Benvenuti a Roma!
During college I studied abroad twice with USAC in Viterbo, Italy. Viterbo is a small city about two hours by train from Rome. Needless to say, I took many trips to the Eternal city and started to get pretty good at giving day-trip tours. This guide is for those of you who have just one day to cover as much ground as possible. So whether you’re a flight attendant or you just have a 24 hour layover here, I hope this guide helps you feel like you made the most of your time! If you have more time in the city and want to enter the Vatican Museum or other time-consuming spots, you can split up the path I make for you here.
My goal is to make this as practical as possible, giving some social advice, easy directions, information about costs and a little bit of history when its particularly interesting.
By the end of the day you will have roughly taken this route I drew, starting at Villa Borghese. Full disclosure, this is an intense city to try to cover in one day, wear comfortable shoes. Of course you can wander off the path as much as you want, this just serves as a guide to maximize the amount of sites you see in a short time. Rome, and Italy in general, is full of beauty that is for the enjoyment of the public and is free, I specify at each point if there is any cost to enjoy a certain site.
*I always remind people to please travel responsibly. Remember that you are visiting a city and not a theme park: don’t climb over protective barriers into historical sites, don’t litter, don’t carve your name into historical structures, don’t steal cobblestones, don’t steal sand, don’t steal rocks from historical sites, don’t put locks on bridges and throw the key into the rivers to poison them with rust, don’t walk in public fountains. Treat every city like it were your own home, and enjoy!*
Wear comfy shoes you can walk in all day.
Bring cash because it's more likely to be accepted than card.
Rome is usually hot, so dress accordingly, but remember that your shoulders and thighs need to be covered to enter churches.
Bring water, stay hydated.
Brush up on your Italian* and get ready to fall in love.
*reidsitaly.com made a "handy dandy Italian phrase sheet". Duolingo is also a great place to start learning some basics!
The Spanish Steps / Piazza di Spagna
Climb up the steps to get a beautiful view of the city, or a great selfie (if you make it back around sunset, the sun sets right down Via dei Condotti and it is very romantic).
In this area also its typical for a guy to offer you a flower because you're just such a beautiful lady, don't take it. He'll just turn around and ask for two euros.
Maybe browse around the incredibly expensive, but stunning, shopping district. (This is a good area to be aware of pickpockets).
These are public stairs, so it's free.
*The city of Rome recently banned sitting or eating on the steps. Please be aware of this when you are here. Damage and littering have resulted in this ban.
Okay this next stop is mostly here because it has a nice hill you can climb to get a great view of the city, but if you decide to skip it you can cut straight over from Piazza di Spagna to Via del Corso and cut time off of your trip.
If you decide to go, do yourself a massive favor: on your way up to Piazza del Popolo, walking up Via del Babuino (right off Piazza di Spagna), turn right onto Via Alibert and the first left onto Via Margutta. It is a stunning and quiet street and a great photo-op. Eventually it’ll take you back on Via del Babuino, keep trekking forward.
Piazza del Popolo
Shamefully, this is a place I visited without a camera on hand, it was also under a massive restoration project at the time and everything was covered.
Complete with a stolen Egyptian Obelisk, fountains, churches and a hill with a view (does it get more Rome than that?)
There’s a great view of the city from Terraza del Pinicio. It’s not a very difficult hike to get up there and it’s a nice view of the city.
Also, it's a public piazza so it is free to see.
Via del Corso
This is a big main road in Rome. It’s a good route to go down if you’re heading near the center. There might be neat distractions/shopping on the way.
This is probably a great time for one of my favorite things in the world: coffee!
I recommend going off the main road and find a cheaper, less touristy place. Personally I love to find places that serve Illy, but it’s up to personal taste. Get yourself either a caffè, cappuccino or latte macchiato using this phrase:
"Buongiorno! Vorrei un caffè, per favore."
(switch out “caffè” for the drink you want if you want something else)
In Italy you don't get coffee "to-go". So take a seat with your little porcelain cup and enjoy where you are and that amazing cup of espresso. Listen to the Italian conversations around you, the footsteps on cobblestone, smell the smell of pasta wafting from the window of a nearby resident, and really enjoy that espresso.
Turn right onto Via dei Pietra and follow it straight (it becomes Via dei Pastini).
TA-DA You’re at the Pantheon!
Go inside. It’s amazing.
Walk to the center of the room to find the drain, and look up straight through the oculus. The only bad news I have is that it’s nearly impossible to get a good photo of the dome.
Both the famous artist Raphael and two kings of Italy are buried in here.
Fun Facts: construction was completed around 126 CE, it was created to worship the Roman gods but was converted into a Catholic church in 609 CE, it’s the largest unreinforced solid concrete dome in the world, the marble floors are original (2000 years old) and it’s the best preserved ancient Roman monument.
Entry is free.
If you’ve made it this far without gelato, go to the gelateria right to the side of the building; Ciucculà.
If you're looking at the front of the Pantheon, go right down Salita dei Crescenzi and then turn right onto Via della Dogana Vecchia. Just ahead on the left is the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi (or the really lame English: Church of St. Louis of the French…)
Chiesa di San Luigi di Franchesi
This is the Baroque church with Caravaggio paintings inside, you’ve gotta look. They are breathtaking.
The church itself is more or less similar to most churches in Rome, Caravaggio is the star here.
Its a quick stop, but it’s worth it. And it's free!
Go back outside and turn right around the corner for Via del Salvatore, left to the main road and right on Corsia Agonale which leads onto Piazza Navona.
This is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome, credit for its beauty goes to Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The massive fountain in the center is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of four rivers), designed by Bernini. The men are personifications of the four major rivers recognized at the time: The Ganges in Asia, the Río de la Plata in South America, the Danube in Europe and the Nile in Africa.
This piazza is filled with street vendors, usually selling paintings and other normal souvenirs, a lot of tourists, great architecture and plenty of caffes.
From here you have a few different route options to Ponte Sant’Angelo. You can go to the far end of the piazza, if you’re looking straight at the church, go left and then at the end of the piazza of right, it merges onto another street, keep going straight. This might be a good time for a coffee break.
The street curves a bit for a long time but eventually puts you out at an intersection where you’ll see a loud busy main street to your left (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II) and a smaller street if you go right, go that way (Via del Banco di Santa Spirito).
If you keep straight you’ll end up right on Ponte Sant’Angelo. It is lined with beautiful statues of various angels, also sculpted by Bernini. This is less of of stop and more of a conveniently beautiful bridge on your way to Vatican City.
This is also your first time crossing the Tiber!
Straight ahead is the Castel Sant’Angelo. I have not been inside and haven’t heard much about the inside but it’s impressive from the outside.
After you cross the bridge, go left. At this point you should be able to look straight ahead and see Piazza San Pietro.
Piazza San Pietro
You probably don’t need a guide here to tell you how beautiful this place is.
Take a gander through the columns on the side where there isn't the line to get inside (the right side of this photo).
There is always a pretty solid line to enter the basilica, but there is no fee and the only dress code is to have your shoulders covered (men and women!) and you can’t wear short shorts or a short skirt. Don’t try to get around this by uncovering yourself when you get inside, they will keep an eye on you.
It took over 100 years to build the basilica. At least four architects worked on the designs, including Michelangelo and Bernini.
Basilica di San Pietro
Don’t miss out on details on the front of the building, the ceilings and doors as you enter the church. You have to go through security before you enter but there is no fee.
Look up and try to breathe, because it is literally breathtaking. This is one stop that is worth lingering in.
You don’t have the time this trip, but in the future, you can go up to the very top of the church (the cupola) for a small fee. On the way you actually come out inside of the large dome on the inside and can look down on the church and it is incredible.
Cupola: €8 to use the stairs or €10 if you want to take the elevator halfway up.
The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel is here, but it is huge and takes up the whole day. Save that one for a longer trip!
Lungotevere / Getting to Trastevere
I’m routing you down the lungotevere because it is beautiful, it’s a change from all the craziness you’ve been through today and it’s a good transition into Trastevere.
This is all assuming you’re making good time and it’s still daylight.
If you are absolutely dying and feel like you're running out of time and don't have the time for this long way around, you can cross back over the river and hop on the tram. A ticket (biglietto) is about €1.50 and you can buy one at any Tabacchi or news stand. (reidsitaly.com for help)
The name comes from Latin trans Tiberim, meaning "beyond the Tiber".
You’ve probably seen a lot of pro instagramer’s pictures in this neighborhood. Which is why I'm sending you through here. It is so beautiful and even though it is more known by tourists now, it is still a lot slower and quieter than the rest of Rome.
This is a good place to buy your food and wine to take home.
After exploring here for a bit, cross over the Tiber at Ponte Sisto.
DINNER OPTION #1
If you're ready for dinner now while you are in Trastevere, there is a lot of great food around here so take your pick!
If you can’t decide, you love cacio e pepe and you’re willing to go a bit out of the way, you can go down to Felice a Testaccio.
My friend who lives in Trastevere told me that they are famous for their Cacio e Pepe.
Italian restaurant tips:
Remember that in Italy if you want a waiter's attention that you need to wave them down! They probably won't check in on you every four minutes when you have a mouth full of food like in American restaurants.
Also there is no need to tip.
"Buonasera" and "Grazie*" can go a long way :)
*grah-zee-ay not grat-zee.
Unless you're actually Brad Pitt.
Altare della Patria & The Roman Forum
Italians call this the “wedding cake”. It’s a massive monument to the first king of the Italy: Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s mostly just for show and a pretty thing to look at on your way to the Colosseum!
You will walk alongside the Roman Forum as you go from the Altare to the Coloseum. This road is called Via dei Fori Imperiali. You can pay to walk through the Forum itself but from this main street you see a lot of it for free.
The Roman Forum was once the center of Roman life. Today the areas surrounding it are the center of tourism activity. Many street performers and beggars come here to make a living from generous tourists. (*Spoiler alert: the "floating monks" are sitting on metal platforms.)
If you've seen any movie about Ancient Rome, you have a pretty good idea of the role this building played.
Fun fact: the Colosseum's real name is the Flavian Amphitheatre. The name "Colosseum" actually was originally in reference to a massive sculpture of Emperor Nero that was named after the Colossus of Rhodes.
Doing a tour of the inside is an option, but ain't nobody got time fo’ that today! Just get your free views from the outside.
DINNER OPTION #2
If you didn't choose the first dinner option, after the colosseum you can stop by La Carbonara to grab dinner (you are probably starving and your feet are killing you). The downside: If you are visiting here on a Friday or Saturday night you will probably need a reservation, but this is a restaurant that was also recommended by an Italian friend that lived in Rome.
More Italian restaurant tips:
Water costs extra (usually around €2).
Bread definitely costs extra, even if they bring it to your plate and don't say anything. If you eat it they will charge you, if you don't they can't.
Get a caffè at the end of your meal, but not a cappuccino. Cappuccinos are considered heavy drink and by ordering one you are basically telling the chef that the food wasn't enough.
There are many romantic movies showcasing the magic of this fountain. The downside of that is the crowd.
Something I found really romantic is actually just to the side of the fountain. There is a drinking fountain with two streams of water crossing over. An Italian friend told me that before a soldier would leave for war, he and his wife/girlfriend would come here to drink from the fountain together as a way of promising to stay faithful and reunite when he returned.
The first time I went to Trevi Fountain it was completely drained and covered in scaffolding. The second time I didn't have my camera!
This is a public fountain, so it's free as well (welcome to Italy).
And that's a wrap! I can't imagine you have much time or energy left over by the time you covered all of this. I hope this gave you a solid outline to maximize your time in the city.
After your Roman adventure you will probably be excited to tell people, "I've went to Italy!". But Italians will be quick to tell you "Rome is not Italy," because it is its own crazy place entirely. But also because truly,
there's no place like Rome.