• Leslie

How To Spend 5 Days in Rome, the Eternal City

the Trevi fountain in Rome

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.

Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps

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.

statue of Julius Caesar in the Round Hall of the Vatican Museums

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.

bust of Emperor Hadrian in the National Museum of Rome

chunks of what was a massive 30 foot statue of Emperor Constantine in the Capitoline Museum

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.

Trajan's Market on the Via dei Fori Imperiali

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.

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

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!

The animal cages in the Colosseum Underground. A trap door above let the animals into the center stage.

Domitian's Palace on Palantine Hill

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.

frescos in Augustus' House on Palatine Hill

a rare surviving likeness of Emperor Nero in the Palatine Museum

The Palatine Museum also has a rare surviving bust of Emperor Nero. As I mentioned above, Nero was the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned." He was removed from power during a political coup and all images of him were destroyed.

If you want to know more about all the sites on Palatine Hill, here's my guide. Many of the most interesting sites can only be accessed with the S.U.P.E.R. Pass. Click here to read about how to buy and use that pass.

3. The Roman Forum

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

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

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.

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, just 5 minutes away. 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 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.

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome's Monti neighborhood

view from the Vittoria Emanuel "wedding cake" monument over Capitoline Hill

When you're done in Monti, head over to the the Vittoria Emanuel 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 up to the viewing terrace. It's a fairly pricey 10 euros, but I thought it was worth every penny. I personally 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. A few 100 feet later, you'll see Michelangelo's stairway, rising to the Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of Capitoline Hill.

Take the stairs up. At the top is the Capitoline Museums, housed in two buildings connected by an underground passage. Inside, are some of Rome's greatest treasures -- the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the original She-Wolf of Rome that suckled Romulus and Remus, and ancient statues.

statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Piazza del Campidoglio (the original is in the Capitoline Museum)

the Capitoline she-wolf who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome

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.

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 Rick Steve's has a good stroll for this neighborhood, if you want something more structured. And I can recommend a great restaurant, Ba'ghetto, for dinner.

the Pantheon, Rome's most ancient temple

Day 2 in Rome

Day 2 AM: the "Heart of Rome" Stroll

Begin day 2 with a classic walk through historic Rome. Start at Campo de' Fiori and end at the Spanish Steps, visiting the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon along the way.

Campo de' Fiori is Rome's colorful market square. In the center is a statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th century friar and philosopher who was imprisoned in Castle Sant'Angelo and burned at the stake for his scientific theories. Here, you'll find fresh produce and can pick up some souvenirs like olive oil, pasta, or limoncello.

Your next stop is the Piazza Navona. This famous square is a long rectangle, dotted with 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.

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

Then we'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 Hadrian.

Inside is a magnificent dome with a giant oculus (or eye in the sky) that inspired the domes of St. Peter's Basilica and the Duomo in Florence. 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.

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

Further on is the famous Trevi Fountain, 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 in Pizza Navona, you have options. There's a cute little hole in the wall restaurant nearby, Ristorante Sora Lucia, which serves up delicious gnocchi for locals. Piccolo Buco is also a tiny and delicious pizzeria only one minute from the Trevi Fountain. And La Prosciutteria serves up killer porchetta sandwiches.

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, as 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.

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

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

Day 2 PM: Borghese Gallery

After lunch, 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 filled with frescos and marble.

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, once stealing a painting from a convent altar in the dead of night.

You've got to make a reservation online 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.

Bernini, The Rape of Persephone, 1621-22 (rape meant kidnapping back then)

Bernini, David, 1624

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. If you want more, here's my complete guide to visiting the Borghese Gallery.

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. Pop into the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo to see two beautiful Caravaggio paintings for free. 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 and find out what and where the locals eat.

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

Day 3 in Rome

Day 3 AM: Vatican City

Start off day 3 in Rome with a bang by visiting Vatican City. Unless you arrive on a weekend. You don't want to go 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.

Unless you're there in winter, it's essential to have skip the line tickets or you'll wait for hours. You can book a guided tour or do a DIY through the Vatican museums with an audio guide.

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 see site in Rome.

Much of the work was collected by Pope Julius II, who left a staggering legacy. Julius rebuilt St. Peters Basilica. He commissioned Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms. In 1506, he founded the Vatican Museums.

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

The highlight of the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel, adorned with Michelangelo frescos. Michelangelo spent 4 years toiling away on the 9 ceiling panels, which depict scenes from Genesis and seem to open up the chapel to heaven. And he did it standing up, not laying down as legend holds.

In 1533, Pope Julius II summoned him back to Rome to paint The Last Judgment on the altar wall. 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, has the famous Bernini Baldachine altar, and Michelangelo's tragically beautiful Pieta.

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

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.

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.

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, papal residence, and (now) museum.

enjoying Vatican City on a blustery day in Rome

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

It's worth going inside if you're a real history buff. The Terrace of the Angel on top serves up stunning views of St. Peters and the surrounding area. From here, unless you want to burn off some pasta, I recommend taking a taxi to Rome's atmospheric Trastevere neighborhood.

Day 3 PM: Trastevere

Trastevere is a village within a city, with the laidback vibes of small town Italy. Its lovely cobbled and cafe lined streets are vastly quieter than the cacophony of central Rome. If you haven't yet had lunch, grab a delicious panini at La Proscuitteria (there's a branch in Trastevere as well).

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

12th century mosaics showing Christ and his mother flanked by saints in the 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.

Then stroll to the lively Piazza di Santa Maria, which is the heart of Trastevere. Head into the Sant 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. The exterior is a mishmash of architectural styles. But the interior is a luminous gold and cream combination.

pretty pastel buildings in Trastevere

pretty side street in Trastevere

It's time for happy hour. Settle in for some wine at Enoteca Ferrara, which has a huge wine list. You can eat here too. I had a divine puttanesca.

If you want to move on, try Ombre Rosse. 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. You've got to make reservations for both places.

ruins of the House of Augustus on Palatine Hill

Day 4 in Rome

Day 4 AM: Tour Houses of Augustus & Livia

Today, I advise focusing on two of Rome's must see restricted archaeological sites

-- the Houses of Augustus and Livia and Nero's Golden House, Domus Aurea.

These are relatively new sites, only open certain days a week, and often skipped by tourists. But they are fascinating and have some of the best frescos in Rome! They Houses of Augustus and Livia can only be visited with Rome's S.U.P.E.R. pass, which you can read about here. And you have to make a reservation online for a time slot.

The Houses of Augustus and Livia are the homes of Rome's first emperor and his wife. The House of Augustus was modest by imperial standards, especially given Augustus' enormous wealth. But he didn't want to appear as an over the top tyrant.

The House of Augustus is nonetheless celebrated for its lavish red Pompeian frescoes. They were first unveiled to the public in 2014, the 2,000 year anniversary of Augustus' death, after years of restoration. The most exquisite frescos are in the Pine Room, the Room of the Masks, and the Room of the Perspective Paintings.

frescos in the House of Augustus

garden frescos in the House of Livia

First excavated in 1839, Livia's House was attributed to her when her honorific name was found stamped on a lead pipe. Built in the first century BC, Livia's house was actually a bit larger and grander than her husband's house.

The best preserved section is the atrium and three adjoining rooms. The central room (the tablinum) was the most richly decorated. Known as the Room of Polyphemus, it had mythological frescos showing Mercury kidnapping the nymph Io.

In the dining room, there was a stunning garden fresco that made the walls almost disappear. The fresco has flowering trees, blossoms, and flying birds in delicate faded hues of purple, blue, and yellow. The original fresco was moved to the Palazzo Massimo all Terme museum. An replica is now in the House of Livia.

invalid marble floors in the ruins of Domus Transitoria

If you've bought the S.U.P.E.R. Pass and want to squeeze in another site on Palatine Hill, head to Domus Transitoria. (Again, you have to reserve a specific time slot online in advance, so be organized.) The Emperor Nero's first palace was built between 60 and 64 BC. The palace had a short life. It was destroyed in the great fire of Rome in 64 BC.

But the ruins of Domus Transitoria were recently discovered, excavated, and opened for visitors in April 2019. You enter and descend a staircase to inspect the site underground. Virtual reality headsets bring the dank place to life, allowing visitors to see vignettes of the palace in its former glory.

If you're hungry, there's a good pizzeria near Palatine Hill called La Prezzemolina. Trattoria Luzzi is excellent and isn't too far afield either.

the Golden Vault of Domus Aurea, were you'll see a virtual reality recreation

Day 4 PM: Tour Domus Aurea

The ruins of Nero's Golden House, Domus Aurea, are now open after years of excavation. Located on the Oppian Hill, you can only visit on Saturday or Sunday with a hard hat. But it's worth the effort; it's an exciting archaeological site.

Nero's Golden House was once the grandest building on earth. Built by Emperor Nero between 64-68 AD, the sprawling property covered up to 300 acres. The facade and walls were adorned with frescos, gold leaf, glass mosaics, pearls, and marble. In natural light, it had a golden hue.

But little of this wealth survived Nero's rule. As Nero's extravagance and tyranny spun out of control, rivals condemned both his reign and his emblematic palace. For a decade after his death, the palace was looted, destroyed, and filled in with brick. But the vivid frescos by the artist Famulus couldn't be pried off.

frescos in Domus Aurea

the Octagonal Room in Domus Aurea

At the end of the 15th century, the Domus Aurea was discovered by accident when a young man fell into a crevice. To his surprise, he found himself surrounded by paintings. At first, the palace ruins were thought to be caves or grottos. Artists like Michelangelo and Raphael flocked to see the ancient frescos.

In the 18th century, proper excavation of the Golden House began. The crown jewel is the Octagonal Room, which represented a revolution in architectural style and technique.

When you're done at Domus Aurea, head over to the nearby St. Peter in Chains, San Pietro in Vincoli. There, you can inspect one of Michelangelo's most riveting sculptures, the statue of Moses on the tomb of Pope Julius II.

Michelangelo's Moses sculpture in the Church of St. Peter in Chains

If you've had enough of ruins and want to skip Domus Aurea, head to one of my favorite secret gem museums, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj (pronounced Pom-fee-lee). It's simply a joy to visit, a heady blend of in situ art and magnificent 17th century architecture.

The art collection was meticulously assembled and is still owned by a powerful Italian family, the Doria Pamphilj. The museum boasts over 650 works spanning the 15th to the 18th century, including pieces by Velazquez, Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian, Carracci, and Bruegel. And it has a spectacular Hall of Mirrors.

For dinner, make a reservation at one of the most authentic and unconventional restaurants and wine bars in centro historic, Roscioli. It's a small place, but with excellent food. After a full day on the streets of Rome, you're owed a carbonara.

Day 5 in Rome

Now, it's time for a day trip. There are so many options. If you take the high speed train, you can get to bella Florence in 1:30. But that's still 3 hours of traveling, making it a rather exhausting day trip.

But if only have one day -- and Florence is irresistible with its gorgeous architectural ensemble and world famous paintings -- here are my guides to Florence's must see sites and to the Uffizi Gallery. But, honestly, Florence deserves a much longer stay.

I think the best and easiest day trips from Rome, via high speed train or tour, are Tivoli and Orvieto. Tivoli is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the sprawling Hadrian's Villa, and the comely 16th century Villa d'Este, a Renaissance retreat. You might want to book a tour, just to make it easier to visit both sites and get the historical backdrop.

If you're fond of ancient history or are ruin luster like me, you'll be fascinated and thrilled by the evocative ruins of Hadrian's Villa. If you have ruin fatigue, Villa d'Este is a playground of whimsy, topped with a frescoed villa. The gardens are to die for -- filled with sparkling fountains, moss draped grottos, and ponds filled with water lilies.

If you opt for Tivoli, you'll get back early enough to take an evening stroll through centro historic. If you want to really splash out on your final dinner, try La Pergola, with three Michelin stars, at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel. The hotel itself also has a superb art collection (you can schedule a tour with an art historian). If you want something more casual as you stroll, La Sagrestia is right near the Pantheon.

me at the Canopus of Hadrian's Villa

the magnificent Fountain of the Organ at Villa d'Este

Option two. A car free haven, Orvieto is a striking hill town. There are three reasons to day trip to the capitol of Umbria -- its beautiful cathedral with one of Italy's most exciting facades, chianti, and ceramics.

Orvieto's piece de resistance is Orvieto Cathedral. It's one of the most beautiful and ancient churches in Italy. It's a riveting ensemble of spires, spikes, golden mosaics, statuary, stained glass, and black and white striped marble. And that's just the facade.

Inside, the Chapel of San Brizio has one of the Renaissance's greatest fresco cycles by Luca Signorelli. Michelangelo came to inspect the chapel before beginning his own master work, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums. The frescos depict the usual religious themes -- temptation, damnation, and salvation.

If you opted for Orvieto, have apertivo and dinner there. For inventive cuisine, try I Sette Consoli. If you want to eat in the remains of an Etruscan tomb, reserve at Al Pozzo Etrusco.

the beautiful facade of Orvieto Cathedral

How To Get Around Rome

Rome is a fairly walkable city. So bring really comfortable shoes, especially for the uneven cobblestones. I easily clocked 10 miles a day. I'm not really a fan of Rome's metro. It's only 3 lines, very crowded, and known for pickpockets. 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.

While I had decent luck with taxis, one place you won't fare well is Fiumicino Airport. The cabs aren't well regulated and known to rip off tourists. Arrange a private transfer with your hotel or Air Bnb host. Or take the train. The Leonardo Express leaves every 15 minutes and drops you at Termini station.

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

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

Other Tips for Visiting Rome

Try to visit Rome in the off season. Rome is one of the world's most popular cities. It can be a chaotic, crowded, sweaty mess. 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.

If you’re in Rome for 5 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 at the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Colosseum.

As I mentioned, the S.U.P.E.R. Pass is essential to visit 8 of the newer restricted archaeological sites.

bridge linking Trastevere and Isola Tibernia

Be forewarned, the Vatican and many of Rome's churches have a strict dress code. If you're wearing sleeveless tops or shorts, you could be denied access. Your shoulders and knees need to be covered.

Make sure to carry cash. You'll need cash for small purchases, like gelato or espresso. Taxis also seem only to take cash.

If you're a first timer in Rome, you may want to stay in the historic center around the Pantheon or Piazza Navona. But it can be loud and crowded. If you don't mind walking, it's better to stay slightly off center. I stayed in Trastevere, which I adored. Monti would also make a good base.

For more tips, click here for my 30 tips for visiting Italy.

For more information on Rome, check out some of my other in depth guides to must see sites and museums.

Hidden Gems in Rome

Bernini Guide to Rome

Caravaggio Guide to Rome

Guide to the Best Museums in Rome

Complete Guide to Palatine Hill

Must See Archaeological Sites & Ruins

Guide to the Famed Borghese Gallery

If you'd like to spend 5 days in Rome, pin it for later.

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