Last updated: January 2022
Ready to live your best la dolce vita in Rome? How sweet it truly is to be wandering the beautifully historic streets, piazzas and Roman ruins (not to mention gelato shops) of Italy’s famed capital, but with so much to see you might be wondering – where to start? Our tried & true travel guide to the Eternal City has you covered! Here, we give you a customizable itinerary on how to spend your best 4 nights/3 days in Rome, perfect for first-time visitors and we’d argue even for return.
On the Lama List? Everything from visiting the Colosseum to the Vatican, Rome’s best boutique hotels, where to eat & drink, plus! Where to enjoy the Eternal City’s famed, and favorite, pastime – the art of aperitivo.
All roads lead to Rome, so let’s get this journey started.
Editor’s Note: Travel is complicated right now. While there are many factors that will result in your decision of whether or not to travel, this decision is ultimately your responsibility. Travel rules, restrictions and entry/exit requirements, as well as Covid policies, are subject to change frequently. Please check with both your home country’s official advisories as well as those of Italy prior to traveling for up-to-date information.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you follow the link and make a purchase, we may get a little something in return – at no additional cost to you. This helps us keep the keyboard clicking over here so we can continue churning out helpful travel guides, features & tips!
BUT FIRST – TRAVEL INSURANCE
Whenever, and wherever, you might be traveling, travel insurance is always a good idea. We personally love SafetyWing for their transparent, easy to understand and thorough coverage starting at just $40.00 USD/month. Their two-tier coverage offers medical benefits in the event of an accident or illness while abroad, in addition to travel benefits such as compensation for delayed trips and lost luggage. Plus, all new SafetyWing policies automatically include COVID-19 coverage. Please note testing for COVID-19 is not covered unless deemed medically necessary by a physician. This means pre or post-flight tests do not count, nor do antibody tests. Find out everything you need to know about SafetyWing travel insurance, here!
TIP / WHEN IN ROME: Download and use Free Now (My Taxi) for quick, safe and affordable rides. The app is essentially the city’s answer to Uber, which you won’t find readily available here.
You’re arriving today, most likely in the afternoon, so you’ll probably want to take it relatively easy. First things first: check into your hotel and get settled! In the endless bevy of beautiful boutique hotels in Rome, here are our top picks:
Hotel Paba: This art-focused boutique hotel, paying homage to styles from Renaissance to Roaring Twenties, is located right in the heart of Rome’s bustling Monti neighborhood. Guests can expect stylish rooms, friendly staff and unlimited morning espresso – plus an authentic vintage lift transporting you back in time. The hotel is located just steps from the Colosseum (we’re talking a less than 5 minute walk) not to mention some of the city’s best restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops. Price point: $$
Hotel Cecil Rome: Right next to the Monti neighborhood you’ll find the heart of historic Rome: aptly named the Historic Center (or Centro Storico), and Hotel Cecil. Located in what is essentially ground zero for tourists, from this boutique hotel you can walk in mere minutes to many of the Eternal City’s most iconic sights: Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and more – including famed shopping hubs Via del Corso (High Street) and Via Condotti (High End). Forty-one rooms across eight room types are spacious and comfortable, outfitted with elegant, classical furnishings, soundproof windows and some with balconies. Breakfast is included, which you can enjoy on the (seasonal) rooftop terrace. Price point: $$
G-Rough: Located adjacent to beautiful Piazza Navona in Centro Storico, this decidedly chic – if not sexy – boutique hotel beckons the stylish set. Think design-focused suites merging nostalgic Italian glamour with contemporary minimalism, boasting elevated amenities such as private terraces, clawfoot tubs, Malin + Goetz bath products and luxurious king beds. Guests can further enjoy a moment of relaxation in the (guest-only) Sito Room, or head to the sleek Gallery Bar for signature cocktails and rotating art exhibits. Price point: $$$
Hotel Palazzo Manfredi: Fancy your room with a Colosseum view? This 5-star hotel not only delivers with unparalleled views of the ancient Roman amphitheater, but rooms, amenities and service to match. Housed in a former 17th-century residence, 21 rooms feature contemporary furnishings accented by classical Italian artworks (some dating as far back as the 16th-century), hardwood oak floors and marble bathrooms; some with jacuzzi baths and private terraces. Guests can enjoy inventive regional cuisine at the top floor Aroma Terrace or garden view Bistro, or head to the Court Cocktail Bar for creative libations with a view. Price point: $$$
Hotel de la Ville: (a Rocco Forte Hotel): For the ultimate Roman holiday head atop the iconic Spanish Steps to check into this 5-star luxury property, complete with spectacular vistas of the Eternal City. Located in a former 18th-century palazzo, all-suite rooms feature lavish furnishings and opulent accents, intentionally transporting you to the bygone, aristocratic era of the European Grand Tour. Looking for some R&R? After spending the day making your own grand tour of Rome, guests can unwind at the sprawling wellness center spread across two floors. A sauna, steam room, salt room, hydromassage pool and Kneipp path all await to relax, in addition to massage and treatment rooms. And for those looking to burn off last night’s pasta? A 300+ square foot gym has you covered. Speaking of pasta, don’t miss either of Hotel de la Ville’s excellent on-site restaurants: the trattoria-style Da Sistina or refined Mosaic (which happens to be helmed by Michelin-starred chef Fulvio Pierangelini). For a pre-dinner aperitivo or nightcap you’ll want to head to the alluring Julep Herbal & Vermouth Bar, or up to the Cielo Terrace for drinks with a skyline view. Price point: $$$$
Now that you’ve settled in, it’s time to head out and experience Rome’s favorite pastime! Aperitivo. Similar to happy hour, this pre-dinner ritual involves enjoying an apertif such as Italy’s quintessential Aperol Spritz or Negroni, alongside a palate teaser like charcuterie, cheese or other light bites. While you’ll find aperitivo ubiquitous throughout Rome, we’re partial to Pimm’s Good in Trastavere, Barnum Roma in Centro Storico (by bustling Campo de’ Fiori), La Bottega del Caffé in Monti, or Il Sorpasso in Prati (nearby to and thus a perfect choice post-Vatican).
Now it’s time for your first dinner in Rome, and if you’ve followed the below advice (see TIP / WHEN IN ROME) you’ll be able to waltz right in to your reserved table. And fair warning – there are many tourist-trap restaurants in Rome, especially in the Historic Center. Dine at any of these above par picks however and you’ll be enjoying authentic Roman cuisine alongside locals and fellow, in-the-know tourists alike: La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali (Monti), Ai Tre Scalini (Monti), Trattoria Vecchia Roma (Monti), Ditirambo Roma (Centro Storico/Campo de’ Fiori), Tonnarello (Trastavere), Ditta Trinchetti (Trastavere), Otello (Trastavere).
TIP / WHEN IN ROME: Make restaurant reservations! Know that lunch typically takes place between 12noon & 2pm; aperitivo starting around 7pm; dinner no earlier than 8pm (which is really tourist hour – most Romans don’t eat dinner until at least 9). Especially in Covid times, making reservations is critical to ensure your table at any of Rome’s best restaurants. The free Quandoo or TheFork apps streamline the process, or you can call (or ask your hotel to call). Not just for dinner, we highly recommend making reservations for lunch and aperitivo as well – at least a few days in advance. Trust that you’ll be thanking us when you show up and don’t have to wait in a long line, or are turned away altogether because the restaurant is fully booked. You’re welcome.
Rome Crash Course
Your first full day in Rome, what better way to get acquainted with the Eternal City than with an unforgettable crash course – Vespa style? Your day starts in the beautiful Piazza della Repubblica, where you’ll embark on a morning adventure zooming around Rome in a rare, legendary Vespa Sidecar with Vespa Sidecar Tours: created in 2018 by seasoned Rome tour guide and fabled sidecar resurrector Luca Di Trapano.
Led by Di Trapano with the assistance of in-ear audio guides, you can relax and soak in the sights while your professional Vespa driver quite literally zooms you around the Eternal City. You can choose whether to sit behind your driver or in the fanciful sidecar itself. During the immersive, whirlwind journey you’ll see everything from the iconic Trevi Fountain to St. Peter’s Square to the Colosseum, stop for a traditional cappuccino and cornetto breakfast, and even be shown spectacular city views that most tourists never see. There are so many amazing things we can say about this experience, but we’ll just leave it at this: unforgettable, fun as hell and literally the best way to see Rome – whether you’re a first-time, return or seasoned visitor.
P.S. If you’ve ever taken a Hop On, Hop Off Bus, you can think of this as it’s far superior, exhilarating, WAY cooler cousin.
Now it’s midday and lunch is definitely calling. Popular Pane e Salame rocked our world with its flavorful sandwiches and sprawling charcuterie & cheese boards (still dreaming about the truffle salame), Piccolo Buco has perfectly prepared, wood-fired pizzas (that are 100% worth the inevitable wait – you can’t make a reservation here), or for traditional handmade pasta in an elegant and refined setting, book a table at Colline Emiliane (reservations are accepted here and they’re a must). All are in the Historic Center. TIP: Ask for a table in the front of the restaurant at the latter, where you’ll be within eyesight of your pasta being freshly hand-rolled.
Wander, Shop and Museum Hop
One of the best ways to see and enjoy Rome is simply by wandering through it’s winding, storied streets. If sightseeing is on your list you’ll want to meander through the Historic Center, where you can pop into the Pantheon, gaze at the Trevi Fountain, climb the Spanish Steps (to Trinita Dei Monti Church at the top) and people-watch in Piazza del Popolo.
Don’t miss walking over to marvel at the open-air Forum of Trajan (Foro Traiano), built in the 2nd century to glorify the namesake Roman Emperor. A series of broken yet dignified columns dot the former grand square, the last, largest and most magnificent of Rome’s Imperial Forums to ever be built. A less than 10-minute walk away you can also check out the Largo di Torre Argentina, another open-air archaeological wonder. Located close to where Julius Caesar is rumored to have been killed, in this former Roman square you can view remnants of four temples, the Theater of Pompey plus – even spot a few furry, four-legged members of the cat colony that now calls the site home.
Looking to shop ’til you drop? You’ll find endless options ranging from affordable to luxury everywhere in Rome, but especially along these two primary shopping hubs: Via del Corso (High Street) and Via Condotti (High End).
When you need a break, stop in any of Rome’s beautiful piazzas to people-watch, grab a gelato or sip a spritz. Dating from the 1st century AD and featuring beautiful architecture, whimsical fountains and plenty of umbrella-accented, al fresco eateries, Piazza Navona is our personal fave. And it happens to be located right next to Campo de’ Fiori, which you’ll definitely want to check out for its bustling outdoor market.
For perhaps the most romantic wandering, however, we recommend crossing the Tiber River at the 1479 footbridge Ponte Sisto and strolling through the quaint, cobblestone alleyways of Trastavere.
While much of Rome can essentially be considered an open-air museum, you’ll also want to visit some of the city’s designated institutions. Displaying masterful collections of art, architecture and/or archaeology, these sprawling sanctuaries deserve a spot at the top of your list: Galleria Borghese (located inside the lavish, 17th-century Villa Borghese), Museo Nazionale Romano (National Roman Museum; spread across multiple locations throughout the Eternal City), Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art) and Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museum; located inside a 15th-century palace).
Aperitivo & Dinner
See above in Night 1 for recs!
Looking for a post-dinner drink? Monti is a great neighborhood for cocktail bars, including our picks Sacripant Art Gallery, Libreria Caffè Bohémien and Ex Galleria. In the Historic Center try Argot or Jerry Thomas Speakeasy for expertly mixed, late-night libations.
DAYS 2 & 3
Now that you’ve already had your Rome crash course from the Vespa Sidecar Tour on Day 1, it’s time to go in for a closer look. Days 2 & 3 are for exploring two of Rome’s most famed, can’t-miss sights: the Colosseum and Vatican City. We recommend dedicating a half day to each so as not to overdo it, meaning you’ll want to spread these across two days. Not only will you give both of these iconic attractions the attention they deserve, but you’ll have plenty of time leftover for further wandering, shopping, museum hopping, piazza lingering, aperitivo spritzing and of course – eating.
When you think of Rome, what’s one of the first symbols to materialize in your head? Aside from heaps of pasta (naturally), it’s probably the emblematic Colosseum. Taking eight years to build between 72 AD and 80 AD, this marvel of ancient Roman engineering is not only the largest amphitheater to have been built at the time – but remains the largest amphitheater still standing in the entire world today. It held a whopping 50,000+ spectators through 80 entrances and was the site of (rather intense) sporting events – primarily the ancient empire’s notorious gladiator battles.
While you can easily view the 1,900+ year old archaeological wonder at any time of day (or night), to go inside the vast arena walls requires a bit more planning. Simply turn up and you’ll be faced with a hellaciously long line. Purchase your timed, skip-the-line ticket online ahead of time and breeze right through. Your ticket not only includes entry to the Colosseum, but also the nearby Roman Forum (a once-bustling public square that now contains remnants of ancient temples and government buildings), and Palatine Hill (considered the birthplace of Rome and home to the legendary Lupercal cave).
Note the standard entry ticket mentioned above doesn’t include access to the entire Colosseum. To truly channel your inner gladiator you’ll want to explore the Arena floor as well as walk the winding tunnels and chambers of the Underground – the arena’s somber “backstage” where ancient Romans would prepare for the fight of their life. Opening to the public for the first time ever just in summer 2021, you can check out the Underground (as well as Arena) yourself with this all-access ticket.
For a truly unique experience, you can even visit the Colosseum (by guided tour only) at night.
Vatican City: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square & Basilica
Our advice for the best way to see Vatican City, the independently governed, pope-helmed city state (since 1929) located within Rome? Set your alarm and get up early!
In this itinerary we recommend starting your day with an early morning tour of the Vatican Museums. Please be aware that the only way to wander the storied halls of the Vatican Museums, nearly empty, is by booking a guided tour before regular opening hours. While there are a number of tour outfits offering this early morning access, we recommend booking directly with the Vatican Museums. In our recent experience, the museum itself offers the earliest access and most competitive prices. We personally booked and enjoyed the Prime Experience Vatican Tour, including guide-led, small group access to the Vatican Museums one hour prior to opening hours, gazing up at Michelangelo’s legendary masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel and a surprisingly impressive breakfast spread served in the Museums’ beautiful courtyard, after.
Following your visit to the Vatican Museums, you can walk approx 15 minutes to reach the adjacent, illustrious and sprawling St. Peter’s Square. This plaza is home to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest papal basilica in the world and global headquarters of the Catholic Church. It’s free to enter the Basilica itself; for an audio-guide and/or to climb the soaring dome you’ll need to purchase tickets (either in-person at the entrance to the Basilica or online here (audioguide) or here (dome).
Did you know? The colorful Swiss Guards you see patrolling the Vatican have been protecting popes here since 1506. Counting just 135 elite members, these guards make up the world’s smallest, yet no less formidable, armies.
TIP / WHEN IN ROME: If you have your heart set on seeing Pope Francis himself, you’ll want to visit Vatican City on a Wednesday (when you can witness the Papal Audience) or a Sunday (for the Angelus prayer). Accordingly these days are very busy, so if seeing the pope isn’t a priority for you – best to visit Vatican City on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
BONUS: While walking back from Vatican City, don’t miss the 2nd-century Castel Sant’Angelo. Also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, this towering cylindrical building was originally commissioned by Emperor Hadrian himself as a final resting place for his family. Later the looming fortress was converted by Rome’s popes into a castle, and is now a museum housing Roman relics, artwork and weaponry.
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