3 days in Rome: an itinerary for first-time visitors

The ancient city of Rome is on many travellers’ bucket lists, boasting a range of attractions from Roman ruins to Renaissance landmarks. It’s a beautiful but busy city and three days is just enough to see some of the highlights without being too overwhelmed.

As you don’t have much time in the city, stay somewhere central – we found Ponte to be a good choice for a short trip. If you are staying for longer, you many want to consider a less touristy area in Rome to get a better feel for the city.

If you can, try to avoid Rome in July and August as it can be overwhelming, with lots of visitors to the city and not as many locals around. Saying that, Rome is busy and beautiful all year round, and this short itinerary will give first-time visitors a good overview of the city.

The Colosseum in Rome

Day 1: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum

Start your trip to Rome with a trip some of best Roman ruins of all. The Colosseum is near the station and you need to prebook your tickets to avoid queues. Visiting the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum is included in the entry fee. If you want to learn more about the Colosseum and its history, consider booking the full experience tour which involves seeing the underground and upper level.

From the Colosseum, it’s an easy walk through Palatine Hill to the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill is essentially a park on the hillside, with ruins peeking through, so you may find a tour helpful if you want more context about what you’re seeing. It’s a bit easier to imagine the Roman Forum as it looked in ancient times, with the remains of temples and pillars strewn through the grass and flowers.

After seeing the ruins, you’ll probably want lunch and a break in your hotel or a local café. Before dinner, take a stroll along the Tiber River if the weather is nice, and watch the sunset. There are often buskers in this part of the city and there are many opportunities for gorgeous photos. After dinner, take the opportunity to see Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps at night – it’s a very different experience to seeing them during the day.

Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Rome

Day 2: the Vatican

Allow at least half a day to visit the Vatican and go in the morning, keeping in mind that many visitors spend a whole day here. There are many famous sites here including St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, as well as the Vatican caves and necropolis. If you’re short on time, or have had enough of museums, you may want to pick the sights you want to visit the most and leave the others for another time.

Once again, I recommend doing a tour of the Vatican – it means you can bypass the queues, it gives what you’re seeing context, and you even have the option of visiting the Vatican before it opens to the public.

The entrance to the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, Italy

Day 3: Castel Sant'Angelo or the Capuchin Crypts

After breakfast, go for a walk along the historic centre, seeing the Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain before they get too crowded. From there, you have a few options, depending on your interests

Option 1: Castel Sant'Angelo and Villa Borghese

Spend the morning at Castel Sant'Angelo, a Roman museum which was originally built as a tomb for the emperor, Hadrian. You can wander around the castle and admire the huge collection of art, medieval firearms and military artifacts. The upper floors are decorated with Renaissance interiors and frescoes. The view from the terrace is also stunning.

Then, cross the bridge and wander through the Villa Borghese, a large park in central Rome. Along with lawns, gardens and playgrounds, it’s also dotted with museums, galleries and a lake. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic on a sunny day.

Option 2: Capuchin Crypts and the Palazzo Barberini

From the Trevi Fountain, you could swing by the Basilica Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, a Renaissance church, and marvel at the rich interior. Then, for a very unusual experience, head to the Capuchin Crypts at the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini.

The Crypts are in six chapels, five of which are decorated with the bones of dead monks. It’s strangely beautiful and incredibly disturbing at the same time. There’s a sign in one of the chapels which reads: What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you shall be. Visiting the crypts is a sobering experience, but also oddly peaceful. Be aware that photos are not allowed in the crypts.

Another (or additional) option nearby is visiting the Palazzo Barberini. Home to a collection of older art, you can see works by many Renaissance artists here, including Tintoretto, El Greco, Caravaggio. The building is also beautiful and there is a small garden.

Spend the evening in Trastevere

In the afternoon, head to Trastevere for a food tour of this fascinating neighbourhood. You’ll spend a few hours sampling local food (usually enough for dinner) and drinks. Otherwise, just take a wander through the streets and pick a restaurant for dinner. Then head to one of the bars in the area for after dinner drinks.

Picturesque street view in Trastevere, Rome

If you have more time in Rome

If you have more time in Rome, you can do both of the above or explore some more of the city’s wonderful museums and galleries. Or you may decide to delve further into Rome’s wonderful food scene by visiting Campo de’ Fiori, Rome’s famous market known for its fruit, vegetables and flowers, and spending more time wandering through Trastevere and visiting the local eateries. For a more local experience, try visiting Testaccio, which is known for its great food and nightlife.

For a more active activity, try cycling along the Appian Way, one of Rome’s very first paved roads. It’s a lovely route (and especially easy with an e-bike) which passes by the ancient aqueduct, decorative mansions and castles, old statues and tombs. There are also some fascinating monuments and an archaeological site along the road.

Planning a trip to Rome? Read our guide on where to stay in Rome, get an indication of Rome travel costs or get travel tips from a local.

Insider tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure
We promise not to abuse our new friendship. Please see our Privacy Policy

Share this article

Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 3 September 2022


Italy is one of those countries that has something for everyone, from food, beaches and mountains to art and ancient history.
© 2023 Faraway Worlds.