking even more. The map provided was a little confusing in my opinion, so we mostly just followed the crowds and saw basically everything. There’s so much art in here of so many different types that you could probably spend a couple days looking at it all. The crowds in the Vatican are insane though, and you need to get to the side of whatever room or hall you’re in to avoid being pushed along. The places you must stop though are the obvious ones – the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel. For all that I’d studied them and seen pictures in books and online, I was still so moved to see them in person.
Before leaving the Vatican complex, don’t forget to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. This whole building is a work of art (I had read a book about the history right before coming, so I was thoroughly impressed to go inside and see everything I’d just learned about). The history of the building is fascinating, and you’ll see the different styles throughout. Michelangelo’s Pietà is stunning, so much so that I bought a touristy statue of this instead of the Colosseum. But the things you will notice first and most are Bernini’s Baroque additions – the massive Baldachin over the altar, and the chair of St. Peter, which, surrounded in gold, appears to be ascending into heaven.
Total, I spent three hours wandering the Vatican complex, not including lunch, and I could have stayed longer. Before returning to the airbnb, we stopped by the Pont Sant’Angelo, which is featured in one of my favorite movies of all time: Roman Holiday by Audrey Hepburn. (If you’re familiar with it, the boat scene occurs here). After the crowds of the Vatican, it was relaxing to walk down to the riverbank and relax as we watched artists painting the landscapes that have so long been immortalized here.
We took an Uber back to our airbnb to relax for a bit before going out for dinner and evening air. Mostly, we walked around the Colosseum and the perimeter of the Circus Maximus. We ate at a pizza place near here where I ate a pizza with half a hard boiled egg on top. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to cut the egg into slices or what, so I just ate that part first. The rest of the pizza was also very good though! Once again, we were exhausted and had an early night. Allotting so much time to the Vatican though really lets you see as much as you want without worrying about keeping to a schedule.
This day was the reason I wanted to go to Italy in the first place. It was utter wish fulfillment completed through too much walking. It was a carefully-planned, dehydrating walk to see some sites, especially those from Roman Holiday (except the ones that cost money because I spent enough at the Vatican). The map shows the route we ostensibly took, although there was definitely a lot of getting lost that added up to more than 6.6 km.
- Metro to the Spanish Steps
- You are no longer allowed to eat ice cream like Audrey does in the movie, but we did see a commercial being filmed!
- Trevi Fountain
- Not in the movie, but you can’t visit Rome and not throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain (and it is in The Lizzie McGuire Movie)
- Pantheon/Piazza della Rotunda
- We actually waited in line for the better part of an hour waiting for the Sunday morning church service to finish, but we were some of the first people in after that. Also, how cool is it that people still worship here?!?!
- Unfortunately the restaurant from the movie is not here anymore, and I really recommend getting out of the tourist area before eating at all
- Walk through the Piazza Navona
- Pretty fountains – an unexpected bonus since this was on no part of my itinerary, and we just got really lost
- Back to downtown and Yay, we know where we are again!
The only place I would have added if I’d had the time/money: The Palazzo Colona. The last scene of the movie is filmed in the beautiful Galleria Colonna; however, entry to that costs 20 euros. It does fit in nicely between the Pantheon and Bocca della Verita though if you can avoid getting lost and going to the Piazza Navona. The Palazzo also has a little restaurant, which would probably be a good place to eat for a few extra euros.
Even though the weekend wasn’t completely perfect, I loved it so much. I didn’t even mind the crowds for the most part, and if you time it right, you can avoid a lot of them anyway. Rome is amazing, and it’s one of my favorite cities that I’ve visited.
Bonus Tip: When in Rome, don’t as the Romans do – there are plenty of Vespas available to rent, but tourists who don’t know how to drive them can be very dangerous.