Roman Colosseum at night (December 2017).

When it comes to traveling, some of us might not have the luxury of spending many days in one place. Whether it’s due to rushed planning or limited vacation time off from work, it can be hectic trying to research and cram in as much as possible into sightseeing a city or country. In the end, it might be exhausting, and it perhaps could detract you from enjoying your adventure away from home.

Having been inspired by the many Internet articles (one of the most-famous including the New York Times’ “36 Hours in…” segment) that showcase ideal itineraries in a set destination, I’d thought that I would also start a similar series on this blog to offer some of my own suggestions of things to do, see, and eat in well-renown cities in the world.

What makes my series different from the others online would be the fact that I’m by no means a professional traveler (e.g. no sponsors, all-paid resorts, etc.), and that what I will suggest are based on my own personal experiences having visited a certain place at least twice, in order to ensure a more-comprehensive outlook on the city itself.

Many online articles in the same vein also tend to cater towards mid-to-upper class travelers who can actually afford hotels and fine-dining restaurants, which I assume many people in their 20’s, even 30’s, can’t have. That’s why I’m catering this series to the budget-friendly, backpack-traveler nomad who doesn’t mind staying in hostels, taking overnight buses, or eating at hole-in-the-wall joints while still getting a fulfilling experience in traveling. This one’s for you, folks! 

PS Check out more of my “72-Hour” posts here!

72 Hours in Rome: Things to See and Do

Steeped in ancient history, this Italian capital is home to some of the most awe-inspiring architecture dating back over 2000 years ago, including one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Roman Colosseum. Others include the Pantheon from the 2nd century BCE, along with more-modern wonders like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps from the 18th century BCE. It feels as if you’ve stepped back in time as you walk the cobblestone streets of Rome, all the while channeling your inner Lizzie McGuire wherever you go (millennials, you better get the reference)!

I have visited Rome twice, once in 2006 as a teenager and later in 2017 as a full-fledged adult. Whereas I had a single, whirlwind day of visiting the highlights during the first visit, I was able to slow down and spend several days exploring the smaller sights when I returned 11 years later. I also visited Rome in different parts of the year, the first time in the summer and the second in the winter; as a result, it made for unique experiences from different perspectives.

Rome gets a bad rep for being over-crowded and over-touristy, as much as it’s the same for other cities in Italy such as Venice. Heck, Italy is generally perceived to be over-run by tourists. But even if parts of Rome can be generic and gimmicky, I’ve still found the city to be one of my favorites I’ve visited in all of the country. There are dozens of historically-significant monuments to keep you busy all day (and for days) and the food is impeccable, if you know where to look…that said, if you ever go to Rome and have 72 hours to spare, here’s what I would recommend for you:

PS: All of the sites that will be mentioned in this post are all center within Municipio I, the heart of the city. While I’m aware that there are other sites worth seeing outside of this quarter, much of what to see for first-timers are concentrated in this particular area of Rome.

Day 1

First day in the city, and it’s time to hit the ground running! An early rise (i.e. before 10:00) is sure to guarantee you a spot on a Roman Colosseum tour. There’s also the option of purchasing “Skip the Line” tickets to get in, but I often find that you buy them from scalpers and they tend to be shady…you could also choose to visit the Colosseum on your own, but I’ve found that a tour is more-efficient, as it not only gives historic details of the site, but it also tends to combine nearby sights– the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill— which is a great bang for your buck! Expect for a three-hour to half-day tour of these sites, and do be mindful of any pickpockets or hawkers in the area.

Roman Forum.

After a quick bite at any of the cafes or osterie (informal dining) around the Roman Forum, it’s time for an afternoon spent in the western corner of Rome. Passing the Forum, you’ll also pass through the Altare della Patria, a majestic monument from the early 20th century in honor of Vittorio Emanuele II, the king who unified Italy. You can then spend the rest of the afternoon mingling in the vicinity of the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and the Trevi Fountain, all within 5-6 minutes of each other on-foot. I especially encourage you to enjoy the Trevi Fountain by making a wish and tossing a coin behind your left shoulder with your right hand, before enjoying some gelato at one of the sweet shops in the plaza.

Trevi Fountain and gelato.

Just before the sun sets, cross over the Tiber River and head uphill to the Trastevere district, a quieter and more residential part of Rome. Enjoy the golden hour at the top of the Belvedere del Gianicolo, the city’s rustic red and yellow rooftops in all of their splendor. Enjoy your evening with dinner in one of the dozen restaurants in Trastevere; any of the options for Italian food are solid, as well as away from the hustle-and-bustle of Piazza Navona or the Colosseum.

Views from Trastevere.

Day 2

It is another early rise to head over to the Vatican City. Technically, it’s a completely-different country, but being that it’s enclaved in Rome, it’s often combined as a visit for tourist-goers who visit the Italian capital for the first time. It’s also highly-recommended you go with a tour, as you can beat the crowds and combine sightseeing of the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The tour lasts about half of the day (3-4 hours), and you can say that you visited an additional country at the end of it!

Gallery of Maps inside the Vatican.

There are plenty of restaurants to dine in or take away in Vatican City; I would grab a quick slice of pizza (portion is enormous) before heading back to Rome proper for the afternoon. Just before crossing the Tiber River, you can chance upon the Castel Sant’ Angelo, a 2nd-century mausoleum dedicated to Roman Emperor Hadrian. Spend the rest of the northern corner of Rome, where you can get more stunning views of the city from the hilltop of the Villa Borghese estate, before heading down the famed Spanish Steps. Adjacent to the steps is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, dedicated to 19th-century Romantic poet John Keats, who died in the house from tuberculosis. If you’re a big fan of Keats and/or Romantic poetry, it’s worth a visit!

Spanish Steps.

A dinner at any restaurant between Piazza Navona and Piazza Coronari is encouraged, as it’s one of the liveliest parts of town. Besides the dozens of traditional osterie and trattorie for Italian food, there are also plenty of bars and clubs to relish the night away with. Not only that, but at every block you turn, there’s some sort of historic monument to marvel at, and there really is that sort of magic of walking the warmly-lit cobblestone streets at the end of the night.

A quieter part of Piazza Coronari at night.

Day 3

Tired from the past two days of sightseeing? Your third (and final) day in Rome is your catch-up day, either with sleep and/or with other sights you’d previously missed out on. This is the day to check out the lesser-known, miscellaneous sights, as well as perhaps revisit a few of the ones that really captured your attention.

Heading south of the city, I suggest a pop-over at the Mouth of Truth, a marble disk with a history as obscure as its intended purpose: historians speculate it was used as some kind of drainage system, but even today, it remains a mystery. Legend has it that the Mouth of Truth would bite the hand off of those who lied, and tourists line up to stick their hand inside the opening for the risk. Gimmicky as it sounds, it’s still a neat exhibit to check out!

Mouth of Truth.

Further south is the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome. Morbid as it sounds, the site does house a few distinctive sights, including the well-preserved Pyramid of Caius Cestius, who was a senator in 100 BCE and the grave of poet John Keats (with Joseph Severn’s, his caretaker, buried alongside). Even cemeteries come with fascination, especially the burials of those famous in history.

Grave of John Keats.

Another fun activity to spend your last day in Rome is what I call “basilica hunting.” Specifically for the “Four Great Basilicas of Rome,” these papal basilicas are the crowned jewels not only of the city, but also of the world. Each contain stunning Holy Doors that inspire even the non-religious for a visit. Plus, they are all free! The four basilicas are scattered all over Rome, although one of them, St. Peter’s Basilica, is technically in the Vatican City. The remainders are St. Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mure) in the south, Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano) in the east, and Papal Basilica of St Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore). I’ve been to all but St. Paul Outside the Walls, and I can vouch that the golden floor-to-ceiling interiors of each are worth seeing in one’s lifetime.

Interior of Papal Basilica of St Mary Major.

There still remains much more to see in Rome than what’s been listed in this post, for a taste of it during your first visit, it’ll be a solid start to inspire you to return again and again. After all, Rome is the “Eternal City,” and it’s the gateway to what the Italians call “la dolce vita.”

Have you been to Rome before? Let me know!

— Rebecca

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52 thoughts on “72 Hours in Rome: Things to See and Do

  1. Nice itinerary, I like the activities and sights you picked. Personally, I loved going to Rome. It feels like an open-air museum and has so many different styles or architecture to offer. My favorite (although technically in Vatican City) is definitely Saint Paul’s Basilica though. To me, it is a true masterpiece.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Rome is definitely an open-air museum, with so much history and culture packed into every block. It amazes me that much of the ruins, basilicas, and temples have been preserved, and that you can reach a new landmark within a few feet of each other. The Vatican truly is a gem, too, and worth the day trip from Rome. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  2. What a great idea for a series. I look forward to reading them all! Rome is on my list so I’ve bookmarked your itinerary. One of my favorite movies set in Italy is “Only You” with Robert Downey, Jr and Marisa Tomei and I Iove it for the comedy and the virtual sightseeing I get to do. They also visit the Bocca della Verità!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve never seen that film, but there are others that take place in Rome which I have viewed, including “To Rome with Love” and “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” (the latter a masterpiece 😆). I’ll see if I can give “Only You” a watch!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Yay for itineraries! I went to Rome a couple of summers ago and loved it! Didn’t love the heat though haha. If I ever go back I’ll have to double check your guide to see what I missed out on last time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I saw only a handful of the places you listed and I was in Rome for a week. The Roman Forum and Colosseum, as well as several other historic sites and museums, are free entry on the first Sunday of each month so that’s another way to stay on budget. I was lucky to have timed my trip to fit that in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, you must’ve had a packed week in Rome! Did you take day trips from the city, too? It’s really true that there’s so much to see in Rome that a week simply isn’t enough to cover everything! Definitely a place that requires visiting again and again. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I like your approach for the series. I think I have only been to Rome for two long weekends, obviously too short to see everything. But it overlaps with your itinerary. In my opinion there are two strategies, programming everything knowing that there won’t be enough time to see everything, or leaving it to improvisation, there again there won’t be enough time to see everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I believe a balance of planning and leaving room for improvising is the best way to explore a city. Although I’m disappointed that I might not be able to visit some places I’d hoped to do, knowing that I’ve seen the majority of the sites is reassuring. Plus, there’s always future trips to look forward to for more!

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  6. I’ve visited Rome too. I was lucky to have spent 4 days in Rome when I was at uni staying with my Italian friends and getting a tour around Rome with the locals. Later I revisited Rome on the way to other places. I like your suggestions. My best memory of Rome is a night walk around Pantheon area

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  7. Great idea for s series, especially since it’s geared toward budget oriented travelers. Haven’t been to Rome yet, but seems like an incredible city. I would love the cemetery and all the gorgeous churches and cathedrals. Additional bonus, churches are free to visit. I also hear that good, cheap coffee is available at every corner. Looking forward to reading more of your series.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Of course! I plan to continue publishing more “72 Hour” posts, perhaps a couple of times per year…I’m not a frequent coffee drinker, but I know that Italian coffee (especially cappuccino) is abundant and affordable in Italy…not to forget intense!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope so – I’m not sure COVID will be over but it’s for the Euro football champs which i don’t think will be cancelled again! We now have the vaccine in the UK so I think they will allow travel if we have it. We can also still fly internationally at the moment if we’re not in a ‘tier 3’ place (which I’m not), we just have to quarantine on return. Here’s to hoping for 2021 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I was nominated to post one favorite travel picture a day for ten days without explanation, then to nominate someone else to participate. That’s 10 days, 10 travel pictures, and 10 nominations.
    Today I will nominate you Rebecca. Post wherever you wish but link to me so I know you have. If you are not interested, that’s OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I likewise don’t remember too much during my first trip to Rome in 2006, other than it was hot! Looks like we had similar experiences! Hope you can return someday (and hopefully when it’s cooler)!

      Like

  9. I’ve never been to Rome but this is making me want to visit Rebecca! So many magical sights. I knew about the Colosseum before now but it’s my first time hearing about the illustrious fountains and mouth of truth (did you try putting your hands in there? 👀).

    Many thanks for sharing this beauty of a city.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t put my hand in the Mouth of Truth, due to being paranoid of the outcome haha. But it is true that Rome is such an enchanting city with so much to see and do. Hope you can go there someday!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved this post! And I really like the concept, can’t wait to read similar articles from you! Even though I grew up in Rome and I go back there at least once a year to visit my family, I feel like there is still so much that I need to see there (e.g. the Vatican!). I should definitely explore it as a tourist rather than a local last time I go 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I feel the same way with my hometown in Los Angeles: I was born and raised there, but never really explored until I was an adult. Revisiting your hometown from a different perspective really is insightful, and I encourage you to do so!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I can’t believe I haven’t been to Rome yet! Especially knowing how close it is to the Vatican which offers an opportunity seeing St. Peter’s Basilicata. A few people told me that it is a big and dirty city, that transport is bad and that highlights are spread out and hard to see on a short visit. Nevertheless, I believe it’s one of the most beautiful city. Hopefully, we can start travelling soon! Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva 🙂 xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As it is with many big cities, Rome has less-than-stellar places that might put tourists off. However, I’d say the majority of the city is gorgeous, a walking history book that’ll take years to uncover it all. I hope you can go soon!

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