As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you shouldn’t expect to even scratch the surface if you only have 24 hours to explore the city. Yet you can still take in many of the highlights, sample the amazing food, and leave feeling like you’ve at least tried to do justice to one of Europe’s most famous cities.
We’ve spent many days wandering the streets of Rome, so have some good ideas about sights you should prioritise if you don’t have much time. Maybe it’s just a flying visit, or perhaps a stopover on the way somewhere else. Whatever your reasons, it is possible to cram in a lot, so that you’ll actually feel like you’ve been there longer.
If you are on a short layover and have luggage in tow, it’s a good idea to put it in storage so that you don’t have to lug it around the city with you. Seeing the best sights and museums that Rome has to offer does involve a fair bit of walking, and you don’t want to be hauling bags or cases around on the uneven pavements, especially in the heat of the summer.
There are so many things to do in Rome that you really could spend several weeks here without getting bored, but if you only have a few days to explore, it’s a good idea to purchase a guide book from somewhere like The Works to help you plan your adventure. Sometimes information at city sights is sparse, so having your own guide book will help you get the most out of your visit.
So how should you spend 24 hours in Rome?
Start with the Colosseum. It’s understandably the most famous attraction in the city, and as a result does get very busy as the day goes on. If you can, try and get there at 8.30 am when it opens, and consider buying your tickets in advance so you get to skip the queues. That’s what we did and we walked almost straight in with hardly any waiting around in line. Inside the Colosseum it’s pretty impressive, and looking down into the arena and seeing all the labyrinthine passageways below the seating areas really helps conjure up images of what it must have been like in Roman times.
Now head over to the Vatican Museums. Hands down our favourite attraction in the entire city. If you want to see the Pope, go on a Wednesday morning (when he’s in town) and join thousands of other visitors and locals in St Peter’s Square to receive the Papal blessing from the man himself as he appears on that famous balcony at around 10 – 10.30 am.
The audience lasts for an hour. If you’re not fussed about seeing the Pope, take advantage of this time slot and make your way straight to the Vatican Museums and enjoy them relatively crowd-free! The vast ornate rooms are full of incredible artworks by famous names, and the corridors and ceilings are adorned with marble and gold. Even if you’re not a fan of museums, you’ll want to see this one.
Whilst you’re at the Vatican, make sure to check out the famous Sistine Chapel and of course St Peter’s Basilica. There will be queues for both, but it’s worth it, I promise.
Try and find a little cafe on a side street, away from the main attractions, and preferably one that is full of locals rather than tourists. The prices will be cheaper, the food better, and the experience far more authentic. We recommend sinking your teeth into a calzone, an oven-baked folded pizza crammed full with deliciousness. Washed down with a carafe of red wine (usually cheaper than other drinks on offer!), this is the perfect lunch to have in Rome.
Before leaving Rome you simply must try one of the hundreds of inventive flavours of gelato. You’ll find gelato shops all over the city, so the chances are there will be one nearby at the moment you start to crave something cold and sweet.
If you’re feeling energetic and refreshed from your gelato, and the sun isn’t too hot, make your way to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum and spend the afternoon walking through the ruins of history. This is what Rome is all about, and the place to come if you really want to imagine what life was like back in the day. Stone columns, still proud despite the years of wear, and long grassy avenues mark out the streets and city of old as you walk by in the footsteps of caesars and senators. Palatine Hill is the oldest part of the city, and one of the famous seven hills. The Forum was home to government buildings and places of importance, and in our view is one of the most impressive sights.
Visiting Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum can take a few hours which is easier to fit into a 3-day Rome itinerary than just 24 hours. So if you don’t have that much time (or energy) we suggested you go instead to the Capitoline Museum. It’s a treasure trove of Roman artefacts and artworks, feels very cool and calm away from the crowds, but perhaps the best thing about the Capitoline Museum? The incredible view out across the most impressive part of the Forum!
Rest your weary feet and treat yourself to a meal at one of the Italian restaurants at Piazza di Spagna below the famous Spanish Steps. If you like, stop off at the Trevi Fountain on the way, although be warned, it will be heaving with visitors and won’t look quite as spectacular as it does in the photographs. Throw in a few coins if you want to return! For dinner treat yourself to lashings of pasta, some more wine, and if you have room, a dolci or two for dessert. The Italians really do know how to cook! It’s the perfect spot to while away the evening after a great day sightseeing.
Have you been to Rome? Is there anything else you’d include in our 24 hours itinerary?