By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
With smart planning you can pack a lot of sightseeing into your Roman visit, but there's no point in overloading your trip — with any luck, you'll keep coming back to Rome. After several dozen visits, I still have a healthy list of excuses to return.
With that in mind, here are my recommended priorities:
Rome in a Day
Some people actually "do" Rome in a day. Crazy as that sounds, if all you have is a day, it's one of the most exciting days Europe has to offer.
Start at 9:00 at the Colosseum. Then explore the Forum (skip the Palatine Hill), hike over Capitoline Hill, and cap your "Caesar Shuffle" with a Pantheon visit. After a quick lunch, taxi to the Vatican Museums, then head to St. Peter's Basilica (open until 19:00 April–Sept). Taxi back to Campo de' Fiori for dinner, then finish your day lacing together all the famous floodlit spots (following my guidebooks' Heart of Rome Walk — also available as a free audio tour).
Rome in Two to Three Days
On the first day, do the "Caesar Shuffle" from the Colosseum (book ahead) to the Roman Forum, then over Capitoline Hill (visiting the Capitoline Museums), and on to the Pantheon. After a siesta, add some sightseeing to suit your interest. In the evening enjoy a sound-and-light show at the Imperial Forums and/or a colorful stroll in Trastevere or the Monti district. On the second day, see Vatican City (St. Peter's, dome climb, tour the Vatican Museums). Have dinner near the atmospheric Campo de' Fiori, and then walk to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps (following my guidebooks' Heart of Rome Walk — also available as a free audio tour). With a third day, add the Borghese Gallery (reservations required) and more sights.
Rome in Seven Days
Rome is a great one-week getaway. Its sights can keep even the most fidgety traveler well entertained for a week.
Do the "Caesar Shuffle" from the Colosseum to the Forum, Capitoline Museums, Victor Emmanuel Monument viewpoint, and Pantheon. Spend the late afternoon doing my guidebooks' Heart of Rome Walk (also available as a free audio tour).
In the morning, visit the National Museum of Rome and the nearby Baths of Diocletian. In the afternoon do my Jewish Ghetto Walk, followed immediately by my Trastevere Walk (both walks are outlined in my Rome guidebooks and available as a free audio tour). Enjoy dinner in Trastevere.
At Vatican City, visit St. Peter's Basilica, climb the dome, and tour the Vatican Museums. Spend the early evening shopping and enjoying the local passeggiata by doing what I call the "Dolce Vita Stroll" along Via del Corso (start at Piazza del Popolo and end up at Piazza Venezia for great sunset views).
Side-trip to Ostia Antica (closed Mon). On the way there or back, stop for sightseeing in Testaccio (great market scene in the morning and for lunch; excellent restaurants for dinner). In the evening, you could repeat my guidebooks' "Heart of Rome" walk from Campo de' Fiori to the Spanish Steps to enjoy the after-dark scene.
Visit the Borghese Gallery (reservation required) and the churches I group as the key elements of "Pilgrims' Rome": San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Clemente.
You choose — Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli, Appian Way with catacombs, E.U.R., Testaccio sights, a food tour, shopping, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Castel Sant'Angelo, or more time at the Vatican.
Gene Openshaw is the co-author of the Rick Steves Rome guidebook.