I love, love Rome and can’t stop going back – in fact, it’s my most visited foreign city! From the city’s enchanting narrow streets, beautiful Piazzas, and ancient ruins, you would have a hard time finding a more charming city.
After several trips to Rome, I’ve narrowed down my list of the things and places you must see and do there. This post will cover all of this and additional city details in a 4-day Rome Itinerary.
A Brief City History
Rome was founded sometime during the 8th century B.C., most likely due to the gradual aggregation of villages situated above Palatine Hill. Or, if you’d like to believe something cooler, it was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus around the same time (according to ancient Roman historians.
During the ancient times it moved from a monarchy, ruled by kings; a republic, governed by the Senate; and an empire, ruled by…emperors :). That last transition began with the rise of Julius Caesar and was solidified by Caesar Augustus.
The empire grew and grew over the years, in part due to the strength of the military. At its peak, it spanned from as far west as Spain to as far east as Babylon (in present day Iraq).
Of course all great things must come to an end, and the empire fell in the 5th century A.D. Following this period, Rome fell into a period of decline for many years. Fast forward to the late middle ages, Rome reaped many of the benefits of the Age of Enlightenment. It became a center for thought and beautiful architectural design.
Today, Rome is a bustling city of more than 2.8 million people. It has a wonderful mix of the ancient, the old, and the new, which is why I love it so much. It is the third most popular destination in the EU, after London and Paris, visited by over 7 million tourists each year!
Know Before You Go | Rome
Getting There: Rome is serviced by two major airports: Fiumicino and Ciampino. Fiumicino is the main international hub and is located about 45 minutes outside of the city. If you are flying a major carrier, such as American Airlines or Alitalia, expect to fly from here.
Ciampino is the smaller of the two airports, and only serves budget airlines. If you are relying on public transport, you can reach both by train or bus from Termini. Speaking of Termini, you can take a train from another Italian city (or European city) to this station, which is centrally located.
Getting Around: Rome is a very walkable city, in fact given the fact that many of the streets are very narrow, it’s often your best option. If you need to travel quickly from two opposite ends of the city, the metro is another great option.
You can book tickets by the amount of time needed (e.g., 24-hr pass), which I recommend you do. You can use this same pass on the city bus as well. Note that uber is available in the city as well, but expect to wait a little for your ride to come along.
Where to Stay: It’s pretty hard to find a bad area to stay within the old city walls, which is the prime location for hotels. If you don’t mind staying just outside the city walls, you can find lower prices near the San Giovanni or Re di Roma metro stops.
We stayed in the Vacanze Romane Rooms and loved it! The host is so nice and there is plenty of space for larger traveling parties. *If you are a first time Airbnb user, use my link to get $40 off your first stay!*
When to Visit: I recommend traveling in the cooler months, if you don’t mind the weather. The cool thing about Rome is that it has pretty mild winters (~50º F in December). You can even find palm trees growing there! During this time there are far fewer crowds, which will make your time there overall much more enjoyable.
Day 1 | Getting to Know Rome
On your first day in Rome, get up early and head over to the Spanish Steps. I recommend getting there no later than 9:30AM so that you can enjoy the stairs without the crowds that linger here the majority of the day.
If you are using the metro, you can access the stairs from the Spanga station. If you are in need of a bite to eat, you can find several spots to grab something nearby. Pro Tip: When in Rome, never eat on the same main street as the tourist attractions. Head to a side street where you’ll find better prices and more authentic cuisine.
After you finish your visit at the Spanish Steps, walk over to the Piazza del Popolo (The People’s Square). As I’ve mentioned in my other travel guides, it’s a great idea to start your visit to any city with a walking tour to get your bearings. From this piazza you can start Rome’s Ultimate Free Walking Tour at 11AM.
What I loved about this tour is that it focused on the Catholic/Christian history of the city. This is a different perspective than what you’ll get when touring the ruins. One positive is that the tour stays away from highly trafficked tourist areas, so you don’t have to fight your way through crowds. Note that this tour does include the Pantheon, one of the most well-preserved ancient buildings anywhere in the world. The tour will conclude right across the bridge from Castel S. Angelo.
Once the tour ends, walk over to the Piazza Navona for a late lunch / early dinner. This is about a 10-minute walk from the tour ending location. We ate at La Cantina Romana on a side street off the piazza and loved it. I especially recommend the Cacio and Pepe :).
After you eat, you can tour the piazza which was built over the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian. You can even take an underground tour to see these ruins, if you are up for it!
Day 2 | Ancient Roman City Center
Spend your second day at Rome getting to know the ancient history of the city. The ancient city center is located by the Colosseum, which is your first stop for the day. You can access this area of the city via the Colosseo metro station, if that is the method you are using for transport.
This amphitheater could fit upwards of 80,000 people and was the largest stadium in existence for nearly 2000 years. You can also tour the underground of the Colosseum now. This is the area where the animals were caged, and where prisoners and gladiators were lifted to the stage via manual elevators.
Across the street from the Colosseum is the Palatine Hill, which was the home to the rich and famous of ancient Rome. You can find former residences of the likes of Nero and Caesar Augustus here. On the opposite side of the hill you will find the Foro Romano or Ancient Roman Forum, one of my favorite places in Rome.
Here you can walk the same streets that the Romans did in the old center of the city. You’ll find a plethora of building ruins here, such as the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Temple of Julius Caesar. Right behind the Palatine Hill are the ruins of the Circus Maximus, which is open certain days of the week for visitors.
I highly recommend that you take a tour when visiting both the Colosseum and Palatine Hill as the context that a licensed tour guide can provide is invaluable. For me personally, having a tour guide help me better understand overall how life was in those times.
Also, if you are interested in going underground in the Colosseum, you have to attend with a tour guide to enter. I recommend the Ancient Rome Skip-The-Line Tour with Colosseum Underground. This tour included Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum. We had awesome local guides who made the tour a really entertaining learning experience.
As this is the center of ancient Rome, you can find additional ruins surrounding the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. These include the Mercati Traianei, which likely housed administration offices during the rule of Trajan. The Colle Oppio is also nearby, where you’ll find ruins like the Baths of Trajan.
Now this is perhaps a little bit of a non-traditional move, but after you finish exploring the ruins to your heart’s desire, take the metro to the Termini station for dinner. The first floor (above the platform) of the station has a lot of eating options, but for excellent homemade pasta, eat at Bottega Portici. I can only speak for the Torteloni, but it was so delicious that I ordered seconds :).
Day 3 | Vatican City
Start your second day by visiting the Trevi Fountain. Like the Spanish Steps, I recommend that you visit this site early in the morning. It would be best if you arrive no later than 9:00AM, as it is full of tourists for most of the day. This is especially the case during the warmer months of the year. Grab a bite to eat for breakfast in a side street nearby to conclude your time in this area of the city.
Next up are the Vatican Museums! To get here from the fountain, walk to the Barberini metro station and take the A line to the Ottaviano stop. These museums once served as the private art and history museums of the popes during the middle ages. The collections housed here are really impressive; you’ll find artifacts from Ancient Rome, as well as places such as Ancient Egypt and Sumeria.
The culmination of your visit to these museums is the Sistine Chapel. Note that you will have to walk through many exhibits before you get to the chapel, so be prepared to walk many long hallways! To save yourself from waiting in the long lines outside of the museum, book a Skip-the-Line ticket.
Next up is St. Peter’s Basilica, which is located behind the museums. This world-renowned church is home to the pope, which causes it to attract millions of visitors each year.
In addition, it is also architecturally stunning, and well worth the visit. Like the Vatican Museums, it’s best to book a Skip-the-Line ticket to avoid the long lines you always find leading up to the entrance. It’s required that your knees and shoulders be covered for the visit, so make sure you dress appropriately!
For dinner, you should visit the charming Trastavere area of the city. There are many options for eating here, and my family and I ate at Tonarello. This is a highly rated restaurant, which offers delicious traditional Italian fare.
It is a pretty popular spot, so you many have to wait for a short while for a seat, but it is worth it. My favorite part of my meal was the tiramisu, which was almost a yogurt-like texture. It’s an interesting take on this dessert, but delightfully tasty.
Day 4 | Catacombs & Shopping
For your final day in Rome, start the day with a tour of the Catacombs. If you don’t already know, the Catacombs are where the early Christians of Rome buried their dead. Inside them it is a bit cold and damp, but you can see frescoes and burial chambers that go several stories below the ground here. It’s quite impressive!
While out near the catacombs, you can visit the Appian Way, a major highway during Ancient Roman times. The aqueducts are also nearby, and well worth a look if you can fit them into your schedule. I myself really did not fully appreciate the building genius of the aqueducts until I got a close look and saw how huge they are.
If you would like to have the visit to each of these sites mapped out for you, I recommend taking the Catacombs and the Appian Way Day Trip from Rome Tour, which includes transport to each location and a tour guide.
In the afternoon head up to the Piazza de Poppolo, which can be accessed by the Flaminio metro station. You can walk through this piazza to get to Via Del Corso, which serves as Rome’s “High Street”.
Here you’ll find shops of all types, and most major brands such as Zara and H&M. Perpendicular to Via Del Corso you’ll hit Via Condotti, which has more luxury brands, such as Gucci and Chanel. There are plenty of opportunities to find a good bite to eat in the streets you’ll cross as you make your way down Via Del Corso, so you will not go hungry!
Final Thoughts | 4-Day Rome Itinerary
So that’s it for my 4-day Rome Itinerary! This itinerary covers all the city’s highlights, and is really great for those visiting Rome for the first time.
As you can see through this itinerary, there are some many things to see/do here. That’s the reason why I keep going back :).
If you’ve been to Rome before, share your favorite memories in the comment box below! If you are thinking about heading to Rome, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.