How To Spend 5 Days in Rome, the Eternal City
Endlessly inspiring and ethereal, Rome is the magical mecca of carbs and ancient architecture. It's a showcase of Western civilization. Here's my 5 day itinerary for visiting Rome, aptly dubbed the Eternal City.
My itinerary provides a detailed step by step guide for visiting Rome. It covers Rome's must see sights, hidden gems, restaurants, and possible day trips.
You may be tempted to rush through Rome in fewer days. But Rome has so much to offer and discover -- historic landmarks, mind blowing art, charming neighborhoods, perfect wine bars. It's better to savor the wealth of art and cuisine that's before you.
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.
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 49 BC, 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. Chaos ensued. 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.
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.
After Nero's death, Emperor Vespasian restored peace to Rome. The empire prospered and was at its zenith under Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.
Trajan embarked on an ambitious public building program, creating landmarks that still stand today. Hadrian was also an architect. He built the Pantheon, the Temple of Venus and Roma in the forum, Castle Sant’Angelo, and Villa Adriani in Tivoli.
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 further undercut the empire, shifting 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.
Perfect 5 Day Itinerary and Travel Guide for Rome
Having spent a full week rediscovering every nook and cranny of Rome on my third visit, I have decided ideas about the best itinerary for 5 days.
Five days is a decent amount of time to spend in Rome. But there's an astonishing amount to see. You'll need a plan of attack and pre-purchased tickets if you want to hit all of Rome's key cultural sites and ramble among the rubble properly.
So channel your badass gladiator and read on for the full scoop on what to see, do, and eat in Rome.
Day 1 in Rome
Day 1 AM: Imperial Ruins
This was my third time doing the Imperial tour of Rome, which includes the iconic Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. I never tire of it. These sites can be visited with one ticket and are Rome's biggest draw.
1. The Colosseum
The 600 foot high Flavian Amphitheatre, nicknamed the Colosseum, was inaugurated in 80 A.D. with a grand 10 day festival. Since then, it's 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 top level of the Colosseum was reopened in 2017. It provides sweeping views and may be the highlight of your visit.
On this visit, I booked a tour with The Roman Guy 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 underground tour was divine. 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.
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!
2. Palatine Hill
On Palatine Hill, you can see where the rich and famous of Imperial Rome lived. 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.
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. The Augustus and Nero rooms are particularly delightful. Audiovisual displays reconstruct the palaces' luxury.