Here is a quick and easy way to look at it:
- 1 Day: A rushed trip. Choose between Historic Rome monuments and Vatican City.
- 2 Days: Quick view of Rome highlights, and some of the Vatican. Colosseum, Forum & Pantheon on the first day and Vatican Museum and St. Peter's on the second day.
- 3 Days: Get a feel for Rome beyond the attractions. Explore the monuments, go on a walking tour, and visit outstanding sights in the Vatican City. 3 days in Rome is just about the right time.
- 4 Days: Rome and Vatican highlights + some off the beaten path experiences
- 5 Days: Leisurely visit of Rome and Vatican + some off the beaten path experiences + a day trip outside Rome.
Rome in 4 buckets each requiring a day
I would think off a visit to Rome in four different buckets. Each bucket should take one day of your time.
The first day of your Rome visit is the historic center; it has all of the big attractions that Rome is famous for – the Colosseum, the Roman forum, the Palatine hill, The Pantheon and so many more famous attractions. Visiting the historic center of Rome will definitely take you an entire day and sometimes visitors take even longer.
The second entire day off your visit in Rome will be at the Vatican city. The Vatican city is much more than St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Each attraction off the Vatican city needs enough number of hours to properly visit. For example the Vatican museums themselves have so many rooms full of treasures collected by the Popes over the centuries. And then you have St. Peter’s where depending on whether you are climbing the dome or not, you can either be done in an hour or take a few hours to complete the entire building.
Outside the historic centre
A third day is certainly justified for Rome to visit the parts outside the historic centre of the city. The Catacombs, the Appian Way, the old aqueducts that brought water into the city, the Janiculum, and other nooks and crannies in the less visited districts of Rome on it tremendously rich place to visit. There are many interesting offbeat things to see and do in Rome.
Day trip from Rome
No visit to Rome is complete without a daytrip to the surrounding countryside. Italy has an amazing network of train and road systems that can take you long distances in a very short duration. My favorite day trip from Rome is to Orvieto. You can spend an entire day in Orvieto. In fact there is enough reason to recommend more than one day trip from home so that you can get a sense of the culture of the countryside in addition to the culture of the city itself.
Things to do in Rome
1 day in Rome
The Vatican Museums and the monuments of ancient Rome are must-sees but it is just not possible to pack them in a day. You are better off picking either Vatican City or Roman monuments rather than trying to do both. My recommended one day itinerary will only include Lungotevere, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and a rushed visit to Roman Forum and the Coliseum.
2 days in Rome
You are being very ambitious to plan a trip to see Rome in just two days. However, if that is all you have, allocate the first day for the highlights of Rome and the second day to the Vatican City .
Some attractions are open till late. There is a night tour of Colosseum that comes highly recommended and on summer Fridays the Vatican museums are open in the evenings. If you plan carefully and pre-book most attractions, you might be able to fit in one or two more attractions.
3 Days in Rome
If you can afford 3 full days in Rome, then I'd say yes it's just about enough to get a feel for the place, and take in some of the local character...the sights and sounds beyond the tourist trail of Rome.
What to see in Rome in 3 days?
Day one: Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain
Day two: Vatican City (Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica)
Day three: In the morning head to Appian Way, and in the evening visit Borghese Gallery and the gardens.
4 days in Rome
If this is your first visit to Rome, I suggest four full days. With four days you will have enough time to spread out your itinerary and not rush through all the attractions. After taking in all the key highlights, you can add an offbeat experience.
5 days in Rome
There is so much to see and do in Rome: ruins, architecture, museums, churches, beautiful fountains, amazing cuisine. Five days in Rome is perfect as Rome is a city best enjoyed when you have time to relax and just take in the ambiance.
If you are staying for 5 days in Rome, add a short day trip around Rome.
Tips for planning your Rome Visit
Irrespective of how many days you plan to stay in Rome, you will find following tips useful
- Reserve tickets to Borghese Gallery, colosseum underground tour and the Vatican Museums ahead of time online to avoid long lines.
- If you intend to visit many attractions and use public transport extensively, consider buying Roma Pass. However, my assessment is that Roma Pass is not useful for an average tourist.
- From the airport to the hotel, Leonardo express is most convenient. The slower FR1 or the Terravision bus costs less but take more time. The local city bus costs €1.50 but takes more than 100 minutes to reach the city center.
- Do not forget to pack comfortable walking shoes. Walking is the best way to take in Rome. Bear in mind that many streets in the historic centre of Rome are cobbled. Also many of the churches were paved centuries ago with solid, hard floors.
- Dress code is enforced strictly in the Vatican. To enter St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums, men and women should have their arms covered to the elbow, and their legs to below the knee. Do not forget to pack and dress appropriately.
- Rome has multiple hop-on, hop-off sightseeing-bus tours, with touts aggressively pushing each one of them. I do not think any of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing-bus tours is worth it.
- Just wander off a public square, you will find clusters of restaurants. Be brave and have your meal at any one of them. It is difficult to find a bad meal in Rome!
- If you enjoy wine, always order the house wine. Often times it is served by the liter.
This might shock you but I do not recommend spending more than two days in Rome. At the end of the day Rome is a hot tourist destination that is packed to the brim with visitors all year round. You do not get a sense of Italy when you are in Rome; everything is made for the tourists and everywhere you go the attractions are filled with foreigners who are there to see all of the famous sites.
So I would recommend a trip to Rome where you spend one day visiting the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Forum. This is important because you cannot leave Rome without seeing these attractions.
And on the next day you should go on a visit to the important parts of the Vatican City. I would simply suggest that you go to St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Vatican museums (specifically to the Sistine Chapel). This way you spend about five hours in Vatican City watching the attractions, spend a couple of hours walking around and getting a sense of the crowds and then just leave the city limits of Rome.
And so what I am suggesting is to spend two full days in Rome. In fact you can even get away with spending one night. I think you can spend it in the historic center, afford to pay a little more to be in a convenient location.
7 days to get a sense of Rome.
A trip to Rome requires at least seven days in my view. It is impossible to get a sense of the city, it’s history, it’s culture, and it’s people in lesser time. Too many visitors to Rome end up going back in just three or four days at most. This does not give them satisfaction of having visited all the historic monuments properly. They also go back without having a good sense of the culture of Rome.
So I would recommend a 7 day visit to Rome. And the way I would divide these seven days in the city would be as follows:
Day 1 visits: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine hill. You will find that if you visit these places slowly, as they should be, it will take an entire day or more.
Day 2 visits: Vatican city. Plan to spend the entire day just focusing on the Vatican museums. The museum collection of art and artifacts is huge. There is no way you can spend less than a day and get a sense of the grandeur. In fact I would recommend spending at least 45 minutes only in the Sistine Chapel and if you can spend an hour in the Raphael rooms.
Day 3 visits: On the third day again visit Vatican City. This day you should focus on St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, climb the cupola of the Basilica, and spend enough time in the streets of the Vatican.
Day 4: On day four go back to Rome, back to the historic center of the city. Visit the Pantheon, spend time in Villa Borghese, and just walk around the squares and the fountains of Rome. On this day spend time hanging out at the Spanish Steps. Visit three or four main fountains of Rome, including Trevi of course.
Day 5 On day 5 dedicate your trip to discovering the local Rome. Visit the less known attractions and the next visit to districts of the city, like Trastevere, Testaccio, and Monti.
Day 6: Discover the art of Rome. Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and so many more artists had Rome as their canvas. In every charge you go to, every museum you visit, even in the streets of Rome, you will find amazing renaissance art everywhere to see. In fact the entire city of Rome is like an open air museum.
Day 7: Frankly even on day seven it is too early to go into a daytrip. You should spend day seven in Rome just watching local people. The Romans who live in the city, not connected with two of them, have a unique life and culture of their own. Head to the EUR zone to see where real Romans live and work. You will be amazed at what a difference it is from historic Rome.
The ideal would be to stay in Rome at least 5 days to be able to see the city calmly and carefully.
To see the central area, where are the monuments and the most important areas, and without visiting museums or parks it takes 2/3 days.
To visit the Vatican City with St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and the Gardens it needs at least a day.