Planning a Roman holiday with limited time? Whether it’s a stopover for a few days or part of a multi-city itinerary, there are some pretty amazing sites and things to do in Rome that you can see in just a couple of days. Below are my suggestions for the best ways to spend 3 days in Rome.
This is the personal itinerary that we planned and felt like we were able to really enjoy some of the best that Rome had to offer, even in a limited time-frame.
Take note, when seeing a lot in a little time, the itinerary is jam-packed. Have a good pair of shoes and adjust as necessary to your abilities and preferences.
Depending on when and where you fly, you will lose time as you fly from East to West. If you are flying from the West coast going East towards Italy, you may gain.
In our case, we flew from North Carolina ( after dropping the kiddos off with Grandma) and experienced a 6 hour time change.
I recommend getting a flight early in the morning, or overnight to try and minimize jet lag, but jet lag will be almost unavoidable.
We left at 6:40 a.m., navigated an 8-hour layover in JFK and landed in Rome at 6:30 a.m. Rome time, essentially heading into Day 2 of our vacation.
Since we took an overnight flight, I am beginning the itinerary to not include the travel day as this post is meant to cover 3 full days in Rome.
Day 1- Rome
Try to stay awake a bit if you can when you land. It’s tough, but you need to get on local time as soon as possible.
We landed in the morning at Fiumicino and immediately purchased the 72 Hour Roma Pass at the tourist info office in the airport (Which we thought was well worth the money. You can read more about it here.). Then, grabbed the Leonardo Express from FMO into Roma Termini.
The Leonardo Express costs more money (14€) than the public bus (another option to get into Termini) but the bus takes longer.
After the long flights and layovers, I wanted to get to our hotel ASAP.
The public transport system of Rome can be tricky to navigate at first, but easy to catch on after a few rides. Plus, after you hit the city center, public transport is free for the duration of the Roma Pass’ activation.
The area surrounding the hotel admittedly seems a bit sketchy. Don’t let it fool you. The entire city seems quite dirty, but the hotel itself was clean, comfortable and one of the more comfortable places we stayed on our trip. Though we were about 2 hours in advance of our check-in time, we had communicated with the B&B in advance and she was ready for us as soon as we arrived.
When searching for a hotel overseas, traveler reviews are your best friend. I primarily use TripAdvisor for this sole purpose.
I make it a point to never plan any reservations or major sites on the day of arrival so that I am not stressed if we end up delayed or are just plain exhausted.
After checking in, we immediately went out for a walk, found a local flea market so that Mr. L could get his soccer jersey fix and found a local supermarket to stock up on some water, bread, prosciutto and cheese.
We came back to the hotel mid-afternoon and I admittedly couldn’t stand it any longer so we took a brief nap ( about an hour) and then took public transport to Trastevere where we found a yummy trattoria on a back street of the Jewish Ghetto. ( For more about Trastevere, check out this great post on Lonely Planet)
After dinner, I needed to get my first taste of Gelato, but unfortunately got ripped off. Read more about that here.
Day 2- Rome
After a night of rest, hit the ground running, like we did, by making your way to the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum.
The three sites are all considered one attraction, so just one ticket is required.
I suggest starting at the Roman Forum and climbing up Palatine Hill.
Doing the walk earlier in the morning, will make it a bit more bearable weather wise. Bring a water bottle, as there are fountains scattered with drinkable water.
After wandering the ruins of the Forum and hiking the hill, head to the Colosseum.
Kids- if you read nothing else in this post, read this: make advance reservations or get the Roma Pass.
You do not want to wait in the line that quickly forms outside of the arena.
If you choose to not get the Roma Pass, you can easily make a reservation directly through the official Colosseum’s ticket office website.
With a reservation, you will need to specify your entry time. If you have a pass, this won’t be necessary.
When traveling to Europe, we download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe App and make sure we have a pair of earbuds handy.
In Rome, his app provides free audio tours for The Roman Forum, The Colosseum and Big 3 sites at the Vatican, which take a whole day themselves.
The day can be quite tiring, so I suggest heading back to the hotel for a brief respite and then taking a walk around the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps in the evening after dinner. (Yes. Rick has a walk for this)
We decided to make our way to the Pantheon before it closed and hung out there a bit at a little cafe to rest and people watch.
Near Trevi Fountain, we rather enjoyed our meal at II Chianti to cap off the night.
Day 3- Rome
The Vatican is truly a sight to behold, welcoming millions of guests each year.
With so many visitors coming to experience St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican Museums and The Sistine Chapel, it’s easy to forget that the Vatican is technically Vatican City, functioning, independent city-state city state within Rome, with approximately 1,000 inhabitants who live and work there ( One man, in particular, may be a bit more notable than the others..).
The Vatican is not part of the Roma Pass, so it needs to be booked in advance ( otherwise you will waste several hours in line during peak season). Tickets can be booked through the official website and the Sistine Chapel is included.
I highly suggest doing the Vatican Museum first.
Follow the Audio Tour on Rick Steve’s Audio Europe App and you will end at the Sistine Chapel.
You can’t take photos inside the Sistine Chapel ( though I may admittedly have some contraband), but it is a sight to behold.
Now, for a travel hack that’s worth the cost of you reading this post.
Once you are about to leave the Sistine Chapel, there are two exits. One is to the left and will lead you out to the Square, where you then wait in a security line to re-enter into St. Peter’s Basilica.
But, you’ve already been through security. You know you’re cool.
So, don’t go out that exit.
To the right, as you leave the Sistine Chapel, there is an exit for tour groups only.
Now, I do have scruples and admittedly felt a bit guilty… but I had already broken one rule with the camera and just decided to go all-out delinquent. (Besides, I had actually read about this little tip from other bloggers…so I know I’m not alone…and it was hot outside)
Anywho, you can pretty easily just blend into the crowd of tour groups and go through that door...right into St. Peter’s Basilica. No additional wait required.
Now, it isn’t guaranteed. You could get stopped ( in which case, play dumb and go out the other exit). But, when its more crowded, it’s definitely worth a try.
However, if you go out this way…you cannot get back into the Vatican Museums. So, make sure you didn’t leave a backpack in the cloakroom and have seen all you wanted to see.
Once inside St. Peter’s Basilica, follow the guide on Rick Steve’s Audio Europe App and take it all in. Make your way around and stop at Michelangelo’s Pieta as you end the tour.
After touring the Vatican, we found a great pizza restaurant nearby to grab lunch. It looks a little touristy—but, I kid you not, it was THE BEST PIZZA WE HAD IN ITALY.
Caution: your five-minute walk to Pizza Zizza will cross a country border 🙂
Don’t even bother with a menu. Just order the affordable Pizza sampler (17€) and you’re golden. It was more than enough to feed Nate and I for an affordable and delicious lunch.
With the Roma Pass, you get two free admissions to major sites with additional sites at a discount. This worked out perfectly since we had to book the Vatican seperately. So…
After resting a bit at the hotel, we used the second free admission on the Roma Pass at the Galleria Borghese,
The Galleria Borghese is an incredible art gallery that was once the private collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It houses many renowned sculptures by Bernini ( one of the key reasons, we wanted to check it out).
It’s important to let you know that even with the Roma Pass, the Galleria Borghese requires you to call ahead to reserve a time slot.
It’s a simple phone call and I made it the day before when I was over there.
I was a bit confused, because they said the museum closed at 7 and they only had “evening times from 7-9 available.” We thought that was great, because we had plans for the day and when we arrived they were letting people in at that time. I concluded that “closing at 7” pretty much meant that you can’t get into the cafe or gift shop.
Make sure you keep your confirmation number. The lady at the check in desk was pretty testy with me about the fact that I accidentally left my confirmation number on the desk at the hotel ( whoops). I assumed she could easily look it up by name. She said she couldn’t…but then did in less than a half-second.
And then we had to check ALL bags at the cloakroom…but Nate had my ticket at another desk (which was apparently needed)…and I got another look. I was causing problems, on accident of course, but can now tell you what to expect to avoid you getting yelled at by the locals.
Since Rick Steves does not have an audio tour, we did pay the 5€ for theirs and found it very useful and well worth the cost.
( Side note, Nate and I carry a headphone splitter, so we can have our own earbuds but share one device. It saves money in these situations, even though we have to make sure we coordinate our movements together…)
Once we got inside, we realized the evening was a wonderful time to tour the museum and it is definitely much less crowded than some of the more well-known tourist sites.
Despite the initial challenges in arriving and getting in, we were really glad we made the stop as the Galleria Borghese was a great way to end our art and culture exploration in Rome.
After our time in Rome, we caught a train the next morning and headed to Florence and felt like we really saw the highlights of Rome and then some.
Day 1: Travel Day and Rest/Wander/Explore
Day 2: Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona ( Phew)
Day 3: The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Galleria Borghese
Have you been to The Eternal City? What are your must-see things to do in Rome? Let me know for the next time my Trevi Fountain wish comes true!