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The Eternal City is one of the most fascinating cities you’ll find anywhere on the planet, and having just 3 days in Rome means that time is pretty tight. The good news is that a 3 day itinerary for Rome is totally do-able, but you’ll need to plan your time carefully to make the most of every moment.
This article aims to help you along the way, assisting you to manage your time effectively so you don’t miss out on any of Rome’s main sights. We’ve also included a few hidden gems, like local neighborhoods you should dine out in plus the top pizzerias and gelaterias in the Italian capital – some of which offer stunning views over famous local landmarks.
From the tiny country that is the Vatican City to the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps and more, this is how to plan an enjoyable itinerary for 3 days in Rome.
Top sights in Rome
Where do we even begin? The city is packed with glorious art and architecture, but these are the key sights to include on your Rome 3-day itinerary – especially if you’re a first timer or returning after many years.
If there’s one iconic site that immediately springs to mind when thinking of Rome, the Colosseum must surely be it. While the Colosseum barely needs any introduction, it would be a crime not to see Rome’s most famous spot while staying in the city.
The fact that the Pantheon has stood for over 2,000 years is awe-inspiring in itself, before we even get to the fact that its giant dome is nothing short of an architectural miracle. Beneath, it’s bathed in light thanks to the presence of a large oculus (hole in the ceiling), making for a magical experience.
Living La Dolce Vita at the Trevi Fountain is also a must on any 3-day Rome itinerary, especially if you want to return to the Eternal City. It’s said that throwing a coin into the fountain guarantees you will indeed come back someday.
The Spanish Steps date back to the 18th century, and climbing all 135 of them rewards you with the most breathtaking, sweeping views over Rome. The steps connect the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, and there is a church of the same name at the latter.
Piazza Navona is quintessential Rome. This large Baroque square is decorated with a trio of opulent fountains. The Fountain of the Four Rivers in the center is the highlight. Piazza Navona stands on an ancient site once occupied by a Roman stadium.
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican City is actually just that – an entirely separate entity from Rome in political terms, although it’s located in the heart of the city. Its museums contain a jaw-dropping collection of artworks, including paintings and sculptures by the likes of Raphael, Da Vinci and of course Michelangelo’s masterpiece – the Sistine Chapel.
St Peter’s Basilica
Whether you’re a committed Catholic or a staunch atheist, seeing the majesty of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican cannot fail to leave you speechless. There are works of art, Royal and papal tombs and an incredible dome to see inside too. Plan to climb the 551 to the top of the dome to see incredible panoramic views of Rome.
Day One – Discover Rome’s Old Town and lively Trastevere neighborhood
Spending time in the historic heart of the city makes the ideal introduction to Rome. It seems there are ornate monuments and fountains around every corner of the charming, cobbled streets, while the sociable piazzas make the ideal place to sit with a gelato or coffee while soaking up the atmosphere.
Morning and Afternoon – Stroll around the Old Town
The first day of your three days in Rome itinerary can be spent exploring the ancient heart of the city, seeing some of the most iconic sights in the land along the way. We recommend taking a circuit starting out at the Pantheon, stopping at the Trevi Fountain and then the Spanish Steps before ending at Piazza Navona. Take your time, this is the beating heart of Rome in all its glory.
Lunch and Gelato Stop Suggestions
- Prosciutteria Cantina dei Papi – This Roman institution, just a hop from the famous Trevi Fountain, is the place to sample succulent, salty cured meats and delectable cheeses.
- La Rinascente – This large department store boasts a 7th floor terrace offering panoramic views over the city. There is also an excellent food court located on the 6th floor.
- Gelato stop – Giolitti – Giolitti is an historic cafe that serves up some of the finest gelato in Rome. Don’t be deterred by the long lines of waiting customers – staff work fast and the flavors are also well worth the wait. Make sure to place your order and get a ticket at the front of the store before moving to the gelato counter to choose your flavors
If you have time or are feeling energized by all those glorious sights, you could visit the Villa Borghese and Galleria Borghese after seeing the Spanish Steps. Villa Borghese is home to one of Rome’s largest green spaces and it’s a beautiful spot to wander, rent bikes or admire the views from the Terrazza del Pincio. Lovers of art should make plans to visit the Galleria Borghese, one of the finest galleries in the city.
Evening – Dinner or a food tour in Trastevere
Eating dinner in Trastevere means sampling authentic local food while spending time in a historic neighborhood that is bursting with personality and a vibrant street life. Trattoria Da Enzo al 29 is a typical restaurant of the Trastevere district that serves up superb main meals, pasta dishes and desserts. Must-trys include fried artichokes, the typical Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe and something from their changing dessert menu. They don’t take reservations so you can expect to wait a little while.
A food tour
If you want to sample a variety of dishes and learn about the local cuisine, a food tour of Trastevere is one of our favorite ways to spend an evening in Rome. Booking a food tour is a great way to try local dishes, meet fellow travelers and discover one of the city’s historic districts and it’s one of our top tips for making the most of your time when doing Rome in 3 days.
Evening Golf cart tour
If you’re arriving late into Rome, this evening golf cart tour with drinks is the perfect introduction to the city. Take a comfortable seat in a golf buggy while a local expert shows you the sights. You’ll also see a few secret spots and enjoy a sip of Prosecco and aperitivo.
Expert tips for your first day in Rome
- Take your time – Do take your time – and make sure you capture plenty of photos for posterity. It’s better to discover fewer sites properly, while enjoying the experience, than to rush around ticking off a list.
- Golf cart tour – if you or your travel companions have mobility issues or simply want to save your legs, join a golf cart tour that covers 20 landmarks and 6 neighborhoods of Rome in eco-friendly style > more info
- Prebook your tickets to Galleria Borghese – If you do plan to head to Galleria Borghese, we recommend pre-booking your tickets. This will save you time and guarantee entry on the day > Official Booking site
Day Two – Colosseum and Ancient Rome
Day two when in Rome for 3 days can be spent exploring the city’s incredible ancient sites – starting out early at the Colosseum if you can before taking in ruins, art and culture or panoramic views.
Morning and Afternoon – Visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum
Plan to arrive at the Colosseum at the 9am opening time before the crowds so you can enjoy this magnificent site before it gets busy and avoid the heat of the day in summer. Allow at least two to three hours to discover and photograph the underground area, Gladiators gate, the arena and Palatine Hill properly. You can explore on your own however it is a large area with poor signage and explanations so a guided tour is recommended. At the very least it’s a good idea to pre-book your tickets.
Lunch and Gelato Stop Suggestions
- Ai Tre Scalini – A welcoming restaurant situated inside what was a winery in ancient times. The menu includes delicious pastas, meat mains and of course a comprehensive wine list.
- Li Rioni A Santiquattro – Here you can sample authentic Roman-style, thin crust pizzas in a light, airy dining room with beamed ceilings and exposed brickwork.
- Fatamorgana Monti – When in Rome we always want to sample as much gelato as possible and this is another top spot. Expect friendly service and a tantalizing array of freshly made flavors.
Can’t get enough of Roman history? This area is full of treasures to explore. The Capitoline Museums are a favorite with art, culture and history fans, as they’re packed with appealing Roman sculptures and antiquities.
Alternatively, if sweeping views are more your thing, head to the Terrazza delle Quadrighe at Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia to enjoy a stupendous panorama over Rome.
Evening – Dinner near Campo de’Fiori
Campo De’Fiori is a lively piazza that hosts a daily produce market. At night it comes alive with restaurants, bars and street performances. It’s a fun place to go for dinner and then to walk around or as the Italians say “passeggiata”. This is where you’ll find our favorite restaurant in Rome – Roscioli Salumeria. Definitely a restaurant to include on your 3 day Rome itinerary, it’s known for its amazing pasta dishes. As well as a restaurant, there is a bakery, wine store and deli on site. Bookings essential.
Expert tips for day 2
- Take a tour of the Colosseum and Ancient – to make the most of your time in this area, it’s worth pre-booking a tour led by an experienced guide. Take Walks Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum and Palatine Hill –
- Pre-book tickets for the Colosseum – the incredibly popular Colosseum is one of those sites where you’ll be grateful if you pre-booked your tickets before arrival. And in fact timed entry is now compulsory. You can book your tickets via GetYourGuide or the official site – we give you two options as the official site often does not accept international credit cards
- Focus on footwear – do make sure you wear comfortable shoes for exploring the Colosseum and walking around the city. While Italians may be stylish, hobbling around due to blisters doesn’t look or feel good.
Day Three – Explore the Vatican City
On the last of your 3 days in Rome it’s time to explore the Vatican City, a separate state that lies within Rome. This is home to the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, as well as magnificent sights like St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Later in the day you can take one of our suggested detours before dining out in style during your final evening.
Morning and Afternoon – Visit the Vatican Museums followed by St Peter’s Basilica
Like the Colosseum, the Vatican and its churches and museums occupy a vast site that you’ll need a minimum of two to three hours to explore. Highlights include the Hall of Maps and the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Dome and Michelangelo’s Pieta and crypt at St Peter’s and the splendid Vatican Gardens. We also love seeing the Swiss Guard in traditional dress at their posts.
Planning your day at the Vatican is crucial as you will cover a lot of ground on foot. Most people start early at the Vatican Museums and make their way to St Peter’s in the afternoon but the reverse is also possible. You will need to purchase timed entry tickets or a guided tour (recommended) for the Vatican Museums and while it is free to enter St Peter’s there are lines for security checks.
Lunch and Gelato Stop Suggestions
- Bonci Pizzarium – This Roman pizzeria is where celebrated chef Gabriele Bonci perfected the art of his ground-breaking dough. Pizzas are also topped with only the finest seasonal ingredients
Gelato stop – La Gelateria del Teatro – Classic and innovative flavors make use of the freshest ingredients. Italian ice cream isn’t the only sweet treat available at this small store – handmade chocolates are also for sale.
If you have time and energy to spare in the afternoon, choose from the following activities to make the most of your time in Rome. Dramatic Castel Sant’Angelo was built over the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Dating back to the 2nd century AD, it’s now a museum with beautiful views over the Tiber River.
A walk along the Tiber over and along historic bridges gives you a unique perspective on the city. Also close by, Via Coronari is one of Rome’s most picturesque streets lined with 15th and 16th century Renaissance buildings.
Evening – Dine out with Iconic Views or Explore the City by Night
What better way to spend your final night in Rome than dining overlooking the city’s iconic attractions. For views of the Colosseum, make reservations at Aroma. This sophisticated eatery is situated on Palazzo Manfredi’s top floor. You can gaze out over the iconic landmark as you savor pasta, meat and fish dishes, all served fine dining style.
Terrazza Borromini is located inside the magnificent Palazzo Pamphilj. Diners here enjoy some of the most stunning views in Rome over Piazza Navona. Food is elegant versions of local favorites, accompanied by an impressive wine and cocktail list.
There’s something very special about Rome bathed in moonlight. Simply retracing your steps through the centro storico (old town) will give you an entirely new perspective on the Eternal City. If you want to end your stay on a high this Colosseum at Night tour takes you underground to the Gladiators Gate and onto the arena for a truly memorable experience including multi-media show.
You can head even further underground on this Catacombs Night Tour. This very spooky Catacombs Night Tour experience takes you deep into the Capuchin Crypt and to the Catacombs of Saint Agnes and the basilica dedicated her that is decorated in 4th century glittering mosaics.
Expert tips for day 3
- Book a tour – A guided Vatican Museums tour is useful for making the most of every moment. This early morning tour is very popular or you can check out our round up of the best Vatican tours for other options
- Pre-book tickets for the Vatican Museums – Pre-booking again saves waiting in line and time entry is now a requirement to access the museums – Vatican Site – or easier booking with English language Vatican Museum tickets on Get Your Guide
- Expect security checks – Expect to wait in line for essential security checks at both St Peters and the Vatican Museums
- Dress appropriately – Respectful dress appropriate for this religious site is expected, and shoulders and knees should be covered.
- Well shod – Again, wearing comfortable shoes means putting your enjoyment of the day first.
Arriving in Rome
Make sure your trip gets off to the best start possible by planning your arrival into Rome. The Leonardo Express takes you straight into Roma Termini station in the city center where you can grab a taxi to your accommodation or book a transfer with Welcome Pickups or Sun Transfers (larger groups)
Where to stay in Rome
When you’ll only be in Rome for 3 days, we highly recommend staying near the Pantheon. This is the beating heart of the city, with all the city’s main attractions within easy reach on foot. To find a place to stay in this area, read our dedicated article about hotels near the Pantheon, which details some of the best options at different price points. If you can’t resist the lure of ancient Rome, our guide to hotels near the Colosseum has suggestions including rooms with views over the famous monument.
Recommended Tour Companies in Rome
Exploring Rome on your own is a joy and should definitely form a large part of your itinerary. However, if you have a particular interest in learning about the culture, history and cuisine of one of the world’s greatest cities, joining a guided tour will make the sights of the city really come to life. These are the tour companies we recommend using in Rome.
- Take Walks (formerly Walks of Italy) have a longstanding reputation for well designed tours, excellent service, 24 hour cancelation, groups under 20 people and guaranteed departures. So if you are the only person booked on a tour it will still go ahead > browse tours
- Liv Tours are a family run company based in Rome who run very small group (6 people max) and private tours across Italy and Europe. They also offer 24 hour cancelation. Liv Tours offer our readers 5% off with code – UntoldItaly > browse tours
- Withlocals run private tours at reasonable prices including some great options for families. There are set itineraries you can choose or work with a guide to customize your own. We love their 10 tastes food tours > browse tours
- Food Tours – Eating Europe and Devour Tours are well known for their excellent itineraries exploring neighborhoods and focus on local cuisine.
Summary – 3 days in Rome is never enough!
Following a 3 day Rome itinerary is likely to leave you wishing to return to the Eternal City as soon as is humanly possible! We’ve barely scratched the surface of what you can do and see in Rome.
We do hope to have shown, however, that it is possible to see the key sights of Rome in 3 days – and you should also find time to devour some scrumptious pizza, pasta and gelato along the way.
If you do have more time to spare, check out this 5 day itinerary on our sister site, Untold Morsels that includes day trips and off the beaten path things to do and see in Rome.