3 days in Rome itinerary covering all main landmarks
If you have only 3 days in Rome, I have a perfect itinerary for you that covers all the main landmarks of the eternal city. I came up with this itinerary after visiting Rome 3 times, so it includes not only places to see and things to do, but restaurant recommendations as well.
My last time in Rome I stayed in Ottaviano Guest House, a nice hotel meters away from the Vatican, and I think it is a perfect base to explore the city. Its main advantage is the location, as it is close to the Vatican and Ottaviano metro station. I have a firsthand experience review of my stay at Ottaviano Guest House.
What you should know about this itinerary: I do not give much information on why a place is worth a visit or on its history. I concentrate more on practical advice that will help you have a pleasant trip. I plan the days around one area only and my itineraries involve as little local transport as possible meaning you will have to use metro/bus just twice a day: to get to the area and back to your hotel.
If you opt for staying at Ottaviano Guest House, then you will naturally start exploring Rome by visiting the Vatican.
3 days in Rome itinerary: day 1
What you will see: Vatican Museums, St Peter’s Cathedral and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Start your day with a visit to the Vatican Museums. It houses an incredible collection of art objects, sculptures, tapestry, furniture and maps. And here you can see the famous frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.
Things to know: the entrance fee is 17 EUR. It is possible to buy tickets online to avoid queues, but you will have to pay 4 EUR per ticket as a booking fee. Audioguides are provided, but they are not free: they cost 7 EUR. More info is here.
The visit itself will take 2-3 hours as the place is huge. In addition, if you don’t buy an online ticket expect a waiting time of at least 25 minutes (this is how long I waited when I travelled to Rome in December off season). You will see that there are two lines: one is for those who booked tickets online, and the other one is for those who have to buy tickets. But those lines are not for the ticket desks, but for scanners. And once you are inside you will have to queue for tickets in another line on the second floor. I guess it takes hours during the high season.
The entrance to the museum is in Viale Vaticano, which is around the corner from Ottaviano Guest House. I don’t think there is a way for visitors to get to the museums from St Peter’s Cathedral, so don’t even look for it. I know it because that’s what I intended to do 🙂
St Peter’s Cathedral
After a visit to the Vatican Museums head to St Peter’s Square. This circular square with columns on both sides is one of the most majestic places in Rome. Have a walk around it or queue to enter St Peter’s Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the 16th century not far from the place where St Peter was crucified. Michelangelo was one of the architects, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the baldachin at the altar.
Things to know: the entrance to the cathedral is free, but if you want to climb up to the dome, you will have to pay. There is a lift that takes up to the bottom of the dome and from there there are 320 steps up to the panoramic deck. The ticket which includes the use of the lift is 10 EUR. There is a cheaper option: 8 EUR, no lift and 551 steps. As someone who tried both options, I can say that paying 2 EUR extra isn’t a bad investment 🙂 More info on tickets is here.
There will be a line at the cathedral, trust me. I went to the cathedral on a rainy day and had to wait even longer than for the Vatican Museums. This line is for scanners as well and if you decide to climb the dome there will be another queue for tickets: you will see a sign showing where the queue for the dome is. I don’t see a way to buy tickets online, so you will have to wait in the line. There are many scanners in the square, but only a couple worked when I was there.
And expect that the cathedral will be crowded as well. Inside the cathedral there is a treasury, but you will have to pay to visit it: I think it was 5 EUR in December, but I am not sure.
Something else: below St Peter’s Cathedral there is a crypt with tombs of popes, queens and kings known as Vatican Grottoes. I didn’t visit it so I don’t know much. The entrance is somewhere at the altar and, apparently, difficult to find, so ask for help at the information desk. I can’t find any info on the entrance fee, so I am not sure whether it is free or not.
You can get audioguides for the cathedral at the information desk, I don’t remember the cost, but definitely more than 5 EUR. Lavatories are there as well. The desk will be on your right side when you face the cathedral.
Lunch time! I bet you will be hungry after visiting the Vatican, so here are a couple of places I can recommend for lunch. I really liked pasta at La Soffitta Renovatio ( it is at Piazza del Risorgimento close to the Vatican): it is a proper restaurant and they have a wide selection of pizzas, pastas, burgers, etc. If you want a quick grab, opt for Pinsa ‘mpò (Via dei Gracchi 7): their specialty is pizza or pinsa as Romans call it. They have a wide selection of pinsas, but they are smaller than regular pizza. Still, it is enough to feed a man. The place is small and narrow, there is a wooden counter at the wall, so it will be crowded during some hours.
After lunch head to Castel Sant’Angelo. I would advise to go back to St Peter’s Square and take Via della Conciliazione to get amazing views of the cathedral. This street will lead you right to the castle. Its official name is the Mausoleum of Hadrian and, as the name suggests this was the place where ashes of rulers were kept. Many of the initial elements were lost when the mausoleum was converted into a fortress, and the ashes were scattered during a siege. Later popes used it as a castle and as a prison: Giordano Bruno spent 6 years there. Passetto di Borgo is the passage that links the castle with the Vatican: it served as an escape route for popes. The castle was famous already but Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons strengthened its popularity.
Things to know: Castel Sant’Angelo is open till 19:30 but the ticket office closes one hour before. I went there after 4 PM and there was no queue. The entrance fee is 15 EUR. I couldn’t find an official website with online tickets. Apparently it is possible to visit Passetto di Borgo as well and this is the only info I could find. If I understood it right, the passage is closed now.
The castle is a fantastic panoramic deck as it offers spectacular views of the Vatican and Centro Storico of Rome. Inside there are a couple of halls with magnificent decorations on the walls, but the highlight is a panoramic deck below the angel with the sword, which is, I guess, the most prominent feature of the castle.
And you will not miss the famous St. Angelo Bridge with the statues of angels: it is pedestrian now and offers nice views of the castle.
If you are a photographer, finish your day at Umberto I Bridge: spectacular views of St Peter’s Cathedral open from here. When I was on the bridge, there were about 10 photographers ready to capture the cathedral at night.
3 days in Rome itinerary: day 2
What you will see: the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum, Trajan Forum, Capitoline Museums, Piazza Venezia
The Colosseum and Roman Forum
Day 2 is going to be exciting 🙂 After exiting the Colosseum metro station you will immediately see it: the majestic Colosseum. The construction of this grandiose amphitheater was started by Vespasian in 72 AD and finished by his son Titus in 80 AD. This is the place where gladiators and animals fought and died to amuse spectators. But that’s not all. Have you ever heard of naumachia? It is a staging of naval battles. In many cases the emperors would order to dig basins for that or use natural water bodies, but some naumachie happened in the Colosseum. Yes, it was exactly the way you are thinking: the arena was filled with water, there were rivalling fleets fighting each other. However, historians are not entirely aware of how everything was organised.
The famous Arch of Constantine is between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. As the name suggests, it was dedicated to Constantine. It was erected in a hurry, so they used decorative parts from the creations of other emperors.
The Roman Forum was in those ancient times the center of Rome’s religious and political life. There are ruins of multiple arches, temples and government buildings; military triumphal processions passed through the Forum; tribunes addressed the Roman citizens here. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the forum lost its significance, and during the Middle Ages Christian churches were built there and the stone of the existing buildings was used to construct new ones.
The Palatine Hill standing above the Roman Forum is one of the seven hills of Rome. Initially rich people of the city resided there. Later imperial palaces like the House of Augustus and the Palace of Domitian replaced them. And according to a legend the cave where the she-wolf fed Romulus and Remus is somewhere on the Palatine Hill, so it is natural that the hill was considered somewhat of a birthplace of Rome.
Things to know: due to their proximity to each other, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill form one archeological complex. What it means is that there is a single entry ticket for all these places, and it costs 16 EUR. There are discounts for 18-25 years old EU citizens, and anyone under 18 gets in for free. You can buy tickets online, the fee is 2 EUR. More info is here. I am pretty sure there is no option to buy separate tickets, in case you don’t have time to visit both locations.
Audioguides are provided for additional fee: the one for the Colosseum is 5,5 EUR. I paid for it and regretted it: I have read a lot about Ancient Rome and the Colosseum, so I didn’t hear anything new.
If you don’t want to book tickets online, head to the Roman Forum. The lines are shorter here, as everyone queues for the Colosseum first. As I was in Rome off season, I decided to go to the Colosseum first and waited for 30 minutes to pass through scanners and buy the ticket. As you can imagine, during the high season waiting time is much longer.
When it comes to the Colosseum, individual visitors get access to two levels of the amphitheater. It is enough to keep people busy for 30-40 minutes. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill take longer, a couple of hours. I would say one would need 3-4 hours to explore these places.
Time for lunch! I found a nice little place – Pasta Chef Monti (Via Baccina, 42) – about 550 meters away from the Colosseum. Their specialty is pasta, they have a wide selection, and the price range is 7-9 EUR per portion. I paid 9,50 EUR for a pasta and tea. It’s not a proper restaurant with tables, it is counters along the walls, the service is quick and the pasta was delicious. This is the place I personally went to for lunch. I have some other suggestions based on Google reviews: bar La Licata (Via dei Serpenti, 165), Taverna Romana cacio e pepe (Via della Madonna dei Monti, 79) and La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali.
All these restaurants have easy access to Via dei Fori Imperiali Street which runs along the Roman Forum and Trajan Forum, your next stop. Trajan Forum and Forum of Augustus are located next to each other so you can just walk around.
The main building of the Forum of Augustus is the temple of Mars. Generals marched to battle from here, political gatherings took place in the forum, spoils of war were stored here.
Trajan Forum was built later, after the conquest of Dacia in 106. There were a couple of temples, libraries and the famous Column of Trajan.
After seeing the forums head to Via di S. Pietro in Carcere which leads to the Capitoline Museums. On your way up you will get a nice view of the Roman Forum.
The two buildings of the museums – Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori – stand on both sides of Piazza di Campidoglio and with the third palace, Palazzo Senatorio, form a spectacular place.
But before you go to the museums, head to Terrazza Caffarelli: it offers amazing views over Rome. It is around the corner of Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The museums host a huge collection of sculptures, paintings, mosaics, tapestries, etc. When I saw that they exhibit mostly art objects, I thought I would better skip this place as I am not really interested in paintings. I am glad that I went there: yes, there is plenty of art objects, but some of its halls are so magnificent that I just stood there awestruck.
Things to know: the museum is open till 19:30, so don’t worry, you will manage to visit it. The entrance fee is 11,50 EUR for foreigners, but keep in mind that if they have temporary exhibitions, the ticket will be more expensive. For example, I was told to pay 16 EUR for the ticket while I was sure that the price should be lower, but thought that I was probably mistaken. Only after getting the ticket I realised that it included entrance to a temporary exhibition.
There are discounts for some categories of visitors. Entrance is free on the first Sunday of every month. They provide video guides for 6 EUR. You can find more info here.
After visiting the museums take the stairs opposite to the equestrian statue on Piazza di Campidoglio and turn to your right. This is the way to Piazza di Venezia with its snow-white Altare della Patria or the Altar of the Fatherland. Actually, the official name of the building is the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument or Vittoriano. There are some museums (looks like the entrance is free, but I am not sure) inside the building and you can climb to its top for 10 EUR. More info is here.
3 days in Rome itinerary: day 3
What you will see: Piazza di Spagna, Villa Borghese, Piazza del Popolo, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona.
Day 3 in Rome will be the cheapest: you will have to pay only if you decide to visit Borghese Gallery.
Piazza di Spagna
Start your day with a visit to the famous Piazza di Spagna: there is a metro station right at the square, so it will be easy to get there.
This lively square has an elongate triangular form with the Column of the Immaculate Conception in its narrowest part. Barcaccia Fountain is in the center of Piazza di Spagna, in front of the famous Spanish Steps that lead to Trinità dei Monti Church. Well, people come here for the steps only as they can get really nice pictures 🙂
Things to know: tourists just love sitting on the steps and eating. Well, don’t do it as it is banned. I have personally seen a municipality worker asking tourists to stand up.
So, don’t sit on the stairs, but take them to the top right to the church and enjoy the view. Peek into the church as well, it will not take much time.
After that follow the road in front of the church in the direction of Villa Borghese. As you have already guessed, the place belonged to the infamous Borghese family. This huge park has many interesting buildings and museums. Don’t miss the temple of Asclepius, I loved the place, and Piazza di Siena.
Of course, the highlight of the park is Borghese Gallery that houses the masterpieces of Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, etc. and the sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Things to know: the park is free to visit. Start exploring it with Terrazza Viale del Belvedere: you will get there following the road from the church at the Spanish Steps. The terrace offers fantastic views of Rome. After that just walk around and enjoy.
When it comes to Borghese Gallery, this is what you should know. The entrance fee is 20 EUR, but visitors can’t just show up at the museum and buy a ticket. According to the official website of the gallery, anyone wishing to visit it has to book a ticket by phoning them. If you don’t feel comfortable calling them, you can buy tickets online. Either way, you will have to pay a booking fee of 2 EUR per ticket in addition to the entrance fee. More info is here.
There is another way to get a ticket without booking it in advance: you have to come there 30 minutes after a group has entered and ask whether there are tickets available. I think it is risky to do that during the high season but it might work off season.
The entrance to the museum is in turns, so one can enter the museum at 11 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM and 5 PM. They offer free admission during the last 3 turns on every second Wednesday of the month.
On your way to Piazza del Popolo stop at Terrazza del Pincio which overlooks the square and Rome.
NB: there are stairs leading down from Terrazza del Pincio to Piazza del Popolo, and there is a lavatory about 5 meters away from the steps.
Piazza del Popolo
Spend some time on Piazza del Popolo which is famous for its fountains, the Egyptian Obelisk of Seti I (originally it was placed in Circus Maximus) and two identically looking churches, Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Basilica di Santa Maria in Montesanto. If the churches are open, make sure to go inside.
Interesting fact: Piazza del Popolo was a place for public executions. The criminals executed here were mostly murderers and robbers.
Another interesting fact: popolo is people in Italian, so many assume this is where the name is derived. But that’s wrong: it comes from the word populus which is poplar in English.
If you are ready to spend some money shopping, here you have the shopping triangle: Via del Corso, Via del Babuino and Via dei Condotti. Both Via del Corso and Via del Babuino start at Piazza del Popolo. Or take Via del Corso and go to Trevi Fountain, the most famous one in Rome.
This 49-meters wide fountain was erected in the 18th century. Bernini was initially supposed to build it, but it never happened. Nicola Salvi, the architect whose project won the competition, didn’t manage to finish it, so the work was continued by other sculptors.
Unlike popular belief it’s not Neptune in the centerpiece of the fountain but Oceanus, a titan from the Greek mythology.
Things to know: Trevi Fountain is always crowded and you will most likely have to use your elbows to get close. Toss a coin by your right hand over your left shoulder to make sure you will come back to Rome.
Interesting fact: tourists throw thousands of EUR in the fountain, and this money is used to help those in need.
It is easy to get from Trevi Fountain to Pantheon. Make sure to peek into the Church of St Ignatius of Loyola: it is incredible!
I forgot about lunch 🙂 I went to a nice restaurant Taverna del Seminario. It is right between the Church of St Ignatius of Loyola and the Pantheon. The food is delicious and cheap: for example, 3 bruschettas cost 5 EUR, and pastas are 6-7 EUR.
The Pantheon, the temple of all gods, was erected in the beginning of the 2nd century AD. It is so well preserved just because it was constantly used. When Christianity became the dominant religion, the temple was converted into a church.
The Pantheon is the resting place of the famous painter Raphael and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (if you remember the Altar of the Fatherland was built in his honour).
Things to know: visiting the Pantheon is free! You can wander around as much as you want, but remember that it will be crowded.
From the Pantheon it is about 300 meters to Piazza Navona. During sunny days the square is full of life with artists waiting for clients, people sitting at the fountains and wandering around. There are no benches, which is good for restaurant owners 🙂
The piazza is famous for its fountains – Fountain of Neptune and Fiumi Fountain with a dove on top (it became even more famous after Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons) – and the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone (don’t miss the church!). During Christmas time there is a small Christmas market in the square.
Yep, you made it! This is how you can spend your 3 days in Rome. Anyway, it doesn’t mean you have to follow this itinerary to the letter, just think of it as a suggestion and add or skip places.
Enjoy Rome, it is a magnificent city!
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