Top Sights to See with One Day in Rome
Let me start by saying that I recommend taking a minimum of three days in Rome. This much-loved Italian city boasts nearly 3,000 years of incredible history, art, religion and philosophy that have heavily influenced the world. All of this translates into a wealth of inspiring sights that draw millions of visitors every year. With that said, there are times when your schedule simply cannot accommodate a longer visit to this vibrant city. When that’s the case, here are my top sights to see with one day in Rome.
Before You Go
Please note that I recommend scheduling a Colosseum tour in advance of your visit, ideally for the mid-to-late morning. In addition, if you choose to follow my suggestion for lunch at Divin Ostilia Wine Bar, make a reservation for 2pm the day of your visit to Rome, as this desirable restaurant has limited seating. If you are working with a travel agent, these are bookings that your agent can easily take care of for you.
Now, prepare for a jam-packed day!
Rise and Shine
Get lots of sleep the night before you tour Rome. Set your alarm clock to 6:30am, giving yourself plenty of time to get ready. You’ll want to wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring along a bottle of water. In the summer months, be sure to pack sunscreen and a hat.
Cappuccino and a Pastry – The Breakfast of Champions
Ask your travel agent or hotel concierge to call you a taxi for a 7:30am pick-up, and then take it to the quaint Caffe dei Desideri. Here you can order a cappuccino, and one of the delicious freshly-baked pastries on display. Next, walk a few blocks to Vatican City, and hop in line to access St. Peter’s Basilica. At this time of the morning, the line will be shortest.
St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City
Designed in part by world-famous artist Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Basilica is a Renaissance masterpiece. It is the largest church in the world, with ceilings that tower high above, muffling the sounds of footfalls and voices. It is generally believed that the body of St. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, is buried beneath Bernini’s stunning baldachin sculpture, which rises more than 60 feet high. In a side chapel within the basilica, you will also find Michelangelo’s moving Pietà sculpture, which shows the crucified body of Jesus in his mother’s arms.
My recommendation for visiting the Colosseum is to schedule a tour well in advance. This is because the lines to get in are tremendously long, especially during peak travel times, such as July and August. A good tour will allow you to skip the line, and will give you some of the most fascinating details about the violent and compelling history of this massive structure. If you will be coming from St. Peter’s Basilica, as I’ve recommended, schedule your tour for 11am, and arrive early by taxi.
Take a Break from the Crowds at a Well-Reviewed Restaurant
Now it’s time to walk a few blocks from the Colosseum to the Divin Ostilia Wine Bar for your well-earned lunch break. With its very limited seating, the restaurant will give you a nice opportunity to escape from the crowds while enjoying the delicious flavors of authentic Italian food and wine.
Time to Stretch Your Legs – Take a Stroll to the Pantheon
When you explore Rome on foot, you quickly realize that many of the most famous landmarks are actually very near to one another. Open this map on your phone, and use it to take a leisurely walk from the restaurant towards the Pantheon, approximately 1.5 miles. Along the way, you will pass by the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which was the center of daily Roman life for hundreds of years before and after the birth of Christ.
Just past the Forum, on the left side, you will see the commanding structure of the Altar of the Fatherland, a monument completed in 1925 to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy. At the top of the imposing staircase is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which rests beside an eternal flame.
Continue following the map until you arrive at the Elephant and Obelisk sculpture, which will be on your right side as you turn right onto Villa della Minerva. The sculpture was designed by the same Bernini who created the baldachin that sits above St. Peter’s tomb. It shows an elephant carrying a real Egyptian obelisk that was discovered in Rome.
Arriving at the Pantheon
Walk a block further along the Villa della Minerva, and you will be at the Pantheon. Surrounded closely by innocuous buildings on three sides, it is always a pleasant surprise to feel as though you have stumbled upon this beautiful place of worship. Completed by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century A.D., the Pantheon was formerly a temple built to honor Roman gods. From the 7th century onwards, it has been a Christian church. The Pantheon is open to the public until 6pm. Step into the line, and take a look around. Be sure to gaze upwards at the oculus, a circular opening in the roof. Although it was built nearly two thousand years ago, the dome of the Pantheon is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, which speaks highly of early Roman engineering.
Toss a Coin in Trevi Fountain
You can follow this route for a brief 10-minute walk from the Pantheon to Trevi Fountain, which was completed in the late 18th century. In the center of this stunning baroque fountain stands the Roman and Greek god Oceanus, while below him, tritons tame wild hippocamps (sea horses). Grab a gelato from one of the nearby gelaterias. Then, standing with your back to the fountain, use your right hand to throw a coin over your shoulder and into the fountain. In keeping with tradition, this will ensure that you’ll return to Rome in the future!
Enjoy the View from the Top of the Spanish Steps
To end your Rome city tour, walk along this route from Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps (approximately half a mile). The 135 steps, which were completed in the early 18th century, rise to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. At the bottom of the steps, be sure to stop and admire the Fountain of the Boat, built in the 1620s by Bernini’s father, himself a sculptor. If you’re up to it, climb the steps to enjoy a nice view over the neighboring streets.
After all of this sightseeing, you’ll likely look forward to catching a taxi back to your hotel. Once you’ve had some time to unwind, enjoy a quiet Italian dinner in Rome. There are many luxurious dining options within the city. Why not ask your travel agent or hotel concierge for a recommendation?