I have been to Rome so many times I know my way around the city by heart. The narrow streets, busy squares, crowds of tourists, the churches and the antiquities. You can easily spend weeks or months in the Eternal City. But what if you only have a weekend and you visit Rome for the first time? Then I recommend this walking route for Rome in two days!
The must-sees in Rome
Earlier I wrote this blog about the 10 must-sees in Rome. Of course, they all come back in this two-day itinerary. So prepare yourself for a lot of walking and sightseeing for Rome in two days.
Do you have more time than two days? Then take it a bit slower and spead the same itinerary over four days. This also gives you time to not only visit the highlights but also to take a look at other beautiful places in the area.
Day 1 in Rome
We start with some history: your first morning is dominated by antiquities. Start with the ancient Colosseum, Forum Romanum, and Palatine. Read our tips here to skip the line at the Colosseum! Take your time and spend the entire morning here.
Walk early in the afternoon with a detour to Piazza Venezia. First, you walk past the old Circus Maximus which was used by chariot racing by the Romans. Now there is a large lawn in which you can still recognise the shapes of the circus.
Extra time? Then I recommend you to visit the Basilica di Santa Sabina on the Aventine after the Circus Maximus. From the monastery garden, you have a great view of Rome with the Circus Maximus, the Palatine and the Colosseum in front of you! Another nice viewpoint is just a little further than the Teatro di Marcello on the Capitolijn hill. Just like the Palatine and Aventine hill, that is one of the 7 hills on which Rome is built. From here you have a beautiful view over the Roman Forum with the Colosseum in the background.
Walk from Circus Maximus to Santa Maria in Cosmedin. You will probably see a line here. Not for the church though, but for the Bocca Della Verita (translated: Mouth of Truth) in the porch. In the porch of the church is a large disk with a face in it. According to legends, you cannot put your hand in the mouth and tell a lie at the same time without losing your hand.
A little further is an old theater: Teatro di Marcello. Remarkably, in later times a palazzo – now an apartment complex – was built on top of the theater.
You’ll end this small walk at Piazza Venezia. It’s hard to miss the gigantic Monument of Victor Emanuel II, also known as ll Vittoriano and Altare Della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). The design of the monument is not exactly subtle. I can quite well understand the local nickname “sugar cake”. The monument has two museums. If you want to see a beautiful view of the city from the top, you have to buy a ticket for it.
The famous Pantheon is just a few minutes’ walk from this square. The famous dome has an opening (the oculus) with a diameter of 8.7 meters. A Roman emperor – you’ll see his name on the front – once built it as a place of worship for the Roman gods. It is now a church, so adjust your clothing accordingly.
Do you have enough time? Then visit the Basilica Santa Maria Sopra Minerva next to the Pantheon. It is one of my favourites in Rome. It is one of the few churches in Gothic style and the deep blue ceiling with stars is unique. In front of the church is a cute elephant with an obelisk on its back. The designer of the elephant? None other than the famous Bernini.
Close to the Pantheon is Piazza Navona, the endpoint of this day. It takes little imagination to recognise in the shape of the stadium that once stood here. The impressive fountains on the square were designed by Bernini. In the evening it is has a relaxed vibe with street artists, sellers, tourists and painters who sell their work.
Day 2 in Rome
Start that as early as possible at the Trevi Fountain to have the unique opportunity to visit it without the usual crowd. Throw a coin in the fountain to make sure you’ll one day return to Rome, as the legends say. It seems that around € 3,000 is thrown into the fountain every day. The fountain is regularly emptied; the money is donated to charity.
Walk from the Trevi to the Spanish Steps. At the bottom of the stairs, you will find another Bernini fountain. It’s name is the Fontana Della Barcaccia (translated: Fountain of the leaking boat). Just look at the design and you’ll get why.
Then visit the park at the Villa Borghese before you marvel at the art collection of the Galleria Borghese. Book your tickets online in time, because on the day itself you can rarely get a last-minute ticket here. Highlights of the collection are the two man-sized sculptures by Bernini. I love how they are full of energy and movement in stead of the usual more static design of statues. They are truly unique works of art! Take plenty of time to admire the artworks, but also make sure you can be at the Vatican in the afternoon.
The nearby Piazza del Popola is next. Visit the Santa Maria del Popolo church with the famous chapel of the Chigi family, made by Rome’s greatest architect Bernini. If you’re unlucky, the chapel is closed to visitors. The book by Dan Brown and its film version draws too many people to Bernini’s chapel.
Not enough time? Or is this too much walking for you in one day? Then skip the Piazza del Popolo and take the metro near the Villa Borghese to the Vatican, where you will spend the afternoon. You should get off at the Ottaviano stop (and not S. Pietro).
Walk along the Tiber to the Castel Sant ‘Angelo. The castle is now a museum, but I like it more for its beautiful views of Rome and the Tiber than its museum. From above you can also spot the Passetto di Borgo running. This above-ground passage of 800 meters leads directly to the Vatican. In the event of danger, the pope was able to get to his safe castle as quickly as possible via the passetto. Tip: the passetto is sometimes open to visitors in the summer months.
Spend the afternoon on this second day in Vatican City, the smallest country in the world. First visit the Vatican Museums. There are often long lines here, so make sure you book your ticket online in advance. My favourites? The Galleria Delle Carte geografiche (translated: the map gallery) with beautiful map paintings on all walls, the Sala Rotonda with a ceiling like the Pantheon and the papal apartments with the murals of Raphael. Of course, the Sistine Chapel with the world-famous wall and ceiling paintings by Michelangelo is an obvious highlight as well.
Finish the afternoon in the famous St. Peter’s Basilica. How to skip the lines? Read this blog! The size of the church and St. Peter’s Square in front it is just huge. Did you know that the square itself is 240 meters wide and 360 meters long and has more than 300 columns? The basilica not only impresses with its size but especially with all the art. Almost every surface of the church is decorated with statues, paintings, texts, mosaic, and marble.
Tip: buy a ticket to visit the roof of St Peter’s. You will not only have a phenomenal view of St Peter’s Square and Rome from above. But this also allows you to admire the famous dome up close.