The eternal city is ready to be visited. Join my adventure of 24 Hours in Rome, everything you need to see, visit and eat in just one day. And yes, it is possible!
24 Hours in Rome*
You may have heard the saying “Rome was not built in a day” even in some songs. But if you are planning a quick stop to Rome you might wonder whether you can see even anything, in such short a time. Rome is overwhelming. At every step you take, beauty comes to you in unexpected forms. Art is everywhere. Layers on layers of history and diverse styles make you feel to be traveling in time. So many the monuments, the landmarks, the highlights of the Eternal City that you feel dismal at the sheer thought of constraining a visit in 24 short hours. But do not lose hope! I have seen the best of Rome in just one day. Wonder why? Two weeks ago it was graduation day for my best friend, so we all took a train down to Rome to celebrate. On our last day, we had time to visit the city and here it is how we did.
MORNING IN THE CITY CENTRE
And here comes my first piece of advise. Get off bed as soon as you can. Have a good night sleep and weak up at dawn! There are plenty of things you can do at this time of the day before flocks of tourists and frantic drivers invade Rome after 8am. Secondly, the lighting is perfect to take pictures and nobody is photo-bombing your clicks. The advise is: conquer the city center first. The sooner you put a placeholder in the old town the sooner you get a sense of it. You can do this by yourself, with the use of an analogical map of the kinds you find in every guidebook or join a small group tour of Rome city center with Italian breakfast included. This part should not be overlooked.
|Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish steps|
Experience the Italian way of having cappuccino and cornetto at the bar counter, and maybe take a selfie with your temporary mustache of cappuccino foam for future records. Overall, our guide Arianna was amazing and she took us around through the streets of the city center. In more or less three hours, we were able to check Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps off our list. Not bad as a start. In addition, Arianna’s explanations worked perfectly as an introduction to the city so that at 10am, I felt like I had accomplished a lot.
NOON TO THE MUSEUMS
But now comes the difficult part. How to use the central part of the day? Me and my friends had to split. Two of us would visit the ancient city now, and go straight to the Colosseum, maybe walk on the arena, and climb to the Palatine Hill, while we, art-lovers, planned to leave the ancient city at the end, as a nice dessert so to speak.
|The Palatine Hill|
Instead the rest of us headed to the Borghese Gallery to jump on the 11am-1pm slot available. First things first, I thought. Bernini’s sculptures at the Borghese Gallery will leave you breathless. This is not just about some remarkable technique. This is making marble come to life. Bernini’s achievements in sculpture are so convincing that you will have a hard time to believe Daphne is not actually transforming into a tree right before your very eyes, or Pluto’s fingers are not really sinking into Proserpine’s soft skin. You will drop your jaws at the mastery of this man. And I didn’t even mention Caravaggio, Titian, Rubens and all the other amazing Renaissance and Baroque artists there. So go online and book your Borghese Gallery ticket from 11am to 1pm.
|Il ratto di Proserpina – The Rape of Proserpine by Bernini|
Halfway through the journey of our tour, the best is yet to come. As you leave Villa Borghese at 1pm, take a short walk through the park to reach the Pincio terrace. So worth it! It’s one of the most spectacular views of Rome and you can grab a sandwich from one of the many trucks there. If you prefer to eat at a restaurant walk down to Piazza del Popolo from the Pincio Terrace to stop at one of the many bars and restaurants there. Sit down and take a good rest until 2.30pm, then grab a taxi and head without ado to Vatican City. Tell the driver to take you to the entrance of the Vatican Museums, Viale Vaticano 100. The run should cost you no more than 10-15 euros depending on the traffic or take the subway like we did. Get off at Ottaviano station, and walk just a couple of blocks.
The last entrance at the Vatican is at 3pm. So you are good. Just make sure that you have bought your tickets in advance on the official website of the Vatican and you printed out your vouchers. Vatican guards like to see paper. No phone vouchers. Also consider this, it is good to see the Vatican later in the day because there are less people. The Vatican Museums are all the time crowded and this is something that to its extreme can jeopardize an experience otherwise amazing.
With the ticket in your hand you can visit the Vatican Museums, including the Egyptian Collection, the Picture Gallery, the Belvedere courtyard and amazing works like the Laocoön and His Sons group and Raphael’s Rooms. Finally, you get to see the Sistine Chapel with the famous ceiling and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. If you take a Vatican tour with a professional tour operator (but check if entry fees are included first) you will be able to move from the Sistine Chapel directly to St Peter’s Basilica through a dedicated passage. Otherwise, you have to leave the Sistine Chapel from a different exit and the reach the Basilica from the St Peter’s square. Depending on the day you might need to stand in line again to get into the church. So, going with a guide, even a private one, would be recommended. We booked one of the private Vatican tours available at Roma Experience.
EVENING: READY FOR AN APERITIF?
At 6pm we are out of the basilica and we gathered together again. My friends spent a lot of time visiting the ancient city, and then moved to the center again to do some shopping in Via del Corso, the only downside is how crowded it is, so save shopping when you go to Milan! Anyhow, it is now time for a break, or even better an aperitif. It’s a relatively new Italian tradition and we started wondering where to go. Some of us would prefer San Lorenzo neighborhood and Pigneto. Both places contain a great lot of university students, would-be artists and youngsters. If you want to immerse yourself in the underground life of the Roman movida and try out the trendy cocktails of today’s Rome, these are the place for you.
But I convinced them to go to Monti instead. This central neighborhood is one of the most picturesque and lively of Rome. The warm welcoming of the so-called Piazzetta, in the heart of Monti, has made us feel part of the city life. After admiring its past we were finally in touch with its present life. Grab a beer at one of the many bars facing the square and drink it on the fountain’s steps as you make friends with the people around you. Or, just, sit at one of the table and treat yourself with a great meal. Or, maybe both. Our advice? There are a couple of places at the corner between Piazzetta Monti and Via degli Zingari that are just perfect: Civico 4 and La Bottega del Caffè.
|Colosseum by night|
At 8:30 we moved to the nearby Colosseum and we were impressed by how different the Roman forum can look at night. If you walk on Via dei Fori Imperiali, not at all far from Monti, you will have the Roman Forum newly lit up on one side and the Imperial Fora on the other side. A mind-blowing spectacle. The view is stunning, especially at the Imperial Fora. You can see the remains of the Temple of Augustus and the gigantic Trajan’s column. It is incredible to think that this stuff is 2,000+ years old.
On one side of the street, as you will notice (it is impossible not to) you have a massive white building called Vittoriano, Monument of King Victor Emmanuel II or Altar of the Fatherland. The Romans call it “typewriter”, or “wedding cake”. In any case, it is impressive. But not as impressive as, on the opposite side of the street, the Colosseum. If you want to go inside, you can. During high season you can buy tickets for a visit of the Colosseum at Night at the stand just outside the building (last admission at 11pm). Also, if your budget allows, take on rent one of their sleek vintage cars with those big and quality lights on the front.
NIGHT IN TRASTEVERE
Now your tour of Rome in one day is almost complete. If you have used your energy wisely, nightlife starts now. Where? Trastevere. Take the n. 8 tram from Piazza Venezia (near the Vittoriano) directly to Trastevere. If you are brave enough just walk twenty/thirty minutes to the Fabricius bridge (the oldest bridge in Rome!) and cross over to the Tiberine Island. Another option is: From Piazza Venezia walk to Largo di Torre Argentina (8 minutes) then to Campo de Fiori (8 minutes). It is a beautiful walk and you will find plenty of bars open with all sort of enthusiastic people, celebrating life. When in Campo de Fiori, you can have a drink here or cross over the river at the Sisto Bridge. You will find yourself in Piazza Trilussa, to have a chilled cocktail. Can you imagine? Check out the famous bar Freni & Frizioni near Piazza Trilussa and ask them for their cocktail list. Depending on the energy you have spared your night can be long or short. But if you followed us on our journey, you will have the best parts of Rome seen in just one day. I promise, you would be happy. Just make sure you don’t have an early call on the next day.
Such a tiring day but so worth it! Rome can be scary by yourself since it is huge but with a small group it becomes perfect and you’ll have the time of your life. I highly recommend to visit Rome once in your life because there is always something new to discover and if you need more advice please do ask me!
*This post was written in collaboration with Rome Experience Tours. Photos are their own except for the Vittoriano and view from the Pincio Terrace.