Last Updated on October 24, 2023 by Ingrid & Alex
When we took our first cruise on the Mediterranean Sea, the starting point was the port of Civitavecchia, directly linked to Rome by train. Since they always recommend arriving one night before the ship sails, we had to explore Rome in one day.
For me, it was not the first time in the Eternal City since I’ve spent some months here with my job some years ago, but my husband had seen the city in one day many years ago.
My husband being very passionate about ancient Rome, and we only had so little time, so I tried my best to fit in all the best activities so that we could make the best out of Rome in one day.
But can you see Rome in one day?
Absolutely not! And no matter how many times I get back to the city, I always feel I manage only to scratch the surface, so I guess I will keep going back again and again.
However, you can sometimes find yourself in the position where you need to spend only 24 hours in Rome and will want to make the best out of it. For that kind of occasion, and because we also only had one full day here, I’ve created this itinerary.
And if you are lucky and have one week to spend in Rome, check out Rachel’s one week guide for inspiration.
So what did we do in Rome in one day?
Where to stay in Rome
If you only spend one day in Rome and you are also spending the night, make sure to book a room very close to the city center, or at least to one of the major touristic attractions ( the Vatican for example – where you will find plenty of good places).
You should look after Piazza del Popolo, the Vatican area, or even close to Termini Station (for when you will travel to another part of Italy or want affordable accommodation in Rome close to the main attractions).
Here are a few options to consider:
Vatican Luxury Penthouse with terrace
A stunning 2-bedroom penthouse with a terrace that will leave you in awe! Located only 3 minutes away from the metro this place is not only super comfortable but also typical Italian, in the heart of the city.
Rooftop Magic in Piazza del Popolo
A rooftop facing Piazza del Popolo where you could return for a stunning sunset over one of the most iconic landmarks of Rome.
How to get from the airport to Rome city center
Since we had the plane early in the morning but reached Rome only at around 11 AM, we took the bus from Ciampino Airport to Termini Station (you will find plenty of options just as you exit the terminal, with prices around 10 EUR one way, but I strongly suggest you book in advance in order to avoid any problems or not finding a ticket and wasting time at the airport waiting for the next available bus).
Additionally, if you travel from Fiumicino Airport, you can also book a bus ticket, or simply take a taxi if money is not a big issue.
A faster way to get to town from Ciampino Airport is by train while getting from Fiumicino might not be as easy when you go for the cheaper option with one transfer.
Go to Rail Europe and search for trains from Fiumicino airport to Rome Termini (the price can be anywhere around 9 EUR with one easy change, and 17 EUR directly), or Ciampino to Rome Termini (only 15 minutes ride for 1.6 EUR).
Our hotel in Rome was within walking distance from Termini so we chose to check in and leave the luggage before going out and exploring a bit of the town.
Read all the things to know when traveling to Italy
As soon as we were ready, it was already lunchtime. And please keep an eye open for the times for lunch in Italy, because if you miss that “window of opportunity” (normally until 3 PM) you will be left starving until dinner.
Somehow we found a very Italian cafeteria where corporate people went out, making this a very authentic lunch for us.
My favorite food was fried aubergine of course, and that genuine Italian olive oil makes it even tastier.
Read also: 30+ Italian gifts for Italy lovers
Your one day in Rome itinerary
The itinerary is simple:
Eat breakfast as the locals
Option 1: The Colosseum and the Roman Forum
Option 2: the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
Fontana di Trevi
Piazza di Spagna
Dinner with a view
Getting back to what you really need to do and see in Rome in one day, our first stop was the Colosseum, of course.
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum
We did not have the time to visit both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, so we chose to visit the latter, but if you want to go inside the arena and get a glimpse of the past, try booking your ticket ahead of time online.
A few things worth knowing about the Colosseum in Rome
Contributed by my husband, Alex. A Zudor
Today, many of us think of the Colosseum as the quintessential symbol of ancient Rome and its Empire. It was the place where Julius Caesar held gladiatorial games or Emperor Nero fed the early Christians to the lions, right? Well…not really. Even referring to the ancient arena as the ‘Colosseum’ is inaccurate – no contemporary Roman called it by this name.
The year is 70 A.D., Vespasian, the son of a tax collector, is the new Emperor of a bankrupt and disintegrating Empire. His first priority: restore the people’s faith in the state.
The new amphitheater was not just a building, it was a powerful political statement: the Empire is restored, it is as powerful and rich as ever, and it will entertain and feed its people.
Curiously, the Romans never used the name ‘Colosseum’; it is a medieval name probably derived from the megalomaniacal statue erected by Nero. Vespasian didn’t destroy it but refurbished it to represent Sol, the Sun God, and placed it next to his new arena. The statue is thought to have outlived the Empire by a couple of centuries, surviving until the early middle ages. Thus, in one of the ironies of history, the mad Emperor Nero imprinted his mark on one of the iconic buildings of Rome for all eternity.
When you visit the Colosseum, try to imagine the noise, smell, and violence of over 9000 wild beasts being slaughtered in the building’s inaugural games alone: lions roaring, weapons clinging, the frenzied masses shouting their encouragement, the metallic smell of gallons of blood spilled on the arena’s floor.
Or envision the appalling conditions in the dim, suffocating underground area below the floor: the visitors of today can see the remains of the ‘hypogeum,’ a series of tunnels and cells used to hold the wild beasts and the slaves and prisoners condemned to fight. Imagine the utter terror of a young girl, condemned to be fed to the lions because of her parents’ religious beliefs, as she was elevated into the arena from the dingy cell below on a wooden platform; the blinding sunlight, the booming noise of people shouting abuse at her and, eventually, the overwhelming fear as she glimpses her executioner, a starved, angry lion ready to gore her to death.
It is claimed that the Colosseum could even be filled with water and used to re-enact famous sea battles to the delight of the tens of thousands of spectators. That must have been a sight, ships ramming each other and battling for supremacy as gladiators and slaves were leaping from them in a life-and-death struggle.
These games would be held over several successive days, from morning to evening. One can easily deduct the presence of dozens of food and drink vendors similar to today’s sporting arenas. Equally, the building must have been surrounded by several public toilets to cater to the biological needs of the gathered masses. Ohhhh, the smell!
To this day, the top of the arena retained two hundred and forty structural pieces of stone called mast corbels; these were used to hold a retractable awning, basically a huge canvas, that shielded the spectators from the elements but let in the breeze during the hot summer days.
Apart from being an engineering wonder, the Colosseum was also a gigantic work of art containing many minuscule artistic jewels. For example, the now-empty arches of the 2nd and 3rd floor framed statues representing divinities and mythological creatures. In addition, the arena walls were probably painted in red and gold and black; some interiors might even contain beautiful frescos depicting battle scenes or relevant mythological ones.
All in all, the sheer scale of the amphitheater showcases an advanced civilization of builders, engineers, artists, and artisans, but it also reminds us of the immense cruelty we are capable of in the name of politics, entertainment, and social control. Thus, it is a monument to our bright, creative side and our dark, destructive nature in equal measure.
I hope you will enjoy visiting one of the iconic monuments of European civilization.
The Roman Forum
If like us, you want to visit the Roman Forum, only a few steps away from the Colosseum, you will have the chance to walk in a place filled with history and learn a whole lot of valuable facts on all the ruins available wherever the eye can see. Not only that, but this is for sure one of the best viewpoints of Rome and one of the most Instagrammable spots in Rome.
As a modern-day visitor of Rome, you’ll soon realize that many places are called a “forum.” So the first thing you might ask yourself is, which exactly is the “Roman Forum“? Why is this place so special? The short answer: because it is the most glorious meeting place in human history.
Political elections, public speeches, criminal trials, triumphal processions, gladiatorial matches, business negotiations…everything happened in the Forum! The Roman Forum was the heart of Rome, while Rome became the capital of the Mediterranean world (or THE WORLD, as they called it)!
Think of this when you visit the place: you are following in the footsteps of some of the most iconic people in the history of mankind. Mass murderers and Christian saints, famous orators and infamous demagogues, great philosophers and delirious madmen, business magnates, and unscrupulous charlatans, all operated in the Forum Romanum during their days.
I strongly suggest starting your day with this and booking a tour that will guide you through it all. Additionally, you will also have a better way of keeping track of your time since the tour lasts for 3 hours.
We’ve spent here a few hours and did a lot of reading, and if I were to give you a piece of advice that would be to visit the sight anywhere in Spring or Autumn because the end of June was terribly hot and there is no shade in sight.
Alternative: See the Vatican City
Once we finished with the Forum, we took the metro and headed to Vatican city.
However, I would recommend that as an alternative to seeing the Colosseum and Forum, because you will spend plenty of time there as well.
When you want to really have a special experience, book an authentic tour of the Vatican Gardens on a minibus. This is a very popular tour where you will not only get to learn a lot about the history of the place, but also get to admire the gardens with their stunning fountains, sculptures, and historic buildings.
TIP: For those history lovers out there, take more days and visit also Via Appia Antica
Stroll on the old streets and see some of the most popular piazzas in Rome
From the Colosseum or from the Vatican City, whichever option you choose to go for, make your way towards the most popular attractions in Rome: Piazza Navona with its impressive fountains and restaurants, the Pantheon where you can discover the secrets of this engineering masterpiece dating from 113 AD on a guided tour, toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and spend some time on the steps in Piazza di Spagna.
Unfortunately, since we chose to see both the Imperial Forum and the Vatican (without going inside) we did not have the time to admire the Trevi Fountain, but you should add it to your Rome bucket list!
We stopped by at a gelateria close by and ate delicious ice cream while taking in all the peacefulness and zen.
And while you’re there, stop for dinner at one of the many romantic restaurants on the narrow streets of Rome, and finish it off with one of the many cool things to do in Rome at night.
Getting around in Rome
The easiest way to get around especially if you follow this itinerary is on foot.
Since I’ve chosen most of these attractions based on their location close to one another, you won’t have to worry about transportation and timetables.
However, if you were to travel for greater distances, I would suggest taking the subway, a hop-on-hop-off bus, or public transportation.
The subway has 2 lines going around Rome, you can buy a ticket directly at the subway stop, and it only costs 1.5 EUR.
A hop-on-hop-off panoramic bus will take you around town, linking some of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome. You can admire the landmarks from the comfort of your seat, and you can hop off any time you feel like seeing something up close. Tickets are bookable for 24 hours or 48 hours, and you will also have access to a pre-recorded audio guide. Book it here!
Extra tips for spending one day in Rome
Because of its popularity and history, you must first of all be prepared for the crowds, and secondly, you will have to wisely plan your itinerary.
Book tickets ahead of time
Don’t hop you won’t have to wait in line, because you most probably will. Avoid taking this risk by booking your skip-the-line tickets in advance and saving precious time.
Book a skip-the-line tour to the Foro Romano, the Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum
Start your day early
With plenty of things to do and see, you’ll find it hard to cut places off your list. By starting super early, you can include more things on your “to see” list, while skipping the crowds at least at first of your destinations.
Book accommodation wisely
Stay close to the place you choose to visit first – the Vatican or the Colosseum. There are plenty of great accommodation options in both areas and you won’t find it hard to book the best for your needs and tastes.
Wear the most suitable clothes and shoes
Bring a scarf to cover your arms in case you choose to step inside any basilica. Don’t wear slippery shoes or high heels – it will be hard to walk around the cobbler stone streets and in the Imperial Forum or Colosseum.
Have a quick Italian breakfast
Italians don’t eat a big breakfast and have their coffee standing at the “banco”. Since you don’t have much time to waste, do as the locals and get a delicious croissant with a strong espresso or cappuccino.
More time in Rome?
Other useful tools for a perfect Italy itinerary
Discover Cars is a great aggregator that will help you find and book the best option for renting a car during your trip, helping you save up to 70% on your car rental. You will most probably need a car to get to most of these places, especially if you want to keep a schedule. Get your best offers here!
Rail Europe – The one-stop shop for train travel – the #1 distributor for European TRAIN TICKETS & RAIL Passes, covering over 50 European train companies, including Italy. On top of that, they offer sightseeing products making it, even easier to plan your trip around Italy by train. I always love to travel by train while I’m in Italy, and if you’re in the Northern part, chances are it will be even super easy to do so. Get your train pass here!
Travel insurance – If there’s one thing we learned in recent times, is that we don’t want to make travel plans without insurance. My go-to travel insurance is Aardy.com – by using them, you will get the best possible prices on travel insurance because they compare prices from over 30 providers, and give you the best. Get the best deal for your travel insurance here!
Italy travel resources
- Find out why the Cinque Terre would make for the perfect day trip from Genoa
- How can you include the Cinque Terre in your 7 day Italy Itinerary
- Want to see something else for a change? Plan a one-week itinerary in South Italy and make sure to see Puglia and the Amalfi Coast
- Wondering how many days you should spend in Venice in order to get to see it all? I’ve been there several times, so I think I have the answer for you together with all the things you should not miss.
- Best Italy subscription boxes for when you get back home and want to bring Italy with you