How To Spend 5 Days in Rome, the Eternal City

the Trevi fountain in Rome
the Trevi fountain in Rome

Here’s my recommended 5 days in Rome itinerary. This itinerary provides a detailed step by step guide for visiting Rome, dubbed the Eternal City. It covers Rome’s must visit attractions, historic landmarks, magnificent ruins, secret hidden gems, and possible day trips. Everything!

Endlessly inspiring and ethereal, Rome is the magical mecca of carbs and ancient architecture. It’s a grand showcase of Western civilization, full of Imperial pomp and circumstance. Rome has spent centuries accumulating layers of beauty, history, and romance — just waiting for its admirers to arrive.

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do with five days in Rome.

Day 1: Imperial Rome, Monti, Capitoline Hill

Day 2: Centro Historico, Borghese Gallery

Day 3: Vatican City, Trastevere

Day 4: Rome Hidden Gems

Day 5: Day Trip to Tivoli or Orvieto

You may be tempted to rush through Rome in fewer than 5 days. I have myself.

But Rome has so much to offer and discover — mind blowing art, charming neighborhoods, perfect wine bars. It’s better to slowly 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
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 B.C., 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 on March 15 44 B.C., 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 Rome’s first emperor.

statue of Emperor Claudius in the Round Hall of the Vatican Museums
statue of Emperor Claudius 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 reviled Emperor Nero.

Nero was an infamous and profligate ruler. 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 Roman 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 Roman Forum, Castle Sant’Angelo, and Villa Adriani in nearby Tivoli.

Eventually, as a result of military overspending, over expansion, and political instability, the Roman empire slowly crumbled. 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. But Rome rebounded from its medieval gloom, creating some of the most spectacular art and architecture of the Renaissance.

Via dei Fori Imperiali
Via dei Fori Imperiali

Five Day Itinerary for Rome

Having spent a full week rediscovering every nook and cranny of Rome on my fourth visit, I have decided ideas about the best itinerary for 5 days in Rome.

Five days is a fair amount of time to spend in Rome, especially by American standards. But, still, 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 the best things to see, do, eat, and gasp at in Rome.

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

Day 1 in Rome

Day 1 AM: Imperial Ruins

You’ll spend day 1 of your 5 days in Rome itinerary by doing the Imperial tour, 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 must see sites are the arena floor (where the action happened) and the special boxes and podiums reserved for the emperor, vestal virgins, and the senators.

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

view of the underground Colosseum
view of the underground Colosseum

On this visit, I booked a tour with The Roman Guy that included a visit to the “Hypogeum” 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 incredibly interesting. 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.

Here’s my complete guide to the Colosseum.

Domitian's Palace on Palantine Hill
Domitian’s Palace on Palantine Hill, as seen from the Circus Maximus

2. Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill has enough raw beauty and buried mystery to restore the rosy tint of Rome to any jaundiced eye. 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 palace’s luxury.

a rare surviving likeness of Emperor Nero in the Palatine Museum
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 complete guide to visiting Palatin Hill. Many of the most interesting sites can only be accessed with the S.U.P.E.R. Pass. Here’s my guide to Rome’s S.U.P.E.R. pass, which tells you exactly how to buy and use that pass.

3. The Roman Forum

After Palatine Hill, you move on to the Roman Forum, the very core of antiquity. This was where Rome shouted “Caesar has been murdered” and crowded to hear Mark Anthony’s eulogy.

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

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

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 and ruins.

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 public 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 (home to the sacred flame of Rome), 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.

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, 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 Monti’s side streets. Ai Tre Scalini is a cute local wine bar. 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.

READ: Hidden Gems in Rome

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

staircase leading up to the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio
staircase leading up to the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio

When you’re done in Monti, head over to the the Vittorio Emanuel 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 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 wonderful 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 other ancient statues.

Lion Attacking a Horse, 325-300 BC
Lion Attacking a Horse, 325-300 B.C.

Largo di Torre Argentino, the site of Caesar's assassination
Largo di Torre Argentino, the site of Caesar’s assassination

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.

On your way, try to find the Largo di Torre Argentina. These are the ruins of the Theater of Pompey, the very spot where Caesar was assassinated.

I just wandered around the evocative Jewish Ghetto. But Rick Steves has a good stroll for this neighborhood, if you want something more structured. And I can recommend a great restaurant, Ba Ghetto, for dinner.

READ: Complete Guide to the Capitoline Museums

the Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini in the center of the Piazza Navona
the stunning Piazza Navona, with Bernini fountains

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.

1. Campo de’ Fiori

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. There are also a cluster of contemporary art galleries near the Campo.

Borromini's Church of Sant'Agnese in Piazza Navona
Borromini’s Church of Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona

2. Piazza Navona

Your next stop is the Piazza Navona, sometimes called the Square of Fountains. Piazza Navona is the very symbol of Rome.

This famous square is a long rectangle, dotted with beautiful fountains designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini and outdoor cafes. It dates back to the time of Domitian, who used it as a racetrack. Today’s buildings date from the 16th century.

Be sure to pop into the beautiful Church of Sant’Agnese designed by Borromini. Borromini was an Italian architect who helped launch Roman Baroque architecture.

Sant’Agnese Church in the Piazza Navona is one of his best works. Everyone goes to Piazza Navona and admires the striking concave facade. Most people don’t step inside the church. Do it, it’s free!

Caravaggio paintings in the Contarelli Chapel
Caravaggio paintings in the Contarelli Chapel

3. Church of Sant’Agnese and St. Louis of the French

The Church of Sant’Agnese on Piazza Navona was designed by the great architect Borromini. It’s one of his best works. Everyone admires the striking concave facade, but few step inside the church.

Do it, it’s free! Pink and white marble covers the walls. The bright and simple interior is filled with Baroque statues. Beautiful frescos decorate the dome.

Just one block from Piazza Navona is the Church of St. Louis of the French. You can enter for free. The Contarelli Chapel holds three stunning Caravaggio paintings. If you’re an art lover, you can’t miss this spot.

READ: Guide To the Caravaggio Trail In Rome

the Pantheon, Rome's most ancient temple
the Pantheon, Rome’s most ancient temple

4. Pantheon

Then 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 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 drains out the floor.

Pantheon interior
Pantheon interior

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. If you’re ready to grab lunch near the Pantheon, there’s some exquisite food at La Ciambella.

Here’s my complete guide To the Pantheon.

Just one block away from the Pantheon, you should make a quick stop at the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The plain facade belies the treasures inside. The Minerva is a mini-museum, with frescos and sculptures by some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and Baroque.

Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna
Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna

5. 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.

READ: Guide to the Gorgeous Palazzo Colonna

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

6. Trevi Fountain

Further on is the famous Trevi Fountain, an imposing Baroque monument designed by architect Nicola Salvi. The fountain was immortalized in Fellin’s La Dolce Vita.

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. Over 3,000 euros are collected from the fountain daily and donated to charity.

If you didn’t lunch earlier, 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.

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

7. 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, 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 Borghese Gallery
the Borghese Gallery

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

READ: Bernini Guide to Rome

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.

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 highlights and details, here’s my complete guide to visiting the Borghese Gallery.

READ: Guide to the Best Museums in Rome

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

When you’re done admiring the exquisite art, I recommend heading over to the west side of the Borghese Gardens, towards the Piazza del Popolo. The cobbled Renaissance square is home to Rome’s north gate and its largest obelisk.

Pop into the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo to see two beautiful Caravaggio paintings for free. Climb the stairs to the Pincio Terrace (directly above the piazza at the end of Via del Corso). The view of the rooftops of Rome 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.

Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza del Popolo
Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza del Popolo

view of St. Angel's Bridge and St. Peter's Basilica
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, the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church.

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. It’s a treasure trove of cultural and religious artifacts. Some of the most famous art works on the planet are there. If you’re an art or history lover, the Vatican is an absolute must see site in Rome.

READ: Guide To the Vatican Pinacoteca

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

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 Vatican’s Raphael Rooms. In 1506, he founded the Vatican Museums.

The real 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.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

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

READ: What To See Inside the Vatican

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 Bernini’s famous Baldachine altar, a plethora of Bernini sculptures, and Michelangelo’s tragically beautiful Pieta.

READ: Complete Guide To St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Square as seen from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
the Bernini-designed 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. Click here for other ticket and tour options.

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.

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

If you want to see St. Peter’s tomb in the crypt, you need to sign up for a 1.5 hour tour of the necropolis. Only 250 visitors are allowed per day, so you need to reserve a spot well in advance.

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.

READ: Guide to Castle Sant’Angelo

enjoying Vatican City on a blustery day in Rome
enjoying Vatican City on a blustery day in Rome

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

On day 3 of your Rome itinerary, head to Trastevere. This beautiful Rome neighborhood 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
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
12th century mosaics 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.

READ: Complete Guide to Villa Farnesina

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.

Square Santa Maria in Trastevere
Square Santa Maria in Trastevere

street 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 in Trastevere, 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.

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 for history buffs — the Houses of Augustus and Livia and Nero’s Golden House, Domus Aurea.

ruins of the House of Augustus on Palatine Hill
ruins of the House of Augustus on Palatine Hill

These are relatively new archaeological sites in Rome, only open certain days a week, and often skipped by tourists. But they are absolutely fascinating and boast some of the best frescos in Rome!

1. House of Augustus

The Houses of Augustus and Livia can only be visited with Rome’s S.U.P.E.R. pass, which I mentioned above. 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 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.

READ: Complete Guide to the House of Augustus

frescos in the House of Augustus
frescos in the House of Augustus

garden frescos in the House of Livia
garden frescos in the House of Livia

2. 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 B.C., 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.

 marble floors in the ruins of Domus Transitoria
marble floors in the ruins of Domus Transitoria

3. 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
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 Domus Aurea is 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.

the Octagonal Room 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.

READ: Guide to Domus Aurea

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
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.

The collection includes pieces by Velazquez, Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian, Carracci, and Bruegel. And it has a spectacular Hall of Mirrors. The palazzo also has one of Rome’s most beautiful gardens.

READ: Guide To Rome’s Secret Palace Museums

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.

the conopus of Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli
the conopus of Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli

Day 5 in Rome

Day 5: Day Trip to Tivoli or Orvieto

I think the best and easiest day trips from Rome, via high speed train or tour, are Tivoli and Orvieto.

1. Tivoli: UNESCO Sites

While the town of Tivoli isn’t one of Italy’s most picturesque villages, Tivoli home to two magnificent 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 Rome’s 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
me at the Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa

the magnificent Fountain of the Organ at Villa d'Este
the magnificent Fountain of the Organ at Villa d’Este

2. Orvieto: Cathedral Town in Umbria

A car free haven, Orvieto is a striking hill town. There are three reasons to day trip to the capital 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.

cityscape of Orvieto
cityscape of Orvieto

Orvieto Cathedral
Orvieto Cathedral

Inside, the Chapel of San Brizio is one fo the most beautiful chapels in Italy. It has a great Renaissance 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.

Great Hall of Palazzo Colonna
Great Hall of Palazzo Colonna

3. Don’t Want To Leave Rome?

If you can’t tear yourself away from the delights of Rome, there are plenty of other things to do on day 5. For more ideas, check out my guides to Rome’s hidden gems, Rome’s secret palace museums, Rome’s best churches, and Rome’s best museums.

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.

Palazzo Barberini, an underrated museum in Rome
Palazzo Barberini, an underrated museum in Rome

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. If you’re venturing outside Rome on an Italy road trip, pick up the car on your way out of Rome.

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

Tips for Visiting Rome

Try to visit Rome in the off season. Rome is one of the world’s most popular and busiest 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
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, check out my non-generic tips for visiting Rome and 30 tips for visiting Italy.

landscape in Tuscany
landscape in Tuscany

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 5 days in Rome itinerary. You may enjoy these other articles and travel resources for Italy:

Historic Landmarks in Italy

Most Beautiful Towns in Italy

101+ Epic Experiences To Have in Italy

10 Day Itinerary for Italy

10 Day Itinerary for Tuscany

7 ways to spend 1 week in Italy

10 day itinerary from Milan to Rome

3 Day Itinerary for Florence

2 Day Itinerary for Venice

24 Hours in Milan

24 Hours in Siena

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

ultimate five days in Rome itinerary
5 days in Rome itinerary

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