The Eternal City has been a magnet for tourists since the 17th century, and nothing much has changed since then. The crowds still flock to the centre of the Roman empire, eating gelato, paying their respect at St Peter’s Basilica and marvelling at the Colosseum. There’s so much to see, it’s best to have a plan. Even if you only have 3 days in Rome, this guide will help you pack as much as possible into your visit, including one or two unusual Rome attractions that are off the beaten path.
3 days in Rome: Day 1 | When in Rome
Once you arrive in Rome, check into your hotel in central Rome , then drop your bags, put on your walking shoes and head out to explore. Ease yourself into the first of your 3 days in Rome by ordering some coffee to beat the jet lag at a café in Piazza Navona, a square that’s technically a rectangle. The Fountain of Four Rivers is located in this piazza .The sculpture was made by Bernini and represents the four major rivers at the time – the Nile, Ganges, the Danube and the Rio del Plata.
If you’re still early, head to Campo del Fiori for the colourful flower markets and stalls. If you’ve missed it, keep walking towards the Trevi Fountain, where the floor is littered with the coins visitors have thrown. The fountain is usually thronged with tourists – nearby is Il Gelato di San Crispino famous for its ice-cream. Grab a cup and people watch for awhile.
From here, make your way to the river Tiber and wander upriver, dropping by the red bricked Castel San Angelo, which was not built to be an actual castle at all but a Roman monumental mausoleum, then transformed into fortress. There are turrets , and drawbridges and a moat. The view from tower across Rome is stunning, especially at sunset.
“Rome was mud and smoky skies; the rank smell of the Tiber and the exotically spiced cooking fires of a hundred different nationalities. Rome was white marble and gilding and heady perfumes; the blare of trumpets and the shrieking of market-women and the eternal, sub-aural hum of more people, speaking more languages than Gaius had ever imagined existed, crammed together on seven hills whose contours had long ago disappeared beneath this encrustation if humanity. Rome was the pulsing heart of the world.”
~Marion Zimmer Bradley~
Catch a cab to Campo del Fiori, one of my favourite spots in Rome, and very popular with both locals and tourists. The square is filled with trattorias and local restaurants, so take your pick.
3 days in Rome: Day 2 | Ancient Rome
Start your first day early at the Colosseum, which opens at 8:30 am. The arena is full of history and with an audioguide it can really come to life. Once you’ve explored the Colosseum, head over to the Forum, a tumble of Doric and Ionic pillars and ruins scattered everywhere.
From here, walk over to the Palatine Hill, where the view over Rome stretches away over the seven hills. There’s a lesser known attraction nearby – the Temple of Venus and Rome, thought to be the largest temple in Rome. In a city full of blockbusters, what would normally be the key attraction in a lesser city often doesn’t even make it into some guidebooks. Not much of the temple remains today, except for the intricate brickwork, the niche where the statue of the goddess would have stood and the highlight – rows of marble pillars, translucent in the sun. The other highlight is the view of the Colosseum from the temple.
Once you’ve soaked in the views, head over to the Pantheon and stop for a late lunch in the area. After a siesta, go for a passegiata like the locals and stroll along from the Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps and join the throngs there eating gelato and meeting friends. If there’s still steam under your sails, continue towards Piazza Venezia for gorgeous sunset views.
With just 3 days in Rome, many visitors stick to the historical centre, but some of the loveliest sights in Rome are in the local area of Trastevere, which is also one of my favourite things about Rome. Cross over tiny little Isola Tiberina and take an aimless wander in the area. Sit by the fountain in a square and people watch – at any given time there are families out and about, church goers catching up after a service, children on bicycles, friends and lovers meeting each other, bells tolling, Romans eating and laughing at one of the many cafés and al fresco restaurants. Join them and enjoy your night.
3 days in Rome: Day 3 | Meet Michelangelo’s masterpieces
This travel itinerary saves the best for last. On day 3 of your visit to Rome, head to the Vatican Museum. You can either go early and join the lines (they tend to slow down in the mid afternoon) or you can save time and book an express visit to the Vatican Museum in advance. The jewel in the crown that is the Vatican Museum is of course, the Sistine Chapel, with its marvellous trompe l’oeil and sense of perspective. Michelangelo’s work still draws the crowds. To get there, you’ll have to walk through about 5km of galleries, filled with sculptures, artwork, and frescoes. In the gardens are Rodin sculptures and contemporary artwork.
After the crowds and queuing, take a break and have lunch nearby, then enter St Peters Basilica. The pillared colonnade stretches its arms around the piazza, like the arms of the church embracing its flock. The dome soars up into the sky, huge, wondrous and ornate. In a niche near the entrance you’ll find La Pieta, another Michelangelo masterpiece. Pay your respects to St Peter’s resting place, tread softly on the old marble floors and uplift your eyes into the grand dome, soaring into the sky and find a moment of solace and silence to absorb everything you’ve seen in 3 days in Rome.