Rome, Italy is one of the most iconic cities in the world. With an endless array of famous sights and incredible museums, how do you prioritize what to see when you only have two days in Rome? That’s the challenge I was faced with when I visited for the first time, but I managed to see and do everything that was on my list of must-dos. This two-day itinerary is perfect for a weekend in Rome. If you want to fit a lot in and get unlimited access to public transportation during your stay, look into getting a Roma Pass.
Is two days in Rome enough?
Well…not exactly. You could spend a month in Rome and not get bored, but not all of us have the luxury of weeks and weeks of vacation time – hey, fellow Americans! If two days in Rome is all you have time (or budget) for, this itinerary will help you fit in as much as possible. You can hit the top sights in two days and maybe it’ll inspire the taste for a return visit someday.
Day One in Rome
Colosseum | Forum | Musei Capitolini | Spanish Steps
Start your visit to Rome by visiting its most iconic landmark – the Colosseum. This massive structure dating back to ancient Rome is absolutely incredible to behold. It looks cool in pictures, but there’s nothing like actually seeing it in person. Your Colosseum tickets also include admission to the Roman Forum, so once you tour the main attraction, head up the hill to explore even more ruins. I took a guided, half-day tour that included the Colosseum underground, the newly opened fifth level of the Colosseum, and the Forum. It’s not cheap, but totally worth the splurge. Whether you go with a tour or not, you’ll definitely want to pre-book your tickets or buy skip the line passes.
After you finish with the ruins, grab lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area. If you head a few blocks away from the tourist area, you’ll find better prices and more authentic food.
Your next stop is within walking distance of the Colosseum and Forum, so you can make your way northwest along Via dei Fori Imperiali toward the towering Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). This enormous monument honors Italy’s first king after unification and Italian soldiers who served during WWI and includes a Tomb of the Unknown soldier. Visitors can climb to the roof for a great view of the Roman ruins stretching out around it and can take an elevator to the very top for a fee. If you have time, you can visit the Museum of Italian Unification inside.
The Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) are right around the corner. They offer a massive collection of Roman artifacts and religious paintings from later on. Read more about the galleries here. Don’t miss the balcony overlooking the Forum – depending on the opening hours and season, you can even time your visit for sunset.
Wrap up your evening with dinner and a visit to the famous Spanish Steps. I’d highly recommend grabbing some gelato as you enjoy the area. In all honesty, I didn’t get what all the fuss about the Spanish steps was for, but I’m including it on the itinerary because I know I would’ve been disappointed if I’d missed out on them on my first trip to Rome. If you’re like me, you’ll be exhausted at the end of this busy day, so get some sleep and get ready for an early morning.
Day two in Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica | Vatican Museums | Castel Sant’Angelo | Pantheon | Trevi Fountain
Yes, the Vatican City is a separate country, but as it’s located inside the city borders, you’ll definitely want to visit during your weekend in Rome. It is in fact possible to visit the famous St. Peter’s Basilica and the massive St. Peter’s Plaza in front of it without crazy crowds. You just have to get there early. I discovered this accidentally because I woke up way before my alarm and couldn’t fall back asleep so I decided I’d just hit the town early to grab some pictures. Boy, was I glad that I did. There was almost nobody in the plaza that’s usually swarmed with mobs of tourists, and after taking my fill of photos, I breezed right through security.
Spend some time exploring the elaborately decorated basilica, and then buy a ticket to visit the dome. You can save a few euros by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, but I think it’s worth the extra cost for the elevator. Even after you ride to the top, there are still numerous flights of stairs to climb and you’ll want to save your energy for that. When you reach the top, you can walk around the base of the dome and get a bird’s eye view of the altar area in the basilica. Your visit continues up winding stairs that take you to the very top of the dome. At times you have to lean to one side because the curve of the ceiling is so steep. The view from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica is worth it though. Enjoy it for as long as you want and then head over to the Vatican Museums. The entrance to the Musei Vaticani is about 1 km on foot from the Piazza San Pietro, so give yourself time to walk or take a bus if you have a timed ticket.
Spend a few hours at the Vatican Museums. They’re huge and super crowded, so mentally prepare yourself for the fact that you likely won’t see everything. Don’t miss the Patio de la Pinacoteca that offer a gorgeous view of St. Peter’s Basilica and, of course, the Sistine Chapel (photography is not allowed here). I’d highly recommend paying an extra few euros for the audio guide as there isn’t very much information provided in the galleries. Be sure to stop to admire this view of the iconic spiral staircase as you exit.
The Vatican Museums have a café on site if you want to eat lunch there, but I’d recommend heading back into Rome to grab food somewhere. I ate at a place called La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo that had absolutely dreamy spaghetti carbonara and a fun atmosphere with walls covered with notes from visitors from around the world.
After eating, head to Castel Sant’Angelo. This building has a fascinating history and is the perfect complement to a visit to the Vatican. It began as a Roman mausoleum and was converted to a fortress and a Papal castle over the centuries. The view from the top is awesome and you can see many of the landmarks in Rome and the Vatican that you’ve already visited. Don’t miss the secret fortified walkway that was designed for the Pope to escape from the Vatican in times of war.
Once you wind your way down from the Castel, be sure to walk across the beautiful Ponte Sant’Angelo that is decorated with statues. Hop a bus to the Pantheon and check out the inside of this incredible structure with its famous oculus in the roof.
Afterward, check out the Piazza Navona area and do a little souvenir shopping or snacking. There are tons of restaurants in the area, so grab dinner if you’re hungry.
Your last stop will be the Trevi Fountain. I visited during both nighttime and daylight and it was prettier after dark. It was also a lot less crowded, making for a much more enjoyable visit. One of Rome’s best gelato places is only a block away – Il Gelato di San Crispino – so grab some dessert and enjoy it while checking out this massive fountain. If you enjoyed your two days in Rome, don’t forget to follow the tradition and throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain so that you can return someday. This is the perfect way to wrap up your two days in Rome.
This two-day Rome itinerary is sure to leave you exhausted, but also full of memories that will last a lifetime. Is there anything else you’d include?
See more about Rome here:
- Touring the Top Level of the Colosseum
- Visiting Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome
- What to See at the Musei Capitolini in Rome
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