Rome – the Eternal City, where all roads lead and civilisation in the Western World (apparently) began. From the time of the Romans to today, Rome has drawn visitors across the world to come and walk it’s old, busy streets and see its wonders. Problem is, Rome has its fair share of wonders. A surprising amount actually. Churches, museums, ruins, catacombs, and of course one of the wonders of the ancient world – the Colosseum. It’s a lot to see, even in a lifetime, so how do you squeeze so much historical site seeing into a weekend?
What to see in Rome in two days
Rome is an amazing city. It’s also the bustling, hectic, non-stop capital of Italy, home not only to almost 3 million people, but also over 4 million tourists each year. Seeing Rome in two days is not just about effective time-management, it also requires you to plan what you see when. The two most common tourist attractions in Rome are the Colosseum and the Vatican, although there are plenty of must-see sites in Rome beyond these two. Conveniently, the Colosseum and Vatican City lie on two different sides of the River Tiber, so I’d recommend dividing your two day itinerary in Rome between these two sides of the city.
Day 1: Central Rome
Start your first day in Rome by hitting the ground running. Go hard or go home, right? On the morning of your first day, get up early and head straight to the Colosseum. I always say to people that my top travel tip for visiting Rome is to see one major historical site a day, and to get there early. That way, you are not overloading yourself with too much history, and can beat the mid-morning crowds.
Book your tickets for the Colosseum online beforehand to save time queuing. When you book your tickets, you’ll be asked to select a timeslot for your visit, and once you’ve booked you’ll receive a confirmation email. Your ticket will cover admission to not only the Colosseum but also the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. But for the morning, just stick to the Colosseum. Once you’re inside, make sure to make the most of your time there. Once you leave the Colosseum, you can’t get back in, so utilising your timeslot while you’re in there is essential. Being the history lover that I am, I’d heartily suggest purchasing an audio guide while you’re at it.
From the Colosseum, wander down the Via dei Fori Imperiali. This will take you past some of the ruins of some of the imperial forums of Ancient Rome, including the Forum of Caesar and the Forum of Augustus. This whole area was once a bustling, politically charged area of the capital of the Roman Emperor, where senators would walk the streets on the way to Senate meetings to discuss important affairs. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself in front of Altare della Patria, the startling white and imposing monument commemorating Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy.
From here, walk towards the Pantheon along Rome’s twisting alleyways. The Patheon is an ancient Roman temple which has been used as an active church since the 7th century. It’s one of the most well-preserved Roman buildings, so makes a great contrast from the other ruins dotted around the city. After admiring the Patheon’s domed roof and taking a few photos of its marvels, it’s time to start thinking about food.
By this point, you’ll likely be in need of some lunch, so make your way to the beautiful square Piazza Navona where you can enjoy pizza and red wine while people watching and admiring the beautiful fountains. Or if you’re wanting a slightly cheaper option, head to Campo de’ Fiori. Meaning field of flowers, this square has seen it’s fair share of history – from public executions to the important public buildings which flank the square such as the Palazzo Orsini. Today, it is the site of a much-loved and visited flower and food market, where you can find an array of delicious foods to try.
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The Roman Forum
Late afternoon, make your way back to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The Roman Forum closes one hour before sunset, so what time of year you’re visiting Rome will affect how long you have after lunch to make your way back to the Forum. Later in the day the Roman Forum has quieter queues and have fewer people, so it’s a great time to visit because you can really enjoy all the history they have to offer. Nestled between the Colosseum, Capitoline Hill, and Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum was at the heart of political, religious and commercial life in Ancient Rome.
Take your time to slowly wander around the whole Roman Forum, as there is an abundance of history to see. From the Curia where Roman senators met to the Rostra where famous orators gave public speeches, to the glorious Temple of Saturn. The Roman Forum was my favourite part of Ancient Rome, as you can really get a feel for what this once thriving centre of an empire looked like. Make sure you take in the views from the top of the park, as it has beautiful views of the Forum and the city!
The Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps
When dusk begins to set in, start making your way to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. These attractions are often chaotic and heaving during the day will be more hushed at twilight, making it a much better time to go and see them (and take the compulsory photos for Instagram). There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in this part of the city to stop for dinner, so make sure to take stock and soak up the remaining light of the day before heading in for the night!
Day 2: Vatican City and Trastevere
Like your first day in Rome, you should start your second day early to make the most of your time and to beat the crowds. First thing (after breakfast) head to the Vatican City. Like the Colloseeum, I’d strongly recommend booking your tickets online in advance, unless you want to spend your morning in a queue.
The Vatican Museums
Start with the Vatican Museums (where the Sistine Chapel is) because there is a lot to see and take in so it’s best to do it when you have the most energy. For one, the Vatican Museums contains the world’s largest private art collections, let alone the Sistine Chapel. Two, you have to go through the entire Vatican Museums to get to the Sistine Chapel, so there isn’t a chance of you doing this part quickly. Give yourself at least two hours at a bare minimum for the Vatican Museums, if not longer. Also, because the Sistine Chapel is at the end of the Vatican Museums, you can take the short passage from the Sistine Chapel straight into St. Peter’s Basilica as opposed to having to wait in another queue.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is utterly breathtaking and beautiful. This Renaissance church is a masterpiece of art and architecture. Not only is the building itself beautiful beyond words, but it also houses historical sculptures such as Michelangelo’s pietà, and the tombs of past popes. After a busy morning exploring the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica is perfect for more relaxed wandering and quiet reflection.
RELATED: For more ideas on what to see in Rome, check out my 4 Must-See Sites In Rome That Are Not The Colosseum.
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If you have time and energy left, I’d also recommend making the trek up the 500 odd steps up to the Vatican’s dome. It’s not the easiest journey up, and I wouldn’t recommend it for those who struggle climbing up endless steps, get vertigo or claustrophobia as there’s a lot of cramped steps to climb. But for those who can make the journey, the views are definitely worth it! Not only will you get to see the inside of St. Peter’s Dome at a closer glance, but you will also be rewarded with panoramic views of Rome.
After a history packed morning, it’s time to leave the wonders of the Vatican and make your way towards the river and Castle Sant’ Angelo. From here, you can make your way along the river and wander along the winding streets of Trastevere. Trastevere is Rome’s boho, bustling neighbourhood that is great for exploring after two heavy days of diving into history. While the other parts of Rome you’ve explored so far are dominated by its impressive history, Trastevere shows a more normal side to Rome, where ordinary families live and work. Venture down its winding streets to scout out some of the city’s best spots for pizza, wine and gelato. It’s sprawling alleyways are busting with life at all hours of the day, decorated with authentic (and not overpriced) restaurants, boutiques, artisan cafes and beer houses.
Wandering around Trastevere is a great way to end your weekend in Rome, as you can explore it at your own pace, taking your time to soak up the buzz of this part of the city. When dusk begins to set in, find a restaurant tucked down one of its side street and enjoy the last of the Italian air before your trip comes to an end.