Two Days in Rome

What to see and do if you have only two days to spend in Rome, Italy

Note: This is the itinerary to follow if you actually have two full days in Rome. I say that because many of you will be arriving in Rome from somewhere esle to start your Italian vacation, in which case—sad to say—you don't actually have three full days to spend here, since much of that first morning will be spent arriving (at the airport or train station), perhaps clearing customs, getting into town, and settling into your hotel.

Below is the itinerary if Rome is just another stop on your itinerary and you genuinely have two full days to spend. (This separate page has a two-day itinerary for those arriving in Rome on "Day 1.")

Day 1 in Rome

The Sistine Chapel cieling
The Sistine Chapel cieling.

MORNING: Be up bright and early so that you beat the legions of tour buses to the grandiose church of St. Peter's Basilica, which opens at 7am.

See Michelangelo's Pietà and the other amazing sights inside, and tour the tombs of popes under the basilica before climbing its dome (opens at 8am) for a panoramic sweep of the city across the river.

By 8:45am, have exited the church, turned left under the start of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square out front, and be walking around the Vatican walls to get to the entrance to the world-famous Vatican Museums, which open at 9am.

You'll have time only for the highlights of its artistic wonders : the Pinacoteca painting gallery with Raphael's Transfiguration and Caravaggio's Deposition, the Raphael Rooms, and Michelangelo's incomparable Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Pantheon
The Pantheon.
By 11am, head out of the galleries and back across the River to spend the afternoon in the Tiber Bend area of the old city.

AFTERNOON: After a quick bite, pay homage to the ancient Pantheon—the only ancient Roman temple to have survived the centuries intact—and the nearby church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, with its Michelangelo Risen Christ statue and Filippo Lippi frescoes.

Head to Rome's prettiest square, Piazza Navona. Station yourself at Tre Scalini's outdoor cafe tables to enjoy their famous tartufo dessert while watching children play soccer under the shadow of Bernini's fountains.

If you have the energy or interest, you might squeeze in a visit to San Luigi dei Francesi (just off the piazza's east side) for its Caravaggio paintings, and/or the ancient Roman collections in the gorgeous Palazzo Altemps just off the north end of Piazza Navona.

EVENING: Head over to the medieval Trastevere district for dinner.

Day 2 in Rome

MORNING: Have the earliest reservation possible at the Galleria Borghese villa, packed with baroque paintings by Caravaggio and sculptures by Bernini. Swing by the antiquities-filled Palazzo Massimo alle Terme branch of the Museo Nazionale Romano on your way down to tour the Roman Forum.

Try to arrive at the Forum by 11:30pm or noon to spend an hour or so wandering the ruins where orators once held forth, senators debated, and Julius Caesar strode the streets.

AFTERNOON: Unfortunately, little is left to see of the Forum—but so much the better so you can be out by 12:30 and on your way past the Imperial Forums to lunch at the old-school wine bar Cavour 313.

(If the timing works out, afterwards you can continue continue up Via Cavour a few blocks and climb up the steps of a tunnel-like street on the right to the tiny piazza hiding the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, home to Michelangelo's Moses, but it doesn't reopen for the afternoon until 3:30pm, or 3pm in winter. If you do work it in, it means you are running a bit late, so don't spend more than 15 minutes in here.)

Next, pay a visit to the 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).

If you manage to get out of the Colosseum by 4pm, you're in good shape and have time for both of the next sights. If it's closer to 5pm, you only have time for one, so pick.

  1. Walk around the back of the Colosseum and a few long blocks southeast along Via San Giovanni in Laterano to tour the church of San Clemente, with medieval mosaics glittering in the apse, Renaissance frescoes in the chapels, and a door off the gift shop leading down to the first of several basements that provide an unparalleled tour through Rome's layer cake of history: below the current, medieval church is a 4th century church, and below that is a pagan temple to Mithras and the remains of several ancient Roman buildings, streets, and the splashing waters of a still-functioning aqueduct (go ahead and fill your water bottle; the water is clean, cold, and delicious).

  2. Catch bus 60 to head back up Via dei Fori Imperiali to Piazza Venezia (2 stops), at the north end of the Forum. Nearby is the elevated square Piazza del Campidoglio, where the Capitoline Museums will entertain you with ancient sculptures and Renaissance and baroque paintings until 7pm.

EVENING: Make sure that before sunset you nip around the back of the right side of the central building on Piazza del Campidoglio where you're treated to a surprise panorama of the Forum from above, with the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum as a backdrop.

Make your way over to the lively Spanish Steps. Mingle for a while, 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. 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

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