What To Do in Rome, Italy: 3 Day Itinerary
Updated: Mar 31
We’ve all heard the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I don’t think I grasped the magnitude of this until I saw it with my own eyes. I have never felt so small in the most amazing way. But since it wasn’t built in a day, you can’t see it in a day either. If you’re trying to make the most of your limited two weeks annual vacation by sightseeing around Europe, chances are you have a bit of a time crunch on how long you can spend in the eternal city. Luckily, 3-4 days is the perfect amount of time to hit the major sites, eat some of the delicious foods and even pause for a few photos. Below I’ve provided my three (and a half) day itinerary from my first trip to Rome in the summer of 2018 with minor changes to maximize your time. It left me feeling satisfied but still yearning to come back one day for more, which is my preferred relationship to any destination.
Arrival: Venice Marco Polo to Rome Termini
Since it was much cheaper for us to fly from Toronto (YYZ) to Venice (VCE) instead of Rome, we arrived at Venice Marco Polo mid morning in early July of 2018. We then headed to the train station (Santa Lucia) to board a 3.5 hour train to Rome Termini. Train travel in Italy, as with most of Europe, is very comfortable and it was actually a great way to see the country side. We arrived at Rome Termini in the early evening and walked to our Airbnb close by to settle in for the night. Dinner nearby was a delicious handmade carbonara and pizza, followed by an (unfortunately) sub par gelato. But that was okay - the best was yet to come.
Day 1: Vatican City And The Spanish Steps
For our first full day in Rome, we headed to Ottaviano San Pietro station for our guided tour of the Vatican. We enjoyed brunch at a street side patio and dodged pushy scalpers trying to get us to book a tour of the Vatican; luckily we had done this well in advance.
Our tour of the Vatican lasted about 3 hours and was definitely worth every penny. I would highly recommend doing a skip the line tour so you can enter immediately with your guide and avoid the extensive line that wraps around the city’s walls. Our tour with Once In Rome’s Angela was super informative and took us through the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. It was an incredible experience and her enthusiasm about the information she delivered made it all the more enjoyable. My first glimpse of Vatican City made my jaw drop from the sheer size of this architectural spectacle.
Following the tour we headed back to the metro to Barberini station, and explored the area near the Spanish Steps. In the height of summer this is a very crowded tourist area, but was still beautiful especially with the old cobbled streets and many rooftop patios with stunning views of the city at dusk. We ended our day with a drink, a pistachio cannoli and getting caught in a downpour of rain while walking 30 minutes back to our airbnb. It was an unforgettable evening in an extremely beautiful place.
Day 2: The Colosseum, Pantheon and Piazza Novana
An early morning breakfast, street side, cost a little more than it should’ve in the heavily touristed area near the Colosseum. We had booked another tour for this day which was great for the information, but I think you could see the Colosseum and Roman Forum independently and still enjoy it just as much.
Our tour did allow us to go out onto the floor of the Colosseum and stand in the centre and look up at the amazing architecture and history, which was a unique experience that made it worth paying for the tour for me. The Roman Forum is also great to see and you can easily spend a full half day just exploring here. Beware that getting lunch in this area will cost you a pretty penny (and honestly, even then it’s not that authentic) so you’d be best learning from my mistakes and hopping back on the metro to eat elsewhere once you’ve finished with this part of your day.
A great place to go for the afternoon is Piazza Novana, which is a charming square in the city filled with music, street performance, artists and gelato shops. It’s a totally different experience to the historical tours that can dominate your experience in Rome and strikes a nice balance in your day. The street art here is amazing and you can walk away with some pretty cool pieces of artwork as a memento of your Italian adventure.
The Pantheon is another historical must see while in Rome and this leisurely afternoon is a great time to stop by. It’s free, but very crowded during peak season.
*We actually ended our second full day with an evening at the Trevi Fountain, but I’m adjusting this itinerary to recommend you get up early on your third day instead and try to beat the crowds to truly appreciate its’ beauty.*
Day 3: Trevi Fountain, Vittoriano and The Jewish Ghetto
Rise and shine for an early morning trip to the Fontana Di Trevi; if you get here for 7-8 am there’s a good chance you can get some lovely photos with the fountain and throw your coin in before the other tourists show up and obscure your view entirely. Once you’ve made your wish, get some breakfast and head over to the Vittoriano, a stunning white marble monument in Piazza Venezia that overlooks the entire city.
The cost to travel up the elevator to the top is a little high (like most things in Rome), roughly 7 euros per person, but it’s worth it for a stunning panoramic view of the city. I’m recommending this for your last day because I thought it was pretty cool to look out and piece together all the places you’ve gone since you arrived and see where they are in relation to one another.
After taking some Instagrammable photos and appreciating the view, get the hell out of there before the midday sun (which is scorching) comes out to play. You can head to the Ghetto Of Rome (or Jewish Ghetto) for lunch. This is a very historically important part of the city that is a must see. Not only will you learn a lot about a very different part of the city’s past, but there are some great restaurants and shops as well. We dined at Nonna Betta, which had been featured on Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain and enjoyed their artichoke, as well as a delicious lasagna.
A lovely way to end the day is to visit the bridge near the Colosseum and watch the sunset over this beautiful piece of history. The colosseum at night has a different whimsy and is just as stunning with its’ windows lit up under a starry sky.
Day 4: Departure
On our fourth morning, we departed early for Rome Ciampino to fly to Athens with Ryanair. It’s important to note that there are two airports in Rome and if you’re flying within Europe, or on a budget airline, always double check if you need to go to Ciampino or Fiumicino as they are not particularly close to one another. I think it’s well worth the money to get a metro pass for your three days in Rome because the subway system is so easy to use and lets you quickly travel between multiple areas of the city to see as many sites as you want to in one day. We chose to get the 72 Hour metro pass which gave us unlimited access for our whole stay (by purchasing on the first morning of our stay) for only 18 euros.
This is just one of many possible itineraries for your first trip to Rome, but it allowed me to see everything I really wanted to with plenty of time for gelato and pizza in between. Arrivederci Roma, I hope we’ll meet again one day.