Rome in a Day—If you are arriving by air

What to see and do if you arrive in Rome and have only one day to spend seeing the sights

Note: This is the itinerary to follow if you are arriving in Rome in the morning, either by air or by train. In other words, this is the "half-a-day" itinerary because you don't actually have a full day to spend here. Much of the morning will be spent arriving, clearing customs and passport control, getting into town, and checking into your hotel.

I know it doesn't seem like it, but trust me: it all adds up to you not being ready to hit the streets until about 11am or noon. I've arrived in Rome dozens of times, and it always works out this way. Essentially, you only have lunch and the afternoon free.

With that in mind, here is a quickie half-day itinerary for those arriving in Rome by plane or train. (On this separate page is the itinerary if Rome is just another stop on your journey and you genuinely have a full day to spend.)

1 Day in Rome

Take a tour
If you prefer an expert guide for your sightseeing, here are some walking tours from our partners that cover many of the sights featured on this day:

Vatican/St. Peters

Tiber Bend:

MORNING: Rome wasn't built in a day, so don't expect to see it all in one. Still, you can see a few of the highlights.

Most transatlantic flights land in Rome in the early morning (around 8am), and by the time you collect your bags, get downtown, and check into your hotel, it'll by 11am at best.

Splash some water on your face and head out to grab a quick lunch on the run and head to the first postcard sight of your trip: the Roman Forum. Spend an hour or so wandering the ruins where orators once held forth, senators debated, and Julius Caesar strode the streets.

Unfortunately, there's little of the Forum left to see save some standing columns and paved pathways—it takes a lot of imagination to conjure up the city of the Caesars—but so much the better.

Just beyond the far (north) exit of the Forum rises the icon of Rome, the mighty Colosseum.

You just kind of look at it, take a peek inside at the floor plan, and you're done (save time in the often long lines by booking your entry ahead).

The Sistine Chapel cieling
The Sistine Chapel cieling.
AFTERNOON: Across from the Colosseum is a Metro stop for the B line. Hop on the subway headed toward "Rebibbia," get off after two stops at Termini and transfer to the A line headed toward "Battistini." Ride this seven stops to "Cipro–Musei Vaticani."

Walk a few blocks south to spend 90 minutes in the Vatican Museums (last entry: 4pm, though they stay open until 6pm).

You'll have time only for the highlights: the Pinacoteca, Raphael Rooms, and Sistine Chapel)—before you have to leave and turn right to walk around the Vatican Walls to the Capital of Christendom, the massive St. Peter's Basilica.

See Michelangelo's Pietà and the other amazing sights inside, and perhaps take a quick tour the tombs of popes under the basilica before—if you have time before it closes at 6pm (5pm in winter)—climbing its dome (the church itself closes at 7pm in summer, 6:30pm in winter).

Head back across the Tevere River into the Tiber Bend neighborhood to stroll past some other key sights, including the noble ancient temple of the Pantheon, gracious fountain-studded Piazza Navona, and the elegant Spanish Steps.

Also, at some point make sure you stop for some gelato (Italy's divine ice cream). In fact, if you have to choose between gelato and the Spanish Steps, well...

EVENING: Mingle for a while at the Spanish Steps, then window shop down fashionable Via dei Condotti and the surrounding streets.

By the time you get to the Corso, one of Rome's main drags, the evening passeggiata stroll will be in full swing and you can strut your stuff with the Romans until it's time for a hearty and well-deserved dinner in the old city.

Before you turn in for the night, be sure you stroll to the famous Trevi Fountain, into which it is tradition to toss a few coins in order to ensure that, one day, you'll return to the Eternal City.

Tips & links

This is merely a blueprint

You really should spend your time on whatever catches your own interest.

Some people would rather get a root canal than spend a day strolling the boutique-lined streets radiating from the Spanish Steps, but for others a day of window-shopping would rank as the highlight of their trip.

Same goes for cramming a dozen churches and museums into a single day: heaven for some, hell on earth for others.

For some less-famous sights to visit, check out Reid's List: Rome.

Adjusting the schedule

Keep in mind that you may have to adjust these itineraries in case one of the days you're in town happens to fall on a Monday (when most museums are closed) or a Sunday (when many things are closed, and those that remain open tend to operate on shorter hours).

» more

Save time by booking ahead

You can avoid long lines to get into the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums—and ensure entry to the Galleria Borghese, which releases a limited number of tickets per day—by paying a few euro extra to reserve tickets and an entry time before you leave. This is well worth it.

Also, you have to book (free) papal audience tickets in advance. » more

Considering an alternative day in Rome

All these itineraries are designed for the first-time visitor who wants to be sure he or she gets to all the highlights—all the must-sees.

But what if you want to avoid the crowds that pack those highlights, or you've already done the Vatican, St. Peter's, the Forum, and the Colosseum and are looking for less famous—but still rewarding—sights?

As luck would have it, I have whipped up Reid's List of Rome sights and experiences devoted entirely to this purpose. These are sights from the B-list (sometimes the C-list) that I happen to love and that are definitely worthy of your time—in some cases, perhaps more worthy than some of the more famous sights.

If you're arriving in Rome by ship (or, more accurately, arriving into Civitavecchia, which is the cruise ship port for Rome but is actually located an hour north of the city), you are not prisoner to the cruise ship's overpriced shore excursions. You can arrange your own tour (or your own transport into Rome), either with our partners at, or completely D.I.Y.

» more

Consider daily tours

Prefer to leave some of the planning and information-providing to a professional? Consider signing up for a guided tour—doesn't have to be a standard bus tour; our partners at Viator and Context Travel offer loads of neighborhood and thematic walking tours, private guides, and other fun ways to explore the capital as well.

» more

How long does Rome take?

Planning your day: Rome wasn't built in a day, and you'd be hard-pressed to see it in that brief a time as well. Still, you can cram a lot into just a day or three.

To help you get the most out of your limited time in the Eternal City, here are some perfect itineraries, whether you have one, two, three, or four days to spend in Rome.

» Rome itineraries

Rome tours

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