A Rome – the eternal city. The city of magic, history and passion. Any trip to Italy would be incomplete without exploring Rome. But there is so much to see, and so little time. Here are all the things to do in Rome in three days.
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Where is the best place to stay in Rome?
The best place to stay in Rome all depends on your objectives. If you are just popping over in the city, then staying right in the heart of it would be worthwhile.
But, to get the most of my 10-day Italy adventure, it made sense to stay near the Termini – the central train station – to be able to catch the train to other parts of Italy.
To cut costs during my trip to Rome, I rented a beautiful apartment to act as my base camp. Even though, I spent every night in Rome – read: stuffing my face with pasta every night – I really spent three days exploring the city.
You can find incredible Home Away vacation rentals right in the heart of the city.
The apartment was in the trendy Monti district. It was a wonderful place to stay, close to a grocery store, restaurants, cafes and within a 10-minute walk to several metro stations. You can research the neighbourhoods ahead of time. I recommend Lonely Planet’s Rome guide to get your oriented.
From our rooftop balcony, I could see the St. Peter’s Basilica, while I sat and enjoyed a drink watching Rome at night.
When is the best time to visit Rome?
Rome in summer is freaking hot like the average daily high is over 30 degrees Celsius. Summer is also peak tourist times.
Even in October, the temperatures reached around 25 to 27 degrees Celsius during the day. The weather was warm and sunny, even for the middle of October. The best time to go is from October to April when the weather is cooler and there are fewer crowds.
Things you need to know about travelling to Rome
Before you find the things to do in Rome in 3 days, you got to know a couple of things to make your trip go smoothly. Let’s talk about bathrooms because we all need one at some point.
Most toilets in restaurants, public washrooms and even restrooms that you pay for may not have a toilet seat. You can read the whole reason why here, but just know that it is scarce for there to be any seats on the toilets. You’ll get a good squatting technique by the end of your trip.
While most places accept credits cards, you’ll want to keep some cash – especially coins – on you to pay any tips, bus and metro fare.
Speaking about tips – Yes you should leave a tip! First of all, tourists have now been doing for years that it has become expected. Even a few euros will go a long way. But a “service charge” on the restaurant bill is usually a couple of euros and already worked in.
Watch out for people roaming around and selling fares on the street. These people are not licenced to do so, and if you get caught buying from them, you could get in trouble too.
Related: Explore Venice from Rome in a day
Day one: War and Ancient Rome
On day one of your three day Rome itinerary, it’s best to start off with the heart of ancient Rome. The first day will take you from where Rome started to two of the Seven Hills of Rome. Get your walking shoes ready, because you’re going to need them!
What can I say about this iconic Roman landmark?
At its basic core, the Colosseum is the largest ancient amphitheatre located in the city centre of Rome. But this massive structure was not only one of the world’s most impressive engineering marvels, but it is filled with dark stories about its past as an amphitheatre of death. DUN dun dunnnn.
The Colosseum was built in just 10 years from 70 to 80 AD with the primary purpose to entertain the Roman people with gladiator battles and public spectacles.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! I cry – doing my best Russel Crowe impression. It took every atom of my being not to shout this while I stood on the floor of the Colosseum – Every. Atom.
What’s most fascinating is that the Colosseum still stands. Many other ancient Roman structures were either reused or built over, and yet, for the most part, the Colosseum is largely intact. It’s missing its third wall, and most – if not all – of its marble was used in the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.
But the Pope in the 17th century decreed it a sacred site because many Christians were murdered here in its heyday – I told you, the Colosseum’s story is not a nice one.
The history of the Colosseum is dark and complicated, so the best way to experience it is through a tour. It should be high on your list of things to do in Rome in 3 days.
If you’re looking for the origins of Rome, look no further than Palatine Hill.
From its humble beginning in the 9th to 7th century BC, to where the wealthy Romans lived, to where the Roman Emperor Augustus built his palace, Palatine Hill holds the history of the Roman Empire.
Part of the mythology is that of Romulus and Remus. Palatine Hills is regarded as the location of the cave where Romulus and Remus were found and taken care of by a mother wolf. Romulus ends up killing his brother Remus and becoming the founder of Rome. It’s too bad, because we might be calling Rome Reme instead, and that’s way funnier. (Any Harry Potter Fans out there?!)
You’ll find symbols of this story, which has become the symbol of the city and its people, all over Rome.
Today, Palatine Hill is full of ruins of many important buildings, including the housed of Augustus and Livia. I might be biased (Olivia is very close to Livia), but Livia was a badass – a strong-willed woman who had great influence, patience and was calculated in her power.
You’ll also find the House of Tiberius, Temple of Apollo and Palace of Domitian as well as an incredible view over the Roman Forum.
While Rome may have been founded at the Palatine Hill, its citizens and everyday life took place in the Roman Forum.
This sprawling architectural site includes the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Venus and Roma, Temple of Caesar, Temple of Romulus, Arch of Septimus Severus (again, any HP fans out there?!), Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine as well as other buildings like the Senate, King’s headquarters, record office, a prison and so many more.
You can even see the spot where Julius Caesar’s body was cremated.
Every year on the Ides of March – March 15 – his death is commemorated by people leaving flowers and gifts at the Roman Forum and at Largo di Torre Argentina.
Largo di Torre Argentina
If you’re interested in the history of Julius Caesar, then you have to see Largo di Torre Argentina, where the ruins of four temples are. Looking west, and behind the Temple of Fortuna, the circular shaped one, is where Julius was stabbed 23 times by his senate.
Now covered by modern buildings, the Theatre of Pompey was where senate was held and eventually where Julius was murdered.
Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is home to something spectacular – the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. This no-kill shelter is home to hundreds of felines.
You won’t be able to see it from the street, because the shelter is actually located at ground level of the excavation site. Now, these cats can roam around Rome (HA!) and also be kept healthy and fed. You might even catch a couple sunbathing or lounging on the ruins.
As the population of Rome grew, there was a great need to expand. That’s how Trajan’s Forum, Market and Column came to be.
Trajan was a Roman Emperor known for the greatest expansion of military and territory in Roman history. But he was also a philanthropist, presiding over a long period of peace where he expanded social welfare programs for children and the poor.
The forum was a place for Romans to gather, especially beside the Trajan’s Markets, a semi-circular, multi-level shopping mall for those ancient Romans to get their Nikes (high-fiving myself for that joke!)
On the northern end of the forum is Trajan’s column. This 30-metre tall column depicts two of Trajan’s military conquests.
Altar of the Fatherland
Speaking about military conquests, situated beside the Trajan Forum there’s a building that looks a little out of place, the Altar of the Fatherland.
It’s a little out of place likely because it’s a newer building, est. 1911, but also because it sticks out from its surroundings. It’s not only one of the largest buildings in the centre of Rome, but many Romans have a love/hate relationship with it.
The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, also known as Altare della Patria or the Altar of the Fatherland, the building is dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy as a unified country. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies here, and it is home to a museum about Italian military and unification.
After visiting the impressive museums, you’ll need to head over to Capitoline Hill, one of the original Seven Hills of Rome. While its history in ancient Rome is fascinating, it’s what is there now that is breathtaking.
Today, Capitoline Hill is home to several important buildings and the Piazza del Campidoglio. The famous sculptor and painter Michelangelo designed the piazza and the surrounding Palazzo back in the 1500s.
In the middle of the square is a statue of Marcus Aurelius, an ancient Roman emperor
Behind the figure is the Palazzo Senatorio, the current home to Rome’s municipal government. The fountain at the front of the building features Dea Roma and the river gods of the Tiber and the Nile.
To the right of the statue is the Palazzo dei Conservatori, where the Capitoline Museum and the Library of Archeology and Cultural Heritage are located. To the statue’s left is the Palazzo Nuovo, which is also part of the Capitoline Museums.
If you want a great view of the Roman Forum, take the small laneway between the Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo dei Conservatori, under the archway, and you’ll find an impressive and free view.
Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli
The Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli (aka Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven) is one of the most impressive churches I’ve seen in Italy.
Located at the top of the Capitoline Hill, this structure, with its plain façade is hidden between the impressive Altar of the Fatherland and the Capitoline Museum buildings. Inside lies another story.
First, there are two ways to get into the church. The first is by taking the Scalinata dell’Ara Coeli (the stairway of the Altar of Heaven). It is 124 steps to the front door.
The second way, if you are already in the Piazza del Campidoglio is to go in between the Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo Nuavo and take the Gemonian Stairs to the side entrance.
Once you’re inside, you’ll see how the plain façade was deceiving. Inside is all the grandeur of a king’s palace, from the stunning wooden ceiling to the patchwork flooring, to the tombs (one of which was Donatello and one designed by Michelangelo) of marble laid sporadically throughout the church.
Inside is also the famous Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, a wooden figure of baby Jesus wearing a crown. It’s famous because not only was it blessed by two popes, but it was stolen in 1994, and the whole of Rome went crazy looking for it.
Day two: The city centre
Start your second day of things to do in Rome in 3 days by exploring the city centre. This area is filled with renaissance buildings and fountains. Perfect for photos and shopping.
Start your day at the iconic Spanish Steps. Sure it’s just a stairway, but the steps that lead from Piazza di Spagna to the Piazza Trinta Del Monti is a great place to have your morning espresso.
In the centre of Piazza di Spagna is the fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia. Here you’ll also find the former home of poet John Keats.
Surrounded by newer buildings, the Pantheon, a survivor of Ancient Rome, sticks out.
My father played a trick on me. He had walked ahead of me and called back to show me something. I walked leisurely – I was eating gelato – over, and he took me by the shoulders and showed me … nothing. It was a regular Roman street. Adorable, but nothing special.
I looked at him quizzically. “Now look behind us,” he said. And BAM. Right there in the middle of everything was the Pantheon.
Good one dad, you trickster you.
The Pantheon, built in 125AD was a Roman temple dedicated to all gods. What separates this temple from all others is its oculus, a hole in the centre of its roof.
Now, the Pantheon is a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs and many of the ancient Roman artifacts were removed and replaced with Christian icons.
The Pantheon is also the final resting place for King Vittano Emanuelle II, King Umberto I and his wife, Margherita.
As one of the largest Baroque fountains in the city, Trevi Fountain is an incredibly popular spot for visitors.
The current fountain was constructed in the 1700s, but the area served as a source of water dating back to ancient Roman times.
It is said if you toss a coin – with the right hand over the left shoulder – into the fountain, you’ll soon return to Rome.
Thousands of Euros are thrown into the Trevi Fountain each day. The coins are collected and given to Caritas, a Catholic charity that helps the poor.
The best street in Rome
Via dei Coronari takes the cake as the best street in Rome. Not only is it incredibly picturesque, but its shops are beautiful and nearly works of art themselves.
It runs between Piazza dei Coronari to the west and the Piazza di Tor Sanguigna to the east. The road is old, dating back to ancient Roman times. In between the leather shops, the artisans and the cafes, there is history in the lovely renaissance buildings.
Whether it’s the was the beautiful weather, the incredible architecture, or the sound of a musician playing Adele’s Someone Like You on the violin, when I was moved to tears in the middle of this incredible piazza.
Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s lovely public squares, built atop one of ancient Rome’s arenas/ gathering places.
There are here fountains here, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the centre, Fontana del Maro (Moor Fountain) to the south, and Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain) to the north.
During the day, many artists set up their kiosks and sell their pieces. Some even pain while they tend to their shop. Surrounding the square is Sant’Agnese in Agone as well as several restaurants and cafes.
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The Castle of the Holy Angel, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, is a circular castle-like building across the Tiber from Rome’s city centre.
The structure was originally constructed to be a tomb for Roman emperor Hadrian. As Christianity took hold, the building was repurposed as a fortress for the pope, when the top was adorned with Michael the Archangel. It then became a national museum.
The best view is from the bridge, where you’ll also find numerous statues of several angels, giving the bridge its name, St. Angelo Bridge.
Day three: Vatican City
Despite your religious beliefs, seeing Vatican City is a must on a 3 day Rome itinerary. Imagine crossing the street and entering into a new country without even knowing.
The Vatican is the world’s smallest country, established in 1929 after Italy became a unified country. The Vatican’s boundaries include the oval of St. Peter’s Square and extend west to the Vatican gardens and north to the Vatican Museums.
Hands down, the best way to get into and see the incredible Vatican is through a tour.
Some say that the art collection owned by the Vatican is the largest in the worlds. If you think about it, the thousands of artifacts, artworks, and sculptures have been collected by Popes over the centuries.
Over 20,000 works are on display, and that’s not even close to half the whole collection. The art gallery includes works from Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso and more. There are also several sculpture galleries, which include work from ancient times to modern times.
On the 4th Sunday of the month, the Museum is free to the public.
Gallery of Maps
When you make your way from the museums to the Sistine Chapel, you’ll head down one of the long narrow galleries, one of which is the Gallery of Maps.
The gallery contains regional maps of places all over Italy, all designed in the 1500s. For a traveller, this particular room was fascinating!
I’m not a religious person, so my love of the Sistine Chapel is not for spiritual reasons, but because I think Michelangelo was a bit of a character.
While most of the Sistine Chapel was designed and painted by numerous artists between 1477 and 1541, it was Michelangelo that brought it fame, with the incredible Sistine Chapel ceiling and altar.
The ceiling depicts biblical narratives from the Book of Genesis, from God creating the universe to Adam and Eve to Noah and the flood. The creation of Adam is likely the most famous panel.
His other piece, The Last Judgement, covers the wall of the Altar. Because Michelangelo was a salty dog, he inserted people that pissed him off into the piece and depicting them rather crudely. Hilarious.
After Michelangelo died, many of his nude figures were “cloaked” for civility reasons. Again, hilarious.
There are so many examples of his saltiness, but you’ll just need to see it for yourself.
Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel at all, so pick yourself up a postcard before leaving, or at one of the numerous stories in Rome, because you shouldn’t break the rules.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The Basilica San Pietro is the largest church in the world and is considered to be the holiest shrines in the Catholic religion. The building that stands today dates back to 1626, replacing the old St. Peter’s Basilica, which occupied the space since the 4th century AD.
The basilica is home to St. Peter’s tomb, as well as over 100 other tombs within the walls of the church. You’ll also be able to see Pieta by Michelangelo, depicting Mary and the body of Christ and a bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys to heaven.
Other points of interest within the basilica are the altar, the apse, the nave, the crypt and of course, the dome.
There are so many nooks and crannies in this massive church with each inch being symbolic in some way. Spend as much time as you can here and discover the mysteries that the church holds.
Climb to the top of the dome
The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is an iconic landmark of Rome’s skyline. Many call it a beacon to churchgoers. It was created in 1546 by Michelangelo and completed many years later following his death.
Climbing to the top of the dome is like a pilgrimage for travellers who want to see the best view of Rome. You can climb all 551 steps or take the elevator and climb the remaining 320 steps.
The elevator takes you to an interior balcony that gives you an amazing view of the inside of the basilica. Next, you climb the rest of the stairs some follow the curve of the dome, then up some metal stairs before you reach a spiral staircase narrower than two people standing side-by-side.
At the top, you’ll be rewarded for that exhaustive effort with the most spectacular view of Rome.
St. Peter’s Square
Lastly, end your Vatican visit with a wander through St. Peter’s Square. It features a stunning view of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and is surrounded by huge columns.
In the centre is an Egyptian obelisk erected in 1586. The obelisk was taken from Egypt and 37 AD to stand in the Circus of Nero, which is where the St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City are located now. On either side of the obelisk are fountains designed by Bernini.
Whether you’re in for the gelato of the amazing historical sites, Rome, Italy is one place you can’t miss. Here are things to do in Rome in 3 days.