While a lifetime may not be enough to explore all of Rome’s galleries, churches, ruins and attractions, you can get a good taste for the city in 48 hours.
Our itinerary for a weekend in the Eternal City will help you make the most of a whistle stop visit.
Start day one bright and early by enjoying a traditional Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and cornetto at a local bar. It’s an excellent opportunity to observe Romans going about daily life and having a chat at the bar over a quick coffee or reading the newspaper. Next up head to the Colosseum for a tour of this iconic Ancient Roman monument to discover the bloody history of the gladiators. Skip the line tickets are included in the tour so you don’t have to waste precious time queuing outside.
After the Colosseum, your local guide will take you over to the Roman Forum where you can explore the former centre of Ancient Rome and view the ruins of important historical sites including Palatine Hill, House of the Vestals and the tomb of Julius Caesar. When the tour ends you can spend a bit more time exploring the Roman Forum on your own or, if you have the energy before lunch, head to the terraces of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II for spectacular views over Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum (entrance €7). Then it’s lunch time!
In a country famed for its food, lunch is usually considered the most important meal, so it’s a good thing you worked up an appetite this morning. A traditional Italian lunch will consist of a small portion of pasta or rice (il primo), followed by fish or meat (il secondo) with a side of vegetables or salad (il contorno), and finishing with dessert and coffee. Our top recommendation in the area around Piazza Venezia is Trattoria Melo, where you can enjoy typical Mediterranean dishes including bruschetta, lasagne and tiramisu.
Once you’ve refuelled, it’s time to explore the Centro Storico. If you’re up for the roughly four kilometres of walking, you can continue from Piazza Venezia and wander Rome’s charming cobblestone streets to visit the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo. Or if that sounds way too exhausting, make use of Rome’s metro system with stops Barberini, Spagna and Flaminio providing access to the historical centre’s attractions.
Finishing up around Piazza del Popolo in the early evening, you’ll be just in time to enjoy an aperitivo at one of the bars in the area. If you aren’t yet familiar with the term aperitivo, it’s a pre-meal drink made to prepare your stomach for dinner (or lunch – there’s no stigma attached to day drinking in Italy). Most aperitivi are aromatic or bitter, designed to whet your appetite, and are usually served with a small snack like olives or crisps. Popular choices include Campari, Aperol or vermouth and cocktails that include these ingredients like the Negroni or Americano. It’s the perfect opportunity to rest your legs and reflect on a day of sightseeing while you consider what’s for dinner.
Speaking of dinner, it’s time to try another traditional Italian dish – pizza. It might be hard to believe, but there is plenty of terrible pizza in Rome so avoid the tourists traps and chose carefully or you might leave wondering what all the fuss for Italian pizza is all about. Some of our favourites around town include Piccolo Buco in Via dei Lavatore, Emma in Via Monte della Farina and Pina e Buoi with three locations around Rome. Finish your meal with a digestivo such as limoncello or Amaro Montenegro and you’ll be ready to head back to your hotel to rest and prepare for day two.
After your morning coffee and pastry (try a bombolone this time – trust us) head straight to Vatican City to discover Europe’s smallest country and its impressive art collection. Joining a tour, you can walk straight past the kilometres long queue out the front and meet your guide to stroll inside. Explore the Vatican Museum’s collection of artworks spanning classical Greek and Roman sculpture to modern artists of today. Highlights include Raphael’s rooms, the Room of Maps, the Tapestries Hall and Laocoön. Arriving at the Sistine Chapel, you will be blown away by Michelangelo’s masterpiece before heading over to St Peter’s Basilica. Admire more Renaissance and Baroque treasures inside the cathedral including Michelangelo’s Pietà and Bernini’s Baldacchino. Once the tour concludes, you’re free to explore St Peter’s Basilica and Square at your leisure or spend some time reflecting in this beautiful surrounding.
Lunch time again! If all that art worked up your appetite and you are ready for another long Italian lunch, head to Arlu in Via Borgo Pio, a family owned favourite for homemade pasta and typical regional dishes. If you are after a more relaxed bistro vibe, we recommend La Zanara for an all-day menu of Italian traditional plates and popular international dishes.
Since you’ve now ticked Rome’s main attractions off the list, the rest of the afternoon is up to you. There is still a mountain of things to see and do, but you only have a few hours left so choose wisely! Some of our top suggestions:
- Galleria Borghese: if you didn’t get your fill of Renaissance art at the Vatican Museums, wander to the Villa Borghese to explore the amazing collection including classic Bernini sculptures and paintings from Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and much more.
- Medici Gardens: close to the Villa Borghese is the Medici Gardens, where you can escape briefly from Rome’s chaos and enjoy impressive views over the Eternal City.
- MAXXI: If you need a dose of modernity in a city most famous for antiquity, make your way to MAXXI (Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI Secolo) for contemporary art in a state-of-the-art architectural setting.
- Cooking class: if you are keen to take some of that Italian cuisine home with you, why not learn how to make it yourself with an Italian cooking class?
As the sun sets, it’s time to cross the River Tiber and head for the last meal in a district famed for its authentic Roman cuisine – Trastevere. The traditionally working-class area is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and the perfect place to bar hop and grab some genuine Italian fare.
If you are starting with an aperitivo, there are plenty of options here for vibrant bars to relax with drink before dinner. A couple of our favourites are Freni e Frizioni, where patrons spill out into the nearby piazza, and Enoteca Ferrera where you taste your way around the Italian wine regions.
When it’s time for dinner, you can’t go past Da Enzo al 29 for the best Roman food around. On offer are typical local pasta dishes including amatriciana and carbonara and other local specialities. It gets busy so be prepared to wait for a table. Once you’re done it’s time to say buonanotte to Rome and head back to your hotel.
Related article: How Long Did Rome Really Take to Build?