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24 Hours In… Rome

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Last Updated on January 4, 2019’s Content Marketing Manager Claire Simon shares her tips on what to do with a day in Rome, after a recent visit to the Eternal City.

According to Roman mythology, the founding of Rome spans from the story of twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned on the banks of the River Tiber and found and nursed by a female wolf. As they grew up, the brothers fought over where they would establish a new city, and to settle the matter Romulus killed his brother and named the new city by the river after himself.

Such a colourful tale for the founding of this epic city is apt; Rome is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, where thousands of years of incredibly preserved Roman ruins collide with Renaissance art and architecture, Baroque influences, a rich tapestry of Catholic history, and modern day living.

Italy’s capital city is serviced by two airports: if, like me, you’re flying in from overseas, you’re most likely to come into Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO), which is the main international airport used by major airlines and international carriers and is just over 30 kilometres from the city centre. Rome’s other main airport, Ciampino-G. B. Pastine Airport (CIA), is smaller and is used by budget airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair, and is just over 15 kilometres from the city centre.

The great news is that has now launched in Italy, so you can search, compare and book private transfers and shared shuttle companies from both airports to get you to wherever you’re staying in Rome.

8.30am: Coffee and pastry the Italian way

The best way to start your day in the Italian capital is to do as the Romans do; with a dose of caffeine. If you’ve not experienced coffee the Italian way, you may be surprised. Coffee culture is deeply ingrained in the Italian culture, and coffee is generally served al banco, or at the bar. Many coffee shops are tiny little bars with no seats at all – just go up and order (cappuccino is the morning coffee of choice for most Italians, but only until 11am!) and then sip your coffee chatting to your family and friends, or enjoy a spot of people-watching.

Rome has an impressive skyline, full of Roman ruins and Renaissance and Baroque domes and monuments

9.30am: See the HQ of the Roman Catholic Church

The Vatican City, the headquarters of the Catholic Church and the smallest sovereign state in the world, is well worth a visit to see the incredible Renaissance and Baroque architecture and art. With the Rome Metro, it’s easy to get to the Vatican City using Line A direction Battistini, and getting off at the Ottaviano “San Pietro” or Cipro “Musei Vaticani” stations. The Vatican City is famed of course for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling art by Michelangelo, but be prepared to wait; the queues for entry into the museums and chapel are lengthy, even early in the morning. Conscious of time, we decided instead to explore the impressive St Peter’s Basilica. You will most likely see a long queue outside St Peter’s too, but this one moves quickly and allows you to admire the architecture and fountains of Piazza San Pietro while you wait.

Handy hint: If you’re planning on entering churches in Rome (which I definitely encourage, as you’ll stumble across some incredible artworks in hidden corners), make sure you have something like a scarf to cover your arms and legs with. It may be hot outside, but respect is important, and in most cases you won’t be allowed inside if you’re not appropriately dressed.

11am: Take a walk through history

Having taken the metro from the Colosseum, where we were staying, over to the Vatican City, we decided to slowly walk our way back to the city’s historical centre; this is definitely the best way to see many of Rome’s most famous sites and is a walking tour through history.

From the Vatican City head towards Castel San’Angelo, a cylindrical building commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. From there, cross over pretty Ponte Sant’Angelo (make sure you get a picture of the view back over to the Vatican City from the river, it’s beautiful) and make your way to Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s largest and prettiest squares. We came from small side streets to this elegant piazza, and it most certainly ushered an impressive ‘ohhh’ from us! Famed for its three fountains, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro and Fontana di Nettuno, what I loved most about the square is its atmosphere; with street artists and bustling cafés and restaurants, it’s a great place to have a coffee and soak up the Roman way of life.

The Vatican City, the headquarters of the Catholic Church and the smallest sovereign state in the world. Photo by Caleb Miller on Unsplash

From Piazza Navona it’s a short stroll to the incredibly preserved and historically important Pantheon. This Roman temple was built between 118 and 125 AD and was dedicated to all of the gods of pagan Rome, and today is the only structure of its age and size that is still so perfectly intact. The Pantheon’s famous dome was the largest in the world for more than 1,300 years, and it’s quite humbling to look up at such a magnificent structure that has survived the test of time.

12pm: Toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Next on our list was a stop at the Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous fountains in the world and the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. But first, if you’re walking from the Pantheon towards the Trevi Fountain, you must stop and get a gelato from Venchi (Via del Corso, just around the corner from the Trevi Fountain); this was the best gelato we had in Rome, and kept the hunger at bay while we explored the city. As I delighted in my choice of pistachio (made with Bronte Pistachio DOP from Sicily), I have to admit that I had low expectations of the Trevi Fountain. I really thought that it could not be as spectacular as the pictures make it look, with water so blue and stone so white. I’m pleased to say that I was proved wrong; seeing the Trevi Fountain was one of the highlights from my trip. Yes, it’s busy. But following restoration in recent years, the travertine stone and marble sparkle such a bright white and contrast perfectly with the vivid blue of the water drawn from the Acqua Vergine Antica aqueduct. It’s definitely worth a visit, and don’t forget to toss a coin into the fountain to ensure your return to Rome.

The Pantheon was built between 118 and 125 AD and is famous for its giant dome with a hole in the top, known as the ‘eye’ of the Pantheon, or oculus. Photo by Lode Lagrainge on Unsplash

1pm: Climb the Spanish Steps

While you’re in the area, make the less than 10-minute walk to the Piazza di Spagna and climb the 135 steps made famous by Audrey Hepburn in A Roman Holiday (and many other cultural references over the years) to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. However, don’t make the mistake we did and think the steps are a perfect place to nibble on a slice of pizza and watch the world go by – there are rules enforced at most of the city’s famous fountains and landmarks stopping people from eating around them in an effort to preserve them (the Trevi Fountain is another example; don’t try and eat your gelato while sat by the fountain unless you want to be whistled at by nearby police). Instead, take the opportunity to make the most of the lovely neighbourhood and have a leisurely lunch and a welcome rest for your feet.

Don’t forget to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to Rome. Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

3pm: Enjoy the views from ‘The Wedding Cake’

There are so many more things to cover off on your day in Rome, so once you’re feeling revived, take a leisurely walk through Rome’s neighbourhoods back towards the centro storico (historical centre). About a 20-30 minute walk from the Spanish Steps, and before you get to the big hitters such as the Colosseum, make sure to detour past Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, commonly referred to as the ‘The Wedding Cake’. Built in the early 20th century to honour Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy following unification, the monument is an imposing sight, carved in white marble and with Corinthian columns, fountains, flames and bronze statues. It’s worth climbing the seemingly-endless stairs (you’ll need a hat and water – the white marble and Italian sunshine make for a warm ascent) for a fantastic view over the city.

3.30pm: Explore Roman ruins

Just a short walk from ‘The Wedding Cake’ is the heart of Rome’s incredible history. You could spend all day just exploring this part of the city, but you can certainly get a taste for what makes Rome so important in a short amount of time, too. Start with the Colosseum; the largest amphitheatre ever built. For a structure that is nearly 2,000 years old, it’s incredibly preserved and enduringly remarkable. Its history is morbidly fascinating as a place where tens of thousands of Romans were entertained by gladiators fighting to their deaths, exotic animals being paraded around, and prisoners executed. If you don’t want to queue for hours waiting to see the inside, the exterior of the Colosseum is fascinating enough, and a walk around the circumference will give you a sense of the scale of this immense amphitheatre.

The Roman Forum was the centre of political and social activity in ancient Rome

From there, head to the Roman Forum, a sprawl of important ruins that made up the centre of political and social activity in ancient Rome. Again, many visitors like to take their time and explore the entirety of the Roman Forum. But if time’s not on your side, you can still get a fantastic sense of the scale and importance of this area of the city – as well as getting some great photos of recognisable monuments such as the Temple of Saturn – from the outside. Walk along Via di S. Teodoro and onto Via Monte Tarpeo for the best angles.

5.30pm: Aperitivo time!

Do as the Romans do and make time for a well-deserved aperitivo, especially after all of that walking. The aperitivo is as much part of Italian culture as football or coffee, and is generally a leisurely drink (or two) with some nibbles between around 7-9pm. As Italians don’t tend to eat dinner in the summer until past 8pm, this is a chance to kick back, relax and enjoy a tipple to whet your appetite. The streets to the east of the Colosseum are full of great places for an aperitivo – head towards Via Ostilla and Via di S. Giovanni in Laterno and you’re sure to find a wonderful bar in the shadow of the Colosseum.

9pm: Dinner in Trastevere

A great place to head for dinner is the lively neighbourhood of Trastevere. South of the River Tiber, Trastevere is a medieval neighbourhood with a strong personality, and great bars and restaurants. I highly recommend Bar San Calisto on Piazza di San Calisto for its atmosphere and unbelievably cheap aperol and beer, followed by a feed in one of the many local trattorias. What a great end to a day in Rome!

Get a hidden glimpse of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica through the Aventine Keyhole. Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

 Top tips

  • Don’t expect to cover off everything! You could easily spend a week here and not have seen everything you want to.
  • You’ll be amazed at how grateful and happy the locals are if you can manage a few words of Italian. Learn a handful of basic words and it’ll go a really long way. Start with ciao (informal hello and goodbye); buonasera (good evening); per favore (please); grazie (thank you); prego (you’re welcome).
  • If you know you want to see certain sights, book them in advance. For example, if you know you want to see masterpieces from Caravaggio and Bernini, make sure you book your ticket for the Galleria Borghese before you go.
  • If you have time, visit the Aventine Keyhole, a secret peephole that provides an incredible view of St Peter’s dome through a keyhole!
  • Go into as many churches as possible and crane your neck at the impossibly beautiful art on the ceilings and walls.

Don’t forget to pre-book your airport transfer before you fly. Shared shuttles from Fiumicino and Ciampino start from as little as €14 on

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