3 days in Rome itinerary to make the most of a short break in the Eternal City. Main attractions and sites for the whole family in an easy to follow itinerary for all ages. Suitable for first time visitors who want to see the most famous Rome sites but have limited time available.
How to make the most of 3 days in Rome? This is the question I have been ruminating in the last few weeks.
In April, we are going to be in Rome with friends of ours and I can’t wait to show off my hometown.
I want to show them the ancient city, stroll Rome’s cobbled streets, show them the hidden corners that make Rome so unique. I want to make it special for all of them and this includes their 6 year old son, which my two kids want to show around as much I do.
I also however want not to exhaust them and this is where the issue comes in! I want them to see the city but I want them to relax.
So I have put myself to work and I came up with a family friendly itinerary for 3 days in Rome which packs in a lot but maintains a reasonable pace.
Because of the kids, I have slowed down the pace of our exploring but you can use this itinerary also without children. Whenever possible, I I gave alternative ideas to suit different ages.
Are three days enough to see Rome?
Three days in Rome are not enough to get to know the city but with clever planning you can visit some of the most famous attractions and get a sense for the atmosphere of at least the city centre.
To visit Rome in 3 days the first thing to do is to make a list of priorities and allocate time for what are your very own must sees.
In this case, I have excluded museum visits (the main ones deserve at least a morning each) in favour for strolls and neighbourhoods, especially the ancient ruins and the city centre proper.
Where to stay in Rome for sightseeing?
If you only have 3 days in Rome finding accommodation close to the main attractions is important.
For short stays, these are some family friendly hotels in Rome in good sightseeing locations (affiliate links go to reviews and prices on booking.com)
How to get around Rome
Rome is a large, sprawling city but the area covered in this itinerary is relatively compact.
For this 3 days in Rome suggestions, you will find yourself mostly walking: depending on where you stay, you may find yourself only needing to catch a bus on the second day and possibly the metro for the last recommended stop on the Aventine.
If you prefer to walk less, a good option for families can be to get a hop-on, hop-off bus tour ticket. Their routes do include some of Rome main attractions: it is worth considering especially if you have very small kids who cannot walk too long or you have any mobility issues.
Rome has an integrated ticketing system for bus/tram/metro lines. Tickets can be purchased at newsagents, metro stations and bus terminals and need to be stamped on the bus. You can find info here.
If you are staying in the centre and only need occasional bus trips, I recommend you buy the single ride tickets called BIT. Children under 10 go free when travelling with a ticket holder.
Rome in 3 days itinerary: day 1
I always start a day in Rome with a trip to the ancient city, namely the Colosseum and the Forum. They are beside each other and I truly think you cannot visit Rome and not get at least a glimpse of them.
Colosseum and Roman forum
The Colosseum is usually what steals the show. Its name comes from a colossal statue that used to be beside it but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the the theatre to be colossal because it is indeed huge!
I have visited the inside of it several times and if you have time it can be worth it but I do find the outside to be truly magnificent.
Its rows or arches, its battered white marble, the location beside the arch and the start of the via sacra are magical, even if nowadays drowned in visitors and ‘gladiators’!
The story is different for the forum.
Less impressive than the Colosseum and underwhelming for many, I find it is where the history buff truly finds interesting gems.
The forum has dreadful, almost non existent explanations and a guide is essential but if you get a good one, they can really make ancient Rome come to life. Make sure you pick one that includes the Palatine, the favorite and most scenic bit of the whole forum.
If you only have 3 days in Rome and wish to visit the archaeological area, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get skip the line tickets such as this one.
If you prefer to save time and money, an alternative is to simply stroll along via dei fori imperiali.
This is a large modern road which follows the ancient Roman city, on its both sides, and while it does not give you access to the archaeological area it gives you a good sense of what Rome must have been like.
At the opposite end of Via dei fori imperial you find piazza Venezia, a large square towered by what foreigners call ‘the wedding cake’ and Romans call ‘the typewriter’: a white, massive building in honour of to Vittorio Emanuele II, former king of Italy.
The monument catches your eye and has some interesting features including a terrace with a great view, a space for exhibitions (often excellent) and the memorial to the unknown soldier.
Just behind the Vittoriano you have the tall staircase going to the Capitol hill. Tackling the stairs is worth it (get the larger ones): at the back of the square you get a stunning view over the forum.
I am adding this stop thinking specifically about what kids and their friend love but this can work for adults too, provided you love cats!
Torre Argentina is a square with ancient Roman ruins in the centre, now closed to the public except for a small part developed as a cat sanctuary.
For the joy of feline lovers and despair of the archaeologist, this ancient Roman site now hosts a cat colony that eats sleeps and purrs in the cells of an ancient temple.
History lovers won’t find much here (despite it being the location of Caesar’s murder) but cat lovers will adore it: cats are friendly and ready for a cuddle and you can do good for them by adopting them in person or long distance.
If you don’t like cats, it is still worth making your way to this area: take a stroll along the small streets behind the square for a taste of the old Rome.
3 days in Rome itinerary day 2
My itinerary for the second day in Rome starts in St Peter’s square and spends part of the day on that side of the river.
While not far as such from the city centre proper, the Vatican does require a short hop on the bus and it is worth combining it with impressive Castel Sant’Angelo nearby.
St Peter’s square and Castel Sant’Angelo
Your day will have a very different pace if you decide to visit the Vatican museums on not. Very impressive but also very large and crowded, tackling the Vatican museum requires several hours and will take the whole morning and more.
You can read about our experience about the Vatican with kids here
Unless you are an art lover, with kids I suggest you limit the visit to the square and then spend the time to visit Castel San’t Angelo, likely to pique the interest of the kids.
You can get skip the line tickets to Castel Sant’Angelo here
To get some rest and let off steam, no place is better than Villa Borghese. This is a large beautiful park with small playgrounds, a pond with rowing boats for hire and a nice cafe and Rome zoo.
The park is vast but it’s lovely in spring and a good way to get kids entertained and outside after so much sightseeing!
Should the weather be temperamental, kids are likely to enjoy Explora children museum instead.
3 days in Rome day 3
On day tree we return to the city centre proper but we cover a slightly different area that the first day.
Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish steps
I love this part of Rome and the best way is to allow yourself to wander a get lost: start with Piazza del Pantheon, then head towards the Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps.
I always include on this day places such as Via della pace and Piazza di Pietra that are evocative and embody the Romantic Rome you have likely seen in the movies.
If you like coffee, stop at what is allegedly one of the best coffee in Rome in caffe’ tazza d’oro at the Pantheon. The thing to order here is granita: ice cold coffee with cream.
To kids, you can offer some real gelato: there are many good places in Rome but if you have a little gourmand, you can’t go wrong with one of these, located in several parts of Rome including the centre (San Crispino, gelateria del teatro, just to name a couple)!
You can spend the whole day strolling around this area but if you fancy a last, scenic goodbye to Rome, you can make your way to one last place: the Aventino terrace.
Aventino is one of the seven hills of Rome: at its feet, you get the view over the palace of the Emperors while from the top, you get a view over the whole city of Rome.
The place to be is the garden of oranges and its beautiful terrace.
If you can, stretch also your legs to the square at the very top of the hill and peek though the keyhole of the Maltese institute: it’s not only allowed but recommended: you will catch an incredible view over St Peter’s dome, framed by the institute’s manicured shrubs. A sight to remember.
I hope you enjoyed this itinerary around Rome. If you have longer in the city, don’t forget to add the many things I had to exclude from these 3 days in Rome including many of the city’s museums and some of Rome’s hidden gems. Browse our ‘Rome’ category for more ideas!
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links and if you make a purchase through them we will make a small commission at no extra cost to you.