Seeing Rome in 3 days is not ideal. The Italian capital has so much to offer that a month is not enough to see it all. However, if you just have 3 days you can definitely visit the most famous landmarks in Rome, gorge on all the best food and soak in the incredible atmosphere.
Now, I appreciate that coming up with an itinerary to see such a large city in a limited amount of time may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some of you may be tempted to swing it, but if it is your first time in the city and want to hit the most iconic attractions, you have to have a plan.
Fortunately for you, I love drafting itineraries and I know Rome so well that I can easily guide you. So, I have put together a 3 days in Rome itinerary that is perfect for first-timers in the city, and that is incredibly easy to follow.
Continue reading and discover how to see Rome in 3 days!
Make sure to also read my post How Many Days Should You Spend In Rome?
A Day By Day Itinerary To See Rome In 3 Days
The starting point of this 3-days Rome itinerary is that you have 3 full days in Rome and that you are spending 4 nights in the city.
You’ll have to get out as early as possible, on a mission to explore. You will visit attractions that are more or less all in the same area on the same day, so you can walk from one place to the other and minimize the use of public transportation.
This itinerary includes a selection of popular places in the historic center of Rome that you can’t miss, and lesser known ones. It’s truly packed, so you should opt for a quick lunch – stop by a “gastronomia” (something similar to a takeaway) and have the best street food of Rome (go for pizza al taglio, supplì al telefono or gelato) and then opt for a sit down meal in the evening.
It’s important that you book tickets to some of the attractions – pretty much all places in Rome require advanced bookings and even when that is not a condition for visiting, you will be better off showing up with an already purchased ticket.
Finally, let’s see how to discover the best of Rome in 3 days.
Day One: Ancient Rome
Map of day one Rome itinerary
You can see a map of the itinerary you’ll have to follow by clicking here. Check out the places you’ll be seeing, the walking distances – both in terms of miles and walking times – and anything else you may be able to see along the way. Feel free to remove places you are not interested in, or add more if you feel you want to pack your itinerary further.
Few places scream Rome as much as the Colosseum. This is one of the most visited attractions in the world; and one of the most famous buildings in Rome.
Once known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum was built between 72 and 82 AD – initially on orders of Emperor Vespasian, but then completed under Titus. It’s here that shows such as the battles between the gladiators and wild animals would take place – though in fact other kinds of shows would also occur. It could hold up to 80,000 spectators!
You absolutely must buy tickets in advance to visit the Colosseum: only a limited number of visitors can enter the site at specific time slots. Consider joining a good guided tour as this will help you put what you see into perspective.
Tickets to the Colosseum cost €16 (+€2 booking fee) and include admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. To get tickets to the Colosseum, click here. For guided tours, click here. For a comprehensive tour that also includes the underground, the forum and the arena, click here.
Check out my post The Most Interesting Facts About The Colosseum.
Night tours of the Colosseum
If you are looking for a more intimate and unique experience, follow this itinerary the other way around and leave the Colosseum as the last attraction on today’s itinerary.
Night tours of the Colosseum start at 7:30 pm and last about 2.5 hours; they go to the main areas of the Colosseum – the first and second ring, the arena floor; as well as the underground. They are more expensive than regular tours, but allow a more in depth visit.
You can book your night tour of the Colosseum here.
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
With the same ticket you use to visit the Colosseum, you will have access to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. The Forum was the heart of the Republic of Rome – a busy place with a market complete with food stalls; temples; brothels and the House of the Senate. It then became a proper mall and later on a ceremonial center. The Palatine Hill was the area where the Roman Aristocracy would reside.
Most of the tours of the Colosseum also go to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
The Jewish Ghetto
By the time you are done visiting the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, head to the Jewish Ghetto, one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Rome. It was established by Pope Paul IV five centuries ago.
All the Jews living in Rome were forced to move into this quarter on the banks of the Tiber River. The area was surrounded by walls the Jewish community had to pay for, and had gates that were locked at night.
Though life in the Jewish Ghetto was hard, the community managed to thrive, developing its own dialect as well as its own cuisine. Nowadays, Roman Kosher cuisine is one of the most famous in the city, and if there is something you shouldn’t miss when in Rome that’s the carciofi alla giudia – fried artichokes, as well as the carciofi alla romana.
After lunch, head back to Piazza Venezia, not far from which you’ll be able to see Trajan’s Column and the massive Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II that was built in 1911 to celebrate the first king of unified Italy.
You can walk up the Altar of the Fatherland if you wish – most of it is free to access, and there is a €12 fee for the elevator that will take you to the terrace. The views are absolutely impressive.
Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide To The Altar Of The Fatherland.
Largo di Torre Argentina
On your way to Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, walk by Largo di Torre Argentina. Known as the place where Julius Cesar died – although he actually died on the steps of the Theater of Pompey, a couple of blocks away – Largo di Torre Argentina is home to some of the oldest temples in town.
That will catch your attention, but in case it’s not enough, you will definitely be able to spot movement on the site.
This is the location of Rome’s oldest cat sanctuary! If you are a fan of cats, walk inside to pay a quick visit to the many cats the sanctuary tends to, and purchase one of the gadgets on sale (ie a calendar) or make a small donation.
Campo de’ Fiori
South of Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori is one of the prettiest squares in Rome. The name, which translates to “field of flowers,” refers to the fact that in Medieval times this area was a meadow.
Paved in 1456, since the late 19th century it’s been home to one of the most popular markets in Rome, where you can buy fruits, vegetables and flowers. You’ll find several bars and cafés, and a lot of people hanging around.
Piazza Navona is one of the city’s most impressive squares in the Eternal City. Paved over the 1st century Stadio di Domiziano in the 15th century, it is decorated with two fountains – the most famous is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed in 1651 by Bernini – and the Baroque Sant’Agnese church, built in the 17th century.
One of the best preserved buildings from Antiquity, the Pantheon was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian and built in the 126 AD. It is now a church, inside which there are the tombs of notable Italian artists, such as Raphael and of King Victor Emmanuel II.
The Pantheon is free to visit and an absolute must when visiting Rome in 3 days.
Check out my post A Guide To Visiting The Pantheon.
Piazza di Montecitorio is where the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies is located. Construction of the building was initiated by Bernini for Ludovico Ludovisi, a young cardinal nephew of Pope Gregory XV, and completed by Carlo Fontana, who added a bell gable above the main entrance. It was designed for social and public functions.
In recent years, the fountain underwent major renovation work and it’s been covered for a while – but it’s finally been brought back to its original splendor.
Jumping in fountains or putting your feet in them is forbidden across Rome.
Day two: Vatican City and Galleria Borghese
Map of day two Rome itinerary
Click here to download a map of your itinerary for your second day in Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
Head out no later than 7:00 am to visit the Vatican, so that you have plenty of time to explore the rest of the city afterwards.
The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel officially open to the public at 8:30 am, while St. Peter’s Basilica opens at 7:00 am. If you want a guided tour, go for the early access Vatican tour, because this will include access to St. Peter’s Basilica via a dedicated entrance, which means you won’t have to exit the Vatican Museums and walk around all the way to the Basilica (it’s a good 20 minutes walk).
The best early access tour of the Vatican is the Pristine Sistine Walks of Italy tour. It’s a 4-hour tour that includes a full breakfast buffet right inside the Vatican, a guided visit of the Museums (including Raphael Rooms) and the Sistine Chapel, and then a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. You can book it here. I took this tour myself last time I visited and truly enjoyed it.
Don’t want a tour? Just visit St. Peter’s Basilica as soon as it opens at 7:00 am and then walk to the Vatican Museums.
The Vatican Museums are spread across 54 chambers and have a massive collection of art. The highlight of your visit will likely be the Sistine Chapel, where you can admire The Last Judgement, one of Renaissance’s greatest works of art, by Michelangelo.
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful churches in Rome (though granted, it’s in the Vatican!), and the most important for Catholics. It was built by Renaissance most prominent artists – Michelangelo, Bernini and Bramante, over the tomb of St. Peter.
The church consists of 11 chapels, 45 altars and more mosaics than you can count. Inside there are Michelangelo’s Pietà, Bernini’s Baldacchino, as well as the Chair of St. Peter.
Modest clothing is required to enter the Vatican: cover your shoulders, chest and knees – for more information read my post about the Vatican dress code. No photos are allowed inside the Sistine Chapel.
You will walk by Castel Sant’Angelo as you make your way to the Tiber River to head to the Spanish Steps. The castle was originally a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian. It was subsequently used as a prison, and it now is a museum. From the terrace, you can get impressive views of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome.
If you are thinking of going inside Castel Sant’Angelo, get tickets in advance. You can get yours here.
The Spanish Steps
This is one of the most famous places to visit in the city, and if you have 3 days in Rome you just can’t skip it! Piazza di Spagna, as it is called in Italian, is home to 185 steps that lead to the beautiful Trinità dei Monti church.
The steps were built in the 18th century and face Via Condotti – a famous shopping street. Make sure to walk up and take in the lovely views before you move on to your next stop.
Piazza Del Popolo
Right at the bottom of the Pincio (the Pincian Hill) there is Piazza del Popolo, a large square often used for concerts and social gatherings.
At the center there is the obelisk of Ramesses II from Heliopolis, the second tallest in the city. The best views of the square are from the steps that lead to the Pincio Terrace – which I also recommend visiting.
Walking up from Piazza del Popolo through the Pincian Hill and continuing for little under 2 km (1.2 miles) through the gorgeous park, you will reach Galleria Borghese, one of the best museums in Rome, and among the finest art collections in the world, with paintings and sculptures of Bernini, Canova, Caravaggio and Titian.
Day three: Lesser known Rome
Map of day three Rome itinerary
You can download your map for your third day in Rome here. Distances are a bit greater so you may consider getting a bus or a taxi to move from one to the other. If you click on the train icon on the map that should give you all the public transportation options.
San Clemente Basilica
This is one of the most interesting churches in the city, not to mention one of the first Christian sites ever to be built. Various excavations have uncovered remains that date back to the 1st century, as well as the 4th. In fact, there even is an older stratum, thought to contain buildings that were destroyed by Nero’s fire in 64 AD.
The church, which actually is very close to the Colosseum, is small enough and easy to explore by just reading the panels along the exhibit.
For a guided tour of underground Rome which includes San Clemente Basilica, click here.
St. John in the Lateran
The cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Pope in the city, San Giovanni in Laterano, as it is called in Italian, is Rome’s oldest basilica and yet significantly lesser visited compared to St. Peter’s.
In front of the church you’ll find the Lateran Obelisk, the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world. The church is famous for its Scala Sancta, a stairway of 28 steps believed to be those that Jesus walked up while heading to his trial in Jerusalem. Visitors are allowed to ascend the steps by kneeling.
Visiting the church is free. For a guided tour of St John in the Lateran, click here.
The Catacombs and the Appian Way
One of the most interesting things to do in Rome in 3 days is visiting the Appian Way. This was built in 312 BC and is one of the oldest surviving roads in the world. During the Roman Empire, it connected Rome to Naples and Brindisi, allowing the fast movement of military troops and goods.
There are many interesting landmarks along the Appian Way, which include the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, built in the 9th century, and the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and St. Sebastian. St. Callixtus catacombs is where 16 popes, and a variety of martyrs have been buried.
The site is huge, so you may want to join a guided tour to make the most of it. For a guides tour of the Catacombs and the Appian Way, click here. For a tour that also goes to the Bone Chapel, click here.
Garbatella is one of the most local neighborhoods in Rome, and hardly a tourist site. It became increasingly popular among Italian tourists when a famous TV series was filmed there. The area was built from 1918, and for a long time it was considered a dangerous part of town. Now, it’s considered a nice residential area.
This part of Rome is packed with interesting attractions: museums, art galleries and churches (this is where St. Paul’s Outside The Walls is located). More than anything, it is a place where you can still enjoy an authentic local meal, away from the crowds you’ll find in the historic center of Rome.
Practical Tips To Make The Most Of Rome In 3 Days
Where to stay in Rome
Rome is packed with excellent hotel options (if only a bit pricey). If you stay in the center, you will have easier access to most of the attractions mentioned in this post. Prati will give you easy access to the Vatican; Esquilino is more budget friendly; Monti is very close to the Colosseum and the historic center is simply a great place to stay.
Here is a selection of good places to stay:
- Colosseum Palace Star is a four-star hotel that has larger than average, beautifully decorated rooms. Some have a balcony, all of them have views of the Colosseum.
- Holiday Home Morin 10 is a modern studio apartment close to the Vatican that can comfortably fit up to 4 guests.
- The RomeHello is a fantastic hostel in Esquilino that is at the same time budget friendly and stylish, with comfortable dorms and excellent social spaces which are perfect for socializing.
Using A 72 Hours Roma Pass
A Roma Pass is worth investing when you are planning to spend 3 days in Rome, since that’s its maximum duration and you can make the most of it by visiting many attractions and get discount for others. It also gives you a public transportation pass and a transfer back to the airport.
You can get your Roma Pass here.
When to visit Rome
If you only have 3 days in Rome try to go when the days are longer and the attractions on summer opening time. Having said that, I love Rome in October: the days are still nice and long-ish, the temperatures mild, and sites are a bit less crowded.
Avoid visiting Rome in August. It’s when Italians go on holidays, so the city really empties out of locals and all you’ll see is lines of tourists everywhere.
For more information, read my post The Best Time To Visit Rome.
How to get to Rome
Rome has two airports – Fiumicino, for intercontinental flights and all major airlines; and Ciampino, for budget flights to Italy and Europe. Both airports are well connected to the city via cabs, buses and (in the case of Fiumicino) trains.
Here’s how to get to town from each airport.
FROM FIUMICINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – There are regular trains that connect the airport to the city. The express train runs every 15 minutes (or every 30 minutes late at night). You can buy tickets and check the timetable online here. Alternatively, you can opt for a shared transfer. You can book it here. Taxis have a €48 flat rate.
You can book your private transfer from the airport to the city center via Welcome Pickups here.
Make sure to read my complete guide on how to get from Fiumicino Airport to the city center.
FROM CIAMPINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – The easiest way to get from Ciampino to Rome city center is by bus. Terravision has regular departures to Roma Termini Station. You can get tickets directly at the airport or at the bus stop from one of the staff members.
Make sure to read my post How To Get From Ciampino Airport To Rome.
How to move around Rome
This itinerary was drafted to minimize the use of public transportation. In case you need to cover longer distances, use a taxi, hop on the bus or, even better, use Rome metro.
Remember to validate your ticket once you get on the bus or before getting on the metro.
Other useful tips
Luggage Storage in Rome
Most hotels offer luggage storage. If you think it is more convenient to leave your bags somewhere before you leave, opt for a luggage storage place bear Termini Station, from where you will likely catch the train or bus to the airport, or the train to another destination. Book your luggage storage in advance here.
Get a data plan for your smartphone
Make sure that your smartphone has enough data and a plan that allows you to navigate the internet if needed, so that you can follow the map in this itinerary. Otherwise, download offline maps.
If you visit Rome in the summer months, the heat may be overwhelming. Carry a bottle of water with you, and refill it on the go in one of the many “nasoni” fountains in town. Tap water is safe to drink in Rome.
Mind the scams
Big, touristy cities are fun to explore, but it’s not uncommon for tourists to become the preferred target for scams. While locals in Rome are generally friendly, beware of overly friendly men, keep your stuff with you at all times to avoid pickpockets and don’t talk to people who offer unwanted help at places like the train station!
Make sure to read my other posts: