This past November I decided to meet my parents in Europe for a quick trip to Rome over Thanksgiving week. Even though I’d recommend spending a little more time here in Rome, if you’re on a tight schedule it’s not impossible to see all the main attractions in 48 hours, and I’m going to tell you how.
Day 1: The Vatican
Most likely if you’re flying from the states, you’ll be flying in overnight and landing sometime in the morning or early afternoon to Italy. I flew in on a red-eye flight from Philly and landed in Rome around 9 am. Lucky for me my parents had already rented a car, so it was easy for them to come scoop me up and head to our hotel, where I dropped off my stuff, took a quick shower and then headed on over to the Vatican for the day. You don’t need a car to visit Rome, my parents were spending a week there and knew we planned to drive down to Pompeii so that’s why we had one, but it’s perfectly easy to take the train/subway system around the city. In fact, even with our car rental we still parked outside Vatican City and took public trans into the city.
Coming from a very very Catholic European family, it was really interesting to go see the Vatican in person. Religious views aside, the Vatican is an iconic area of Rome to visit when coming to Italy. Something interesting to note, even though people say the Vatican is in Rome, it’s actually its own separate entity. Vatican City is an “independent city-state” enclaved within Rome, Italy.
So what should you not miss when visiting Vatican City? The most obvious, of course is St. Peter’s Square, which happens to be the largest open space in all of Rome. This is a great place to start, because 1. it’s free and 2. it’s central to pretty much everything else you’ll want to see. St. Peter’s Square is a massive piazza that holds St. Peter’s Basilica. For most people, this is what they’re picturing when they think of the Vatican. You’ll definitely be able to spend a good amount of time just outside in the piazza admiring the massive columns, fountains and statues, but if you want to go inside the basilica or museums, you can do that too. St. Peter’s Basilica is a massive church filled with artwork from some of the most celebrated artists in history. You can enter the church for free, but if you want to skip the line, get a tour or audio guide you’ll have to pay.
The Vatican Museums are also something not to miss if you have time, though you likely won’t be able to see everything in one day. The Vatican Museums are made up of several different museums, galleries, and rooms, each featuring vast collections of world-renowned paintings and sculptures collected by several popes over the past few centuries. One of the most popular being the The Sistine Chapel.
A few things to note while visiting to Vatican:
- The museums are free on the last Sunday of every month
- Dress appropriately (if you aren’t conservative, you will have to buy a cover up)
- Get there early, or close to sunset, or you will be waiting in long lines
- Certain parts of the museum close at sunset, so you will want to go early if you want to see everything
- It’s more than just the Basilica, give yourself a whole day to explore the city
Day 2: The Colosseum & Trevi Fountain
On our second day in Rome we woke up early, and made our way into the city. Our first stop was to hit the Spanish Steps. We parked our car just outside the city, and took the subway right to the Piazza di Spagna, from there it’s only a few steps away from seeing the massive 135 white steps that lead up to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.
From here, we made our way over to the Trevi Fountain, which was only about a 9 minute walk. Of course as we walked up to the fountain they were cleaning it, so all the sparkling blue water you’re so used to seeing in pictures was drained. But it wouldn’t be long before they refilled it, we waited around a few minutes and were able to get some good pictures at the fountain before continuing on to see our next stop.
The Pantheon is another famous architectural landmark to see while in Rome. At just another 9 minute walk from the Trevi Fountain, we were able to get a great view of the ancient Roman building that dates back to 125 AD. Now a Catholic church, the Pantheon is actually one of the most well preserved roman buildings thanks mostly to being in continuous use throughout history. You can also walk inside and explore, which we did.
Next stop is the Piazza Navona which is just around the corner from the Pantheon. No really, it’s a 2 minute walk. Here you’ll find a big open area with several statues and fountains. This is a good spot to grab a bite to eat since there are plenty of options surrounding the plaza. By this time it should be around lunchtime anyways if you started your day early.
From the Piazza we started making our way down south-east towards the Colosseum, walking through the Roman Forum on the way. The Roman Forum is basically another plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city. Theres a walk way you can take to get closer to the ruins and read more about them, almost like an outdoor museum set up. Or you can walk around them, and still get some pretty pictures. We were getting pressed for time so we didn’t walk down into the ruins, but continued on our way towards the Colosseum.
As we tried to make our way directly towards the Colosseum which was supposed to be something like a 20 minute walk, we ended up detouring a little too south and stumbled upon the Circus Maximus. This big field is an ancient Roman Chariot racing stadium. You have to use your imagination, since all that’s left now is literally a big green field with a track and a few ruins on the end, but it was still cool to see. (Middle photo to the right)
About 40 minutes after we left the Forum, we finally came across the Colosseum. At this point the sun was starting to set, so we knew we wouldn’t have time to go inside, and we just walked around the perimiter for a little bit until we found a good photo spot to take some pictures across the street. About an hour or two before sunset always proves to be great lighting though, so it worked out for us! Had we decided to go inside the Colosseum, we probably would have been waiting in line way too long and it would’ve been dark when we got out.
As we left the Colosseum, the sun was really beginning to set now, so we headed towards the impressive Victor Emmanuel II Monument in between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill. This was perfect to visit during sunset, because we were able to climb the steps to watch the sun set over Rome from one of the rooftop levels. This giant marble building’s design is a neoclassical interpretation of the Roman Forum. It has beautiful stairways, columns, fountains and it’s most recognizable feature: an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel II. While we only climbed the steps to the middle section of the building, you are also able to pay extra to go to the very top! Here was the view we got, which I still think was pretty nice:
Our last stop was dinner back near the Trevi Fountain on our way back home. The restaurant we went to was recommended by a friend and called Amore. I got the gnocchi and it was delicious, but the entire menu looked great! They had some pretty impressive deserts too and it was very reasonably priced.
The next morning my parents and I ended up driving down to Naples to visit the ruins of Pompeii for a day trip, which was amazing. I’ll write a separate blog post on Pompeii and link it here soon. So anyways, for a 3 day trip to Italy I feel like I got a lot accomplished! It might have been super fast paced but still very worth it to me to be able to see all the famous sites I wanted to see. Hopefully this guide helps if you’re on a time crunch, or even visiting on a layover for work!