There are two undeniable truths about Rome. The first is that you will never run out of things to do, see and eat; the second is that while it’s impossible to avoid the crowds entirely, you should punctuate the obligatory sightseeing with visiting some truly special and more secret spots. Culture Trip has put together an itinerary for a weekend Roman holiday that will show you the best of the city.
Morning: A traditional Italian breakfast and a visit to the Colosseum
Start your morning early to beat the crowds by grabbing a typical Italian breakfast of coffee and biscuits at a café near your accommodation – in Rome, it’s traditional to grab a quick bite on the go. Caffeinate, enjoy a biscotti and make your way over to the Colosseum. Doors open at 8.30am, and you’ll be able to grab some great crowd-free photos of this ancient gladiatorial battleground early in the day. Commissioned in AD 70, the auditorium was the largest ever built at the time, and once held audiences of over 50,000 people. If you peep over the railings inside, you can still view the chambers that housed the gladiators (and the wild animals they fought against) all those centuries ago.
Pro tip: Buy your tickets to the Colosseum in advance to avoid disaster, as they often sell out.
Afternoon: View the Roman Forum and stop at a local favourite for lunch
Although you’re in one of the busiest tourist areas of the city, there are no shortage of great foodie spots around; one you can’t miss checking out is Li Rioni a Santiquattro. Their thin-crust wood-fired pizza is hard to resist; choose one with their famous buffalo mozzarella for the ultimate Roman lunch. After you’ve eaten your fill (and sipped a glass of wine or two) take a stroll to the next landmark, Santi Quattro Coronati. This fourth-century basilica is dedicated to four anonymous saints and martyrs, and in a city filled with churches, this is perhaps one of the most beautiful.
It’s then time to head to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It closes an hour before sunset, so be sure to keep an eye on the time. Luckily, it’s only a 10-minute walk from the basilica. You can take a lazy wander around the ruins or a guided tour, where you’ll learn all about the temples and ancient government buildings that once stood here. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as there’s a lot of walking involved.
Evening: Dine at a trendy bistro with cats
It’s impossible to see all the must-see sites of Rome in one day, and you’ll have doubtless built up an appetite walking around the city, so call it a night and head south for some seriously good food. The quirky Romeow Cat Bistro is a destination in itself – not only does it host a crew of furry felines who love nothing more than a good cuddle, it’s also unbeatable for great vegan cuisine that will whet the appetite of even the staunchest carnivore. Mains are designed around fresh, seasonal ingredients, and the tiramisu is a firm favourite for dessert.
Night: A modern art masterpiece off the tourist trail
Finish off the first night of your Roman adventure with a unique local attraction. Far from the ancient wonders of the city and just a five-minute stroll from the bistro you’ll find Porto Fluviale Street Art. This open-air museum is really a collection of contemporary, colourful murals painted over buildings throughout the area. You can wander the streets for as long as your feet will carry you before stopping off at one of the local bars for one last glass of vino rosso or a traditional digestif of limoncello.
Morning: Grab a healthy breakfast and visit a local flea market
There’s plenty to cover today, so start your morning on the right foot with a healthy and filling breakfast. Tucked away from the regular tourist traps is the Foodie Freshmarket at Piazza Testaccio 35; try one of their delicious plant-based meals and a pressed juice for an energy boost you’re going to need. The beauty of this spot is that it’s frequented mainly by locals, and that’s reflected in the reasonable prices.
Next, jump on a bus and head north to the Porta Portese Sunday market. The enormous and eclectic market is crammed full of everything from antiques to leather shoes. It runs from 7am to 2pm every Sunday, and no matter what kind of souvenir you’re after, you’ll be sure to find it here.
Afternoon: Vatican City and a sweet treat (or a few)
Just a short stroll away is trendy Trastevere. Here, you’ll feast your eyes on the colourful laneways and slightly crumbling buildings of what was once a humble working-class Roman district. Now populated by craft-beer bars, artisan workshops and many a boutique hotel, the area should be at the top of your wish list on your Roman trip. Stop for lunch in one of the great local restaurants like La Tavernaccia da Bruno – their pappardelle is to die for. Before leaving the area, grab a cookie or a few at the gorgeous Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti. This traditional bakery is famous for its sweet cookies and is a favourite among the Trastevere residents. Make sure you try their brutti ma buoni (a type of cookie whose name means ‘ugly but good’).
Now that you’re fed and watered, it’s time to hit up Vatican City, just a short bus trip away. Take a guided tour around the smallest country in the world, or wander at your own pace. For such a relatively tiny area, there’s a lot to do, and you could spend much more than a single afternoon exploring the historical artworks in the Vatican Museums, gazing up at Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the famed Sistine Chapel and admiring the glittering mosaics in St Peter’s Basilica. Prioritise your time (and buy tickets in advance to avoid being stuck in queues for most of the day) to make sure you see your personal highlights. It’s about as touristy as a place can be, but you’ll soon see why.
Pro tip: Buy a daily travel pass from any of the bus or train stations around the city and enjoy unlimited access to the metro, urban train lines, buses and trams until midnight. At just €6 it’s worth every cent.
Evening: Visit the Pantheon and indulge at the picturesque Piazza Navona
Just another short bus ride away is the unmissable Pantheon. This heavily visited spot is likely to be a little less busy in the evening, so time your visit for just before closing time at 7pm. Take a peek at Renaissance maestro Raphael’s tomb and marvel at this nearly 2,000-year-old temple before heading out for some dinner.
Near the Pantheon at Piazza Navona, you’ll find a wide range of options for dinner. Pick a piazza-facing seat at Ai Tre Tartufi for a great people watching experience; you’ll be serenaded by local street musicians while sampling famous pizza and pasta dishes. You can’t leave Rome without trying their rich, unctuous carbonara, and there are also wonderful vegetarian options available. However, it’s their gelato that steals the show.
Night: Try your luck at Trevi Fountain
To top off your Roman weekend, head over to the world-renowned Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that throwing three coins into the fountain (with the right hand, over the left shoulder) will guarantee your return to Rome, a new romance and a marriage in the future. It can be pretty difficult to get close enough to try your luck during the day, so the evening is the perfect time to see this Baroque masterpiece in all its glory. Head to one of the local bars, where Italian classics like the Aperol spritz and negroni offer a refreshing alternative to wine, and provide the perfect nightcap to end your visit to the Eternal City – until next time, that is.