Trying to see Rome in just one day is a challenging task. After all, it is a city with over 2,000 years of history and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. But we’re here to help you achieve the nearly impossible and ensure that your 24 hours in this city are as well-spent as possible.
We’ve put together two full one-day itineraries so that you have the option to choose. One focuses more on Ancient Rome and the other on exploring Vatican City. Read on to figure out which Rome itinerary best suits you.
Option 1 – Ancient Rome and the Historic Center
Itinerary 1 takes you to all the biggest and best of Rome’s ancient attractions, as well as to many unmissable sites in the historic center. This itinerary is best for those who have a passion for history and who want to walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans.
1. The Colosseum [9 am – 10:30 am]
Start your day at the Colosseum, Rome’s most iconic monument. Book skip-the-line tickets in advance online so you can ensure your entrance and save time. Being one of the first to enter is a magical experience as you’ll feel as if you had the place to yourself, but be quick about snapping pictures, as the place fills up quite quickly.
To get a better understanding of the history and architecture, consider purchasing an audioguide or, better yet, hiring a guide who can bring you around.
2. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill [10:30 am – 12:30 pm]
Your ticket to the Colosseum also grants you access to both the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Start with the forum, which is right across the road from the Colosseum, and spend an hour or so exploring the ruins.
The Forum was once the center of important political, religious, and social activities, and exploring its ruins really gives you an amazing insight into what life was really like for the ancient Romans.
Once again, hiring a guide or at least an audioguide will give you the best understanding and appreciation for what it is you are looking at and will only make your experience even more enjoyable.
Once you’ve finished with the Forum, climb up the Palatine Hill to get a spectacular view of the Roman Forum from above and visit the ruins of what was once the most elite neighborhood in ancient Rome, home even to emperors.
3. Piazza Venezia and the Altar of the Fatherland [12:30 pm – 1:30 pm]
Once you’ve climbed back down the hill, you’ll probably be ready to see something other than ancient ruins, so head on down the stately road named Via dei Fori Imperiali and follow it til its end at Piazza Venezia.
Here, you’ll see the imposing, stark white building known as the Altar of the Fatherland or the Vittoriano. This modern (1885 -1935) and controversial monument is a great contrast to the ruins you saw before.
See the soldiers standing guard next to the eternal flame, and then take the glass elevator up to the top to get stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area.
4. Lunch Break [1:30 pm – 2:00 pm]
At this point, you’ll probably start to feel a little hungry, so do as the Romans do, and grab yourself a slice of pizza in one of the many pizza al taglio places dotted around the city. It’s the perfect lunch for when you’re on the go.
5. Trevi Fountain [2:15 pm – 2:30 pm]
Once you’ve satisfied your hunger, you’ll be ready for what’s coming next – only the most famous, and arguably most beautiful, fountain in the entire world. You already know what I’m talking about: the Trevi Fountain.
Don’t forget to toss a coin, or two or three, into the fountain before you go. Legend has it that one guarantees your return to Rome, two means you’ll fall in love here, and three means you’ll marry the person you fell in love with while in Rome.
6. The Spanish Steps [2:30 pm – 3:00 pm]
Less than a 10-minute walk away from Trevi is the Spanish Steps, the most photogenic staircase in Rome. Made famous because of the 1950s Hollywood classic “Roman Holiday” starring Audrey Hepburn, it’s become a bucket list destination for many holiday-goers to Rome.
Climb to the top to get stunning views of the surrounding area, or simply admire its beauty from the Barcaccia fountain below. Just remember: eating or sitting on the steps is no longer allowed, and you can get fined if you do so.
7. The Pantheon [3:00 pm – 4:00 pm]
Now, you’re probably ready to see some more ancient stuff, and this one’s a good one.
Cross over to the other side of Via del Corso and head through the narrow, souvenir shop-filled streets until you get to Piazza della Rotonda, home to the Pantheon – the temple of all gods.
There may be a line to get in, but it generally moves pretty quickly, so step in line and wait to see the first reinforced-concrete dome ever built (over 2,000 years ago.) and the oculus at its center. The Pantheon is also home to some pretty impressive tombs, including that of famous Renaissance artist Raphael; and also one belonging to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy.
8. Coffee Break [4:30 pm – 5:00 pm]
At this point, you might need a little pick-me-up, and this area is the perfect place to get one. Right near the Pantheon is the famous cafè called “Tazza d’Oro”, which some say makes the best coffee in all of Rome. Grab an espresso at the counter, and you’ll perk right up, ready to continue on.
9. Piazza Navona [5:00 pm – 6:00 pm]
At just a five-minute walk from the Pantheon is the oblong piazza known as Piazza Navona. Spend some time here admiring the magnificent central Fountain of the Four Rivers, sculpted by Bernini, and have a peek inside the Sant’Agnese in Agone church, designed by renowned Baroque architect Borromini.
10. Campo de’ Fiori [6:00 pm – 7:00 pm]
By this time, your feet will probably be aching, and you might be dying for refreshment. Don’t worry, you won’t have to go far. Leave Piazza Navona by the end that has the Fountain of the Moor, cross the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II avenue, and pretty soon you’ll be at Campo de’ Fiori, the perfect place to partake in one of Italy’s favorite traditions: the aperitivo.
Choose a bar, grab yourself a spritz, and people-watch in this vibrant piazza. After all the sightseeing you’ve done today, you deserve it.
11. The Roman Ghetto [7:30 pm – 9:00 pm]
To finish off this eventful day, head to one of Rome’s tastiest quarters, the Roman Ghetto, and eat dinner in style with a view of the nearby ruins of the Portico of Octavia. Book at one of the many delicious restaurants in advance so that you’re guaranteed a spot.
The Ghetto has historically always been the Jewish quarter of Rome, and it’s always been known for having delicious restaurants. Make sure to try the fried artichoke, one of the local specialties.
Option 2 – Vatican City and the Historic Center
Itinerary 2 focuses more on Vatican City, as well as some of the more popular sights in the historic center. This route is offered as an alternative to the first one and is for visitors who absolutely don’t want to miss out on the Vatican in the short time they have in Rome.
1. St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica [7:30 am – 8:30 am]
To really see as much as possible at Vatican City, we recommend you wake up EARLY. The Basilica opens its doors at 7 am, so head there first, as early as you can bear, and be astonished by the largest church in the world, which includes masterpieces by Michelangelo and Bernini.
Once you’ve finished admiring the basilica, head back outside and take a good look at St. Peter’s Square, an enormous and gorgeous piazza with rows of colonnades that were designed to perfection.
2. The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel [9 am – 12 pm]
Next up, head straight to the Vatican Museums as soon as the doors open. Remember to pre-book your skip-the-line tickets online beforehand, as there could be a lengthy queue, and you’re not guaranteed entry.
It’s no secret that the Vatican Museums are massive, containing over 9 miles and 70,000 works of art. You definitely won’t be able to see it all in one day, so plan your tour carefully, lest you get overwhelmed.
One thing everyone can agree on is that the Sistine Chapel is unmissable. It’s usually one of the last areas people see before leaving the museum, but if you’re really eager, you can take an alternative path and head there first.
3. Castel Sant’Angelo and the Ponte Sant’Angelo [12 pm – 1 pm]
Leaving Vatican City, you’ll come across the brown, circular structure that is Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome’s famous castle. This massive building is composed of layers upon layers of history, and it’s been everything from a prison to a mausoleum.
Head across the Tiber River over the beautiful Bridge of Angels, and once you get to the other side, look back for a last look at the stately castle framed by angelic statues.
4. Lunch Break [1 pm – 2 pm]
After all that walking and art-seeing, you’ll probably be feeling pretty famished. The area behind Piazza Navona, once you come off the Bridge of Angels, is usually a good place to enjoy a relaxing lunch in a restaurant. Just don’t eat on the square itself as you’ll be overcharged for food that’s probably not worth it.
5. Piazza Navona [2 pm – 2:30 pm]
Once you’ve been fed and watered, head onto the piazza itself and enjoy a leisurely stroll around it as you marvel at the magnificent baroque fountains and buildings that populate it.
If you want an after-lunch treat, grab a gelato from one of the many gelaterias surrounding the square to make the experience even better.
6. The Pantheon [3 pm – 4 pm]
From there, it’s just a quick five-minute walk over to the Pantheon, one of Rome’s most impressive monuments, which has a dome that is considered a feat of engineering brilliance still today, let alone 2,000 years ago when it was built.
There’s usually a line to enter, but it goes by fairly quickly, so don’t give this one a miss. It’s worth it.
7. Trevi Fountain [4:30 pm – 5:00 pm]
Afterward, you’ll head deeper into the historic center of Rome, where you’ll stop by the Trevi Fountain, the most famous fountain in the world.
Be prepared to deal with crowds, as this is one of Rome’s most popular attractions, and it’s rarely easy to see crowd-free. Once you’ve taken in the beauty, snapped some photographs, and tossed in a coin or two, take the ten-minute stroll over to the Spanish Steps.
8. The Spanish Steps [5 pm – 6 pm]
Marvel at the stunning steps and climb to the top and take in the stunning views.
Once you’re done, go window-shopping in the surrounding area, known for its famous luxury brands.
9. The Colosseum [6 pm – 7 pm]
Last but certainly not least, amble over to the Colosseum to see it in all its glory at the most beautiful time of day: golden hour. You can spend ages admiring and photographing it, as there are so many different viewpoints to choose from.
Don’t forget to have a look at the magnificent Arch of Constantine, which is positioned right off to the side of its more famous neighbor.
10. Dinner in Monti [7:30 pm – 9:00 pm]
The neighborhood right behind the Colosseum is called Monti, and it’s one of the most picturesque areas in Rome. Nestled amongst cute cafés, hip bars, and vintage shops are also excellent places to eat dinner. It’s the perfect place to end your night before heading home to a well-deserved sleep.