How To Spend 3 Days in Rome, The Perfect Three Day Itinerary

Looking for things to do with 3 days in Rome? Welcome to one of my favorite cities in Europe. To help you have the best experience, I’ve put together a step-by-step 3 days in Rome itinerary.

Endlessly inspiring and ethereal, Rome is a classic beauty that is aptly dubbed the Eternal City. There are so many stunning attractions in Rome that you really need a plan of attack to make the most of your time.

the Trevi fountain in Rome
the beautiful Trevi fountain in Rome

This 3 days in Rome itinerary covers everything you need to see –Rome’s top must must visit attractions, historic landmarks, the Imperial ruins, and some sweet hidden gems.

I must admit that last time I visited Rome in July, I was underwhelmed. Though prepared to be dazzled by ruin lust, I was frustrated by the mega lines, sweaty crowds, and selfie sticks.

I huffily vowed never to return … during high season.

Pinterest pin for 3 days in Rome itinerary

Fast forward several years, I found a cheap flight to Rome in late February. I booked a week at an adorable Air Bnb in Trastevere and bought my ticket to the magical mecca of carbs and ancient architecture.

I’m happy to report that Rome in February-March is drastically different than the over-touristed summer months. The lines are minimal. The insane heat is gone.

You can better appreciate all the history, art, and magnificent Roman ruins before you. I heartily embrace visiting Rome in the off season.

Piazza Venezia
Piazza Venezia

Overview of 3 Days In Rome Itinerary

Here’s a quick snapshot of what you’ll see with this 3 days in Rome itinerary:

Day 1: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Monti neighborhood, Piazza Venezia, and the Captioline Museums

Day 2: Campo dei Fiori, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Borghese Gallery, Piazza del Popolo

Day 3: Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, Castle Sant’Angelo, Villa Farnesina, Trastevere

Square Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria Square in Trastevere

A Short History of Ancient Rome

To properly visit ancient Rome, you’ve got to have a rough overview of its tumultuous 1,000 year history. Rome was the political and religious center of the Western World for centuries.

Ancient Rome lasted from approximately 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. In 509 B. C., Rome overthrew its Etruscan conquerers to kick things off. For the next 500 years or so, Rome was a republic governed by senators.

Though patricians (or aristocrats) dominated political discourse, eventually the plebeians (or middle class) gained power.

In 82 A.D., Lucius Cornelius Sulla challenged Senate rule. The Senate decreed him dictator after a bloody civil war with Gaius Marius. Historians generally revile Sulla as a maniacal dictator. He ruthlessly engaged in bloody purges of his political enemies.

Sulla eventually retired and Senate rule was restored. But his tenure threatened the foundations of the Roman constitution.

bronze statue of Julius Caesar on Via dei Fori Imperiali
bronze statue of Julius Caesar on Via dei Fori Imperiali

After Sulla, it wasn’t long before Julius Caesar came to power. Casear bridged the gap between the Roman republic and the Roman empire. A military genius, Caesar crowned himself “dictator for life” in 44 B.C.

Shortly thereafter, Caesar was assassinated by Brutus, in a conspiracy with senators. They feared Caesar would crown himself king.

But Caesar had adopted reforms and was beloved by the people. His death made him a martyr and incited civil wars that led to the downfall of the republic.

READ: Guide To Caesar’s Grave in the Roman Forum

Caesar’s heir, Octavian, came out on top of the struggle. He went head-to-head with Mark Anthony and his lover Cleopatra and won, becoming the first emperor of Rome.

Emperor Augustus bust at the Ara Pacis Museum
Emperor Augustus bust at the Ara Pacis Museum

Octavian adopted the name Augustus and is generally considered Rome’s greatest emperor. Augustus was a savvy politician and ushered in a lasting peace. His descendants, the Caesarian emperors, ruled for almost 100 years, ending with the Nero.

Nero was an infamous and profligate emperor. He killed his mother and two wives. Legend holds that he set the great fire of Rome so that he could rebuild the city to his liking.

Post fire, Nero built the Golden House, his massive pleasure palace. For his misdeeds, Nero was declared a public enemy and committed suicide.

Statue and Column of Emperor Trajan in via dei Fori Imperiali
Statue and Column of Emperor Trajan in via dei Fori Imperiali

After Nero’s death, Emperor Vespasian restored peace to Rome. The empire prospered and was at its zenith under Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.

Trajan was a busy-as-a-bee architect/builder. He embarked on an ambitious public building program in Rome.

Hadrian created landmarks that still stand today. He built the iconic Pantheon, which is the best preserved monument from Ancient Rome.

Hadrian also built the Temple of Venus and Roma in the Roman Forum, Castle Sant’Angelo, and Villa Adriana in Tivoli.

READ: History of the Roman Emperors

Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue in front of the Capitoline Museums
Marcus Aurelius Equestrian Statue in front of the Capitoline Museums

After Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius ruled from 161 to 180. He fought off the barbarians and wrote a philosophical treatise, Meditations.

But Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by his debauched and sadistic son Commodus. That succession that marked the beginning of the end for the Roman empire.

Eventually, as a result of military overspending, over expansion, and political instability, the Roman Empire began to crumble.

The introduction of Christianity by Emperor Constantine also undercut the empire. It shifted the focus from the divine right of emperors to the glory of a sole deity.

Rome could no longer keep its grip on its far flung lands. Nor keep the barbarians at bay. The empire fell in 476. The glamor and glory of ancient Rome was replaced with the Dark Ages.

Via dei Fori Imperiali, home to ancient Rome’s public fora

The Best 3 Days in Rome Itinerary

I recently spent a solid week rediscovering every nook and cranny, on my fifth visit to Rome.

As a result of this splendid geographical cure, I have decided ideas about the best way to spend 3 days in Rome.

Three days is a decent amount of time to spend in Rome. But there’s an astonishing amount of amazing things to see and do in Rome.

You’ll need a plan of attack and pre-purchased tickets, if you want to hit all the top attractions.

So, channel your badass gladiator and read on for the full scoop on how to spend 3 days in Rome.

As with all of my suggested itineraries, I recommend that you use this 3 days in Rome itinerary as a guide. You can tailor it to suit your individual interests, needs, and pace of travel. 

Roman Forum
Roman Forum

Day 1 of 3 Days in Rome

Day 1 AM: Imperial Ruins

No visit to Rome is complete without seeing the Imperial sites of Rome. A walk through the very core of Roman antiquity is an impressive introduction to the glories of Ancient Rome.

Although the millennia have ground the grand complex down to mostly picturesque ruins, it’s still awe inspiring to gaze upon the birthplace of Western civilization.

The Imperial sites includes three attractions: the iconic Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. These attractions can be visited with one ticket our a ticket + tour and are Rome’s biggest draw.

1. Tickets & Tours For The Imperial Ruins

You have to be prepared to visit the imperial ruins. You don’t just want to show up on the fly unless it’s off season.

Click here to book skip the line tickets for all three sites.

the Colosseum, the symbol of Rome dating from 80 A.D.
the Colosseum, the symbol of Rome dating from 80 A.D.

However, you may also want to book a guided tour to see these attractions. Otherwise, it may be difficult to decipher the ruins and know what you’re looking at.

Here are some tour options you can choose from. They all vary slightly in duration and what you see.

Pick one that best suits your sightseeing agenda and time allocation.

the Colosseum, a must see attractions with 3 days in Rome

2. The Colosseum

The 600 foot high Flavian Amphitheatre is nicknamed the Colosseum. It was inaugurated in 80 A.D. with a grand 10 day festival.

Since then, the Colosseum has been synonymous with gladiators, chariots, and the emperor’s famous “thumbs up or thumbs down” edict. In the arena, gladiators and wild animals fought to the death.

The Colosseum is the most visited landmark in Italy. You can tour the arena floor and seating areas.

The top level of the Colosseum was reopened in 2017. It provides sweeping views and may be the highlight of your visit.

aerial view of the Colosseum, a must visit site in 3 days in Rome

On this visit, I booked a Colosseum tour that included a visit to the “Hypogeom” or the Colosseum Underground.

There’s limited space on the underground tour, so you must book it well in advance. A standard tour won’t take your there.

Led by a knowable archaeologist, the tour was quite educational. In the hypogeum, we inspected animal cages, gladiator corridors, back stairs used by the slaves, trap doors, and the launching point for mock naval battles.

the exposed hypogeum of the Colosseum
the exposed hypogeum of the Colosseum

If you’re DIY-ing the Colosseum, you need to reserve your entry time online well in advance. This is true even if you have a skip-the-line Roma Pass.

If you buy your ticket directly from the official website, you will specify the exact time and date. You can’t visit the Colosseum without a reserved entry time!

Here’s my complete guide to the Colosseum, with must know tips for visiting.

Domitian's Palace on Palatine Hill
Domitian’s Palace on Palatine Hill

3. Palatine Hill

On Palatine Hill, you can see where the rich and famous of Imperial Rome lived. The hill is the source of raw beauty and hidden treasures.

Built circa 81 A.D., the sprawling Domitian’s Palace is the most impressive ruin.

Emperor Domitian was a member of the Falvian dynasty. Unlike his father Vespasian and his brother Titus, who were civic minded, a megalomaniacal Domitian was only interested in palatial architecture.

Another highlight of Palatine Hill is the House of Augustus. The House of Augustus boasts some of the best preserved Roman walls on the planet, decorated with vibrant 2,000 year old frescos.

You won’t see it on the standard imperial tour and the attraction is only open certain days a week.

You can only see the House of Augustus via a guided tour with the Super Pass or a special archaeologist-led tour of Palatine Hill that includes the house. The guided tour is super interesting because it includes all the villas on Palatine Hill.

While you’re on Palatine Hill, be sure to pop in at least briefly to the Palatine Museum. The museum contains statues and frescos from imperial Palatine.

frescos in Augustus' House on Palatine Hill
frescos in Augustus’ House on Palatine Hill

The Augustus and Nero rooms are particularly delightful. Audiovisual displays reconstruct the palaces’ luxury.

The Palatine Museum also has a rare surviving bust of Emperor Nero.

As I mentioned above, Nero was the emperor who allegedly “fiddled while Rome burned.” He was removed from power during a political coup and all images of him were destroyed.

If you’d like to visit the ruins of Nero’s Golden House, Domus Aurea, it’s now open after years of excavation.

Circus Maximums, former site of chariot racing
Circus Maximus, former site of chariot racing

Located on the nearby Oppian Hill, you can only visit on Saturday or Sunday (after March 20) with a hard hat. The Golden House is one of Rome’s newer sites and still a hidden gem in Rome.

If you want to know more about these ancient sites on Palatine Hill, here’s my complete guide to the monuments on Palatine Hill. Click here to book a guide tour of Domus Aurea.

Many of the most interesting sites can only be accessed with the S.U.P.E.R. Pass, which I mentioned above.

Alternatively, you can book a guided tour that gives you skip the line access to the unique S.U.P.E.R. sites, which I highly recommend. You can also do a self guided audio walking tour of Palatine Hill.

the Roman Forum, with the Temple of Saturn on the left
the Roman Forum, with the Temple of Saturn on the left

4. The Roman Forum

After Palantine Hill, you move on to the Roman Forum. I advise having a guided tour here.

There’s not much signage. It will be difficult to divine what you’re looking at without a guide to decipher the lovely rubble.

The forum is a rectangular valley running from Arch of Titus to the Capitoline Hill. The main road is the Via Sacre. The forum was the beating heart of Rome.

It was the seat of power, and its central showpiece. It was a grandiose district consisting of white temples, grand basilicas, and vibrant public spaces.

Temple and House of the Vestal Virgins
Temple and House of the Vestal Virgins

Stroll by the Arch of Titus, the Basilica of Constantine, the Temple and House of the Vestal Virgins, and the 3 columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. \You’ll also find a small temple to Julius Caesar. Inside, is a mound of dirt covered with coins and flowers that marks his grave.

If you purchased the S.U.P.E.R. Pass, you can visit the Church of St. Maria Antiqua. It’s at the back of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

The church is known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Roman Forum” because of its elaborate (and newly restored) frescos.

Here’s my complete guide to the monuments of the Roman Forum.  

the picturesque Rione Monti in Rome, with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in the background
the picturesque Rione Monti in Rome, with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in the background

Day 1 PM: Monti and Capitoline Hill

When you’re done exploring the ruins, head to Rome’s adjacent Monti neighborhood. It’s just 5 minutes away from the Roman Forum.

Monti is Rome’s trendiest off the beaten path district. Formerly a slum in ancient Rome, now it’s gentrified and packed with unique shops and hip eateries.

Be sure to get off the main drag and explore Mont’s side streets. If you want to grab a quick lunch, get avocado toast or a panini at Fehu.

Or pick a cute ivy covered cafe, like Aromaticus Monti or La Carbonara, to settle down and relax after your Imperial tour.

Monti is also a great place to take a guided food tour or a guided wine tasting tour.

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome's Monti neighborhood
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome’s Monti neighborhood

Monti has one absolute must see site — the Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

Personally, I liked it better than St. Peters’ Basilica. It’s much older, dating to the 5th century A.D. And it has absolutely breathtaking mosaics in the triumphal arch and nave.

Just a few minutes from Santa Maria Maggiore is the beautiful church of Santa Prassede. Santa Prassede is an ancient basilica and an important example of Byzantine art in Rome. It’s a wonderful contrast to all the Baroque grandeur.

The highlight of the the Prassede is  beautiful Chapel of Saint Xeno is from the 9th century.

It’s covered top to bottom with glittering mosaics. In the Middle Ages, it was called the “Garden of Paradise.”

READ: Guide To Beautiful Chapels in Italy

Vittoria Emmanuel II Monument
Vittoria Emmanuel II Monument

When you’re done in Monti, head over to the the Vittoria Emmanuel II Monument on Capitoline Hill, also known as the “typewriter” or “wedding cake” building. For views, hike up to the second floor.

For even better views, take the elevator (around the back) to the viewing terrace. It’s a fairly pricey 10 euros.

But I thought it was worth every penny. I also thought this view was better than the view from St. Peter’s Basilica because it was closer to the ancient Roman sites.

When you’re done swooning over views, head back down the stairs. Take a left at the bottom of the stairs and then another left.

view of the Roman Forum from the Vittorio Emanuel II Monument
view from the Vittorio Emanuel II Monument
Michelangelo-designed stairway to the Piazza del Campidoglio
Michelangelo-designed stairway to the Piazza del Campidoglio

A few 100 feet later, you’ll see stairway, rising to the Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of Capitoline Hill. It’s a spectacular piazza designed by Michelangelo.

Take the stairs up. At the top is the Capitoline Museums, housed in two buildings connected by an underground passage.

It contains the fantastic collection of Pope Sixtus IV, an important Renaissance patron.

Inside, are some of Rome’s greatest treasures — the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the original She-Wolf of Rome that suckled Romulus and Remus, and other ancient statues.

Click here to pre-book a skip the line ticket to the Capitoline Museums. If you’re a true fan of ancient sculpture, you can also book a guided tour of the museum.

After exiting the museum, head down the alleyway on the right side of the square under an arched building.

That will take you to a viewpoint over the Roman Forum. This is the best view you’ll have of the forum.

You should also make a quick detour to the Church of Santa Maria d’Araceli. It’s an ancient brick church. The church is mostly known for its beautiful frescos by Pinturicchio, an early Renaissance artist. 

When hunger calls after this hectic day, head to the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood. It’s just a stone’s throw away, on the banks of the Tiber River.

I just wandered around the evocative place. But you also book a guided walking tour of this historic neighborhood, if you want something more structured.

And I can recommend a great restaurant, Ba’ghetto, for dinner. This neighborhood is another excellent place to go on a guided food and wine tour. You can also book a food tour that includes both the Jewish quarter and pretty Trastevere.

Piazza Navona, a must visit landmarks with 3 days in Rome
Piazza Navona

Day 2 of 3 Days in Rome

Day 2 AM: the “Heart of Rome” Stroll

Begin day 2 of your 3 days in Rome itinerary with a classic walk through historic Rome.

You might consider booking a 3 hour walking tour to get oriented. You can also book a private walking tour of this beautiful part of Rome.

1. Campo de’Fiori

Start at Campo de’ Fiori and end at the Sopnish Steps, visiting the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon along the way.

Campo de’ Fiori is Rome’s colorful market square. It’s name means “field of flowers.”

In the center is a statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th century friar and philosopher who was burned at the stake for his scientific theories.

statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo dei Fiori
statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo dei Fiori
flower stalls at Campo dei Fiori
flower stalls at Campo dei Fiori

Here, you’ll find fresh produce and can pick up some souvenirs like olive oil, pasta, or limoncello. There’s also a cluster of galleries near Campo de’ Fiore.

2. Piazza Navona

Your next stop is the Piazza Navona.

This famous square is a long rectangle, dotted with magnificent fountains and outdoor cafes. It dates back to the time of Domitian, who used it as a racetrack.

But today’s buildings date from the 16th century. The centerpiece is the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the greatest sculptor of the Baroque.

Piazza Navona, with Borromini's Church of Sant'Agnese
Piazza Navona, with Borromini’s Church of Sant’Agnese

Don’t neglect to pop into the Church of Sant’Agnese while you’re in the piazza. This Baroque church is one of the most beautiful churches in Rome. Itwas the work of the famed architect Borromini.

The key element is the concave facade, a design of Borromini’s that revolutionized Baroque architecture.

It’s an ingenuous device, which accommodates a small space. The design allows the church to be seen from anywhere in Piazza Navona.

If you’re ready for an early lunch, try Pizzeria da Baffetto near the Piazza Navona.

the Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini in the center of the Piazza Navona
the Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini in the center of the Piazza Navona

3. Pantheon

Next, you’re off to Rome’s most famous temple, the 2,000 year old Pantheon, set in a lively piazza. This is my favorite building in Rome.

The entrance boasts massive 40 foot single piece granite columns. The pediment proclaims that Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ right hand man, built the Pantheon. In fact, it was built by Emperor Hadrian.

Inside is a magnificent dome with a giant oculus (or eye in the sky) that inspired the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. If it’s raining, water falls through the oculus and out the drains in the floor.

One of the greatest painters of the Renaissance, Raphael, is buried in the Pantheon. His tomb sports a sculpture by Lorenzo Lotti that Raphael himself commissioned.

the Pantheon, a must visit attraction with 3 days in Rome
the Pantheon

You may want to book a 1 hour guided tour of the Pantheon.

Right next to the Pantheon is the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The Minerva is a mini-museum, a hidden gem in Rome that’s definitely worth a visit.

Inside, you’ll find frescos and sculptures by some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, including Michelangelo and Bernini. And a splendid collection of medieval and Renaissance tombs of famous saints, popes, artists, and influential figures.

You can also book a guided tour of both the Pantheon and Sopra Minerva.

4. Piazza Colonna

Then stroll to the Piazza Colonna. This square features the massive Column of Marcus Aurelius carved from Carrara marble.

Reliefs wrap around the column telling stories of Marcus Aurelius’ war exploits. The exploits were exaggerated because Rome had already begun losing skirmishes with the barbarians.

the Trevi fountain with the figure "Ocean" in the center
the Trevi fountain with the figure “Ocean” in the center

5. Trevi Fountain

Further on is the famous Trevi Fountain. It’s an imposing Baroque monument designed by architect Nicola Salvi.

The fountain is 85 feet high and 65 feet wide, making it Rome’s largest fountain. In the center is the figure “Ocean.” Water pours from 24 spouts. If you’re superstitious, toss a coin over your shoulder to ensure your return to Rome.

If you didn’t lunch at Pizzeria da Baffetto near Pizza Navona, there’s a cute little hole in the wall restaurant nearby, Ristorante Sora Lucia. It serves up delicious gnocchi for locals.

the Sinking Boat Fountain in the Piazza di Spagna in front of the Spanish Steps
the Sinking Boat Fountain in the Piazza di Spagna in front of the Spanish Steps

Piccolo Buco is also a tiny and delicious pizzeria only one minute from the fountain. And Emma, a chic pizzeria, is also in the historic center.

6. Spanish Steps

After lunch, head down Via Sistina to the Spanish Steps. I think they’re a bit overrated, but the staircase is one of Rome’s iconic sites.

At the foot of the steps is another famous Bernini fountain, the Sinking Boat Fountain.

As of 2019, you can no longer sit on the Spanish Steps. It’s classified as a national monument. A new law cracked down on “bad behavior” in Rome. If you’re caught sitting on the Spanish Steps, you risk paying a € 400 fine.

You may want to come back to this area in the evening. It’s just beautiful then. You can book a 3 hour guided Rome at night tour that explores this area.

the Borghese Gallery, one of the world's greatest museums
the Borghese Gallery, one of the world’s greatest museums

Day 2 PM: Borghese Gallery

Then take in one of my favorite art museums in the world — the Borghese Gallery. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Incredible masterpieces are set in a stunning villa decorated with frescos and marble.

READ: Guide To the World’s Best Small Museums

The villa was commissioned in 1613 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to house his impressive collection of Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art. The cardinal was a fan of Bernini and helped him rise to fame.

An ardent and obsessed collector, he acquired art work unscrupulous means Scipione once stole a painting from a convent altar featuring Raphael’s famous Deposition in the dead of night.

bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese by Bernini
bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese by Bernini

You’ve got to make a reservation well in advance to visit the Borghese Gallery. Only a set number of people are allowed in every two hours. Unless it’s low season, you must leave after your time slot.

Your visit will start in the Pinacoteca, or painting gallery, on the upper floor. But budget most of your time for the first floor.

Arrive early and only carry a very small purse or bag. Everything else must be checked, no exceptions.

There are information placards in each room. But an audio guide will educate you on the must see highlights more easily.

In the Pinacoteca, you’ll find some Bernini self portraits and smaller sculptures. You’ll also find two of Raphael’s most famous works — The Deposition and Young Woman with a Unicorn. Both paintings are currently undergoing diagnostics for conservation work.

The bottom floor is overflowing with perfectly arranged masterpieces. The sculptures by Bernini, who almost single handedly invented the Barqoue style, steal the show.

The most beautiful ones are The Rape of Persephone, Apollo and Daphne, and David.

There’s also a stunning work by Antonio Canova, Pauline Borghese as Venus. And a room filled with Caravaggio’s art, including his famous David with the Head of Goliath.

Here’s my complete guide to the Borghese Gallery. You’ve got to make a pre-book a ticket well in advance to visit the Borghese Gallery. You can also book a 2 hour skip the line guided tour of this magnificent museum.

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

When you’re done admiring the art, I recommend heading over to the west side of the Borghese Gardens, towards the Piazza del Popolo.

The view from the terrace overlooking the Piazza del Popolo is quite beautiful, particularly at sunset.

There are some good restaurants near the Borghese Gallery, if you want to stay in the area for dinner.

For gourmet food, try Oliver Glowig (Michelin-starred) or Sapori del Lord Byron. For a cozy informal setting, try Girarrosto Toscano.

Alternatively, you can take a food tour in Rome at night and find out what and where the locals eat. There are several options for all interests:

view of St. Angel's Bridge and St. Peter's Basilica
view of Sant’Angelo Bridge and St. Peter’s Basilica

Day 3 of 3 Days in Rome

Day 3 AM: Vatican City

Start the final day of your 3 days in Rome with a bang by visiting Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are heart and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.

You don’t want to go to the Vatican on a weekend, ever. It’s too crowded.

So if your time in Rome falls on a Saturday or Sunday, flip flop the days of my sample itinerary around and push the Vatican to a weekday.

The Vatican holds one of the world’s greatest art collections. Some of the most famous art works on the planet are there. If you’re an art or history lover, the Vatican is a must visit attraction in Rome.

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11
Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11, in the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican

You absolutely must pre-book a skip the line ticket for the Vatican. Or else you’ll be stuck in line for hours unless it’s the dead of winter.

I’ve stood in that line before and I will never do it again. It’s tortuous.

If you want to book a guided tour, you should to be picky about which one you select. Select a tour tailored to your own interests that includes what you want to see. 

For example, one of my first visits to the Vatican I inadvertently booked a tour that didn’t include the Raphael Rooms and was disappointed. Click here to check out the Vatican tour options.

Much of the art work in the Vatican was collected by Pope Julius II. He left a staggering artistic legacy.

Julius II rebuilt St. Peters Basilica. He commissioned the Michelangelo frescos in the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael frescos in the Raphael Rooms. In 1506, he founded the Vatican Museums.

The highlight of a Vatican visit is the Sistine Chapel, adorned with frescos by famed Renaissance luminary Michelangelo. The artist spent 4 years toiling away on the 9 ceiling panels.

They depict scenes from Genesis. They seem to open up the chapel to heaven. And Michelangelo painted standing up, not laying down as legend holds.

READ: Michelangelo Guide to Florence

detail from Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel
detail from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel

In 1533, Pope Julius II summoned him back to Rome to paint The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. This fresco is more monumental in style than Michelangelo’s ceiling frescos.

In the middle, Christ is excessively youthful and floats on clouds. He’s depicted more like Apollo than the suffering bearded savior one expects.

When you’re done admiring the Vatican treasures, head to St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the most famous church in Christendom. Designed by Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo, it’s a true Renaissance masterpiece.

The dome of St. Peters, designed by Michelangelo, is the tallest in the world.

The basilica is the burial place of St. Peter and past popes. It houses the famous Bernini Baldachine altar, and Michelangelo’s tragically beautiful Pieta.

St. Peters Basilica
St. Peters Basilica
St. Peter's Square as seen from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter’s Square as seen from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s is free to enter. If you’re on your own, pick up an audio guide inside. It will take you on an hour long tour of the famous paintings and sculptures.

For just € 6, you can climb up a narrow flight of stairs to inspect the dome at close range. There’s also an elevator for € 8.

From there, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the nave below.

Continue higher to stand on the outside of the dome. This is where you have the iconic view of St. Peter’s Square and a panoramic view of Rome.

Here’s my complete guide to St. Peter’s Basilica, with tips for visiting. You can take a guided tour of St. Peters. You can only visit the underground grottos on a guided tour.

view of St. Peters from the Castle Sant'Angelo
view of St. Peters from the Castle Sant’Angelo in the late afternoon

When you’re done Vatican-ing, head to the nearby Castle Sant’Angelo. The castle is a cylindrical beauty at the end of the Sant’Angelo Bridge.

It was once Hadrian’s Masoleum. It then served as a fortress, castle, and (now) museum.

It’s worth going inside if you have more than 3 days. The terrace on top serves up stunning views of St. Peters and the surrounding area. Click here to pre-book a ticket.

But since you’ve only got a half day left, I recommend you take a taxi to Rome’s atmospheric Trastevere neighborhood.

Castle Sant'Angelo and the Bridge of Angels
Castle Sant’Angelo and the Bridge of Angels

Day 3 PM: Trastevere

On you final afternoon in Rome, head to the Trastevere neighborhood across the Tiber River.

Trastevere is a picturesque village within a city. With its pastel facades, the neighborhood has the laidback vibe of small town Italy.

Trastevere is worth lingering in. You may want to book a guided walking tour or even a fun Segway tour to get oriented.

Its lovely cobbled and cafe-lined streets are vastly quieter than the cacaphony of central Rome. If you haven’t yet had lunch, grab a delicious panini at La Proscuitteria.

Then head to Villa Farnesina, an underrated small museum in a beautiful setting. It’s only open weekdays until 2:00 pm. If you can get there at 1:00 pm, you’ll have an hour, which is all you need.

Raphael frescos in the Loggia of Psyche in the Villa Farnesina
Raphael frescos in the Loggia of Psyche in the Villa Farnesina
 Santa Maria Basilica in Trastevere, one of Rome's quaintest neighborhoods
Santa Maria Basilica in Trastevere

This sumptuously decorated villa was built in the early 1500s for one of Europe’s richest Renaissance men, Agostino Chigi. The villa has some magnificent Raphael frescos.

Click here to book a 2 hour guided tour of the lovely Villa Farnesina.

Then stroll to the Piazza di Santa Maria, which is the heart of Trastevere. Head into the Santa Maria Basilica, the oldest church dedicated to Mary in Rome.

The church itself dates from the 3rd century. But it’s outfitted with a 12th century Romanesque bell tower. Inside, in the apse, you can admire the beautiful 12th century mosaics.

Spend some time wandering the quaint alleys of Trastevere, admiring the golden and coral homes. Then visit the Church of Santa Cecelia.

READ: Guide To the Most Beautiful Churches in Rome

interior of Santa Cecelia in Trastevere
interior of Santa Cecelia in Trastevere

The exterior is a mishmash of architectural styles. But the interior is a luminous gold and cream combination.

It’s time for happy hour. Settle in for some wine at Enoteca Ferrara. If you want to eat in Trastevere, try Ombre Rosse or Pianostrada Laboratorio di Cucina.

Another restaurant I enjoyed is La Sora Lella on Isola Tiberna. It’s one of Rome’s oldest restaurants, serving up classic rustic food in a casual setting.

Trastevere is also a good place to go on a food tour in Rome or a guided walking tour in the evening.

Must Know Tips for Visiting Rome

You’ll need some tips for visiting for Rome and I give you the highlights below. You can also check out my articles about must know tips for visiting Rome and tips for visiting Italy.

1. How To Get Around Rome

Rome is a fairly walkable city. So bring comfortable shoes. I easily clocked 10 miles a day. I’m not really a fan of the metro.

It’s only 3 lines, very crowded, and known for pickpocketing. The bus system was too confusing for my taste.

I thought it was easier and fastest to use taxis, if you’re going a fair distance (like from the Vatican to Trastevere). Look for them at taxi stands.

It’s not very easy to flag them down on the street. Most will pretend they don’t take credit cards, so be sure to have cash. You can also use Uber.

Definitely don’t have a car in Rome. The drivers are very aggressive and many streets are teeny tiny.

Statue and Column of Emperor Trajan in via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome Italy
Statue and Column of Emperor Trajan in via dei Fori Imperiali

2. How To Get To Rome From The Airport

While I had decent luck with taxis oncer I was in Rome, one place you won’t fare well is Fiumicino Airport. The cabs aren’t well regulated and known to rip off tourists.

It’s easiest to arrange a private transfer with your hotel or Air Bnb host. Or book your own private transfer online.

You can also take the train. The Leonardo Express leaves every 15 minutes from the Felice Santini train station near the airport.

It drops you off in Rome’s Termini Station, which is northeast Rome. Click here to book a round trip ticket.

Gelateria del Teatro -- a great place for gelato and cannoli
Gelateria del Teatro — a great place for gelato and cannoli

3. Other Ways To Get Around Rome

There are plenty of other fun ways to explore Rome, for every interest. You might consider booking one of these tours:

2. When To Go To Rome

With a moderate climate, Rome is really a year round destination. Try to visit Rome in the off season. Rome is one of the world’s most popular cities. It can be a chaotic crowded mess.

adorable cafe in Trastevere
adorable cafe in Trastevere

If you must visit in high season, it’s essential to invest in skip the line tickets. Otherwise, the bulk of your day will be standing in lines and you won’t see nearly as much.

3. City Passes

If you’re in Rome for at least 3 days, consider purchasing the Roma Pass. For just 38 euros, you’ll have full access to public transportation, admission to two museums, and discounts on performance and exhibition tickets.

Alternatively, try the more comprehensive Omnia Rome and Vatican Card. It consists of the Roma Pass and an Omnia Card.

Most importantly, it gives you skip the line access to the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Colosseum.

Castle Sant'Angelo
Castle Sant’Angelo

4. Where To Stay In Rome

One of my personal favorites hotels in Rome is the Rome Cavalieri. The hotel has its own art collection and an art historian will give you a free tour. You will also love the J.K. Place Roma, a simply gorgeous boutique hotel.

If you’re a first timer in Rome, you may want to stay in the historic center around the Pantheon or Piazza Navona. Some good options are the Liberty Boutique Hotel, the Hotel Maalat, Deco Roma, or Hotel Hassler Roma.

If you want to stay near the Imperial ruins, Palazzo Manfredi and the Inn at The Roman Forum are excellent choices.

The terrace at the Manfredi is to die for, with breathtaking views. The Inn also has a rooftop terrace and there are even ruins inside the hotel.

If you want to stay in the quieter Monti area, which makes a great base, the Palazzo Manfredi (Colosseum views), Villa Spalletti Trivelli (Roman townhouse), and Roma Luxus (former 18th century palace) are fantastic choices.

Palazzo Manfredi
Palazzo Manfredi

5. More Than 3 Days In Rome?

If you have more than 3 days in Rome, there are plenty of other things to do in Rome.

You could:

the UNESCO-listed Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli
the UNESCO-listed Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli

6. Day Trips From Rome

If you want to day trip from Rome, there are loaded of options. Here’s my extensive guide to 25+ of the best day trips from Rome.

Some of the most popular day trips from Rome are guided tours to Pompeii, Tivoli, Orvieto and Assisi, or to Florence and Pisa. You can even day trip to Venice.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 3 days in Rome itinerary. For more information on Rome, check out some of my other in depth guides:

If you’d like to spend 3 days in Rome, pin it for later.

Pinterest pin for three days in Rome itinerary
Pinterest pin for 3 days in Rome itinerary

2 thoughts on “How To Spend 3 Days in Rome, The Perfect Three Day Itinerary”

  1. Superb, very informative, Pictures are fantastic, Appreciated the restaurant suggestions
    Liked the history of Roman emperors
    Just what I needed since I will be spending 3 days in Rome
    GRAZIE

    Don

    Reply

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