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BEST of Rome in a Day: Things to Do, 1-Day Itinerary, Map & Tips

BEST of Rome in a Day: Things to Do, 1-Day Itinerary, Map & Tips

Visiting Rome for one day and wondering how to best plan your time so that you can see the very best of the Eternal City in a limited time? In this guide, we share a suggested 1-day itinerary for Rome that includes the two main landmarks – Colosseum and the Vatican – as well as all the other musts in the historic city center. Find out!

Rome is one of the best cities to visit in Italy. It’s also one of the oldest and most unique cities in the world. With so much history and impressive landmarks behind every corner, planning a 1-day visit to Rome can be really overwhelming.

What to see and do? Which tickets to book in advance? What’s worth your time the most if you only have 1 day in Rome? And how to squeeze all the ‘musts’ in just a day?

To help you plan your trip, we created a detailed 1-day Rome itinerary, including the very best places to see and essential planning tips. It should help you make the most of your short visit to Rome and ensure that you see the ‘musts’ that Rome is most famous for.

At the end of this guide, you’ll also find a map of the places we recommend visiting in Rome in a day, as well as essential practical tips that you should know before you go.

Good to know: For this itinerary, we assume that you have one full day in Rome (at least from 7-8 AM to 7-8 PM). If you are visiting Rome as part of a European cruise, this should indeed be the case. Most cruise ships will arrive very early in the morning and leave late at night, allowing you to make the most of your day in Rome.

TIP: If you only have limited time and want to make the most of your visit to Rome, you can also book a day tour here, choosing the starting times and the duration that suits your itinerary best (from 2 to 9 hours). Depending on the time you have, the guides will then make sure that you see some of the very best places in the most optimal way.

Spanish Steps in Rome
Spanish Steps in Rome
 

Good to know: Our recommended 1-day Rome itinerary includes a visit to the Vatican and the Colosseum. The Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays and on some religious holidays. If that’s the case on the day of your visit, normally, you can still visit St. Peter’s Basilica. So adjust your itinerary based on that.

Here’s what you can see and do in Rome in one day:

MORNING: The Vatican

Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

To many, visiting the Vatican and seeing Sistine Chapel is one of the absolute musts in Rome.

Since this is one of the most visited places in the city, you’ll need to book your tickets (or a tour) in advance. So to make the rest of the day more relaxing, we recommend that you come here first thing in the morning.

If you prefer to visit Vatican Museums on your own, get the entrance tickets for the very first time slot when the museum opens. If you prefer going with a guide, book an early tour – the earlier, the better.

Going on your own, you’ll of course have more flexibility and can plan your visit as you please. But keep in mind that the Vatican museums can be overwhelming. If you only want to see the Sistine Chapel, you’ll be fine going without a guide. There are signs pointing to the chapel and eventually, all the routes end up there. If, however, you want to learn a bit more and see the best of this museum, I highly recommend going with a guide.

Here are some of the best Vatican tours that start early in the morning:

  • Early Entry to the Vatican & The Sistine Chapel + St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the best early morning tour that allows you to see the Sistine Chapel before it opens to the public, and – normally (covid situation permitting) – also uses the corridor between the two sites allowing you to visit St. Peter’s without waiting in line. Not only it’s a very unique experience, but going so early also means that you’ll be able to make the most of your day in Rome.
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Gallery of Maps at the Vatican Museums
Gallery of Maps at the Vatican Museums
Vatican Museums in Rome
Vatican Museums
Momo Staircase at the Vatican Museums
Momo Staircase at the Vatican Museums
 

St. Peter’s Basilica

After visiting the Sistine Chapel, you’ll likely want to see St. Peter’s Basilica. The entrance to the church is free of charge, but there are security checks and, usually, big crowds of people waiting to get in. That’s why we recommend going with a tour that includes both places – they use a special door between the museums and the church, so you don’t have to stand in line at St. Peter’s.

St. Peter’s is the biggest and the most important Catholic church in the world and is absolutely massive. It’s gigantic, lavishly decorated, and really impressive – well worth a visit. But – if you visit here on your own (or with a tour that only visits St. Peter’s), you’ll have to spend quite some extra time just to get inside.

There’s yet another queue to go up the St. Peter’s Dome. And while climbing the Dome is one of the best experiences in the Vatican, with just a day in Rome, I think I’d skip it. Unless you are visiting in the quiet season when there are fewer crowds (=less time wasted in lines), or if you don’t go inside the Vatican Museums.

TIP: With just a day in Rome (and trying to make the utmost of your time), I recommend that you book an early morning tour that includes a visit to the Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basilica. This tour starts at around 7.15 AM and ends at around 11 AM (but do check the times, in case something changes). It also includes breakfast at the Vatican and you see all the musts in the shortest possible time.

If the tour ends at 11, indeed, maybe you could still try and visit St. Peter’s Dome if the line isn’t too long at that moment. You can just decide this on the day itself since you have to get the tickets on the spot anyway.

St Peter's Basilica in Rome
St Peter’s Basilica
Interior of St Peters Basilica in Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica is huge – no pictures can portray how massive it is!
The gallery inside St. Peter's Dome
The gallery inside of St. Peter’s Dome. If you have time, you can visit the inside and the outside of the Dome – partially by elevator, and the rest – by doing 330 stairs inside the dome. A very unique experience!
Rome view from St Peter's Basilica Dome
View from the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica
 

NOON: Lunch & make your way to the Colosseum

There are several good restaurants close to the Vatican Museums, so you could have lunch here.

Alternatively, you could first take a metro from the nearby Ottaviano metro station to the Colosseum and find a restaurant for lunch there (depending on your exact plans/ tours you take).

If you have a bit more time (or don’t mind paying a few euros for a taxi), you could first walk to St. Angelo Bridge and also see Castel St. Angelo, and then catch a taxi to the Colosseum from there. It’s also possible to walk from the Vatican to the Colosseum, but it takes about an hour, so I don’t recommend doing this if you only have a day in Rome.

Castel St Angelo and St Angelo Bridge in Rome
Castel St Angelo and St Angelo Bridge. if you have some time to spare, check it out. It’s just a 10-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pizza at a restaurant in Rome
There are some nice restaurants where you can have a quick lunch next to the Vatican Museums and also next to the Colosseum
 

AFTERNOON: Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill

The Colosseum is another of the must-see landmarks of Rome that you should try to see, even if you only have a day in the city. However, this is also an extremely popular sight, attracting huge crowds. So if you want to visit the Colosseum inside (and not just see it from the outside), it’s absolutely essential that you book priority tickets (or a tour) in advance.

Timing-wise, I think you should try to visit here at around 2 PM – it should work best for this itinerary.

For the ultimate experience, I recommend that you visit all the accessible levels of the Colosseum, including the underground. It’s only here that you can get a much better understanding of how this arena functioned, and how the life of the gladiators was.

The underground level can only be accessed with a guide. The good thing is that you can skip most of the queues, and the guide also takes a shorter route between the various levels that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own.

So in the end, it doesn’t take that much more time than going on your own (if at all), and you get to see more while also avoiding the biggest crowds.

TIP: We did and highly recommend this tour – it includes a visit to the Colosseum (undergrounds the Arena Floor, and all the rest), and – if the option is chosen – also the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The Colosseum visit alone takes about 1.5 hours, and the entire tour takes about 3 hours. Depending on the crowds, it can feel a bit rushed at the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, but you’d never be able to see even half of it if you try to do all this on your own.

If you only want to see the Colosseum, you can book this same tour excluding the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Your guide will still give you the tickets for those places (they’re included with the Colosseum ticket), and you can then decide if you want to visit them on your own. But that’s a massive archeological site, so keep in mind that it will be very overwhelming just trying to figure out where to go and what to see.

Rome in a day - visit Colosseum
The Colosseum is another must-see in Rome
Colosseum underground
The underground level of the Colosseum
Colosseum - must see in Rome in a day
Colosseum Arena Floor
Roman Forum in Rome Italy
Roman Forum
Palatine Hill in Rome
Palatine Hill
 

EVENING: Historic City Center

Pantheon & Piazza Navona

After visiting the Colosseum, walk to the historic city center (it’s a nice walk of about 20-30 minutes). On the way, you’ll pass the impressive Via dei Fori Imperiali and Piazza Venezia.

You could also make just a tiny detour and check out Largo di Torre Argentina. This picturesque archeological site is the spot where Julius Caesar was killed. Despite its central location, this is one of the lesser-visited hidden gems of Rome, but you only need a few minutes to see it, and it’s very close to the Pantheon. So check it out.

If you want to see the Pantheon inside, head there first, before visiting any of the other landmarks in the historic center. The Pantheon usually closes at around 7-7.30 PM, depending on the season. But you have to account for the queue as well. Entrance is free of charge and – normally – there are no tickets or reservations. However, recently, they require advance reservation if you visit on a weekend. Check the official website for up-to-date info.

Afterwards, head to Piazza Navona. It’s located just nearby and is one of the must-sees in Rome. You can just walk around the square and check out its three fountains: the Fiumi Fountain and the obelisk in the middle, the Neptune fountain on the northern side, and the Moor Fountain on the southern end of the square.

Next, head to the famous Trevi Fountain, stopping for a gelato on your way. Two of the best gelaterias in Rome – Giolitti and Gelateria Della Palma – are both located along the way, so get some ice cream and enjoy it as you explore the historic city center.

Pantheon in Rome
The Pantheon is another iconic landmark you must see, even if you just have a day in Rome
Pantheon Oculus
Pantheon Oculus
Neptune Fountain on Piazza Navona in Rome
Neptune Fountain on Piazza Navona
Gelateria Della Palma in Rome
There’s always some time for gelato in Rome!
 

Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pincian Hill & Piazza del Popolo

Trevi Fountain needs no introduction. This world-famous fountain is one of the most iconic landmarks of Rome. It’s usually extremely busy here, but it’s always possible to get quite close to the water if you want to throw the traditional coin in the fountain.

From Trevi, it’s about 10 minutes walk to the Spanish Steps – another must on any trip to Rome. Here, you’ll also find the most popular shopping neighborhood in the city center. With just a day in Rome, I think I’d skip the shopping and just enjoy the sights, though.

If you take the steps all the way to the top, you can enjoy some nice views of the city from Pincian Hill. If you want to, you can also visit Trinità dei Monti church at the top of the Spanish Steps, but seeing it inside is not a must.

Instead of going back down the stairs, follow the street to the left and walk to Terrazza del Pincio, a popular sunset spot in Rome. Along the way, you’ll pass another viewpoint with a monument to Enrico e Giovanni Cairoli – this angle offers even better views of the city. Depending on the time of the year when you visit, you might be here at around sunset, indeed, but the views are nice at any time of the day.

From Pincio Terrace, you can take the stairs down to Piazza del Popolo. Located at the historic Rome city gate, this is one of the oldest and biggest town squares in the city, with the ancient Flaminio Obelisk, several impressive fountains, and two interesting churches – Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto.

From here, it’s just a short walk back to the heart of the historic city center, where you will find lots of souvenir shops and restaurants. Or you can take a metro or a taxi to wherever you have to be next.

Rome in a day - Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Rome Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps
Rome cityscape view from Pincian Hill
The views from Pincian Hill are some of the best in Rome. It’s also a nice place for sunset.
Piazza del Popolo in Rome
Piazza del Popolo
 

Rome 1 Day Itinerary & Map

Here is an overview of our suggested Rome itinerary for one day:

  • Optional: Walk to St. Angelo Castle and St. Angel’s Bridge.
  • Lunch and make your way to the Colosseum (by taxi or metro).
  • 2-5 PM: Visit the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. We did and recommend this tour. If you are not interested in the underground level, you can also just get priority tickets for the Colosseum (also must book in advance!).
  • 5-6 PM: Walk to the city center. See Piazza Venezia and – potentially – Largo di Torre Argentina.
  • 6 PM: Visit the Pantheon.
  • Evening: Visit Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, and enjoy some of the best viewpoints in Rome.

TIP: If you have more time in Rome, be sure to check out our suggested itinerary for 2 days in Rome! In addition to all the musts, it also includes a few hidden gems.

Good to know: This itinerary can be done at any time of the year. The only things to keep into account are the heat (in the summer) and shorter days (in late fall and winter). However, we recently visited Rome in November, and – despite the fact that it gets dark at around 5 PM at that time of the year – we could enjoy the city just as much as in the other seasons. It’s actually nice to see all the landmarks nicely lit without having to stay up late. So yes, every season has its advantages.

If you are visiting Rome in the warmest months (June-August), you can also switch this itinerary around and visit the Colosseum in the morning before it gets too hot. On the other hand, the Vatican Museums are not air-conditioned, so it’s going to be hot everywhere, no matter how you plan your day… Be sure to pack a sun hat, sunscreen lotion, and drink lots of water.

To give you a better idea of where everything is, we created a map indicating all the places that we recommend visiting in Rome in a day. There’s no specific walking route in the city center – no matter which street you take, it doesn’t matter that much, as long as you get from one landmark to another. The purpose is to see all the musts of Rome in a day.

How to Use This Map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the left top corner for the index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu button, and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’.

 

Some practical tips & essential info

To make the most of your day trip to Rome, here are some useful tips:

  • Start early and book the tickets/ tours in advance. Once again, if you want to see all these places and also visit the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Colosseum inside, I highly recommend booking organized tours with a local guide. As a minimum, you really should get skip-the-line tickets and also do some research so that you know where to go and what to see, or you risk getting frustrated and not seeing much.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and be sure that your clothing is respectable (knees and shoulders are covered). This is a must if you are visiting the Vatican.
  • Pack a reusable bottle. There are lots of water fountains all over Rome where you can refill your bottles (free of charge). Ideally, you have one bottle per person, especially if visiting Rome between April and October. Something like this is perfect for travel, but any sturdy plastic bottle will do just fine (and there are also foldable travel models too).
  • Don’t take any big bags with you. A small backpack is ok, but ideally, you take as little with you as possible. You’ll have to pass airport-style security at the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and also at the Colosseum and Roman Forum/ Palatine Hill, so the less stuff you have, the easier it will be.
  • Pack a power bank for your phone and/or some extra batteries for your camera.

For more travel tips for Rome, take a look at our in-depth guide via the link below.

LEARN MORE: Tips for Visiting Rome

Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda in Rome
Piazza della Rotonda and the Pantheon in the evening
 

So, this is our suggested Rome itinerary for one day.

As you can see, it’s quite possible to see all the main sights in a short time, but only IF you plan well. It will be rushed, but you can experience the very best of Rome in a day.

Have a great time in Rome!

More travel inspiration for Italy:

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How to see the best of Rome in one day
Rome 1 day itinerary
 

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