Rome remains one of the most special destinations in the world. With its unrivaled concentration of art and history, intoxicating scenery, and vibrant people, the Eternal City dazzles at every turn. When spending 2 days in Rome you’ll definitely want to experience the evocative ruins, medieval alleys, spectacular monuments, and delectable cuisine that make Italy’s capital so alluring. Here’s our lowdown on the best things to do in Rome in two days 🙂
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Table of Contents
- 1 Getting to Rome
- 2 Is 2 Days in Rome Enough?
- 3 How to Get Around During Your 2 Days in Rome
- 4 Your Perfect 2 Days in Rome Itinerary
- 5 Is the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card Worth It?
- 6 More Than 2 Days in Rome?
- 7 Where to Stay in Rome
- 8 Rome Travel Tips
- 9 Further Reading For Your Rome Visit
- 10 More Information About Italy
Getting To Rome
If you’re traveling to Rome by air, you’ll either be flying to Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, popularly known as “Fiumicino” (FCO), or the smaller Giovanni Battista Pastine Airport, known as “Ciampino” (CIO). Fiumicino Airport is located about 30 km (18 miles) southwest of Rome where as Ciampino Airport is located approximately 20 km (12.5 miles) southeast of the city.
The easiest and quickest way to get from Fiumicino Airport to the city center is by taking the Leonardo Express. The non-stop journey lasts 32 minutes and the trains run every 15 minutes from about 06:00-23:00.
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, you can also take a bus from Fiumicino Airport to the city center of Rome. The journey from Fiumicino Airport to Termini Station (Rome city center) lasts about 45-60 minutes depending on traffic. There are about 15 transfers per day and tickets cost €7.
As there are still no direct rail connections between Ciampino Airport and the city center of Rome, the best option is to take one of the dedicated bus services. The journey from Ciampino Airport to Termini Station lasts about 40 minutes depending on traffic. There are about 10 transfers per day and tickets cost €6.
Is 2 Days Enough To See Rome?
NO. Not only is Rome a feast for the eyes, but its history spans 28 centuries making the “Eternal City” a living museum. There is simply way too much to see, too much history to explore, and too many fascinating and jumbled layers of art and beauty to admire to see it all in two days.
However, if 48 hours in Rome is all you have, you can definitely get a good dose of the city’s highlights, from outstanding museums and ancient sites to delectable Roman food.
How To Get Around During 2 Days in Rome
The best way to get around Rome is to walk – you’ll see more and will better appreciate the city. Most of the attractions we’ve included in our 2 days Rome itinerary are within comfortable walking distance of each other.
While Rome is a fabulously walkable city and walking is definitely the most pleasurable way to get around, you should definitely use public transport and save some precious time. Getting from one area to another in Rome using public transport is pretty easy and convenient.
For public transport in Rome, you can choose between the metro (subway) and buses. Rome’s public transport network also consists of trams and the urban railway but they are not really of any use for the sights we’ve covered in this itinerary.
The Rome Metro is the fastest means of transportation in the city, operating daily from 05:30-23:30 (until 01:30 on Friday and Saturday). Rome also has a comprehensive bus network and serves parts of the city where the metro doesn’t reach.
For your 2 days in Rome, you can purchase the following tickets for public transport:
- BIT (Integrated Time Ticket) – €1.50 – A single ticket valid for 100 minutes; in that time it can be used on all forms of transport, but only once on the metro)
- ROMA48 – €12.50 – Valid for unlimited use for 48 hours on all forms of transport from the moment you validate it
Rome public transport tickets are available from bars, tourist booths, convenience stores, tobacconists (called tabacchi), newspaper kiosks that display the ATAC emblem, and vending machines in all metro stations and at major bus stops.
Keep some cash and coins on you before purchasing a ticket at one of the ATAC vending machines as not all of them accept cards.
Remember to validate your ticket when you first use it. By failing to do so, you’ll be risking a hefty fine (minimum €54.90).
I wouldn’t recommend taking a taxi in Rome as it’s not necessary and you can cover all the best places by walking or with the aid of public transport. However, if you really need to take a taxi, the easiest way is to go to one of the city’s numerous taxi stands (fermata dei taxi).
Official taxis in Rome are white in color, say “Comune di Roma” on the side, and bear a “TAXI” sign on the roof. Alternatively, you can call for a taxi in Rome by calling +39 060609 (Rome city council) and +39 063570 (largest radio-taxi operator in Rome).
To find out more about how to get around Rome, check out our ultimate guide to public transport in Rome.
Your Perfect 2 Days in Rome Itinerary
Seeing the must-see attractions in Rome in 2 days requires having to rise early in the morning, good planning, and a bit of stamina, but it’s actually quite feasible. Obviously, you won’t have time to fully explore the attractions in depth.
This is a relatively packed itinerary that will eat up a good chunk of your time. Of course, everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. If you find the pace too fast, you could also easily stretch it over three days.
You really should spend your time on whatever catches your own interest. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions.
Keep in mind that you may have to modify this itinerary in case one of the days you’re in Rome happens to fall on a Sunday (when many things are closed, and those that remain open tend to operate on shorter hours) or on a Monday (when most museums are closed).
Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see in Rome over the course of 2 days:
Day 1 in Rome
Day 1 in Rome
Day 1 of this ‘2 days in Rome itinerary’ covers the highlights of ancient Rome and the historic center.
There’s simply no better place to commence your 48 hours in Rome than at the Colosseum (Colosseo), the city’s most iconic sight and one of the most photographed monuments in the world. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, this mammoth amphitheater is a veritable must-see for first-time visitors to Rome.
Begun by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and inaugurated by Titus in the year 80 AD, the Colosseum was actually built by Jewish slaves brought to Rome after the Romans suppressed their revolt in Judea.
Standing 48 meters in height, the Colosseum is elliptical in shape with a short axis of 156 meters, and a long one of 188 meters. It consists of four levels, with the bottom three levels composed of 80 arches each.
The Colosseum was once the setting for various blood sports, including gladiatorial combat, battle reenactments, animal hunts, and prisoner executions. It was used for more than 500 years, with its last recorded games held in the early 6th century.
As awesome as it is to admire from the exterior, you’ll only get a sense of how awe-inspiring the Colosseum is by taking a tour of its interior. It could accommodate around 50,000 people and spectators were seated based upon their social status, with the most elite viewers closest to the arena, and the lower class citizens higher up.
Stepping onto the arena floor in the Colosseum is a truly unforgettable experience. Let your imagination run amok and be transported back to ancient times when thousands of screaming spectators egged on the intrepid gladiators during the gruesome games.
It is now also possible to wander the Colosseum hypogeum – the intricate series of subterranean passageways beneath the wooden floor. These walkways once held cages and rooms where prisoners, animals, and gladiators waited to pass through trapdoors to enter the arena above their heads.
Practical Information for Visiting the Colosseum
The opening hours of the Colosseum vary throughout the year. However, it is open daily from 09:00–approx one hour before sunset (last admission: 1 hour before closing).
Advance booking for the Colosseum is required and no tickets are sold on-site. On your visit to the Colosseum, you can either wander inside on your own, take the audio guide tour, or join a guided tour.
You will still likely encounter lines as you have to go through airport-like security. Even if you have to stand in line, don’t worry too much as a Colosseum visit is worth the wait.
Tickets can be purchased online through the CoopCulture website, the official ticket agency for the Colosseum. Tickets cost 18 EUR but are non-refundable under any circumstances.
I like to book refundable tickets and don’t mind paying a small surcharge knowing I can always get my money back if my plans alter. I always either book through GetYourGuide or Tiqets.
Keep in mind that access to the Colosseum arena requires a special ticket. Book early as tickets tend to sell out fast.
- Click here to purchase a Full Experience ticket that grants you access to the arena of the Colosseum.
Access to the underground passages is only possible with a special ticket. The best way to experience the remains of it is by taking a Colosseum Underground Tour where a local guide fills you in about its best-kept secrets. This tour also offers access to the Colosseum arena.
2. Arch of Constantine
Standing between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino) is undoubtedly one of the most impressive civic monuments in Rome surviving from late antiquity.
This triumphal arch was erected in 315 AD by the Roman Senate to celebrate ten years of Emperor Constantine’s reign and his victory over ‘the tyrant’ Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Carved mostly out of gray and white marble, it is coated with exquisite statues and lavish motifs.
Overall, the Arch of Constantine stands 21 meters high, 26 meters wide, and is 7 meters deep. The larger central arch spans a distance of 6.5 meters and rises 11.5 meters above the ground.
While the arch’s structure was carved specifically for Constantine, most of its decorative sculptures and reliefs were taken from older monuments. For example, the statues of Dacian prisoners were taken from Trajan’s Forum while the eight rectangular reliefs in the attic were scavenged from an arch erected in 176 AD to celebrate the victories of Marcus Aurelius.
The Arch of Constantine served as the finish line for the men’s marathon event at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. The first man across the spectacularly torch-lit arch was the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who ran the entire race barefoot!
3. Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
Of all the great things to see in Rome, the Roman Forum (Foro Romano) is my favorite attraction in the Eternal City. No matter how many postcards of the Forum, you just don’t get the hype until you pass through its sprawling labyrinth of ancient ruins.
The Roman Forum is not a single historical site, but an entire complex of important structures built at the order of various rulers over several centuries.
Comprising much of ancient Rome’s most important structures, the Forum was the center of commercial, political, and religious life. It was here that triumphal processions, criminal trials, and public speeches all took place.
The Forum remained the heart of Rome from the 8th century BC to the 7th century AD. After that time, it was abandoned and plundered for so long that very little of it remains standing today.
Nevertheless, the Forum remains one of the most impressive sites surviving from antiquity and a unique window into the once-great glorious world that was Rome. It is easy to imagine ancient Romans walking on these very same paths hundreds of years ago.
Some of the best things to see in the Forum are the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Septimus Severus, the Column of Phocas, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Curia, the Temple of Vesta, and the Arch of Titus.
If you have the time, you should definitely do a quick survey of Palatine Hill. Large, green, and more of a park, the Palatine is the most pleasant and relaxing of the historic sites in Rome.
The Palatine is supposedly where the city of Rome was founded and in the days of the Roman Empire, it was the most desirable address in the city, home to aristocrats and emperors. Today, the highlights of the Palatine are majestic dwellings such as Domus Augustana, Domus Flavia, House of Livia, and the Stadium of Domitian.
The English word “palace”, the Italian “palazzo” and the French “palais” all owe their origins to the Palatine.
Practical Information for Visiting the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
The opening hours of the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill are the same as the Colosseum which means they vary throughout the year. The Roman Forum is open daily from 09:00–approx one hour before sunset (last admission: 1 hour before closing). Tickets to the Forum also include entry to the Colosseum.
Though the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill are fascinating places to explore, it can be difficult to know where to start! The area is quite vast, and given that it’s often crowded, it’s not easy to get your bearings and make sense of the ruins.
To get the most out of your visit, I strongly recommend considering doing a guided tour of the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill.
4. Capitol Square
Located on Capitoline Hill, the stately Capitol Square (Piazza del Campidoglio) was designed by Michelangelo and completed in the 17th century. The square is in the shape of a trapezoid with the Palazzo Senatorio on the longer side (the seat of the city council’s administrative offices) and the identical facades of Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori (home to the outstanding Capitoline Museums) on either side.
At the center of the piazza stands a bronze replica of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The real highlight of the square is the magnificent pavement, which features a twelve-pointed central star representing the signs of the zodiac.
Make your way down the broad Cordonata staircase to your next attraction.ee
5. Victor Emmanuel II Monument
The Victor Emmanuel II Monument (Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II) or Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria) is a grandiose white marble structure built to honor the first king of unified Italy.
Standing at a colossal 70 meters in height and 135 meters in width, the neoclassical monument completely dominates Piazza Venezia and is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Rome.
It was designed by Italian architect Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885 and features a number of elaborate symbols, fountains, friezes, staircases, columns, and statues that represent the various Italian regions geographically and allegorically.
Despite its impressive appearance, the Victor Emmanuel II Monument is reviled by many locals as much of the surrounding medieval neighborhood was destroyed to create space for its construction. For its ostentatious design and its incongruity with much of Rome’s famous architecture, the Romans have bestowed the monument with rather unflattering nicknames such as “The Typewriter” and “The Wedding Cake.”
Nevertheless, the striking white marble monument deserves to be admired. Plus, its terrace offers the most splendid sweeping views of the Eternal City in every direction.
You won’t have time to ascend the Victor Emmanuel II Monument but you can take delight in capturing some great photos of it from across the street.
For a well-deserved lunch and a break from sightseeing, you can go to Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina, a terrific Italian restaurant serving authentic Roman pastas like Cacio e Pepe and Bucatini all’Amatriciana.
7. Gelato at Frigidarium
No visit to Rome would be complete without sampling some authentic gelato. Rome is home to some excellent gelaterias and Frigidarium is one of the very best gelato shops in Rome.
For Italians, gelato is not only just about the flavors but also an art form. The gelato at Frigidarium is made from carefully sourced, high-quality ingredients and the exciting blend of innovative flavors has locals and now tourists flocking steadily in droves.
8. Jewish Ghetto
If you’re looking to visit some unique neighborhoods in Rome, you should definitely visit the Jewish Ghetto. Located in the center of the city, Rome’s Jewish Quarter today consists of only four blocks.
Rome is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world outside of the Middle East and since the 2nd century BC, Jews have been a significant presence in the Eternal City.
Rome’s ghetto was established in 1555 when Pope Paul IV’s zero-tolerance policy culminated in a papal bull ordering the confinement of the Jewish population into an enclosed area. In 1870, the Jews were finally liberated from the confines of the Ghetto.
Presently, Roman Jews number about 15,000 (though only a few hundred remain in the Ghetto) and are an integral part of civic life. Today, the Jewish Ghetto retains its Jewish heritage, and its lively streets are dotted with kosher shops, cafes, restaurants, and bakeries.
The best thing to do in the Jewish Ghetto is to simply stroll around its warren of atmospheric streets and squares which form an indelible slice of Rome’s cosmopolitan landscape.
9. Largo di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina is one of the more curious sights and overlooked sights in Rome. This busy square, which is frantic with traffic, is home to the ruins of four (Republican-era) temples and the channel of an ancient public lavatory.
It is not known to which gods the temples were consecrated, so they are known simply as temples A, B, C, and D. The site is famous for being the place Julius Caesar met his bloody and violent end in 44 BC, stabbed by a group of senators on the steps of the Theater of Pompey.
Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is just as well known for its cat shelter. Hundreds of stray cats strut and stand around like silent sentinels amongst the ruins and every day dedicated volunteer cat caretakers feed, clean, and look after the homeless felines.
10. The Pantheon
Built sometime in the early second century AD by Emperor Hadrian, and dedicated to all the ancient Roman gods, the Pantheon is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in Rome. Originally built as a private temple, it has been a working Catholic church since the seventh century and is the resting place of Italian kings and prominent Italian artists.
The Pantheon is truly a spectacular structure and its importance lies in the fact that it is by far the best-preserved of Rome’s ancient wonders. While its dark-gray portico with 16 striking granite Corinthian columns is stately and imposing, it’s really the building’s awe-inspiring domed interior that has brought it fame.
A marvel of architectural harmony and proportion, the most striking thing about the Pantheon is the remarkable unity of the building. At 43 meters, the diameter of the interior of the dome is exactly equal to its height.
The bold 8-meter wide hole at the center of the massive dome provides the only source of natural light and lends an ethereal air to the Pantheon. Most impressively, there are no visible arches or vaults to hold the whole dome up; instead, they’re hidden in the concrete of the walls of the building.
Apart from the immense size of the place, the main point of interest in the Pantheon is the tomb of Raphael, between the second and third chapel on the left.
The Pantheon stands on the atmospheric Piazza della Rotonda, which is complete with an obelisk and a baroque fountain.
Practical Information for Visiting the Pantheon
The Pantheon is open daily from 09:00-19:00 (last entry 6.30 pm). The entrance is free (only on weekdays) and costs at least 8.50 EUR on weekends. It is not necessary to make a reservation for the Pantheon if you are planning to visit on weekdays.
However, to visit the Pantheon on weekends and public holidays, it is necessary to make a reservation in advance. This means you will need to book either a Pantheon Guided Tour or a Pantheon audio guide ticket.
I strongly recommended booking your audio guide ticket or guided tour well in advance to avoid disappointment on the day.
Finally, expect to encounter lines stretching across Piazza della Rotonda every day. However, there is no question that the Pantheon is worth the wait.
11. Piazza Navona
Undoubtedly the most famous square in Rome, the iconic Piazza Navona is an absolute must-see when in Rome. Perhaps no other place in the Eternal City is as more quintessentially Roman than Piazza Navona as the square is always teeming with street artists, buskers, painters, tourists but also plenty of Romans themselves.
Piazza Navona stands on the foundations of a stadium constructed for Emperor Domitian in the 1st century AD. It was masterfully refurbished in Baroque style by Pope Innocent X in the 17th century and thus got its unique oblong-shaped appearance.
A defining feature of Piazza Navona is its trio of gushing fountains, the most famous of which is the Fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi). The rivers in question – the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio de la Plata – are represented by four huge allegorical figures that in turn represent the four continents Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.
Don’t forget to check out the marvelous Renaissance palaces surrounding the square that were once private homes to Rome’s nobility.
12. Castel Sant’ Angelo
Though you probably won’t have the time or energy to go inside, you should certainly make the trip to Castel Sant’ Angelo. Located on the right bank of the Tiber River, this former mausoleum-turned-fortress currently functions as a museum.
Catching a magnificent view of Castel Sant’ Angelo in the evening is one of the best things to do in Rome. It is best approached from across the Tiber by means of the lovely Sant’Angelo Bridge (Ponte Sant’Angelo), a pedestrian bridge adorned with statues of Saints Peter and Paul and 10 angels sculpted by Bernini.
Day 2 in Rome
Day 2 of this ‘2 days in Rome itinerary’ covers the best things to do in Vatican City, the smallest independent sovereign state in the world. Villa Borghese, and the Tridente (the northern part of Rome’s city center).
1. St. Peter’s Square
While almost every visitor to the Vatican rushes into St. Peter’s Basilica, many forget to stop and admire the equally impressive square where it’s located. St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) was laid out by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1656–67 for Pope Alexander VII.
First of all, St. Peter’s Square isn’t really a square, it is oval in shape and designed to heighten the theatrical effect for visitors. Designed in a manner that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, St. Peter’s Square can accommodate over a whopping 80,000 people.
It is graced by two freestanding colonnades, each consisting of four rows of Doric columns. With the colonnades being laid out in an elliptical manner, the piazza is a metaphor for the Catholic Church’s arms embracing and welcoming the faithful. Seen from above, St. Peter’s Square resembles a giant keyhole.
In the center of the sweeping piazza is an uninscribed 25-meter tall Egyptian obelisk, brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in AD 37. This is the only surviving Egyptian obelisk in Rome.
St. Peter’s Square is open 24/7 and is free to visit.
2. St. Peter’s Basilica
Standing at the end of St. Peter’s Square, above a triple flight of steps, is the St Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro), the church of the popes and one of the holiest sites of Christianity. The basilica is used for a number of liturgies presided over by the pope throughout the year.
Contrary to popular belief, St. Peter’s Basilica is neither the Pope’s official church nor the principal church in Roman Catholicism. In fact, it’s not even a cathedral. Although a lot of papal ceremonies take place at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome – the Pope. Considered the “mother church”, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the oldest basilica and the number one ranking church in Catholicism.
Built between 1506 and 1626, St. Peter’s was commissioned by Pope Julius II and stands over the original basilica built on the site of St. Peter’s tomb in the 2nd century. It’s a weird hotchpotch of styles, bridging the gap between the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
Taking your first step over the threshold of St. Peter’s Basilica is an unforgettable experience. Though not the most beautiful church in the world, you cannot help but gasp in awe at St. Peter’s colossal size and grandeur.
To give you an idea of how big St. Peter’s is, its interior contains 11 chapels and 45 altars! For the record, the length of the nave is 186 meters from the door to the back of the apse, while the width at the crossing is 137 meters; even at its narrowest part, the nave and aisles are 58 meters wide.
In a church of such magnificence—overpowering in its detail of gilt, mosaics, tombs, marble, paintings, and statuary—you can hardly expect much subtlety. It’s meant to be overwhelming.
As you enter the massive nave, immediately to your right, behind a protective glass partition is La Pietà, Michelangelo’s remarkable statue of Mary with the lifeless body of Christ taken from the cross, which he sculpted in 1499 when only 25. It is an incredibly moving work and the only one Michelangelo ever signed.
As you make your way down the nave, your eyes will be drawn toward Bernini’s undeniably impressive Baroque baldachin resting over the papal altar. Reaching a height of 29 meters, its spiraling bronze columns are said to have been cast from the revetments (portico ceiling decorations) of the Pantheon.
Finally, the Michelangelo-designed dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is breathtakingly imposing; it rises to a total height of 137 meters from the floor and has an internal diameter of 42 meters. Above the windows, the dome is divided into sixteen ribs and as many segments, decorated by majestic figures on six concentric rings.
For one of the best panoramic views of Rome, go up to the roof of the dome. From the roof, you can admire the arms of Bernini’s colonnade encircling St. Peter’s Square—a photo op, if ever there was one.
Practical Information for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is open daily from 07:00-19:00 (April-September), and 07:00-18:30 (October-March). The dome of St. Peter’s is open daily from 07:30-17:30 (April-September), and 07:30-16:30 (October-March).
Cost: Free entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. You will need to buy a ticket to access the viewpoint at the top of the dome of St. Peter’s. A ticket costs 8 EUR to walk up all 551 steps or 10 EUR to take the elevator up to the terrace, from where you will still need to climb 320 steps.
As with many of the top Rome attractions, if you get up super early you can beat the rush. If you arrive at St Peter’s very early in the morning, the queues, if there are any at all, will be small. Consequently, the basilica will be less crowded and you’ll get more out of your visit.
However, there are a few ways to skip the line at St. Peter’s Basilica as it can be very exhausting to wait in lines for hours on end. These are:
- Click here to book an early morning tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel
Tips for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
1. St. Peter’s Basilica has a strict dress code for both men and women: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. Avoid wearing clothing with writing or pictures that could risk giving offense. You will not be let in if you don’t come dressed appropriately.
2. Keep in mind that the climb through the double shell of the dome of St. Peter’s to the top is a fairly claustrophobic one. Plus, as there is one stairway for going up and a different one for coming down, you can’t change your mind halfway and turn back. You should skip the ascent to the dome if you’re either in ill health, uneasy with confined spaces, or acrophobic.
3. Unless you want to witness a papal audience with the Pope, avoid going to St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday mornings. The Papal Audience is held almost every Wednesday at 10:00 or 10:30 in St. Peter’s Square (in winter, it’s sometimes held indoors at Paul VI Audience Hall, which is to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica). Whenever the Pope appears in the square, the basilica closes and the crowds are substantial.
3. Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) boast one of the world’s greatest art collections. Compelling, rich, and perhaps the most exhausting museum complex in the world, the Vatican Museums are definitely a must-see when visiting Rome.
As its name suggests, the complex actually holds a collection of museums on diverse subjects, with displays of classical statuary, Renaissance painting, and Egyptian artifacts, not to mention the lavishly adorned palaces, apartments, and galleries they are housed in.
There’s no point in trying to see everything in one visit otherwise you’ll collapse from museum fatigue before you’ve even got to your most important target of interest.
With that in mind, the following are some of the must-see highlights of the Vatican Museums:
1. Pio Clementino Museum: Home to some of the best examples of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures found anywhere in the world. The adjoining Octagonal Courtyard holds two statues that proved a huge influence on Renaissance artists – the serene Apollo Belvedere and the incomparable Laocoön.
2. Pinacoteca: An absolute must-see on any visit to the Vatican Museums, the Pinacoteca houses paintings and tapestries arranged in chronological order from the 11th to the 19th centuries. Raphael’s Transfiguration and Caravaggio’s Deposition are just two of the masterpieces that you do not want to miss here.
3. Pinecone Courtyard: Designed by world-famous architect Donato Bramante, the Pinecone Courtyard is one of the things not to miss in the Vatican Museums. The Courtyard is named after the giant bronze pinecone statue that adorns the front wall of the courtyard.
4. Gallery of the Maps: Words fail to describe the beauty of the Gallery of the Maps, but I’ll try anyway! The 120-meter-long gallery contains 40 frescoes, detailing the Italian regions and the papal territories that existed during the time of Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century.
The golden barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Gallery of the Maps is a masterpiece in itself. It’s no wonder that this is often regarded as one of the best Rome Instagram spots.
5. Raphael Rooms: Probably second only to the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms are beyond doubt one of the main things to see in the Vatican Museums. The four rooms decorated by Raphael feature stunning frescoes that are among the highlights of the Renaissance.
The School of Athens fresco, representing the triumph of philosophical truth, in the Stanza della Segnatura, is the main scene-stealer.
6. Sistine Chapel: No visit to the Vatican Museums would be complete without seeing the incomparable Sistine Chapel. Painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, its multi-paneled ceiling illustrates the story of Genesis from the Creation to Noah and the Great Flood.
The realistic dynamism of the human figures and the mastery of color and light are incredible to this day.
Although it’s a common belief that Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while lying on his back, he never worked in this position. Instead, Michelangelo and his assistants actually worked while standing on a curved scaffold that Michelangelo had built himself. Due to the scaffolding’s unique design, Michelangelo often had to bend backward and paint over his head, which caused permanent damage to his eyesight and neck.
7. Spiral Staircase: Designed by Italian architect Giuseppe Momo in 1932, the so-called snail staircase consists of two intertwined stairways that curve in a double helix The staircase marks the end of the museum visit and is the route that all visitors take when leaving the building.
Practical Information for Visiting the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are open from 09:00-18:00, (Monday-Saturday, last entry at 16:00). Tickets cost 21 EUR.
On the last Sunday of every month (barring it’s a religious holiday), the Vatican Museums are open (09:00-14:00, last entry 12:30) and free for everyone. However, unless you are on a tight budget, I highly recommend you avoid going this day as the place gets mobbed.
The lines to enter the Vatican Museums are often very long. We are talking up to 3-hour waits on the busiest days. To avoid queuing up to enter the Vatican Museums, I HIGHLY recommend buying a skip-the-line ticket in advance.
If you want to visit the Vatican without the crowds, you can also opt for an amazing early morning tour. Starting bright and early at 07:15, you get to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel before they officially open to the public.
Photography: No photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel, but photos without flash are permitted elsewhere.
Just like at St. Peter’s Basilica, you have to adhere to a strict dress code when visiting the Vatican Museums. Men should avoid wearing hats, shorts, or sleeveless tops, while women are asked not to wear short skirts, shorts, or tank tops.
There are plenty of good lunch options near the Vatican. La Locanda di Pietro, Da Romolo, and Angrypig Birretta e Porchetta are some good options.
5. Borghese Gallery
After lunch, travel across town to feast your eyes on the crown jewels of Renaissance and Baroque art in the Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese). The Borghese Gallery is one of the world’s greatest small museums and is definitely worth seeing even if you’re not the biggest fan of art museums.
Housed in a magnificent 17th-century palace, the Borghese Gallery is filled with works by stalwarts such as Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian, Rubens, Canova, and Raphael. The gallery is so chock-full of amazing works of art, that it’s impossible to list them all here.
Some of the best sculptures to see at the Borghese Gallery are Canova’s salacious Venus Victrix (Pauline Borghese), Bernini’s David, and his timeless Apollo & Daphne. The latter captures the exact moment Daphne’s hands start morphing into a tree as she is fleeing from Apollo.
My absolute favorite sculpture though is The Rape of Proserpina, another one of Bernini’s masterworks. This dramatically lifelike marble sculpture perfectly illustrates Bernini’s mastery of anatomy and ability to evoke both dynamism and drama.
Some of the best paintings to see at the Borghese Gallery are Raphael’s Deposition, Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, and Caravaggio’s Self-Portrait as Bacchus.
Besides the splendid collection of sculptures and paintings, the Borghese Gallery is a work of art in itself. Don’t forget to admire its decorative ensemble of antique marbles, inlays, mosaics, stuccoes, and inserts.
Practical Information for Visiting the Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday from 09:00-19:00 (last entry at 17:45). You can only visit the Borghese Gallery with a reservation. This means you can’t just turn up, buy a ticket, and walk in.
Reservations are made for two-hour time slots, starting at 09:00. Keep in mind that the Borghese Gallery is very popular, and with only 180 visitors allowed inside every two hours, places can get booked up quickly.
Tickets cost 15 EUR and can be booked through the official website. However, this is a little confusing and tickets are non-refundable.
For an easier online ticketing option, you can also book your tickets through GetYourGuide or Tiqets. Even though they cost a bit more, this is an excellent way to buy tickets to the Borghese Gallery as it has more availability than the museum website. Plus, they offer free cancellation.
For a more immersive and insightful experience at the Borghese Gallery, consider booking a private guided tour.
6. Villa Borghese
Take a leisurely walk through Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s largest green spaces. The park functions as the city’s giant green lung and locals flock here to escape the traffic and seek a shaded area to enjoy a picnic or simply relax.
With lovely landscaped vistas, shady winding paths, cafes, little lakes, statues, and pretty flower beds, it’s a pleasure to stroll in Villa Borghese. Dotted around the park are picturesque faux temples made to look like ruins, including the Temple of Diana and the Temple of Aesculapius.
Villa Borghese is open 24/7 and is free to enter.
7. Pincio Terrace
Locals regard the Pincio Terrace (Terrazza del Pincio) as one of the most romantic spots in Rome and we concur. If serenity and bliss are what you crave, then spend some snug moments with your beloved at Pincio Terrace.
Situated directly above the lively Piazza del Popolo, the hanging Pincio Terrace is one of the best viewpoints in Rome offering some stunning vistas of the many rooftops of central Rome, St Peter’s Basilica as well as the Gianicolo Hill.
Pincio Terrace is open 24/7 and is free to enter.
8. Spanish Steps
Found at the Piazza di Spagna, the butterfly-shaped Spanish Steps (which get their name from the nearby Spanish Embassy to the Holy See) is one of the most iconic landmarks in Rome.
The Spanish Steps were constructed in the 1720s by the French and were intended as a gateway to the baroque Trinità dei Monti Church that rests atop the staircase. At the foot of the stairs, you will find the peculiar Barcaccia Fountain which features a sinking, flat-bottomed boat.
The Spanish Steps have been immortalized in several films, including the 1953 classic romantic comedy film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon.
Immensely well-liked by the locals and tourists, who gather to people-watch, relax and enjoy the charming views, the Spanish Steps are a must-visit for any traveler looking to capture postcard-perfect images of the Eternal City.
The Spanish Steps are free to visit 24/7.
Having undergone a major restoration in 2016, the once-popular art of sitting and eating on the Spanish Steps has been outlawed since 2019. Police officers patrol the steps and those caught transgressing risk a fine of 250 EUR, which can rise to 400 EUR if the steps are dirtied or damaged.
9. Trevi Fountain
Cap off your sightseeing of 2 days in Rome at the spectacular Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), undoubtedly one of the top places to visit in Rome. Almost completely dominating the tiny Piazza di Trevi (it stands 26 meters tall and 49 meters wide), the Trevi Fountain gets its name for its position at the junction of three streets (“tre vie”).
The Trevi Fountain was finished in the mid-1700s and is an exquisite example of Baroque design with a distinctly mythological character. It shows the sea-god Oceanus riding across the waves in his chariot, pulled by sea horses and horn-blowing tritons.
Considered a part of film royalty, the Trevi Fountain will perhaps be forever associated with the image of the blonde Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg wading in its waters in a revealing, strapless black evening gown in Federico Fellini’s classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita.
Don’t forget to toss a coin (with your right hand over your left shoulder) into the Trevi Fountain! Legend has it that if you do, then you will return to Rome.
Unless you go there before sunrise, you can always expect large crowds at the Trevi Fountain. However, that doesn’t take away the breathtaking beauty of the place and shouldn’t deter you from visiting.
The Trevi Fountain is free to visit 24/7.
Even though you might like to emulate Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni’s famous Trevi dip in La Dolce Vita, be forewarned that police guard the Trevi Fountain 24 hours a day to keep out movie buffs and splash-happy tourists alike. Transgressors risk a fine of up to 500 EUR.
Is the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card Worth It?
For sightseeing in Rome, the two most common travel passes that allow you to access the most important museums for free or at a discounted rate, as well as free access to public transportation are the Roma Pass and the Omnia Card.
While some city passes can be great value for money options and save you a lot of hassles with dealing with bookings, we personally feel that neither the Roma Pass nor the more expensive Omnia Card is worth the money for this itinerary. You’ll probably be better off buying tickets to the attractions individually.
More Than 2 Days in Rome?
If you have more than 2 days in Rome, there are plenty of other things to do in the city. You could –
- Visit some more historic sites like the Baths of Caracalla and the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica)
- Explore some other interesting neighborhoods in Rome like Testaccio, Monti, and Quartiere Coppedè
- Visit some low-key but excellent sights such as Palazzo Colonna, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Palazzo Barberini, and Galleria Spada
- Go on one of the many day trips from Rome to Tivoli, Ostia Antica, the coastal towns of Anzio and Nettuno, and the Etruscan sites of Cerveteri and Tarquinia
Where To Stay in Rome
Being one of the major tourist centers in the world, Rome can offer a full range of accommodations. These range from basic budget accommodations with shared bathrooms to luxury accommodations that feature palatial settings, cloud-nine comfort, stunningly beautiful rooms, panoramic rooftop terraces, and award-winning restaurants.
Deciding a neighborhood to stay in in Rome is key before your trip. If a picturesque location is your main concern, stay in one of the small hotels around Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, or Campo de’ Fiori. Many boutique hotels can be found here, as well as a number of mid-range options.
If luxury is what you crave, head to Tridente and the area east of Via del Corso, towards Via Veneto and around the Spanish Steps, or beyond the city center, where price-to-quality ratios are high.
The area around Termini Station, Rome’s main train station, is not the most attractive area, but it is well connected with the rest of the city by public transport and provides easy access to many of Rome’s top sights. Despite a few pricey choices, the area is most notable for its concentration of budget hotels and hostels.
Hostel: The RomeHello, funky and elegant, this snazzy hostel is one of the most popular hostels in town. Located just seven minutes on foot from the main train station (Termini), it is located within a 15-minute walk from the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.
Budget: Hotel Mariano, a rather plain hotel with no-frills rooms and services within 5 minutes of Termini Station and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The rooms are modest but clean. Perfect for frugal-minded travelers who just want a good bed for the night.
Budget Plus: Hotel Nord Nuova Roma, an unpretentious choice within 5 minutes of Termini Station and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Midsize bedrooms are well maintained and conservatively decorated with comfortable yet simple furniture.
Mid-range: Argentina Residenza Style Hotel, situated in the heart of Rome, this chic boutique hotel is within an easy walk of many historical monuments of Rome, including Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. Rooms are tastefully decorated and feature coffered ceilings.
Splurge: Baglioni Hotel Regina Rome, a sumptuous top-choice pick on the ritzy Via Veneto. The wonderfully decorated Art Deco rooms feature plush antique Italian furniture, Murano glass chandeliers, and silk tapestries.
Rome Travel Tips
In addition to the pointers I’ve already mentioned, here are some additional tips you should know for visiting Rome.
1. Try to visit during the shoulder season: Visit Rome in April-May or October-November if you can as these months are generally a little less busy, but still have relatively decent weather. Prices are also cheaper, and everything is a little less overwhelming.
If possible, avoid visiting Rome in the summer from late-June to early-September when the crowds are at their fullest, hotel rooms are virtually at peak season, and the climate can be oppressively hot and muggy.
2. Book tickets and tours in advance: I cannot stress this enough but Rome is on everyone’s bucket list and chances are you’ll spend a better part of the day in queues if you do not pre-purchase your tickets in advance online.
Although you will pay extra for a skip-the-line ticket, it’ll help make the most of your visit, rather than standing in 2-hour long queues to enter the most popular attractions.
3. Expect to encounter scaffolding: Restoration work is always taking place somewhere in Rome, and there is rarely any indication before you go in as to how much of the building is under wraps. It’s impossible to predict which buildings will be undergoing restoration in the near future so prepare to be disappointed – you are almost certain to come across scaffolding and barriers at some point.
4. Keep a close eye on your belongings: Be aware of petty crime like pickpocketing, especially at railway stations, markets, and crowded sites. On public transport, particularly the tourist routes, hold your handbag or rucksack in front of you and be extra vigilant over your belongings when people are jostling to get on board.
5. Ditch the heels and get your walking shoes: The streets of Rome are unevenly paved and we strongly recommend wearing comfortable footwear as a day’s sightseeing can be wearisome. Your feet will thank you by the end of the trip.
6. Don’t pay for water. Use the water fountains instead: One of the best things to know about Rome is that it’s not necessary to constantly buy plastic water bottles when you feel parched. Rome tap water is safe to drink and the city is full of drinking fountains, affectionately called “nasoni” or little noses.
The water from these water fountains is refreshingly cold! Carry a reusable water bottle along with you as you explore Rome and fill up for free as you go.
7. Public toilets and accessibility: Public restrooms are few and far between in Rome. It’s just much easier to walk into a bar/cafe and use the toilet there. Of course, you’ll be expected to buy a little something—such as a bottle of water or espresso—in exchange for access to the facilities.
In addition, toilets are free in museums and galleries.
8. Tipping: The bill usually includes service (servizio) of between 10 and 15 percent, but just ask if you’re not sure. Tipping is not obligatory, but it’s always appreciated. It’s customary to leave a small tip (from a euro to 10% of the bill) for the waiter, depending on the quality of service.
It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers – rounding up to the next euro is enough. Keep small change handy for cleaners, housekeepers, doormen, and porters.
Further Reading For Your Rome Visit
That summarizes our definitive 2 days Rome itinerary. We reckon you’ll find the following resources useful for planning your trip to Rome!
More Information About Italy
Pompeii & Herculaneum: Find out everything you need to know about visiting Pompeii & Herculaneum on your own!
Now, what do you think? How would you spend 2 days in Rome? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!