A three-day itinerary for Rome for those arriving

How to get the most out of just three and a half days in Rome if you are just arriving

This itinerary assumes you are, as are many visitors, just arriving in Rome (on an overnight flight—most those usually land roughly between 8am and 9pm—or a train or car from somewhere else in Italy), so it picks up in the late morning on the first day.

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 the afternoon free on that first day.

With that in mind, here is a "four-day" itinerary for those arriving in Rome by plane or train on "Day 1." (On this separate page is the itinerary if Rome is just another stop on your journey and you genuinely have four full days to spend.)

With some rearranging, you could also swap most of those Day 1 afternoon activities to become morning activities on Day 4, if you are leaving Rome midday on Day 4 to go elsewhere.

The best of Ancient Rome

09:00

By the time you arrive in Rome and check into your hotel, it'll be 11am at best. Even still, you still have plenty of time to splash your face and head out to the first postcard sight of your trip: the Roman Forum.

11:15

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, as there's still much more of Rome to see.

Time to spend there:
 
90 min

13:00

You can be out of the Forum by 1pm and on your way past the Imperial Forums.

Time to spend there:
 
24 min

13:25

Have lunch at the old-school wine bar, Cavour 313.

Time to spend there:
 
60 min

13:30
★☆☆
 (Photo courtesy of the restaurant)
€€
Cavour 313
Rome: Downtown Ancient Rome
 
14:30

(If the timing works out, afterwards you can 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 3pm. If you do work it in, it means you are running a bit late, so don't spend more than 15 minutes in here.)

14:30

Next, pay a visit to the Colosseum (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.

Time to spend there:
 
60 min

16:00

  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 4C 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).

Time to spend there:
 
50 min

17:00

  1. Go to Via Labianca (behind the church) to catch bus 85 or 87 headed west ("left") back around the Colosseum and up Via dei Fori Imperiali to Piazza Venezia, at the north end of the Forum. Walk around the giant Vittoriano monument and down Via del Teatro di Marcello to the stairs up to the elevated square Piazza del Campidoglio, where the Capitoline Museums will entertain you with ancient sculptures and Renaissance and baroque paintings until 6:30pm.

Time to spend there:
 
70 min

18:30

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.

18:45

Have dinner in the Old City tonight.

St. Peter's, the Vatican, and medieval Trastevere

06:30

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.

Time to spend there:
 
105 min

08:45

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.

Time to spend there:
 
2.5 hr

11:30

By 11:30am, head out of the galleries, back around St. Peters, and to the massive papal stronghold of Castel Sant'Angelo, built atop Hadrian's tomb. (Note: If this happens to be a Monday, the castello is closed—but this is otherwise a great day to do the Vatican, as it's one of the few museums open Mondays in Rome.)

Time to spend there:
 
70 min

13:00

Pausing to admire the statue-lined Ponte Sant'Angelo leading from the castle, stay on this side of the river and start making your way south along its curve.

Time to spend there:
 
1 min

13:02

Jump off Lungotevere Gianicolense onto the parallel Via della Lungara to have lunch at the ultra-genuine Da Giovanni.

Time to spend there:
 
85 min

14:45

Farther south along Via della Lungara are the Renaissance and Baroque Old Master paintings inside the National Gallery of the Palazzo Corsini (though if you're all art-ed out after the Vatican, I won't tell anyone you skipped it).

Time to spend there:
 
75 min

16:10

Continue south along Via della Lungara toward the medieval Trastevere district.

16:20

Wander Trastevere's narrow, cobblestone streets and alleys, wending your way across the neighborhood, crossing Viale di Trastevere, to get to the church of San Francesco a Ripa with its ecclesiastically erotic Bernini sculpture.

Time to spend there:
 
10 min

16:50

Walk north on Via Anicia, right on Via della Madonna dell'Orto, and left onto Via di San Michele to get to Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

Time to spend there:
 
30 min

17:30

Head back across Viale di Trastevere to the heart of Trastevere and its public living room, Piazza Santa Maria, where you can visit the medieval church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Time to spend there:
 
35 min

18:15

Trastevere is jam-packed with great little trattorie, pizzerie, and restaurants for dinner.

20:00

Optional: You may be all tuckered out (it's been a looong day), but I like to end an evening in Trastevere with a climb up the Gianicolo Hill for a nighttime panorama of the city below.

The heart of Rome: The Tridente and the Tiber Bend

07:30

Start the day amid the gracious fountains in Piazza Navona.

Time to spend there:
 
55 min

08:55

The church of Sant'Agostino with paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael.

Time to spend there:
 
20 min

09:20

Just off the north end of Piazza Navona is the gorgeous Renaissance Palazzo Altemps now housing a gaggle of fabulous antiquities as a branch of the Museo Nazionale Romano.

Time to spend there:
 
75 min

10:15

A few blocks away, San Luigi dei Francesi has an entire chapel filled with Caravaggio paintings.

Time to spend there:
 
15 min

10:35

The hidden church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza is famous for its baroque curlicue soft-serve dome.

Time to spend there:
 
5 min

10:45

Walk through the courtyard, past the church, and out the east side of the building to tiny Piazza Sant'Eustachio, with a peekaboo view of the dome and a cafe famed for having quite possibly the best cappuccino in Rome.

Time to spend there:
 
20 min

11:10

Just a bit farther east is the noble Pantheon is the only ancient Roman temple survive the millennia virtually intact and one of the best sights in all of Rome (if you skip everything else on this day, at least see the Pantheon.

Time to spend there:
 
20 min

11:35

Just south of the Pantheon, on the piazza with the Bernini statue of an elephant carrying a tiny obelisk on its back, rises Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a gothic church decorated by Michelangelo and Filippino Lippi.

Time to spend there:
 
20 min

12:00

This is a good time for some lunch—perhaps at Enoteca Corsi—just don't order dessert (see the next stop).

Time to spend there:
 
60 min

13:10

This neighborhood houses several prime purveyors of gelato, Italy's divine ice cream.

Time to spend there:
 
15 min

13:30

After lunch (and gelato), head north, past the baroque optical illusions in the church of Sant'Ignazio.

Time to spend there:
 
20 min

14:00

Continue toward the Corso and the ancient Roman Column of Marcus Aurelius.

Time to spend there:
 
10 min

14:15

Across Via del Corso to the left is Largo Chigi, where you can grab bus 52 or 53 to the Pinciana/Museo Borghese stop (8 stops; you'll see a park across the street called the Villa Borghese). Enter the park and take the first path on your right (Viale di Museo Borghese) to get to the Galleria Borghese the required 15 min before your pre-booked 3pm entry time—a time which is set in stone, so don't miss it. (TIP: You will need to purchase tickets in advance for this). Tour its collections of amazing early Bernini sculptures and Raphael and Caravaggio paintings until at least 4:30pm.

Time to spend there:
 
90 min

16:30

Make your way through the Villa Borghese park to the top of the lively Spanish Steps.

Time to spend there:
 
29 min

17:00

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

Time to spend there:
 
19 min

17:20

By the time you get to the Corso, one of Rome's main drags, the evening passeggiata stroll will be in full swing.

Time to spend there:
 
29 min

17:50

Strut your stuff with the Romans northward to the lovely oval Piazza del Popolo.

Time to spend there:
 
8 min

17:59

On the north end of the piazza is one of my favorite churches in Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo, with art and architecture by Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Pinturricchio, and others.

Time to spend there:
 
40 min

18:40

Rejoin the passeggiata until it's time for a hearty and well-deserved dinner in the old city.

20:45

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.

A daytrip

06:00

Actually, spend Day 4 out of Rome. Pick whichever Rome sidetrip most appeals to you, and get out of the big city for the day. You really should get an early start today so as to fit in as much as possible—considering there will be travel time at both ends. (Besides, by now the jet lag should have worn off.) Below are my top choices:

07:30

  1. I would go for Ostia Antica, the ghost town–like ruins of Rome's ancient seaport city—a bit like Pompeii, but without nearly the crowds (or travel time; it's only a 50-minute ride away on a local light rail line; you get there on a single Metro ticket).

07:30

  1. A close second would be Tivoli, with its amazing ruins of Emperor Hadrian's villa paired with Renaissance-era villas and their spectacular gardens.

07:30

  1. Then there is Frascati and the Castelli Romani wine villages south of the city.

07:00

  1. If you aren't otherwise traveling south of Rome and Pompeii is on your bucket list you can actually do that in a single (long) day from Rome—though don't try to do it on your own.

    Take at least a shuttle service (faster, less confusing, and actually cheaper than the trains), and seriously consider an escorted minvan tour, which will pack in much more than you could possibly see on your own (including not just Pompeii, but Mt. Vesuvius and the Archaeological Museum in Naples where they keep much of the best stuff from Pompeii) and—once you factor in admission prices and all—costs roughly the same as it would cost to do it yourself, plus you get a professional guide and lunch. Sweet. You can also get tours that cram in a bit of the Amalfi Coast.

07:28

  1. To see a proper Italian hilltown, head an hour and quarter north of Rome, just across the Umbrian border, to Orvieto, which rises from the valley atop a volcanic plug and is famed for its white wine and glorious cathedral. (Grab the 7:28am train from Roma Termini; the next isn't until 9am.)

08:43

Sorry. Nothing fits that criteria.

19:45

After you return to Rome, have a nice, late, celebratory dinner.

21:45

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

What the grey and blue time bubbles mean

Since this itinerary takes into account travel time (walking, taking the Métro, driving, whatever):

  • The times in grey circles are the times by which you need to start moving in order to go to the next stop.
  • The times in blue circles are the times by which you should arrive at that stop to begin the fun.
 
Activities, walks, & excursions links
Escorted tours links
Active tours links
Family tours links
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for rail travel

English (inglese) Italian (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...train station la ferroviaria [or] la stazione lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah [or] lah stat-zee-YO-nay
ticket un biglietto oon beel-YET-toh
first class prima classe PREE-mah CLAH-say
second class seconda classe say-CONE-dah CLAH-say
one way solo andata SO-low ahn-DAHT-tah
round trip (return) andata e ritorno ahn-DAH-tah ay ree-TOUR-noh
Just the supplement Soltanto il supplemento soul-TAHN-toh eel sou-play-MEN-toh
Just a seat reservation Soltanto una prenotazione soal-TAHN-toh oo-nah pray-no-tah-tsee-YOH-nay
I have a Eurailpass Ho il Eurailpass oh eel YOO-rail-pahs
sleeping couchette una cucetta oo-nah koo-CHET-tah
berth in a sleeping car un posto nel vagone letto oon POH-sto nell vah-GOAN-nay LET-toh
track binario been-AR-ree-yoh
train treno TRE-no
car (carriage) carozza ka-RO-tza
seat posto PO-sto
departures partenze par-TEN-zay
arrivals arrivi ah-REE-vee
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay
left luggage deposito bagagli day-PO-zee-toh ba-GAHL-yee
     
punch your ticket timbrare il biglietto teem-BRA-ray eel beel-YET-toh
Is this the right platform for the Rome train? E questo il binario per il treno à Roma? ay KWAY-sto eel been-AR-ree-yo pair eel TRE-no ah RO-ma? 
delayed in retardo een ree-TAR-do
strike sciopero SHO-pair-oh
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
City / Train station names
English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Main station
Rome Roma Termini
Florence Firenze Santa Maria Novella
Venice Venezia Santa Lucia
Milan Milano Centrale
Genoa Genova Porta Principe
Naples Napoli Centrale
Leghorn Livorno Centrale
Turin Torino Porta Nuova

Useful Italian for air travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)   Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
the airport l'aeroporto LAHW-ro-port-oh
the airplane l'aereo LAIR-reh-oh
terminal terminal TEAR-me-nahl
flight volo VOH-lo
gate uscita d'imbarco oo-SHEE-tah deem-BARK-oh
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
departures partenze par-TEN-zay
arrivals arrivi ah-REE-vee
delayed in ritardo een ree-TAR-doh
on time in orario een oh-RAH-ree-yo
early in avanti een ah-VAHN-tee
boarding imbarco eem-BARK-o
connecting flight la coincidenza la ko-een-chee-DEN-za
check-in accettazione ah-chet-ta-zee-YO-nee
immigration controllo passaporti cone-TRO-lo pah-sa-POR-tee
security check controllo di sicurezza kohn-TRO-lo dee see-kur-AY-tzah
customs dogana do-GA-na
shuttle la navetta lah na-VET-tah
boarding pass carta d'imbarco kart-ta deem-BARK-o
baggage claim ritiro bagagli ree-TEER-oh bah-GA-lyee
carry-on luggage bagaglio à mano bah-GA-lyo ah MA_no
checked luggage bagalio bah-GA-lyo

Useful Italian for car travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
car automobile ow-toh-MO-bee-lay
scooter/motorboke un motorino oon mo-tair-EE-no
gas station stazione di servizio stah-zee-YO-nay dee sair-VEE-tzee-yo
gas benzina ben-ZEE-nah
diesel gasolio [or] diesel gah-ZOH-lee-oh [or] DEE-zell
Fill it up, please al pieno, per favore ahl pee-YAY-noh, pair fa-VOHR-ray
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the highway l'autostrada lout-oh-STRA-dah
...the state highway la statale [written "SS"] lah sta-TAHL-eh
...the road for Rome la strada per Roma lah STRA-dah pair RO-mah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
to cross attraversare ah-tra-vair-SAR-ay
toll pedaggio peh-DA-jo
parking parcheggio par-KEH-jo
road map carta stradale kar-ta stra-DA-lay
where can I pay the fine? dove posso pagare la multa DOH-veh Po-so pag-GAR-ray la MOOL-tah


Typical road signs / terms » more

English (anglais) French (français) 
Stop Stop
Exit  Uscita
Staffic light Semaforo
One-way Senso unico
Dead-end Strada senza uscita
Parking prohibited No parcheggio or parcheggio proibito
Pedestrian zone Area pedonale
Limited Traffic Zone (you pay to drive in) ZTL or Zona Traffico Limitato

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).