The Best of Rome in 72 hours: Maximized 3 Day Itinerary

The eternal city. The capital of the world. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the things to see, eat, and do in Rome, Italy. We get it. While researching this trip, instead of narrowing down places we want to see, our list kept getting longer!

What if you had only 72 hours to spend in Rome? We put together in this guide what we believe is the best itinerary for visiting Rome in 3 days. Even with this limited time, you will be able to see the essential parts of the city.

Soak up the vibrant scene in the alleys and piazzas of the Historic Center. Marvel at ancient architectures. Ponder the gory and glory days of the past. Examine faith and ponder eternity. Indulge your taste buds with pizza, pasta, gelato, and more. The best of Rome offers something for everyone.

In three days, it is helpful to visualize Rome in three distinct areas. Focusing on one area per day will narrow your sightseeing and culinary choices.

Here is an overview.
Day 1 – Historic Center
Day 2 – Ancient Rome
Day 3 – Vatican City

Okay, let's get down to the details.

Day 1

Arrive in Rome, Walk around the Historic Center

Start with the Historic Center. You can do this walk right after you arrive, no matter the time. Rome is a living museum. Its beauty can be experienced just by walking around. Almost all the spots here are free and open all day.

In Campo de' Fiori, you can explore a market that is open in the mornings or you can find the bakeries where you can taste the best pizzas by the slice, anywhere. The restaurants here are not noteworthy but be sure to explore the side streets for some hidden gems.

Head northwest until you reach Piazza Navona. This square feels like Rome's living room. Even with the crowds, you can enjoy the atmosphere with live music, entertainers, and just the satisfied hums of locals and tourists alike.

From the center of this square, a short walk through an alley will lead you to the Pantheon. Don't worry if it is closed, you can admire the architecture from the outside and enjoy the scene around the corner. But if you have a chance, go inside (Hint: It's free!). The dome from below is impressive.  It could be crowded, but the real beauty of the place is above eye level anyway. Find Raphael's bust and tomb. You can pay respect to Queen Margherita (or just see her tomb), for whom the Margherita pizza was invented. 

A short walk in front of the Parliament building and though Galleria Alberto Sordi (Hint: They have air conditioning!) will lead you to the rushing waters of the Trevi Fountain. It will be crowded. The good thing is, the fountain itself stands tall and wide. If you want, you can skip the coin toss and simply view it from the street level. The fountain is lit up beautifully at night.

Head north from the right side of the fountain, cross the street, and continue walking north until you reach the Spanish Steps. This is a great place to sit back, relax your feet, and reflect on what you have just seen.

Have more time? Extend your walk to Piazza del Popolo and walk the entire length of Via del Corso to Piazza Venezia for some serious window shopping extravaganza.

Day 2

Explore Ancient Rome

Start your day at the Colosseum. Sure, there will be crowds, but there is plenty of space for everyone, especially at the upper level. I would suggest getting an audio guide or joining a tour group to better appreciate the visit. Allow up to 2 hours to fully explore both levels of this massive place.

From behind the Colosseum, tram #3 will take you to the Testaccio Market. This is a foodie paradise. You can get pasta, sandwiches, fresh produce, cheese and meat, suppli, and more.

Take tram #3 back to the Colosseum area and enter the Roman Forum. There is little shade here so wear sunscreen, bring an umbrella, and hydrate. Or better yet, take a siesta first and come back in the afternoon. In summer, it is open till late. This site is a must see. You will be able to take a step back in time to when Ancient Rome was considered almost the entire civilized world.

I would suggest capping the day at Palatine Hill. The museum and the ruins are worth seeing. You can also take a peek at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica from here. The sunset view over the Forum and Colosseum is breathtaking and very memorable.

Tram #3 and #8 will take you to Trastevere. While not every restaurant here is value for money, there are worthwhile choices still available. The streets and squares are lively till the late evening, with plenty of outside dining and good gelato to enjoy. Even if you are not here for dinner, you can enjoy the postcard-worthy alleys and vine-covered street corners of this wonderful neighborhood.

Day 3

Visit the Vatican City

Start the day early and climb the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Doing this early in the morning, makes sense since there are no queues yet, and you still have energy. Whether you climb or take the elevators, make sure to spend time in the open area with the murals to look both up towards the dome and down towards the nave of the church. Both are equally fascinating. From the top observation deck, you can view most of Rome, St. Peter's square, and the Vatican Museums and Gardens.

If you rode the elevator, you will exit directly inside St. Peter's Basilica. Even if you are not Roman Catholic, you should not miss this place. It is huge, and filled to the brim with art. Michelangelo's Pieta is spectacular, as are the golden ceilings, and marbled floors. The music and choir songs are a special treat during Sundays, even though an area near the main altar is closed. On some Sundays, the pope will speak on one of the windows in the square. On some Wednesdays, a general audience is held in the square.

Prati is a great neighborhood to have lunch. You can get pizza by the slice, fresh pasta, and gelato just around the Vatican walls.

I would strongly recommend buying an online ticket for the Vatican Museums. You will see a very long queue for the tickets and you will breathe a sigh of relief that you do not have to join them. Again, an audio guide or a tour group will greatly improve a visit to this vast museum. From Egyptian hieroglyphs, to Greek statues, to Renaissance paintings, you can trace civilization's history in this place. Of course, the highlight is the visit to the Sistine chapel. Considered to be one of the greatest art pieces produced by a single person, you can spend hours craning your neck and studying the walls and painting of this church. Just remember to dress properly, keep quiet, and no photos!

From here, you can either head to your next destination, take some side trips, or explore more of Rome.

There we have it. A maximized 3 day itinerary for Rome. The trick is to not try and do everything. It helps to think that the city has stood for ~3000 years and it will continue to be there for years to come. After all, as the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome.

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