I know what you're thinking. Rome in 3 days?! Dare I say, we actually explored Rome in 2.5 days. We did and you can too! Here's my tips for how to make the most of your time while still feeling like you're on vacation, eating all the gelato, and feeling rested.
Tip 1 | Go during the off season. It's still busy, but not nearly as busy as it is during peak season. This also means you're not spending your time in queues for museums, pizza, pasta, or gelato. We highly recommend November, though our tour guide tells us February is another great off-season month.
Tip 2 | Book Vatican and Colosseum tickets at least 4 weeks+ in advance (you may need more time during peak seasons). Highly recommend the first tours of the day, so you can maximize your days exploring the rest of the city, while also experiencing these beautiful locations with the minimal amount of people possible. Bonus points are splurging on small tour groups so that your experience is more private, less chaotic, and you can hear what the tour guide is sharing. We enjoyed both tours which happened to be with ILiveItaly.
Tip 3 | Spend the extra 8 euro per person at St. Peter's Basilica to get to the top of The Dome. You'll get beautiful views of the church and the city of Rome. Bonus points: You'll get an ass and calf workout climbing nearly 600 stairs to the tippy-top. Just be sure you're committed. It's one path up and a separate path to the bottom.
Tip 4 | There is such a thing as a gelato snob. Don't waste your time or money on any other gelato other than at Giolitti or Grom. You'll be sorely disappointed. There's only one Giolitti in Rome, where there are a few more locations for Grom. If you happen to stumble upon the other Giolitti (in the Rione XX Testaccio neighborhood), you'll be presently surprised to walk into a locals only coffee shop where no one speaks English. We may have stood there and ordered 2 cappuccinos each, as each drink was only 1 euro!!
Tip 5 | And on another food related note. Google map and organize all your faves in advance. This allows you to plan your day by locations and will save time versus backtracking across the city. Here's our Google map key that works well for us: Yellow stars are for museums and historical locations. Green flags are for restaurants, cafes, and gelato spots. Hearts are for our hotels, train stations, airports. And yes, there are always more flags for food on our maps than anything else.
Tip 6 | For such a short time in the city, splurge and book your hotel as much to the center of Rome so you can walk everywhere. It will save time and allow you to do as much, or as little, as you want. We stayed at the Rome Times Hotel, which was a perfect location for us!
Tip 7: | Avoid eating at restaurants near any of the tourist areas. Rome is known for scams but they take it up a notch as evident by these poor blokes who got stuck with over a $500 bill vs $30 bill. Always ask how much things cost and push back if you don't want it or don't feel comfortable.
Tip 8 | Ordering and paying for smaller items like coffee and gelato is a bit confusing at first. Look for the cashier counter first, stand in line, order, and pay for your item. The cashier will give you a receipt. Don't lose the receipt. Then, look for the service counter and stand in that line. Give your receipt to the service attendee and they'll serve you up in a minute or two. It all seems a bit maddening but you'll quickly realize it's pretty damn efficient.
And without further adieu, here's our recommended agenda for a few days Rome.
Day 1: Arrive in Rome in the afternoon and head to your hotel. Shower, drop your stuff off, and head out for a bite to eat and to explore. If you feel inclined, take a power nap!
- Head to The Trevi Fountain for some pics at sunset, explore the Pantheon, walk around the Piazza Navona, stroll over to Osteria de Memmo for some drinks and food. Cap off the night for delicious gelato at Grom.
- 7am: Catch an uber and head to the Vatican cafe for a quick bite and coffee before the tour (the cafe is right across the street from the tour group entrance)
- 7:30-10:30am: Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica Tour. Be sure to book both together You'll get "backstage access" and you won't need to stand in separate lines
- 10:30-11:30am: Hike up to the top of The Dome of St. Peter's Basilica
- 11:30am: Quick tour of the Castle San't Angelo and grounds
- 12pm: Lunch at Ristochicco. Highly recommend their wine and Cacio de Pepe
- 1:30pm: Gelato stop at Giolitti
- 2pm: Caffeine fix and souvenirs stop at the best cafe in Rome, Sant' Eustachio Il Caffè
- 2:30-3:30pm: Walk to the Spanish Steps and explore the church at the very top of the hill
- 3:30-4:30pm: Walk throughout the Villa Borghese, a beautiful and sprawling park in the center of Rome
- 4:30pm: Head to the Borghese Gallery and Museum and grab tickets for their 5pm opening. They only sell tickets in two hour slots, and you must book in advance. Rest your feet, do a restroom stop, and grab a quick bite at their café
- 5-7pm: Explore the Borghese Gallery and Museum, note photos are not allowed. Don't forget the gorgeous garden behind the museum for a romantic stroll
- 7pm: Head back to your hotel and grab a bite to eat. Recommend the Pasta and Social International House for good food and service. They also have delicious green salads, something I found difficult to come by in the city.
- Grab some zzzz's and get ready for Day 3
- 7am: Grab a bite and head to the Colosseum for your 8am meet up
- 11:30-12:30pm: Explore the rest of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill at your leisure
- 12:30pm: Head over to the Trastevere neighborhood for lunch and shopping
- 1pm: Lunch in Trastevere, there are so many options to choose from!
- 1:30pm: Head over to Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere
- 2pm: Explore the Trastevere neighborhood
- 5pm: Drinks at Almalu Trastevere
- 6pm: Dinner at Pizzeria Ai Marmi
- 8pm: Head back to your hotel and back for the trip back home
A final tip I'd like to leave you with. The agenda above is similar to what we did. The only thing missing may be the multiple gelato stops we made each day. We'll leave that up to you. ;)