3 days in Rome itinerary to make the most of a short break in the Eternal City. Suitable for first time visitors who want to see the most famous Rome sites but have limited time available.
How many days in Rome are enough? This is a question almost every traveller has to face when planning an itinerary through Italy, when time and things to see seem to clash to an irreconcilable extent.
I believe you need at least 3 days to see the Eternal City: in this time, you will not see ‘everything’ but if you follow a good itinerary you will see enough to get a sense of the city and to be able to say you have actually been there.
This is my recommended 3 day Rome itinerary. Here, you will find stops at Rome’s most famous sites without needing to follow a strenuous pace.
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How much can I see with this 3 days Rome itinerary?
Rome is a large city with something to see almost at any corner, at least in the most central and historical part of town. This means that you can only see so much in Rome and compromises are necessary.
The first decision to make is whether you want to see the city or visit museums.
If you are planning on a museum visit, i recommend you schedule a half day just for that: the Vatican museums, the Capitol museums and Galleria Borghese, for instance, all will require a morning if not more.
If you prefer to skip large museums, then with 3 days you can see a reasonable amount of Rome. You will only scratch the surface of the city but you will get a sense of the lay of the land and see some of the city’s main sites.
With this 3 days itinerary, I have favoured experiencing the city. However, whenever possible, I will give alternatives to suit different types of visitors
Where to stay in Rome for sightseeing?
If you only have 3 days in Rome finding accommodation close to the main attractions is important.
These are some good hotels in Rome in good sightseeing locations
How to get around Rome
Rome is a large, sprawling city but the area covered in this itinerary is relatively compact.
With this 3 days in Rome itinerary, 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.
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 theater to be colossal because it is indeed huge.
I have visited the inside of it several times and while it can be worth it, I find the outside to be the thing that is truly magnificent.
Its rows of arches, its battered walls, 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 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 honor 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 one side and on the modern city from Terrazza Caffarelli.
A walk along this area of Rome is one of the most beautiful things you can do in the city for free.
I am adding this stop not much for the square itself but because the walk between Piazza Venezia and here is magnificent and truly ‘Roman’.
You can reach largo di Torre Argentina in many ways but my suggestion is to allow yourself to get lost and meander the little lanes between the Capiltolium and here.
Seek out the wonderful Portico d’Ottavia for a splash in the Rome Ghetto and make sure to touch on Piazza Margana and Piazza Mattei for the best experience.
A short walk up the road from Largo Argentina brings you to gorgeous Piazza Navona, one of the jewels in the crown that is Rome.
Piazza Navona is the old stadium of Domitian and is now famous for the stunning creations of architects Bernini and Borromini, which grace the square.
Impressive and popular, this is a wonderful square to visit as sunset but don’t get tempted by the lovely tables around the square: prices here are high!
Favour smaller establishments in the small streets nearby for the best experience. Find some of our favourite addresses here (family friendly but great for all travellers for the grown up ambiance)
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 or not. Very impressive but also very large and crowded, tackling the Vatican museum requires several hours and will take the whole morning and more.
Unless you are an art lover, I suggest you limit the visit to the square and spend the rest of the morning exploring Borgo, the area around the Vatican, and walk back to Castel Sant’Angelo to then regain the opposite side of the river and Piazza Campo de’ Fiori.
Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Farnese, Via Giulia
Across the river from the Vatican sits Campo de’ fiori, one of the most famous squares in Rome and always a lovely one to visit.
During the day you have a market here, but at night it is a popular place for locals and tourists alike for drinks and small bites.
This is a place to visit for atmosphere but also for the statue of Giordano Bruno that stands in its centre. He found his death on the stake in this very square and this is an important place for Rome as it reminds us of the Papal role in the history of the city.
Behind Campo de’ fiori you find some of the city’s most atmospheric streets, such as Via Giulia.
Take a walk along this narrow street and take the time to cross the river into Trastevere if you can, to see a very special and peculiar corner of Rome.
If you are travelling with kids, you may want to skip this area and instead spend the afternoon in Villa Borghese or at 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.
This area is compact and can be visited in a short time but I do believe it is worth making a day of it and take the time to explore the shops too.
Rome has great shopping opportunities in this are and, after you have seen the main sights, you can finally allow yourself to get lost and explore churches and charming hidden corners that will pique your attentions while on the way. You may even stumble upon some of Rome hidden gems (hint: have a look at some here)!
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 is 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!
This post was originally written in February 2018 and has now been fully updated