Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to time a holiday with friends and an au-pairing job with an accidental spare three days in between the end of one and the start of the other. There was no way I was flying home for a couple of days and then flying right back out again, especially given how expensive flights are from my local English airport, so I began to craft a spontaneous holiday, based off where it was cheapest to fly to from Prague the day that my friends were flying back home.
Somehow, that place was Rome. And, having chosen my destination and got myself very very excited about learning Italian and seeing a new country, the planning to fit everything I could possibly see or do into three days began. Slowly, with a lot of googling and a lot of visits to TripAdvisor, Rome in three days began to take shape…
Step one: find an Italian breakfast!
Having arrived late the previous night after various flight delays and metro confusion, the apartment we were staying in didn’t include any kind of board and we hadn’t been shopping, so first stop was a gorgeous little pasticceria near where we were staying. I would recommend searching up some cafés or bakeries near you via TripAdvisor or google maps (or, if you’ve had time to get your bearings and go for a wander, whatever you pass and looks nice) and fuel yourself for the busy day ahead. Make sure you’ve stocked up on water (even better if you remembered to stick half a bottle in the freezer last night; ice cold water all day!)
Step two: The Colosseum
If you’re planning going to the Colosseum, buy your tickets online in advance. I cannot express how thankful you will be when you see the enormous queues all the way round the Colosseum under the sun, and you get to skip a large proportion of that. You will still have to queue to collect your tickets (you cannot print them out in advance), but that queue is a lot more bearable. Get there early if you can to avoid the worst of the heat and the crowds, but with the tickets it’s not a disaster if you don’t manage to pull yourself out of the comfort of your accommodation at the crack of dawn!
Once inside, have a wander around all the different levels accessible to the public (you can pay extra for access to the lower section) and don’t miss the exhibition and book shop on the upper floor where you can learn about the history of the Colosseum and see other interesting artefacts.
Step three: The Roman Forum
The tickets bought for the Colosseum also give you entry into the Forum on the same day or the day after, and the two are incredibly close so I’d recommend getting some lunch in the shade for the hottest part of the day, and then venturing to the Roman Forum, where there is a lot less shade and most of it is outdoors.
Again, there will be a small queue and a brief security check, and then you are inside. You will need to be quite prepared for a fair amount of walking here, as there’s a large area to see, but there are also three helpful ‘routes’ you can follow, marked by difficulty. Yellow and green go down into the main part of the forum straight ahead when you enter, while the red route will take you on a small climb (stairs) to Palatine Hill, from where you can look over the forum and the surrounding area as well as discover a pretty garden. I’d say it’s definitely worth it if you have enough time and energy!
Step four: rest!
With two major attractions out of the way, take some time to recover and relax; perhaps have a wander around some of Rome’s many shopping areas, go for an afternoon coffee in the shade, or do as we did and head back to the hotel for a siesta.
For dinner, I would strongly recommend the Trastevere neighbourhood to the south west of the centre, which is known for its many restaurants and bars. You will be spoilt for choice and the food is really quite amazing! Aside from its culinary offerings, however, we also saw several very talented street performers including a fire-eater to add a lovely end to our evening.
TOP TIP: HYDRATION
When it’s so hot and the sun is bearing down for most of the day, it’s inevitable that your morning water supplies are going to running low quite quickly. However, don’t panic, and don’t splash out unnecessarily on new bottles of water – the drinking taps scattered frequently around the city centre are perfectly safe to drink from and are a very welcome sight after a long walk. Also, not that unlike in the UK, asking for tap water in a restaurant just isn’t done; they will offer you bottled water without you having to ask most of the time, and if you try to insist on tap water (as I inadvertently did once) will result in very confused facial expressions.
After another delicious breakfast at the same Italian bakery we went to the previous morning, we set out for a second day of exploring…
We took a tram to the centre of town and walked a short distance (passing various gorgeous-looking churches on the way) to the famous Trevi fountain, where we took a lot of photos and battled our way through the hordes of tourists to the front, where I couldn’t resist throwing a coin into the fountain and making a wish. (No, I’m not telling you what it was.)
According to the popular myth originated by the 1954 film, if you throw one coin: you will return to Rome (I hope this is true!), two coins means you will fall in love with an attractive Italian, and three means you will marry the person you met.
An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain every day, and the proceeds go towards charity.
Located a short walk from the fountain, the Pantheon is free to enter and you can’t buy tickets – but this does mean there will inevitably be a queue stretching across the square in front of it, covered by little shade. Thankfully, the queue is pretty fast moving, and when you get inside you find it is not too crowded and is most easily explored at your own pace if you stick to the direction of movement of the crowd.
Enjoy the beautiful interior and the magnificent, imposing exterior, and then you will find a huge range of restaurants and cafés in the surroundings streets if you want to take a break afterwards.
Top tip: the surrounding area is known for its gelato, so why not take this opportunity to sample one of Rome’s most delicious desserts? 😉
Villa Borghese Park
So many of the typical guides to Rome focus on the most famous art museums and historical architecture in the urban centres, but this was a gem I couldn’t resist – I’m a sucker for a calm, green space in the middle of a busy city.
Take the metro to the nearest stop to the Promenade Passegiata del Pincio and walk through this lovely square before beginning the (slightly gruelling, I’ll admit) ascent up to the top of the hill, where you will find some gorgeous views over the city and a beautiful park for an afternoon walk and plenty of pretty photos.
You could even combine this with a picnic in the park, if you don’t want to eat out in a restaurant – it’s really pretty and there are plenty of shaded benches.
Finally: rest and visit any extra places nearby!
After the day of walking from one place to another, discovering things that weren’t on our itinerary to start with, we rested for the rest of the evening, passing by and entering the Basilicia di Santa Maria Maggiore which wasn’t far from our accommodation and so worked perfectly on the walk back from the park. Whether or not you can incorporate this into your day will depend on where you’re staying, but it’s definitely a good idea to find your place on google maps, zoom out a little, and see what attractions you can easily get to on foot that you otherwise might not have been aware of.
On the third and final day, we went to see perhaps the most famous and busy of Rome’s attractions: the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Vatican Museums
Again, if you don’t want to be waiting in the BIGGEST QUEUE I HAVE EVER SEEN, buy a ticket for the Vatican Museums in advance. They can be bought online on the official website with a small reservation fee added, and you will be given a specific time for your ‘tour’ which is when you should turn up – but we turned up early and that was fine too, no-one cared which was very useful. Once you’ve walked past the huge lines of people waiting to enter and smugly entered the building, swap your printed reservation for some actual tickets, go through the security checks, and you’re off!
The Vatican Museums are huge and winding, with a longer and a shorter route to choose from, so you’re going to want to allow most of the day for this, and be prepared for a fair amount of walking/standing.
St. Peter’s Basilica
You can’t reserve tickets for the Basilica, and there’s no way to skip the enormous queue which is winding all the way around the square (well, the circle) even if you turn up pretty early, so unlike most advice which tells you to arrive at the crack of dawn and go there first, I would suggest one of the following options:
- Pay extra to one of the many, many people who will be hanging around the Basilica offering persistently to sell various tickets, and go to both the Museums and the Basilica with a specially arranged tour group. Tour groups are allowed to skip straight from the Sistine Chapel in the Museum to the Basilica (although note that you will miss the last part of the Museums if you do this, won’t have as much freedom to wander around at leisure, and they’re more expensive) and therefore you don’t have to wait in the queue. A good option if you want to have an audio guide to all the exhibits as well as to skip the queue. Or, you know, if you blend in really well with a tour group when you’re in the Sistine Chapel and watch carefully where they go… *cough*
- Go to the Basilica later, not earlier. Visit the Vatican Museums first, and then afterwards, by around 4pm, when the sun is lower and the main tourist rush is dying down, the queues for the Basilica are much, much shorter and it’s not such a painful wait. Of course, you’ll need to check when the Chapel closes on the day you’re visiting to avoid missing it altogether, but this is a far more comfortable and intelligent approach to missing the queues without having to go on a tour.
Extra tip: these two activities took up the whole day for us, but if you end up with a spare few hours afterwards, why not walk through the Borgo neighbourhood out of the Vatican city and visit the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo?
Of course, these three days weren’t even as packed as they could have been; Rome wasn’t built in three days, and nor can you see absolutely everything that there is to see in that time. However, this really left us feeling like we’d done a lot in the time we had and seen all of the most famous landmarks of the city, and I’d definitely recommend something similar if you’re planning on going to Rome for a short duration. And if there’s still a few things left to see, it’s just another excuse for a second trip back to Rome in the future, isn’t it?