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Inside: All the best things to see and do in Rome, Italy…especially if you’re short on time!
While it’s true that Rome wasn’t built in a day, I’m a firm believer that its best sights can be seen in a day.
So Rome in 48 hours? Piece of cake.
Of course, if you have the time, Rome is a wonderful city in which to linger over exquisite meals, wander amidst ancient ruins and while away the day people-watching in a piazza.
However, my friend Dena and I are girls on a tight schedule.
We’re on a whirlwind 30-day trip around Europe and there is much to be seen during our brief two nights in the Eternal City.
Planning a trip to Italy in 2023?
From jaw-dropping destinations to how to find the best gelato, here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip to Italy.
Arrival in Rome
We arrive in Rome after our first stop in Munich late Friday afternoon and join the masses on a hot and mostly miserable train ride into the city.
Welcome to Europe in August.
Where to stay in Rome
We arrive at the charming Parlamento Boutique Hotel around 6pm and are pleased to find the room sparkling clean and even spacious – by European standards. The reception staff are also very friendly.
The hotel’s location between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps is ideal, especially when you’re short on sightseeing time.
All things considered, it’s a great budget find, especially during the peak of high season in Italy.
Other terrific hotel options in Rome:
- I Tre Moschettieri – Situated ideally between the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain, this mid-priced hotel offers great service and comfortable, well-appointed rooms. Some rooms even offer small balconies with city views.
- Harry’s Bar Trevi Hotel & Restaurant – For a bit more upscale option, this trendy hotel features modern rooms and exceptional service. Just a few steps from the Trevi fountain, the rooftop terrace even boasts a peekaboo view of the city’s most famous fountain.
- Domus 21 Luxury Suites – Just a 4-minute walk from the Pantheon, this stylish guesthouse is run by friendly hosts and the updated rooms seem almost brand new. Rooms are very spacious by European standards and many offer expansive city views (a rarity!).
The plan for our first night? Take in the nighttime views at the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain.
I’m a big believer that these two impressive Roman sights should be appreciated in both daylight and evening hours.
After a stroll by both for some twilight photos, we walk over to the Pantheon area for a late night dinner Italian-style. It’s our first truly delicious meal of the trip after a questionable dinner in Munich.
After dinner, it’s time to check out the Friday night scene in Rome.
A Friday Night in Rome
For my money, the best people-watching in all of Rome is the Campo de Fiori after dark.
This lively piazza is ringed with cafes, wine bars, restaurants and night clubs and the open center of the piazza has a life of its own. It’s permissible to bring your drinks outside into the piazza, so we sip on 2 EUR wines from my favorite little wine bar and wander around outside making new friends.
A good time is had by all until we finally decide to call it a night and get some rest – big day of sightseeing ahead tomorrow!
The Best Things to See & Do in Rome
After sleeping off our jetlag a bit, we emerge from the hotel into the searing mid-day heat just before noon. Over the next 8 hours, we tackle our Roman sightseeing with surgical precision.
If you’re short on time and need to explore the city of Rome in a hurry, here’s my definitive list of must-sees.
The 7 Best Things to See & Do in Rome
1. Visit the Colosseum
As I mentioned earlier, a visit to this spectacular Roman amphitheater built in 72 AD is a must both by day and night. Since we appreciated this iconic site at twilight last night, we begin here to take in its glory by day.
It’s the most popular tourist destination in Rome, and for good reason – it’s an amazing sight. Yes, you can join the lengthy queues and take a tour of the inside, but if you’re short on time, it’s just as impressive from outside (plus it’s free!).
2. Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain
Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you’re guaranteed a return trip to Rome. I tried that on my first visit years ago and -what do you know – I’m back again!
So, I guess I’m living proof that the legend is true.
To get a good photo of this popular fountain, you’ll need to use the wide angle setting on your phone. Ironically, this gargantuan fountain is housed in one of the city’s tiniest piazzas.
3. Climb the Spanish Steps
Next up, a stroll past the ritzy boutiques of Via Condotti. This popular shopping street conveniently ends at the foot of the city’s most famous staircase.
The Spanish Steps are a set of stairs leading up to the church of Santissima Trinita dei Monti. Make the climb to the top to appreciate some of the city’s most stunning views.
4. Enjoy a gelato
After that climb, we’ve earned some traditional Italian sustenance in the form of a frozen treat. Gelato is a must-try when visiting Rome and, luckily, there are tempting gelaterias (ice cream shops) all over the city, so you’ll have no trouble finding one to enjoy.
Tip: To find authentic gelato in Rome, check my Ultimate Guide to Italy for what to look for!
5. Visit Piazza Navona
Properly refreshed via intravenous gelato, our next stop is Piazza Navona. This expansive piazza is home to a number of historic sculptures and three famous fountains, including La Fontana dei Quattro (the Fountain of Four Rivers).
And like Campo de Fiori, it’s a great place to people watch.
6. Explore the Vatican Museums & the Sistine Chapel
Home to some of the world’s most famous art, including the Sistine Chapel, the vast Vatican Museums are an extraordinary place to visit. Tickets are required and, unfortunately, it takes at least 3 hours to do it any justice so it’s not on the agenda for our one-day tour of Rome.
However, you simply can’t come to Rome and not see the Vatican. Luckily, the sweeping views from St. Peter’s Square are the perfect glimpse into the beauty of Vatican City.
7. Visit the Pantheon
After a full day, we head to our final stop, the Pantheon. Dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome, this historic temple is one of the most well-preserved ancient Roman buildings in existence, and is definitely worth a visit.
There are also a number of great restaurants in the surrounding area so we settle in for one last decadent meal before departing Italy tomorrow.
So, that’s a wrap on our whirlwind day. We walked the entire route which is my favorite way to explore the city (bonus, it’s also free!).
But, of course, not everyone tries to see one of the world’s most historic cities in a single day.
BONUS STOPS: If you have more time!
Have more than a single day or two to explore? Here are a few more fantastic things to see and do:
1. Take a food tour – There’s no better way to get an introduction to a country’s best culinary delights than with a local food tour. If Rome is your first stop on a longer Italian itinerary, a food tour is the ideal way to sample and learn about the local cuisine.
2. Explore the ruins of the Forum – The Forum was once the center of Ancient Rome. Today, the ruins are still an impressive sight, and definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in Roman history.
3. Take a stroll through the Borghese Gardens – This beautiful public park in the heart of central Rome is the perfect place to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy some fresh air.
4. Visit the Catacombs – The Catacombs are a network of underground tunnels housing the remains of early Christians. They’re an interesting and macabre sight, especially for history buffs.
5. Rome to Pompeii – Hop on the train for a day trip to the incredible ruins of Pompeii. Fair warning, Pompeii is 150 miles south of Rome and the train journey can take 2-3 hours one-way. But if you’re up for a full day trip, Pompeii is a fascinating historic site. The hi-speed trains stop in Naples and from there you’ll take an inner-city train to the Pompeii Scavi-Villa dei Misteri train station which is just a few steps from the entrance to the ruins. If you’d rather have someone else get you there in air-conditioned comfort, there are also plenty of organized day trip options. Here are just a few:
Wrapping up 48 Hours in Rome
After a jam-packed day and a truly fabulous pasta dinner (and possibly more gelato!), we call it a night around 10pm.
The next morning, there’s just enough time for an early lunch and a bit of shopping before heading to the airport for our flight to Athens.
All in all I’d say we definitely made the most of our 48 hours in Rome!
Next stop, Mykonos!
Looking for more great destinations in Italy? Start here: