Rome is one of Europe’s grandest cities. It is a showcase of ancient Western civilization, with marvels such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon.
It takes days and days to truly explore Rome. The city is enormous and it is filled with enough churches, Roman ruins, and exceptional restaurants that you could spend weeks here and never get bored. But most people don’t have weeks to spend in Rome.
If you have only two days in Rome, you have just enough time to visit some of the best spots in the city. Here’s how to do it.
2 Days in Rome
Day 1: Borghese Art Gallery and a Walk through Rome
The Borghese Art Gallery
The Borghese contains one of the best collections of art in the world. See works of art by Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, and Bernini. Even the building is an attraction.
Start your day here at 9 am, at opening time.
You can make your reservation online or call +39 06 32810. There is a €2 fee for making online reservations.
Collect your tickets a half an hour before your time slot. For a 9 am reservation, plan on arriving no later than 8:30 am. If you arrive late, even 5 minutes late, they may turn you away. We saw this happen to other people who arrived late for their reservation.
Hours: 8:30 am – 7:30 pm
Cost: €13, €20 during special exhibits, +€2 reservation fee
After your visit to the Borghese, it’s a nice stroll through the gardens that surround the art museum.
Highlights of Rome
The afternoon is spent strolling through some of Rome’s most colorful spots. The Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon all make the list. This is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Rome.
Along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities for lunch, depending on what your tastes are.
Below is a map of the walking route from the Spanish Steps to Campo de Fiori. This is essentially Rick Steves’ “Heart of Rome” walking tour, only this is in the opposite direction and we have eliminated a few of the less exciting sites.
Crypt of the Capuchin Friars
This first stop is optional. I’m including it because you almost walk past it on the way from the Borghese to the Spanish Steps.
In several small chapels underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappucchini are the skeletal remains of almost 4,000 Capuchin friars. The bones are arranged in artistic patterns. It’s morbidly fascinating and definitely an off-the-beaten-path location. Unfortunately, photographs are not permitted.
Hours: 9 am to 7 pm
Expect the Spanish Steps to be crowded midday. Because of the crowds and the large number of tourists, beware of pickpockets here.
At the top of the steps is Trinita dei Monti. From here, it’s a nice view back out over the Spanish Steps and over the rooftops of Rome.
The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s most famous icons. We were in Rome the summer of 2014, a time when many of the most popular sites were covered with scaffolding (the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the the Trinita de Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps). It was disappointing for us, but now everything should be gleaming and look almost brand new.
Fendi funded the most recent renovation, which took over one year to complete. State of the art LED lights illuminate the fountain…it must be an awesome sight to see!
Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you will be ensured a visit to Rome. This is such a popular activity that an estimated $1.5 million USD was thrown into the fountain in 2016!
Hours: Always open
The Pantheon is old. Really old. The Romans were master builders and the Pantheon is one of their most amazing accomplishments.
Construction of the Pantheon was completed around 120 AD. Just think about what this building survived…barbarian raids, wars, earthquakes, and the natural aging of 1900 years of wind, rain, and even snow. For 1300 years, this was the largest dome in the world, until the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica during the Renaissance. But the best part of the Pantheon is the oculus, the circular window in the top of the dome, the only source of light inside of the building.
When you first walk up to it, the Pantheon looks like an ancient, bulky, worn-out building. But inside, it looks surprisingly nothing like the exterior. It’s beautiful in the inside, with colorful Italian marble and the very unique lighting from the oculus.
Hours: Sunday 9 am – 5:45 pm; Monday through Saturday 9 am – 7:15 pm
This huge, colorful piazza is a joy to visit. It’s filled with cafes, fountains, and lots of people. This is a great spot to take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine while people watching.
Campo de Fiori
Similar to Piazza Navona, Campo de Fiori is smaller and filled with more stalls and shops than restaurants.
This is our final stop of the day. However, if you still have plenty of time left, consider walking across the Tiber River to Trastevere, a great neighborhood to wander and have dinner.
Day 2: Colosseum & The Vatican
Today, spend the morning exploring ancient Roman ruins at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, and then hop over to the Vatican.
How to Avoid the Crowds at the Colosseum
Lines tend to be long to get into the Colosseum, even first thing in the morning. If lines are long, you have several options: wait in line, go first to the Roman Forum (you can get a combo-ticket to later skip the Colosseum lines), or get in line for the audio-guide. If you purchase the audio-guide, you get to bypass the main lines. If even you don’t plan on using the audio guide, it may be worth paying for it if lines are very long.
We highly recommend buying your entrance ticket in advance. It costs an extra €2 per ticket for the online reservation fee, but this is worth it to avoid standing in long lines.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is the historical center of Rome. This is ancient Rome, a complex of government buildings, temples, and marketplaces from 2000 years ago.
There are several entrances into the Roman Forum. The Palatine Hill entrance on Via di San Gregorio usually has the shortest line. Enter here, and later, exit at the gate nearest the Colosseum.
The Colosseum is older than the Pantheon by roughly 40 years. In its heyday, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators would watch gladiator contests, executions, animal hunts, and the reenactments of famous battles.
Visits to the Colosseum last between one hour and three hours.
You can buy an “add-on” ticket that gets you access to the underground and the third level of the Colosseum. It costs an additional €9 and includes a 1.5-hour tour.
To buy your tickets in advance and learn more about the “add-on” ticket, visit the official Colosseum ticket office website here.
Hours: 8:30 am – one hour before sunset
Cost: €12 (+€2 online reservation fee) for the combo-ticket that gets you in to the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum
Spend the middle of the day at lunch.
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. This is where the Pope calls home.
It’s also famous among tourists for its legendary lines to get into the museums and Sistine Chapel. We are talking up to 3-hour waits on the busiest days. Midmornings tend to be the busiest time to tour the Vatican. In the afternoon, crowds tend to lessen, at least a little bit.
Consider purchasing tickets for 3 pm. This is late enough in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds, but you still have two to three hours to tour the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel, depending on the time of year.
Cost: €17, €4 online reservation fee
Hours: Monday through Saturday 9 am – 6 pm; last entry at 4 pm
Closed Sundays, except the last Sunday of the month (9 am – 2 pm, free)
Purchase your tickets online (up to 60 days in advance): biglietteriamusei.vatican.va
Dress Code: Men: no shorts. Women: no bare shoulders and no shorts or skirt shorter than knee length
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world. It is also considered to be the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture.
St. Peter’s Basilica is a separate visit from the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Like the Vatican Museums, lines can be long to enter the Basilica, however, they are not quite as legendary. Late in the day lines are shorter.
It is free to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. However, to climb to the top of the Dome, there is a fee:
- Climb 551 steps to the top of the dome: €6
- Take the elevator to the terrace, climb 320 steps to the top: €8
Is it worth it? Absolutely. Here is the view from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Cost: Free; €6 – €8 to climb the dome
Hours of the Basilica: April to September 7 am – 7 pm; October to March 7 am – 6:30 pm
The dome opens at 8 am and closes one hour before the Basilica.
Dress Code: Men: no shorts. Women: no bare shoulders and no shorts or skirt shorter than knee length
Audience with the Pope
On Wednesdays at 10:30 am, the Pope holds a general audience in St. Peter’s Square (if he is in Rome). Tickets are free. Click here for full details.
If you did not make it to Trastevere yesterday, go there tonight for dinner and drinks.
Is the Roma Pass Worth It?
The Roma Pass is a card that offers reduced prices into many sites in Rome and unlimited access to the public transportation network. The 48-hour pass gives you free access into your first site and the 72-hour pass gives you free access into your first two sites.
Price of the Roma Pass:
- 48 Hours: €28
- 72 Hours: €38.50
If you follow this itinerary, the Roma Pass is not worth it. The savings are minimal and the Roma Pass makes scheduling your Borghese reservations unnecessarily complicated.
If you plan on using the Roma Card, reservations for the Borghese Art Gallery can only be made by telephone (you cannot book online). You will need to purchase your Roma Pass before calling to make the reservation (+39 06 32810). To get the free entry with the Roma Pass, the ticket agent will need your Roma Pass number.
Then, on day two, if you have the 48-hour Roma Pass, you do not get to skip the line to the Colosseum. The 48-hour Roma Pass only gets you free, skip-the-line access to your first site. With the Roma Pass, you still need to wait in line to pick up your reduced price tickets. If you are visiting Rome during peak season, it’s worth it to pay a few extra euros and buy your Colosseum tickets in advance (which you cannot do with the Roma Pass). This could save you hours of waiting in line.
To learn more about the Roma Pass: www.romapass.it
There are several newer passes, the Turbo Pass and the Omnia Vatican and Rome Card. The passes get you access to the Vatican, but they are even more overpriced than the Roma Pass.
With More Time
If you have one or more extra days to spend in Rome and are looking for a cool, off-the-beaten-path idea, how about biking the Appian Way?
We highly recommend this activity if you are traveling with kids. It doesn’t take long for kids to grow bored with churches, art galleries, and museums. But they will probably love biking on the uneven, cobblestoned Appian Way, one of the oldest roads in the world. During our visit to Rome, this was Tyler and Kara’s favorite activity (yes, it even beat the Colosseum).
A visit to the Appian Way takes between a half to a full day, and you also have the chance to visit the San Sebastian catacombs.
Read about how to do it: Biking the Appian Way
Where to Stay
Romance al Colosseo. This beautifully decorated 3 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment is located within walking distance of the Colosseum and the Colosseo metro station. From the apartment, enjoy views over the Colosseum. This place is perfect for families, accommodating up to six people.
Ale & Niki’s Home. Located near the Vatican Museums, this is a great place to stay if you are traveling on a budget and want to stay in the heart of Rome. Multiple room types are available, including rooms that accommodate up to four people.
La Rotella nel Sacco. This is where we stayed and we had a great experience.The rooms are clean, quiet, and tastefully decorated. Margarita, our host, is very welcoming and enthusiastic about making sure you have the best experience possible during your time in Rome.
Post updated May 2018.
This concludes our two-day tour of Rome. If you have any questions or advice for our readers, comment below.
Going to Rome? Buy the Guide:
Read more about Italy:
- Italy Travel Guide
- 10 Days in Italy: 3 Amazing Itineraries
- 3 Days in Sorrento
- 15 of the Best Places to Visit in Italy
- Falling in Love with Verona
- One Perfect Day in Siena, Italy
- Racing Ironman Italy
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