If you’ve only got 48 hours to spend in the Italian capital, here are Culture Trip’s top recommendations to make the most of your stay – from cocktails by the Spanish Steps to queueing-jumping at the Colosseum.
Keen to visit Rome? You can enjoy a guided bike tour of Rome, stopping at the most significant landmarks as part of Culture Trip’s 10-day small-group Northern Italy adventure, led by our Local Insider.
Can you get under the skin of one of the most famous cities in two days? Just about…
First tip for free: queue-skip at the cultural sights to save time. Also, a wide-brimmed hat is your best friend while exploring white marble monuments in the blazing sun. Beyond the main sights, leave time to soak up the city character – pause to watch a marriage procession following a vintage Fiat; knock back a Frangelico in a piazza cafe. For ultimate Rome-ance, row your beloved across Villa Borghese’s laghetto before doing a Lady and the Tramp in a superb spaghetti joint. Here’s our suggested itinerary for a whirlwind 48 hours in Rome.
Arrive at the smart Hotel Art. Housed in an old college full of bronze busts and serigraphs, it’s devoted to design; exhibitions and concerts are regularly hosted here. Drop your bags and head for the nearby Spanish Steps, made famous by the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
Kickstart your weekend away with a pink negroni on the panoramic terrace at Il Palazzetto, the historic hideaway at the top of the Steps. Afterwards, make your way to Al 34 for dinner. This legendary restaurant first opened in 1968 and prides itself on “360-degree” Italian cuisine, with dishes from across the country. Start with fried squash blossoms, followed by burnt grain orecchiette with broccoli and sausage. Alternatively, try red shrimp tartare with avocado, burrata and pistachios.
Get up bright and early because your whistlestop stay continues with a bicycle tour of the Eternal City. Take in the temple of Mars Ultor – commemorating Emperor Augustus’s victory over Julius Caesar’s assassins – and the surviving structures of Trajan’s Market, illustrative of ancient Roman life, plus the elaborate Trevi Fountain. Make sure you toss a coin in; it means you’ll certainly return to Rome. Pedal the road of painters and buzzing central hub of Piazza Venezia, making a pit-stop to marvel at the enormous Pantheon dome. Pull over in the lively and storied Jewish quarter, home to the Great Synagogue of Rome. It can be traced all the way back to classical times (1555BCE) and is thought to be the oldest such community outside of the Middle East.
Replenish your energy reserves with a slap-up lunch at a 17th-century-convent-turned-restaurant, Isidoro. Cram in cold cuts before crab and potato pie with basil cream, plump for polenta flan with wild boar salami or keep it fresh with fennel and orange salad. From here, it’s a short waddle to the Colosseum.
Spend the next two hours ogling the historic amphitheatre where up to 50,000 people came to watch gladiators battle. Next, explore the Roman Forum where the ruins of ancient government buildings still stand, before heading to open-air Palatine Hill. Centremost of the seven hills of Rome, this is the location of the cave where twin city founders Romulus and Remus were found and kept alive by a she-wolf according to myth. Book the skip-the-queue pass; it’s a must to maximise your time.
Supper is at Ristorante Viva, where there’s also a wine shop and cocktail bar. Try tempura zucchini flowers with herbal ricotta foam, or tagliatelle with white rabbit ragù, crispy artichokes and mint. Not to dictate, but it’s probably time to tick off tiramisu, too.
Sunday morning seems a natural time to make your way to church. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s worth visiting St Peter’s Square inside Vatican City’s papal enclave. You’ll feel rather small among all the architectural grandeur. Admire the glittering interior of St Peter’s Basilica and, of course, the pope’s house. You can’t leave without booking tickets to the Sistine Chapel. Crane your neck for as long as you can to take in the full glory of Michelangelo’s ceiling spectacular, and The Last Judgment.
Exploring the Eternal City and all the wonders therein is hungry work. For lunch, grab a slice from Alice Pizza (it’s served up by weight, in typical Roman style). Eat while strolling through the streets. Drop by Gelateria Ice Cream Sicily on your way to Borghese, and savour Modica chocolate and Piedmont hazelnut gelato on a stick. Wash it down with coffee to pep you up for the final leg of your tour.
Finally, stop by the Borghese Gallery and Museum, home to world-renowned works from Caravaggio to Titian. Particular highlights include Apollo and Daphne by Bernini, commissioned in the 1600s; the influential sculptor was famed for creating the most lifelike marble creations ever seen. Once you’ve had your fill, head to the airport, happy in the knowledge you’ve seen the key highlights of this great historic haunt.