Rome is an amazing city. It is also an exhausting city. It is crowded with tourists, scorching in the summer, and packed with must-see monuments, churches, museums, and piazzas. While I recommend devoting at least four days to Rome, it can, if need be, be conquered in just two. But only if you are prepared and organized for an exhausting, but exhilarating, two days!
Step 1 – Divide and Conquer
Rome may not have been built in a day, but if you divide the city in half — anchoring each day with one of the two major sites, the Forum/Colosseum and the Vatican — it can be conquered in two! I like to draw a line down the center of the city, grouping the Forum, Colosseum, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the Capuchin Bone Church into a one-day itinerary, and the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, Castle St. Angelo, Trastevere, Jewish Ghetto, and Campo di Fiori into another one-day itinerary.
Step 2 – Plan, Plan, Plan
If you are short on days in Rome, it is essential that you don’t waste any of that precious time waiting in Rome’s long (and hot) lines. The biggest offenders are the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel and the Roman Forum and Colosseum. I like to make these the first visit for each day. So day one would start with the Forum and Colosseum (don’t forget to start at the Forum rather than the Colosseum, you can read more of my Italy travel tips here), and day two would start with the Vatican Museums. You can reserve the Vatican here and the Forum/Colosseum here.
Step 3 – Start Early
Because there is so much to see in Rome, you have to get an early start. It will also help you avoid some crowds and the hottest part of the day (obviously, this is more important in the summer time). The Piazza Navona and St. Peter’s Basilica are both especially magical in the early morning hours.
Step 4 – Hydrate, Wear Sunscreen, and Dress Appropriately
Long days of sightseeing are taxing on the body, so make sure you have slept, are hydrated (the fresh spring water throughout the city is the best), slathered in sunscreen, and wearing comfortable shoes and church-appropriate clothing. And don’t forget to pack a snack!
Step 5 – Hit the Ground Running
Once you have planned and prepared yourself mentally and physically, it is time to tackle Rome! Here is the itinerary I would recommend:
8:15 am Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
9:30 am Colosseum
11:00 am Piazza Navona (don’t miss Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and gelato at Tre Scalini)
12:00 pm Lunch Break (here are some tips for selecting restaurants in Italy)
1:00 pm Pantheon
2:00 pm Trevi Fountain
3:00 pm Spanish Steps (don’t forget to window shop down via Condotti)
4:30 pm Capuchin Bone Church (creepy, but a must-see)
5:30 pm Take a break (you earned it) before dinner. Or, if you are feeling adventurous head to San Pietro in Vincoli to Michelangelo’s amazing Moses sculpture
7:30 am (For the really adventurous) See St. Peters Basilica in the early morning, sans crowds and with gorgeous light
9:00 am Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel
11:00 am St. Peter’s Basilica, if you don’t see it in the morning (make sure to use my shortcut)
12:00 pm Castle St. Angelo
1:00 pm Explore Trastevere (make sure to eat in this area)
4:00 pm Cross over the Isola di Tiber and into the Jewish Ghetto
5:00 pm Campo di Fiori
6:00 pm Take a break before dinner, or if you want more, visit the Domus Romane
If you have more time in Rome, I highly recommend adding the following sights:
Borghese Gallery (and park)
Markets of Trajan (the world’s first mall!)
Basilica of San Clemente
Capitoline Hill and Museums