Rome – A One Day Itinerary
Rome is our favorite city in the whole world. There’s something in its incredible mix of history, architecture and gastronomy that we find irresistible. Even though Rome has enough to see and do to fill out a whole week, it’s very likely that you won’t stay that long in one place while travelling. Sometimes you need to pack as much as possible in a single day, and that’s exactly what we did just a month ago. The truth is, if you stay out of museums, you can manage to see all the “musts” in a day.
So here’s a suggested itinerary for 24 hours in Rome, inspired on the one we used:
Wake up early!
If you really want to make the most out of your day in Rome, you gotta rise early. A huge advantage of this is that you will be out on the streets way before the crowds of tourists. This means that you will be able to take great photos in the gorgeous golden light of the early morning in the big touristic attractions, without the obnoxious crowds in the frame! So, set your alarm early, be out on the streets by 7:00 A.M, or even earlier if you can. If taking amazing photos is a big deal for you, then this is the single-most important thing to do. In our case, we didn’t have breakfast in our Airbnb apartment, so we visited a couple of landmarks first, took some awesome photos, and at around 8:30, when the tourists were just beginning to come out, we sat down for a quick breakfast in a café we found along the way.
Spanish Steps at Piazza Spagna
As we said, at 7:00 we left the apartment and walked to the nearest metro station (Vittorio Emanuele) located at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. This station is in Line A of the metro, which takes you directly to Piazza Spagna (Spagna Station). By the way, quick lesson of Italian: “piazza” means “square”. After exiting the Spagna station, turn left and the square & Spanish Steps are less than one minute away. There were very few people around, so it was relatively easy to take photos of ourselves with no one in the background.
After hanging around the steps for a while, we set course to our next stop: the Trevi Fountain, located 10-15 minutes away by foot.
As with the Spanish Steps, there were very few people at the fountain when we got there at around 7:45. The lighting of the fountain is gorgeous at this time of the day, with some beautiful golden tones, contrary to the harsh lights and strong shadows that you see when the sun comes out in full strength. The 20 or so people around were all standing on the very middle of the fountain’s front, so we simply moved a bit to one side, and it looks as if we had the entire place for ourselves!
Quick tip: at 8:00 sharp the lower level of the fountain is closed for cleaning and taking out all the coins thrown by tourists the day before. At this moment, we headed to the “balcony” on the right side of the fountain and shot a few other pictures from here.
When we got to the Pantheon, there were a lot more people compared to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, but it was nowhere as crowded as it gets later in the day. After taking a few photos in the square outside, we headed into the Pantheon itself.
Quick tip: during summer, make sure to be “covered” to enter churches in Rome (yes, the Pantheon is actually a church today). This means that if you are a dude, you will probably be denied access if you are wearing very short shorts, or a tank top/shirt. If you are a girl, basically the same: very short shorts or skirts, and blouses/tops/shirts that don’t cover your shoulders. However, there’s a clever way to get around this restriction, and still be freshly dressed in summer: luckily my girlfriend was carrying a pashmina in her backpack, so she just threw the whole thing around her and problem solved:
Inside the Pantheon, the best thing to do is simply look up and be amazed at this enormous concrete dome and the oculus in its center. Almost 2000 years after its construction, it remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built!
One place you shouldn’t miss on the square in front of the Pantheon is the Antica Salumeria. In Italian, “salumi” refers to cold cuts like bresaola, prosciutto, salami, mortadella, pancetta, etc. If you like cold cuts and cheeses, this place will be like crossing the gates of heaven into a gastronomical paradise:
Inside, you can try and sample a ton of different things. There’s not a “tasting” price, and we thought that it would have been rude to come in, try everything and just leave, so we bought some parmesan cheese to take home with us. Spoiler alert: it was freaking delicious!
You can also buy sandwiches with all of these ingredients for about 2 euros, so it’s a cheap option for a snack or even lunch!
Sant’Ivo Alla Sapienza
Our next stop after the Pantheon was Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s main squares. However, on our way there, just one block away from it, we stumbled upon this hidden gem:
We were literally just walking down the sidewalk when we passed by the entrance, looked inside and were immediately captivated. Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza is a church built withing the pre-existing palace of the University of Rome (known as “La Sapienza”). It was designed by Francesco Borromini in the 1600’s, and is considered as a masterpiece of baroque architecture in Rome.
One of the main roman squares, Piazza Navona was built on the site of an ancient roman stadium, hence its elongated shape! It is best known for the three fountains that decorate it. The most important one is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, located in the middle of the square. Designed by the great Bernini, it represents the four greatest rivers in the continents in which the Pope had some authority: the Danube, the Nile, the Ganges, and the La Plata.
Around the square you will find a lot of restaurants and shops, but, as you can imagine, all the places located right on the main tourist attractions will always be more expensive. But there’s nothing wrong in indulging yourself with a meal with a view, so if you want to, go ahead!
Campo dei Fiori
After Piazza Navona, we headed to this smaller square, famous for its pubic market, where you can buy tons of different things, like hand made pasta, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, spices, liquors, hats, souvenirs, you name it.
As Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori is surrounded by restaurants and shops, located on the first floor of charming pastel-colored buildings.
Since it was almost midday when we got here, and we had booked a tour of the Colosseum at 2:45, we decided it was a good time and place to have lunch. We sat down at a restaurant with this stereotypically Italian tables with the checkered red and white tablecloth, and ordered and shared a prosciutto pizza.
Quick Tip: In Italy, most restaurants will charge you what is called “copperto”, or “table service”. It can range from 1.5 to 2.5 euros, and it is charged per person. However, some restaurants have these guys standing outside inviting you to eat at their place, and in most places on Campo dei Fiori we were offered deals such as: “eat with us and don’t get charged for table service”, or “eat here and you’ll get complimentary welcome drinks”, so my advice is: don’t dive in into a restaurant, make these guys sweat and get them to offer you something like this first!
After having lunch we began walking towards the Colosseum, which is a somewhat long walk away from this point. There are no metro stations on this part of the city, only buses and trams, but we didn’t want to waste time figuring out which one we should take, and besides, we didn’t mind walking. After all, Rome is a gorgeous city for walking around.
Altare della Patria at Piazza Venezia
On the way to the Colosseum you come across Piazza Venezia, another of Rome’s main squares. To one side of the square you’ll see this imposing white marble monument, the Altare della Patria – the Altar of the Fatherland – which was erected in honor of King Vittorio Emanuele II, the first ruler of a unified Italy since the sixth century!
In this monument you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Museum of Italian Unification, and in the rear side, for 7 euros you can take an elevator to the top of the monument for 360º views of Rome!
From Piazza Venezia you can walk along the Via dei Fori Imperiali up to the Colosseum, with views to ancient roman ruins on both sides of the street.
For our visit to the Colosseum we had booked a tour that included access to the arena. We got to the Colosseum about 10 minutes before the time we were supposed to meet our tour guide and group, and waited for everyone else to arrive before going in. For all the details regarding how and where to purchase your tickets, and the different kinds of tickets available, check out my post: Colosseum 101 – Everything You Need to Know.
Quick tip: There’s a terrace on the northern side of the Colosseum from where you can take great photos with it in the background. How to find it? If you arrive at the Colosseum by metro, there are two ways you can go: either take an internal stairwell in the station, or exit the station and turn left, walk a little bit and you will find some stairs that get you up to the terrace too.
We spent one hour inside the Colosseum, and after coming out we decided to take the metro to go to the Vatican.
St. Peter’s Square and Basilica
After arriving to the Ottaviano metro station, St. Peter’s Square is a 15-minute walk away. It was around 4:30 pm when we got here so there were basically no lines to get into St. Peter’s Basilica (free entrance).
The interior of the basilica is simply amazing, its sheer size and opulence are unparalleled.
You might want to spend some 30 minutes walking around the whole place and contemplating the infinite amount of art found in the greatest temple of Catholicism.
After coming out of St. Peter’s Basilica, we walked straight ahead by Via della Conciliazione street to go directly to Castel Sant’Angelo.
We didn’t step inside this fortress, but simply gazed at if from the outside. Then we crossed the Tiber river over the gorgeous Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge, beautifully decorated with statues on both sides, to head back to the city center.
Via del Governo Vecchio
After crossing the river, we found ourselves walking in the Via del Governo Vecchio street, filled with small, family-run restaurants, bars, wine shops and gelaterias. We were hungry and a bit tired of all the walking so we decided to sit down and have dinner. We ate at Da Tonino, a family restaurant that is kind of famous in Rome, yet you feel like eating in their living room! Besides, in this kind of restaurants, you will probably not get charged for table service.
We both ordered carbonara, the typical roman pasta, and half a liter of wine. In this place the pasta dish was on average 3 euros cheaper than in the restaurants that are closer to the tourist attractions, and you can get half a liter of house wine for only 4 euros.
If you are looking for a place to have some traditional roman & italian food, but want to avoid the tourist traps located on the main squares and tourist atractions, this street is an excellent choice to find a restaurant. I will always prefer a family run restaurant than a fancy one.
Ok guys, so at this point, you have already seen: the Spanish Steps at Piazza Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, been on squares like Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori, St. Peter’s and Piazza Venezia, you have gazed upon the magnificent monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, you have entered the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You have tried delicious Italian food and wine. So basically, you have done all the “must do’s” in Rome, so how you spend the night is up to you: here are some options:
Rome at Night
After dark, you can revisit some of the places you saw during the day:
It’s gonna be crowded like hell, but it’s an entirely different thing to see it at night. If you want a nice photo, it will be impossible to do it from the lower level in front of it. Rather, try going to the “balcony” to the right as I told you before. Not too many people linger in this area and it’s a lot easier to find a spot to take a photo without a thousand tourists in the frame.
In our case, we went to the Colosseum the night we arrived, but if you have spare time and energy, you can visit it too after finishing the itinerary. Be ready to find a big crowd over here as well, but is easier to get a photo here than at the Trevi Fountain.
If you want to have dinner with views to the Colosseum without spending TOO much money, a good option is a place called Royal Art Café, on the eastern side of the Colosseum, in Piazza del Colosseo street. On the second floor they have an open-air terrace where you’ll get views like this for dinner!
We shared this pizza and had two big beers, and paid about 35 euros. I know, not cheap at all, but to be honest, I thought that a dinner with these views would have been much more expensive. This is a great way to put an end to your day in Rome, and besides you cross out “dinner with views to the Colosseum” from your bucket list!
Where to stay
We stayed in the area around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II – not to be confused with the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, aka the Altare della Patria. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is a square/park a 10 minute walk away from Termini train station. It’s a quiet neighborhood with restaurants, shops, cafés, and it’s own metro station (Vittorio Emanuele). We booked a room with Lucky Domus rooms, located just half a block away from the square & metro station.
Besides, it’s a 15 minute walk away from the Colosseum. We can totally recommend this place to you. To see the available rooms and make your reservation via Booking.com, click the following link:
I hope this itinerary & tips will serve you well on your next visit to Rome! If you have any questions or suggestions, leave them in the comments!