How To Spend 3 Days in Rome: The Perfect Itinerary
Visiting Rome is like stepping into a giant museum. The entire city is a marvelous display of art, ruins, and rich history – all laid out for you to see in between gelato tasting and pasta eating. But Rome is also a behemoth of a city – more like multiple cities in one. Case in point: it took me three visits to finally feel like I had experienced Rome!
You definitely need some careful planning to make the most of your visit to Rome, especially if it is short. In this guide, I’m going to break down how to see the best of Rome in 3 days. This itinerary is different in terms of pace. Normally, I like to spread activities out over the 3 days, but in this case, we’ll pack a lot into day one and then slow things down for the last two days.
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The official language of Rome – and Italy as a whole – is Italian. Due to the large tourism industry, you’ll find lots of English speakers in Rome – particularly in the hospitality sector. Taxi drivers, restaurant owners, and hotel receptionists tend to speak at least some English. You’ll also find locals who speak English, French, Spanish, and other languages. So no worries if you don’t speak Italian. You can still get around Rome without hassle.
Italy is part of the European Union and the Eurozone so the Euro is the official currency. You can change money at many money exchanges throughout the city. But be careful where you change money – some of these exchanges are a huge rip-off. For instance, currency exchanges at the airport are like highway robbery; their rates are never in your favor.
My recommendation would be for you to get euros from your local bank at home before flying off to Rome. Make an estimate of how much you’ll need and take out at least some of it for public transportation, food, souvenirs, and such. Also, note that many establishments accept credit cards – mainly Visa and Mastercard so you don’t need to carry a lot of cash if you don’t want to.
Where to stay in Rome
The first time I visited Rome, I stayed at a hotel next to the Termini station, which I don’t recommend at all. The area is so sketchy, especially at night. The second time, I stayed at a hostel by Rome Tiburtina Station to an early morning bus down to Positano, on the Almafi Coast. It was far from everything though. The third time, I finally got my accommodation right.
I stayed at Hotel Trevi, a boutique hotel just a stone’s throw away from the Trevi Fountain. It was also walking distance to the Spanish Steps, the Parthenon, souvenir shops, great restaurants, and more.
My recommendation would be to stay in the historic center of Rome so that you have easy access to the top sites. The area around metro stops Spagna and Barberini are particularly great – you can find tons of affordable hotels and apartments. I usually book my accommodations through booking.com because I can always find something within my budget, and I like the flexible cancellation policy. You can use the map below to find the perfect hotel in the historic center.
Do a guided walking tour
Frankly, three days is not enough time to spend in Rome due to the sheer number of attractions to see. That’s why I would recommend you do a guided walking tour of the main historical sites in Rome to make the most use of your time.
During my most recent visit to Rome, I joined the Rome in a Day Tour by Walks of Italy. I first found out about the tour from The Blonde Abroad and the reached out to the company. They were kind enough to invite me along.
The Rome in Day Tour takes you through the highlights of Rome – including the Vatican, the Colosseum, and the Historic Center – in 7 hours and 30 minutes. I think the best thing about the tour is the convenience – there’s no need to plan anything. You just show up and enjoy the sites, the history, and the gelato. (You get free gelato as part of the tour!)
Another benefit is that you get to skip the ridiculous lines at the historical sites. For instance, 30,000 people visit the Vatican every day! Buying your ticket for the Vatican Museums at the counter would be a terrible idea; you could end up standing in line for more than two hours. The lines to The Colosseum are just as long.
Lastly, you get a local guide who knows the history behind all the sites and tells you stories about what happened there. It brings the sites to life! The tour begins at 8:45 am opposite from the Colosseum. There, you meet with your tour guide and receive your headset. Then you start the tour with a visit to the Colosseum with skip the line access. After touring the Colosseum and the Historic Center – including the Trevi Fountain and the Parthenon – you’ll take a private bus to Vatican City, the smallest country in the world. There, you’ll have a one-hour lunch break before continuing onto St. Peter’s Basilica.
Learn more about the Rome In A Day Tour with Vatican, Colosseum & Historic Center.
These are some of the must-see sites in Rome, which are all part of the tour.
The 2000-year old Colosseum has a gory history; Romans used to come here to watch people get devoured by lions or fight each other to death. Still, it’s such an important historical site, and I enjoyed learning about the history of the gladiators during the tour. I learned a lot of interesting facts about The Colosseum like the chants spectators used to make during matches and the lives of the gladiators.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is a collection of ruins from what used to be the epicenter of everyday life in ancient Rome. Here, there are remnants of important structures, such as shrines, government buildings, and temples. The Temple of Julius Ceaser is among the ruins.
The Trevi Fountain
Easily the most famous fountain in Rome, the Baroque-style Trevi Fountain is much grander than I thought. It stands at 161 feet long, towering over the entire space. They say you should throw one coin in the fountain to return to Rome, two coins to find love, and three coins to get married. If you want to throw coins or get a decent shot of the fountain, I would recommend you get there as early as possible in the morning. Otherwise, you’ll be fighting with tourists for space.
I’ll admit I had heard of the Parthenon many times, but I wasn’t exactly sure what made it so significant. I found out that it’s a temple-turned-church and one of the best-preserved buildings from Ancient Rome. Also, the artist Rafael is buried there. Yiu’ll find a display of various artworks by notable Italian artists and painters inside.
There are hundreds of piazzas in Rome, but Piazza Navona stands out in its grandeur and beauty. The main attraction is a fountain called Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the fountain of the four rivers. It represents the major rivers of four continents – Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. There are two other fountains in the square and a space that provides a great backdrop for photos.
Vittorio Emmanuel Monument
Vittorio Emanuelle was the first emperor of Rome, and this huge monument was built in his honor. Also known as the Altar of the Fatherland, this is is an important national monument for Italy – much like the National Mall in Washington DC. You can take an elevator to the top of the monument for panoramic views of Piazza Venezia, the Capitoline Hill, and the city skyline.
The Vatican Museums
I could write an entire post about visiting the Vatican because this is a separate country of its own. Most of the Vatican is not available to the public. What you do have access to are the Vatican Museums, a collection of thousands of paintings, sculptors, and artifacts that the Catholic Church has collected over thousands of years. The museums consist of many halls that connect several buildings.
The Sistine Chapel
Visiting the famous Sistine Chapel was one of the main reasons I returned to Rome for the third time. Michelangelo’s best-known work took six years to complete, and it shows. The level of detail and expansiveness of the paintings, which depict the creation of the world according to the book of Genesis, are truly incredible. Note that there’s absolutely no photography whatsoever allowed inside the chapel, which is why I don’t have any photos to share with you. There are guards placed inside to enforce that rule due to copyright issues. Also, note that you’ll be in the relatively-small chapel with a hundred people so it could start to feel claustrophobic and stuffy. Just a heads up.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the entire world. Built over the course of 120 years, it is one of the holiest sites for Catholics. It’s also the burial place of St. Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, and the point where a new pope is announced. When a new pope is chosen, smoke comes out of a chimney at the church. Then the pope comes out for the first time from the balcony to present himself to the world.
Right outside the church is an area known as St. Peter’s Square, where you’ll find a massive congregation space, fountains, a Catholic gift shop, and more. If you have Catholic friends or family, the gift shop is a great place to buy items for them, like a rosary or a small bottle of holy water. I bought my mom a rosary from there.
The Swiss Guards, pictured, watch over St. Peter’s Basilica and The Vatican as a whole. According to Rossana, the tour guide, the Swiss were appointed by Pope Julius II in the 16th century to guard the Vatican because they were the best mercenaries at the time. The tradition has stuck, and all around the Vatican you’ll see Swiss guards in their colorful uniforms.
Visit the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are another iconic site to see in Rome. At first, I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. They are just a bunch of steps, right? Not exactly. The steps were built in the 18th century to link a French church with a Spanish square. It then became a popular meeting point for Romans. Also, it attracted many artists who wanted to capture its beauty. From then on, the Spanish Steps became an iconic place in Rome.
Get gelato at Melograno
During a short break from the Rome in a Day tour, I popped into a little pizza restaurant called Melograno. They also sell gelato so I ordered one scoop of vanilla, and it was divine! You also get a free gelato with the Rome in a Day Tour so ended up having two gelatos 30 minutes apart. There are thousands of gelato shops in Rome, and I’ve sampled a handful of them. Melograno was among the best.
Explore the Trastevere neighborhood
Trastevere is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Rome. It reminds me of those idyllic paintings of the Mediterranean. Think narrow, colorful streets with flower points and ivy-covered walls. This neighborhood had a distinctly different feel from the rest of Rome – more quaint and rustic. This is the sort of place where you can meander the streets for a while.
Get pasta at Osteria de Fortunata
When I arrived in Rome, I asked my taxi driver what his favorite restaurant was. He raved about Osteria de Fortunata, talking about how the oxtail pasta was on another level. So off I went. Was it the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten? No. Was it good? Yes. There are tons of different kinds of pasta here so you could try something else if oxtail isn’t your thing.
More things to keep in mind about visiting Rome
Is Rome safe?
Rome is a generally safe city. The main thing you need to worry about is pickpocketing on the metro and other crowded tourist areas. This tend to be an issue in big, touristy cities in Europe so nothing new here. I personally have never felt unsafe or experienced any sort of threat in Rome, except during my first visit when I stayed by the Termini Station. Just practice the same common-sense tips you would elsewhere and you should be just fine.
What is the best time to visit Rome?
There is no off-season in Rome. This city is always swarming with tourists – whether you visit in January, June, or December. That said, I wouldn’t go in the months of June-August – peak travel season – due to the heat and insane crowds.
The first time I visited Rome was in June and it was so hot, I had to go back to my hotel and turn the AC on full blast. The second time was in July and it was a circus – hot and packed to the brim. The third time was in October – still crowded but the weather was milder, although it rained heavily one day. I would say the best time to visit Rome would be between the months of September to November.
How do you get around Rome?
The great thing about Rome is that you can walk to several attractions at the center – like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps – easily. For longer distances, Rome has a well-organized metro system. Ticket prices are as follows:
One-way ticket: 1.50 EUR
24-hour ticket: 7 EUR
48-hour ticket: 12.50 EUR
The reality is that, unless your accommodation is far off from the historic center, you probably won’t need to take the metro. I bought the 24-hour ticket and only used it for one trip. The rest of the time, I walked everywhere.
You can also take taxis around Rome if you don’t feel like walking. I found them to be affordable. For instance, it costs about 17 EUR to get from Rome Termini Station, the main train station in the city, to my hotel by the Trevi Fountain, a 23-minute drive.
Do you need to tip in Rome?
No, tipping is not the norm in Rome or in Italy in general. Oftentimes at restaurants, a service fee is included in your bill. Taxi drivers and other service professionals don’t expect tip. That said, if you feel that the service was great, feel free to leave something. Otherwise, a simple Grazie (thank you) will do.