Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even locals themselves will tell you that it takes a lifetime to discover all the treasures the Eternal City has to offer. Jam-packed with monuments, museums, fountains, galleries, and picturesque neighborhoods, Mamma Roma makes it hard for visitors to decide which to tackle first during their adventurous Roman holiday. As Romans like to say, this one-day itinerary basta e avanza (“is more than enough”) to get you started!
So you want to taste Rome, gaze at its beauty, and inhale its special flair, all in one breathtaking (literally) day? Think Rome 101, and get ready for a spectacular sunrise-to-sunset span. Begin at 9 by exploring Rome’s most beautiful neighborhood—“Vecchia Roma” (the area around Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, and the Pantheon)—starting out on the Corso (the big avenue that runs into Piazza Venezia, the traffic hub of the historic center).
A block away from each other are two opulently over-the-top monuments that show off Rome at its Baroque best: the church of Sant’Ignazio and the princely Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, aglitter with great Old Master paintings.
By 10:30, head west a few blocks to find the granddaddy of monuments, the fabled Pantheon, still looking like Emperor Hadrian might arrive at any minute. A few blocks northwest is San Luigi dei Francesi, home to the greatest Caravaggio paintings in Rome. At 11:30 saunter a block or so westward into beyond-beautiful Piazza Navona, studded with Bernini fountains. Then take Via Cucagna (at the piazza’s south end) and continue several blocks toward Campo de’ Fiori’s open-air food market for some lunch-on-the-run fixings. Two more blocks toward the Tiber brings you to fashionable Via Giulia, laid out by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century.
Walk past 10 blocks of Renaissance palaces and antiques shops to take a bus (from the stop near the Tiber) over to the Vatican. Arrive around 1 to gape at St. Peter’s Basilica, then hit the treasure-filled Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel) around 1:30—during lunch, the crowds diminish considerably. After two hours, head for the Ottaviano stop near the museum and Metro your way to the Colosseo stop.
Around 4 (earlier in winter, when last entrance to the archaeological zone is at 3:30), climb up into the Colosseum and picture it full of screaming toga-clad citizens enjoying the spectacle of gladiators in mortal combat. Striding past the massive Arch of Constantine, enter the Palatine Hill entrance at around 4:45, following signs for the Roman Forum. Photograph yourself giving a “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” oration (complete with upraised hand) among the marble fragments.
March down the Forum’s Via Sacra toward the looming Vittorio Emanuele Monument (Il Vittoriano) and exit onto the Campidoglio.
Here, on the Capitoline Hill, tour the great ancient Roman art treasures of the Musei Capitolini (which are open most nights until 8, last entrance at 7), and snap the view from the terrace over the spotlighted Forum. After dinner, hail a cab—or take a long passeggiata (stroll) down dolce vita memory lane—to the Trevi Fountain, a gorgeously lit sight at night. Needless to say, toss that coi in to ensure your return trip back to the Mother of Us All.