Full of archaeological and artistic treasures, it is no wonder that Rome is the 3rd most visited city in Europe and 14th in the world (as of 2014). With magnificent piazzas overflowing with fountains, statues and obelisks everywhere you look, a week could be easily spent experiencing Rome in its entirety. However, for the people who have dreamt of Rome but have been postponing the trip due to the commitment of a nine-to-five job, don’t put it off any longer, seeing it in a short span of time is possible! Welcome to the world of city breaks, you beautiful people!
There’s no real secret of how to optimize your time away, other than planning in advance what you want to get out of your short trip, i.e what you want to see/do, and being willing to walk for the vast majority of the day to achieve it. Once you’ve done this, you just need to strap on your boots ladies and gents and get walking, walking and, yes you guessed it, more walking!
My Itinerary for Rome: 48 Hours
As we wanted to make the most out of our time in Rome, this is our itinerary, based on the things that we really wanted to see. Yours may be different. Just remember to plan to make the most of your time.
Click Image to see the full breakdown of my Rome City Break Itinerary
Things to See and Do in Rome
As you can imagine, there are endless attractions and beauty to bask in. You could literally just wander around the streets of Rome for the whole two days. However, if you do want to see the ‘sights,’ here’s a summary of the main landmarks that are not to be missed!
Definitely a top ‘must see’ while in Rome, the Colosseum is an awe-inspiring experience which will blow you away. Standing in the heart of Rome, this incredible amphitheater was the exact spot where throngs of people gathered to delight in bloody gladiatorial battles and the hunting of exotic animals from conquered lands. Being present in such ancient remains built in a time where construction can only be considered now as genius, you get a real sense of “oh if these walls could talk.” Although imposing, I found it very difficult to imagine this vast structure in all its glory back in its day.
Enter…Rick Steves! If I could only give you lovely people one word of advice for your whole trip, it would be to download this guy’s app. Specializing in European travel, Mr. Steves and his audio guides were the highlights of our sightseeing experience.
He completely helped me to envisage what this arena would have looked like and how the atmosphere would have felt by using sound effects and descriptions that no tour guide could re-create. Take my word for it, do not be tempted to take a tour from one of the multiple scalpers that will approach you in the entrance queue, this free audio guide is all you need. If you need some further information, check out these Top Tips for Visiting the Colosseum.
If you’re looking for another way to experience this landmark, visiting the Colosseum is one of the most magical things to do in Rome at night!
Cost: As on 2016, €7.50 (for EU citizens 18-25) / €12 (for non EU Citizens)
Audio Guide: Free! Download Available here
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
Included in the ticket for the Colosseum is a walk around what was the residential district of the Roman aristocracy (Palatine Hill) and the original piazza (Roman Forum) of Rome. Full of preserved and restored buildings amidst fallen columns, this ancient city holds centuries of political and religious history that you can feel just by being present (again hats off to Rick Steves!). Originally a marketplace, this site continued to grow in function and extravagance to a venue that held significant events from triumphal processions and elections to public speeches and executions.
Great and influential men such as Julius Caesar himself walked these streets, which then would have been full of tremendous temples honoring every God and statues of the city’s great rulers. Being completely ignorant of Roman history, I came away feeling very overwhelmed with new knowledge and appreciation of architectural engineering, beliefs, and superstitions. If you want to learn and have fun (yes they can coincide!) then definitely make the time to visit the Roman Forum.
Cost: Entrance here is included if you purchase a ticket to the Colosseum
Vatican City was THE site I needed to see before we left, and what better day to go than on a Sunday to see the Pope’s address! Home to the head of the Catholic church, (Mr. Pope) and the site where Catholicism is governed from, this walled city is an independent state in its own right and the smallest country in the world. Hopping on the metro, we wanted to get there at 9 am for the address which actually starts at 12 pm.
I am so glad that we did because not only did we miss the queues of people that inevitably followed, but we also had the best view of St Peter’s Square as we walked in to see the magnificent St Peter’s Basilica. We stood in the unusually empty square in silence, admiring the ivory renaissance architecture all around us before making our way slowly into the chapel. Containing some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures, the chapel is spectacular any day of the week. However, I think that seeing it in use for services on a Sunday was something special.
Guided by Rick Steves, we wandered for a good hour learning about the history of the religion, succession of the popes and construction of the church, all while being surrounded by hymns and prayer. Everything was going well until we took a walk up to the lantern on top of the dome on top of the already giant building. However, it is very high and the stairs extremely narrow, so if you are acrophobic or claustrophobic, or prone to panic attacks without knowing it (true story) this activity perhaps isn’t for you.
Cost: €6 to take the stairs/ €8 to take a lift to the base of the dome
With that warning said, it was an amazing experience! Once you get past the never ending and narrowing climb to the lantern, the rewarding 360° view of Rome makes it all worthwhile. Coined as the ‘best view of Rome’, I definitely would have regretted missing out on this while on this city break. By the time my little feet safely reached the ground, hundreds of people from all over the world were gathered in St Peter’s Square waiting for that one man to appear far up in his little window. The atmosphere itself was incredible. Even if I only understood a little of the Italian blessing that we were given, being present for such an event was surreal.
If this site is also on your list of ‘must sees’ my advice would be to prioritize what you actual want to see/do there because that will dictate what day you go, e.g the Pope’s address is only on a Sunday but the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums are closed that day. Also get there early and download the audio guide!
Cost: To get in the Sistine Chapel and Museum
Full price ticket: Euro 16,00/Reduced ticket: Euro 8,00. (Every ticket reserved online has a reservation fee of Euro 4,00)
Read: Exploring Rome with kids? Check out this post to see how!
The Fontana di Trevi is the largest fountain of Baroque architecture in Rome and said to be the most beautiful fountain in the world (who knew there was a list right?). We opted to walk to the fountain in the evening courtesy of someone else’s advice and can safely say that this is how the fountain should be admired. This piece of extravagant art will always ooze prosperity, but walking around that corner to see it illuminated made it all the more striking and it took our breath away.
We did make the effort to see it again on our last day but as it is so worldwide famous, there were masses of people there and with more tourists comes more pushy guys trying to sell you things. Because of this, visiting the fountain is one of the best things to do in Rome at night because you can escape the daytime crowds and enjoy the majestic sight more intimately.
Cost: Free! But don’t forget to spare a coin for the fountain.
I’ll be honest, by now you can see that history is not my strong suit, I had never heard of this building so was oblivious to what it was and its significance. The Pantheon (Greek meaning “every God”) is a Roman temple built 2,000 years ago to honor all the gods of Pagan Rome. Still the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome, it is still a mystery how this structure survived great fires, being struck by lightning, barbarian raids and destruction in the Middle Ages. Even if you are not a fan of architecture or construction, after seeing such a remarkable monument it is extremely difficult not to appreciate the engineering of it at a time with no materials we have now.
My favorite part of this building was that it had no windows! Just a massive hole at the top of the dome. They say that when the sun hits a certain point in the sky that a beam of sunlight illuminates the middle of the temple acting as a window to heaven. Definitely, make this a stop on your travels, it’s a quick stop and free, and imagining it in its marbled ivory decor like Vatican City and the Roman Forum will help to capture the prosperity of the Roman Empire.
The beautiful “Scalina Spagna,” or Spanish Steps, might not be the most exciting thing to do in Rome but is THE place to immerse yourself in culture and watch the world go by. The widest stairway in Europe (seriously who comes up with this stuff?), the iconic climb from the Piazza di Spagna up to the Trinità dei Monti church takes 135 steps. Its unique design naturally attracts artists and painters, which in turn attracts aspiring models, and more so now, travelers and tourists. With crowds of culturally diverse people, the Spanish Steps are still to this day a traditional meeting place and the most popular site to people watch.
Although closed off for restoration, we got to sit at the Fontana della Barcaccia (“Fountain of the Ugly Boat” – no joke) and admire the whole architecture with hardly anyone around as we chose to visit it at night. The Spanish Quarter is definitely worth a visit whether just to sit on the steps and take a break from walking or to visit the designer shops, cafés or the museum dedicated to the English poet John Keats who lived and died here. If you’re looking for something a little bit less popular and off the beaten path, check out these secret places in Rome.
Other Activities/Things to do in Rome
Although we spent the whole city break doing our own walking tour of the sites, there are plenty of other ways to tick them off your list depending on what you fancy.
- Cooking Classes- When in Rome…a cooking class is a must add to your itinerary! Featuring a variety of classes, take a look at all the cooking classes in Rome offered by Cookly which is sure to make your mouth water with goodness
- Food Tours– €75 euros for a guided 4-hour walking tour of Rome’s foodie neighborhood Testaccio. The price includes all 9 food stops and 12 tastings along the tour, making your own bruschetta and seeing some of Rome’s famous landmarks. Learning about Roman history and cuisine off the beaten track, this tour is definitely for you if you want to experience Rome like a local.
- Bike Tours – So many bike tours from full day to morning or evening tours each ranging in length and difficulty. For €45 you can get involved in the Extended City Tour where you can see and learn about all the sites and main squares of Rome in just under 5 hours. If you’re looking for something more adventurous and want to save time on sightseeing, you might want to check this tour.
- Segway Tours – Oh yes, Rome by segway is now a thing and you will see countless groups huddled together or zipping onto the next site single file with their concentrating faces on. A bit more expensive but a lot more fun, for prices from €65 you could get segway training and a 3 hour tour of Rome’s best bits. Check out Italy Segway Tours!
- Day Trips – If you’re hoping to see more of Italy, you can take plenty of day trips from Rome. Whether you’d like to visit other large, bustling cities or small towns and villages, you can reach them all from glistening Roma!
Where to Stay in Rome
We stayed at the Hotel Opera Roma which was a lovely rustic hotel that provided everything you needed for a weekend stay: very clean and tidy rooms with all the necessary amenities (WIFI!) and extremely helpful receptionists if you needed any information or assistance.
The continental breakfast was the best start to our day, not just because of the chocolate iced croissants but because of the friendly waiting staff who were very polite and happily conversed with every guest as much as they could in their native language. The location was fantastic! The perfect place for adventures as it was a short walk from the Republica metro station and Termini train station.
To see prices, special deals, and read reviews, check:
Other City Break Accommodation Options
Budget: Freedom Traveller Hostel €18/night (Hostels range €5-30)
Splurge: The Inn at the Roman Forum Hotel €273/night (4/5 Star Hotels range €200-450)
Editor’s Note: Traveling around Rome? Check out our personal recommendations on the Best Places to Stay in Rome
Where to Eat in Rome – Food to Try!
During the day, we made do with our big hotel breakfast and snacks from local bakeries or convenience stores. In the evenings though, we opted to go for small family run restaurants which gave us good value for our money.
- Est Est Est! – A very lovely, local Italian restaurant. Typically family run, the place was very intimate and the atmosphere surprisingly relaxing. Pizza was amazing! – €6-8. Glass wine/draft beer -€5-6. Dessert – profiteroles €5.
- Alessio – A less local place, therefore, a little bit more pricey, Alessio had a lovely outside garden with fire heaters that made the environment very ambient. I didn’t enjoy my meal as much (I had Lasagne) but David’s Spinach Ravioli was stunning. Wouldn’t suggest going here if you were starving as the portion size is on the small side but would recommend the pasta and rosé wine! Meals were €10 each. Wine – €6. Dessert – brownie €6.
Price Break Down of this City Break Weekend in Rome
We found transport to be the most expensive and unavoidable as we stayed quite far from the airport which we could only get the train to. If you can, take the metro if you are traveling around.
- Flights & Accommodation package – €320
- Food – €60 (For two courses and wine each time)
- Transport – €30 (Return to Airport via train and metro to Ottaviano)
- Sight seeing – €13.50 (Colosseum & Roman Forum and St Peter’s Basilica)
Approximately €423 for a weekend
Like many weekend warriors, we won’t let a regular 9-5 job stop us from traveling and exploring a new place whenever we can. Although only 48 hours, our escapade allowed us to experience everything we wanted to about Rome and we came away feeling very sleepy but nevertheless satisfied. Our city breaks give us the thrill and excitement that we need once every while and we hope that these city break guides allow you to make the most of your mini adventures too!
Related: Best Ways to Travel Around Europe
How do you make the most of your weekends? Check out our other City Break Guide articles for inspiration!
- London City Break Guide
- New York City Break Guide
- Madrid City Break Guide
- Copenhagen City Break Guide