Romans say ‘A lifetime is not enough to know Rome’ and, Roman that I am, I agree. There is just so much to see in Rome, so many layers of history, beauty and so much going on in this very busy city, that you can live here all your life and still not even scratch the surface of her many secrets.
This richness sometimes makes people wonder if there is any point in going to Rome at all, if you have only a limited amount of time, but I think even just one day in Rome is well worth it. You might only get a glimpse of the better known landmarks, but you will sure fill your eyes with her beauty and will grasp something about her personality.
I left Rome 12 years ago and, since then, my love affair with the city has blossomed. I tend to think of her as a dear family member: I love her, I’ll defend her against all haters, but the best way to nurture our relationship is to take each other in small doses.
Rome is stunning, but can also be infuriating (so crowded, so disorganised): a short trip to Rome, even just one day in Rome might actually be the best way to experience it!
Now every time I go to Rome I try to visit some of my favourite parts, the parts that make me connect with her beautiful soul the most. So I have created an itinerary, which follows closely my wanderings around the city whenever I am there.
How to use this itinerary of Rome in one day:
This is not a street by street itinerary, but rather an idea of parts of Rome that can be visited, on foot, in one day. You will see that majour landmarks (St Peter’s basilica just to name one) are not included, simply because a bit further away and awkward to reach: if you have any special place you’d love to visit, I suggest you go there before you embark in the itinerary below. You’ll be pretty tired by the end of it!
Map of my Rome in one day itinerary, by wonderful travelabulous:
So, what can you realistically hope to see with one day in Rome?
The Colosseum, the Roman forum and rione Monti
I love to start my tour of Rome from the ancient part of it (it’s stunning and convenient thanks to the metro station). The Colosseum is a majour magnet for tourists and this can sometimes cause a bad first impression of the place. Indeed, the sea of baseball caps, umbrellas and ‘gladiators’ takes away from the mistique of the place, but I find the Colosseum truly stunning and a must see in Rome. The inside is interesting, but unless you have time, I suggest you skip the visit and use your time to wander around the roads in the vicinity.
From the Colosseum, you can walk down via dei fori imperiali (which is the wide road along the forum), but I prefer to take a different road and climb on top of the colle Oppio, the little hill in front of the Colosseum (just above the metro stop).
From there, you have a great view of the Colosseum and you can get a first glimpse of the cobbled streets of Rome everybody talks about. If you turn your back to the Colosseum and go left, you will find piazza San Pietro in Vincoli (with a Moses by Michelangelo and an interesting cloister inside the faculty of engineering, next door: you can peek in) and then a small passageways made of steps down to via Cavour. A very ‘Roman’ corner, and a great shortcut to avoid the crowds while heading back to the forum.
Across via Cavour there is a lovely area of the city all Romans are very fond of. It’s called rione Monti (rione means area) and is an old area of Rome full of restaurants, wine bars, vintage and knick-knack shops. I personally love this part of town and the many bar make it a great stop for a quick coffee.
Back on via dei fori imperiali, it only takes a few minutes to walk to piazza Venezia. This is a busy but historically important piazza: from sinister Palazzo Venezia, Mussolini used to reel the crowds and declared the beginning of the II world war.
The most impressive monument here is il Vittoriano: Romans have a love-hate relationship with it – it’s very much a symbol of the city, but its awkward shape can’t be denied. We call it: the typewriter. Romans are known for their cynicism and also for being quite fussy when it comes to aesthetics!
Spanish steps and fontana di Trevi
If you want to visit the Spanish steps and fontana di Trevi, you can do so from piazza Venezia, walking. To be honest, I don’t go here often: I find they get easily overwhelmed by the crowds and Piazza di Spagna is also a well-known pickpockets paradise. But both spots are beautiful and if you are there in the early morning, or in the evening, it’s definitely worth a stop: I sometimes go there after window shopping along via dei Condotti.
From there, you might stretch all the way to piazza del popolo: if you saw ‘Angels and Demons’, you will find some familiar spots!
Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori
By far, my favourite part of Rome city centre. You can reach this part of town straight from Piazza Venezia (in this case, go through Piazza Margana and Piazza di Pietra) or from the Spanish steps.
Piazza del Pantheon and the adjacent piazza della Minerva are where you find small winding streets, dusty cafes, gelaterie and as many churches as your imagination can think of!
This part of the city is so packed with things to see the best way to enjoy it is just to get lost with your nose in the air.
It’s also the home of some of the best food in Rome: make sure you stop at ‘caffe’ tazza d’oro’ for a granita or in Piazza Sant’Eustachio for, allegedly, the best coffee in Rome!
Not far from the Pantheon there are two more amazing squares that you should definitely include in your day: piazza campo de fiori and piazza Navona. These are impressive squares with very different vibes: campo de’ fiori hosts a market in the morning, it is hustling and bustling and has the feeling of a medieval square. It’s overlooked by the statue of Giordano Bruno, who lost his life here defending science and the light of reason. It’s a fantastic place to visit in the morning if you like the buzz of a market, but I find it even more pleasant in the evening: it has plenty of wine bars and, whenever I can, I go there for a glass of red and always interesting people watching.
Piazza Navona is more monumental and touristy: I love it and always marvel at how beautiful it is, but during the day it gets really crowded (think selfie sticks…) and I find the many tourist-menus restaurants there off-putting. If you go there (and I think you should), make sure you look at the stunning ‘fountain of the four rivers’ and then head to piazza del teatro, nearby, for fabulous ice cream.
By the time you have seen all this you are likely to be exhausted, but if your feet allow, I think you should cross the river and head to Trastevere.
Trastevere is often described as the most authentic part of Rome and I think this is true to a point: less monumental than the city centre, it has a lovely student-y, arts-y vibe and feels less posh than many other parts of Rome. Still, don’t let the dusty streets deceit you: it’s not cheap to live here and tourism has discovered Trastevere a good while ago. Still, it remains one of the nicest areas for a dinner out and I think a great way to end the day, especially if in front of a pizza!
So, this is my itinerary for Rome in one day. Will your feet ache by the end of the day? Absolutely yes. Will you have seen everything Rome has to offer? Not even close. But it will be a start and I am pretty sure it will make you want to come back to Rome and spend there at least some of that lifetime we Romans go on about.
What is your favourite part of Rome?