How to Conquer A Day in Rome

9 min read
A day in Rome is best spent exploring its most historic attractions

There is certainly plenty to see and do in the Eternal City - I've lived here for several years, and I am still discovering things to do in Rome daily. And, I am a tour guide!

I understand that time is of the essence. However, some things cannot be missed, even if you only have a day in Rome.

So, I've put together this 1 day Rome itinerary to ensure that you get to see the best of the city. This Rome guide is packed with Rome travel tips, ticket advice, and helpful information on Rome guided tours.

  • One day itinerary
  • Average of 6 stops per day

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Rome Map

Using the map of Rome, you can explore all the days and stops.

Rome in 24 Hours

Get ready for a jam-packed 24 hours in Rome! This first and only day covers some of the most famous attractions in Rome.

The day will start at the Colosseum and will end at Vatican City. In between, you will be exploring the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona.

Continue reading to learn how to make the most of your short time in this fascinating, beautiful city!

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The Colosseum was constructed in 80 AD

9 AM: Colosseum, Palatine Hill & Roman Forum

What better way to start your express Roman holiday than with the Colosseum? The Colosseum is an incredible structure that takes you back in time to the powerful past of the Empire Rome. It's almost 2000 years old!

The venue was initially used to entertain up to 80,000 Roman citizens with bloodthirsty battles between fearsome gladiators and wild animals!

Tickets to the Colosseum also include access to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The Hill is where Rome was founded almost 2700 years ago!

You may be familiar with the names Romulus and Remus? The legendary brothers, raised by a she-wolf and born to a vestal virgin, ended up fighting to death on Palatine Hill. Romulus won, so the new city was called Rome.

Over time, the Imperial Palace was constructed over the entire hill and is where the Emperors of Rome lived. Today, you can walk through what remains of the Palace.

The Roman Forum is effectively downtown ancient Rome. This is the best place to understand what life was like for the ancient Romans.

Some areas are relatively complete, and you can walk along the original roads past temples, senate buildings, basilicas and houses that used to be bustling with commotion.

According to TripAdvisor, the Colosseum was the most-visited attraction in the world in 2019. It's highly recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment, or waiting in the notoriously long lines to buy tickets on the day.

Given the archaeological site's historical importance and its barbaric history, guided tours of the Colosseum are a popular option for travelers.

Tours guarantee that you skip the line and allow you to visit areas restricted to the general public; like the Colosseum Underground and Arena.

Typically a visit to these three archaeological sites takes about 3 hours. The Colosseum entrance is always timed, but you can visit the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum at a time of your choice either on the same day or the next day.

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Casual Saturday afternoon at the Spanish Steps in Rome

Spanish Steps

There are very few places in the world that express romance quite like the Spanish Steps in Rome. Renowned as a true masterpiece of the Baroque period, the staircase was initially constructed by Francesco de Sanctis in the 18th Century.

The idea was to connect the square at the bottom, Piazza Spagna, with the French church at the top, Trinita dei Monti. Funnily enough, the steps were financed by a French diplomat and named La Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti - after the church.

Sometime later, the French withdrew from Rome, and the naming was changed following the Spanish influence on the neighbourhood.

Just at the bottom of the steps is the beautiful fountain by Bernini in the Spanish square and the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See.

There are 138 steps, all in all. I recommend you climb to the top to admire the skyline of Rome - with a gelato. It is one of Rome's best viewpoints.

The Spanish Steps have always been some sort of idyllic fairytale meeting point for artists, poets, and lovers. It seems only fitting that the Spanish Steps are nestled in the heart of the city's fashion and retail district.

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Don't forget to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain

There are a staggering amount of fountains in the city of Rome. If you include all of the drinking fountains, there are more than 2000! But the most famous in the town, without a doubt, is the Trevi Fountain. Probably internationally, too!

The Trevi Fountain is one of my favorite spots to sit and watch the world go by. Tourists flock here every year to throw their coins in due to the urban legend.

One coin guarantees your return to Rome; two, and you will fall in love; three - you will fall in love and get married. Give it a go and find out for yourself!

The fountain lays directly on the site of the original ancient Roman one. In 1732, Pope Clements decided that the fountain needed sprucing up, so he held a competition for the best design.

The architect who won was a man called Niccolo Salvi, relatively unknown at the time, whose career took a fortuitous turn when his design was selected.

His fortune, however, didn't last. The fountain took 30 years to build, and Salvi died 20 years into the project.

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The Oculus at the top of the Pantheon

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is regarded as the most well-preserved building from Antiquity in the world. The building that stands today is the third version constructed by Emperor Hadrian around the year 125 AD.

The Pantheon still holds a world record till this day... and it's nearly 2000 years old! It is the largest unsupported dome in the world. What does that even mean?

Well, the Pantheon has a circular hole in the center of the dome named the Oculus. Despite looking like it would diminish the dome's strength, it actually does the opposite. Mind-bending... I know.

Mystery shrouds the construction of the Pantheon. Architects know that the Pantheon's dome is made entirely of pure cast concrete... completed in one pour.

Various theories have arisen to answer the question of how the Pantheon was built, but the truth is, even today, we don't exactly know!

One of my favorite selfies you can take is underneath the Oculus, use it to frame your head - it's a classic!

Inside of the Pantheon are several important tombs, including that of the famous painter Raphael. 2020 marked the 500th anniversary since his death.

At this point of the day, you might need a pick me up. A stone's throw from the fountain is one of Rome's oldest coffee shops, Sant 'Eustachio, in business since the 1800s.

All the coffee here is made using traditional methods, which makes for an incredibly delicious espresso!

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Piazza Navona is a famous square in Rome, Italy

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is considered one of Rome's most beautiful squares, or piazzas. Like nearly everywhere in Rome, it had a completely different purpose during the Ancient period.

Piazza Navona was home to a circus, similar to the famous Circus Maximus, a long circular stadium. At this venue, the Romans could witness chariot racing and gladiatorial games, and sometimes the stadium was even flooded to recreate naval battles.

During the 3rd century CE, a fire destroyed a large Colosseum area, and this stadium in Piazza Navona was used as a substitute for about 30 years.

At the desire of the Pamphili family, the square underwent a massive revamp during the 18th century. The two most prominent names in art at the time, Bernini and Borromini, were commissioned to create a church and a fountain.

These two weren't too fond of each other. The rivalry between the two artists spurred them on to make their respective pieces to the best of their ability, resulting in the lavish square you see today. Borromini built the church and Bernini built the Four Rivers Fountain.

Unlike the Trevi, the Four Rivers Fountain sits in the square's centre and can be walked around. Interestingly, the fountain consists of four rivers because, at the time, the Catholic explorers and geographers only knew of 4 continents - Africa, Asia, South America, & Europe.

Each corner of the fountain represents each continent's longest river - but there are some more mistakes. It was also believed that the longest river in South America was the Rio de la Plata, rather than the Amazon, and that the longest river in Europe was the Danube, not the Volga! Beautiful, but factually incorrect.

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Our tour in Raphael's Rooms

3:30 PM: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica

No trip to Rome can be complete without crossing the border into the world's smallest, fully independent nation-state. The Vatican City contains three main points of interest for visitors. These are the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica.

The entrance to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel is situated on the northern wall of the Vatican City. The Vatican Museums are the primary archive of the world’s largest religion, and they are massive.

The Museums contain over 1000 rooms of art and artefacts covering four millennia. Due to the lack of signs and the abundance of things to see, it can be a bit of a maze to those that visit unaided.

Inside are some of the world’s most famous artworks by the world’s most renowned artists, such as Bernini, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and many more!

The most popular part of the city has to be the fabled Sistine Chapel. It’s from this building that the mysterious white smoke rises upon the selection of a new pope.

Possibly the most well-known painting in the world decorates the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; Michelangelo’s masterpiece, ‘The Last Judgement’.

The Sistine Chapel is a truly magical experience. The rules are strict throughout the museums, but especially so in the Sistine Chapel... No whispering allowed!

Make sure you cover your knees and shoulders when visiting, or you may be refused entry - I've seen it happen on many occasions.

St Peter's Basilica is lauded as the pinnacle of Renaissance architecture. This breath-taking structure towers above the city and is the most-recognized dome in Italy – the Duomo in Florence is a solid contender.

It is optional to visit St Peter's, and it is counted as a separate attraction within the city. For those who are brave enough to tackle the 500 steps inside the dome, it is possible to admire stunning views of Rome from the top!

The Vatican tickets are extremely popular, which means that it can sell out days in advance in the peak season. For this reason, we recommend that you buy them online or book a guided tour of the Vatican.

Considering that there are over 1000 rooms and some of the most important artworks in the world inside, a tour really enhances your experience whilst also guaranteeing skip-the-line entrance.

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In Summary

That concludes my itinerary on how to spend a day in Rome. If you live in Rome or are just travelling through, I hope the recommendations on this 1 day in Rome itinerary have given you a great idea of how to conquer this beautiful, ancient city!

If you have three days in Rome coming up, then split up the above famous Italian landmarks and attractions over several days to fully enjoy them at a more relaxed pace.

Hope to see you on one of my tours in Rome! Ciao for now.

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Written by Harry White

carpediemrome TOUR OPERATOR I am a British tour guide in Rome and a director of Carpe Diem Rome, a tour operator. I have a huge passion for history and currently love living in the beautiful city that is Rome.

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