Is it possible to fit all of Rome’s must-see sights into a one day itinerary? Nope! However, if one day in Rome is all you have, you’re still in for an amazing 24 hours! In this post, we pull ideas from our personal experience of seeing Rome in a day and compile it into a user-friendly self-walking guide!
Granted, you don’t have to walk roughly 17 miles like we did! Feel free to pick and choose which sights you’d like to fit in your one day and plan accordingly. We wrote this itinerary in an order where you could easily skip a sight but still stay on track.
We may have overdone the walking a bit. But being on a tight budget and wanting to see as much as we could, we packed light, wore great walking shoes and never stopped!
We’ve included a walking tour map at the bottom of this post that you can print or just reference digitally. We hope it helps you navigate Rome during your short visit!
For tips on what to eat, you can find all food-related info at the bottom of this itinerary. Hint: it’s delicious! But it’s Rome, so you probably guessed that already.
Stopping for one day in Rome on your way to other parts of Italy? Check out our two week Italy Itinerary where we cover different must-visit regions of Italy and what makes each so special. We’ve got a lot of tips to share too! Speaking of tips…
Tips for Visiting Rome:
Use Google Maps
We had a rough idea of the route we would take but frequently used Google Maps along the way. If we saw any cool sights on the map that were nearby we would take a slight detour.
Pro Tip: You don’t need a phone/data plan to use Google Maps. Download your map ahead of time on wifi and voila! You now have a map of the entire city downloaded to your device. Leave your wifi on so your GPS signal will still work! This is a great money saver for budget travelers! Take note, some features of Google Maps are not available offline, like walking directions or pictures of restaurants and sights.
Wear appropriate shoes
We’ve already mentioned this but it needs repeating: wear good walking shoes! Rome’s metro is a great resource for getting around town but you’ll see so much more of the city if you go by foot. Stumbling upon unexpected points of interest is a guarantee when walking in Rome!
Check on Your Destinations Before You Go
While we still enjoyed a view of St. Peter’s Basilica from a distance, we could’ve gotten up close and personal if we had checked beforehand. Had we done so, we would’ve known about the event in the afternoon, which closed it off to visitors. Oh well!
So for those sights in Rome you really want to see, do a quick search to see if there are any events or closures!
Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
Rome is full of clean, public water fountains. They’re hard to miss! You’ll save a lot of money and create less waste by bringing your own bottle. We use a 1 liter Nalgene and they’re perfect for those long days of exploration.
Getting Around if You’re Tired of Walking
Don’t underestimate Rome’s metro system! We enjoy walking above ground, even if it adds a little time and effort, so we’re able to see a lot of the city. However, if the weather is bad or if it’s just too far, don’t hesitate to use Rome’s metro! Tickets are inexpensive and if you plan on using the metro even a few times, make sure you look into the Day Pass (BIG), which will save you time and money!
As for buses, we don’t recommend taking those. They’re a little harder to understand and not always the most reliable. However, it’s your travels!
Be a Smart, Conscientious Traveler
Nothing takes the fun out of traveling like losing your belongings or falling prey to pickpockets. As is the case wherever you travel, keep an eye on your stuff and don’t flaunt what you got!
The Roman Forum, Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine
These three sites are in the same area and would be easy to knock out together in your one day in Rome. While taking a guided tour of this area will give you more insight into the history of these monuments, you can also purchase tickets to explore these sights on your own. Note that if you’re not part of a tour group, you will likely have to wait in a long line to enter. It depends on when you visit.
If you’re on a tight schedule to fit in as much as you can, then reading a brief history while viewing these monuments from the outside will do!
Pro Tip: If you plan on booking a guided tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, we advise you to book a tour in advance. There will be a lot of companies offering tours by the front entrance but you run the risk of getting a dry and dull guide that will make you fall asleep where you stand (been there, done that!). It’s best to find an informative and engaging tour guide and book them ahead of time!
Built around 70-80 AD, the Colosseum is one of the first things that pops into your head when you think of Rome. This architectural wonder held between 50,000 and 80,000 people in its heyday. Fun fact: it was built so that you could fill or empty the entire amphitheatre in 15 minutes thanks to the vomitoria (passageways that ran along the entire colosseum).
In its prime, spectators could see gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, battle reenactments, Roman mythological dramas and other public spectacles. In the medieval period, it was repurposed a few times but was ultimately damaged to the state we see it in today because of stone robbers and earthquakes.
The Roman Forum
This was the epicenter of day-to-day life in Rome and nestled within the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. A Roman citizen could pursue commercial, political, judicial and religious activities within the many public buildings located in and around the Forum. They had triumphal processions, elections, public speeches, and trials but also temples, memorials, and a marketplace.
Arch of Constantine
This triumphal arch, located right outside the colosseum, was dedicated to Constantine the Great. It was built to commemorate his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in the early 4th century AD.
The Arch of Constantine became one of the stops along the route that emperors and generals would lead their triumphal processions along. Some of the statues used on the Arch of Constantine came from monuments that had been dedicated to Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.
San Pietro in Vincoli: View a Michelangelo Sculpture (for free!)
It wouldn’t be a day in Rome without seeing a little bit of art. Instead of paying to tour the Borghese Gallery or the Vatican (both are worth it but require a lot of time), stop inside San Pietro in Vincoli.
In the rear, right corner of this church, which is free to enter, you’ll find a large marble structure made by Michelangelo. It was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1505 to be his tomb but wasn’t completed until 1545; it went through many redesigns over the years.
Originally, it was supposed to have around 40 sculpted figures but it was narrowed down to include just seven figures and a simpler overall design. On the lower level of the tomb, in the center, you’ll see the famous Horned Moses and in the center on the top is the virgin Mary holding the infant Christ and standing over Pope Julius II.
Connecting Piazza di Spagna with Piazza Trinità dei Monti, the Spanish steps are a must on any itinerary for Rome. These steps were constructed from 1723 to 1725 and are 135 steps from the bottom to the top where Trinità dei Monti church is located.
The steps were financed by the French diplomat Étienne Gueffier but are called “Spanish” because the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See was once located in Piazza di Spagna at the base of the steps.
From their beginning, they drew a crowd and it was a prime location to just sit, people watch or eat a bite but nowadays it is against the rules to sit on the steps (and there’s a hefty fine if you do).
Climb the steps and enjoy the view of the piazza below or spend a moment at their base to appreciate their history and architecture.
Commissioned in the early 1600s, this amazing piece of art took well over a century to complete! While crowds flock throughout the day to get a picture, try to find a good spot to appreciate the details incorporated by the artists, like how some of the horses seem almost alive or how the fabric worn by the figures seems to be flowing.
You might recognize this famous fountain from the old film, Roman Holiday. It’s been featured in pop culture more than once, which only adds to its popularity!
Pro Tip: If you really want some alone time next to the fountain, try visiting near sunrise or after sunset. Everyone is trying to get a picture with the fountain as a backdrop so be prepared for the crowds!
Altare della Patria – Piazza Venezia
This magnificent piece of architecture is dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuele II, the king of a unified Italy in the 19th century. Here you can find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and if you venture inside this free museum (we entered to get a break from the heat), you’ll find plenty of interesting military memorabilia, as well as history on previous flags and the unification of the country. A very cool stop on your walking tour!
To get a photo which captures this giant structure, you’ll likely have to walk further out into Piazza Venezia, which is a very busy hub for traffic, so stay in the pedestrian areas!
Not only is the Pantheon one of the coolest buildings left standing from ancient Rome, but it’s also free! That said, be prepared for a bit of a wait to get in. So many people visit here every day that a line is unavoidable. But don’t fret! They keep traffic flowing in and out at a steady pace.
When inside, take a gander up and appreciate the dome and its oculus (circular window). This building has been used since ancient times, first as a temple then as a cathedral. Famous Renaissance painter Raphael is buried here. This is a must-see for your one day in Rome itinerary!
Largo di Torre Argentina (Cat Sanctuary)
Here you will find the remains of ancient temples, as well as Pompey’s Theater. It’s also said that Julius Caesar was assassinated in this square.
Today, however, you’ll find the place run by cats. Yes, Largo di Torre Argentina is now a cat sanctuary by law, making these ancient ruins some of the most unique in the city!
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica, located within Vatican City, is one of the largest churches in the world and is one of the holiest Catholic shrines. Built in the Renaissance style, many of it’s architectural designs were done by great artists, including Michelangelo. Better yet, it’s free to enter!
One thing to note: this church doesn’t have any paintings. But you’ll find tons of beautiful mosaics made with tesserae and Michelangelo’s famous Pietà!
Pro Tip: Check online for events before you go! There was a special event happening on the day we visited so we weren’t able to enter, which made us very sad! However, we still got to appreciate this gigantic architectural gem from the exterior.
Stroll Along the Tiber River
After you’re done at the basilica, take a mental break from all the history and detail by simply strolling along the Tiber River. You’ll find large trees for shade and less people, offering you a chance to refresh and relax. There is a ton to say about the Tiber, like its ties to the legend of Romulus and Remus, but you have to see it for yourself to truly experience it!
Mouth of Truth and Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Even though it’s popularity is through the roof, the Mouth of Truth’s original purpose is unknown. However, thanks in part to Roman Holiday (there it is again!), you’ll find a long line of visitors, waiting anxiously to put their hand in the mouth and get a picture. The saying goes that if you stick your hand in the Mouth of Truth and tell a lie, then you’ll lose your hand!
The Mouth of Truth can be found on the wall just outside of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. During our visit, it seemed that most visitors skipped the church and just waited in line for the Mouth of Truth. In our opinion, that’s a big mistake! We skipped the long line for photos and instead entered the church and admired its interior and impressive bell tower!
Arguably our favorite neighborhood in Rome, Trastevere, in all its Bohemian glory, is a great way to end a long day of sightseeing. You’ll find neat, narrow streets and some amazing cuisine. However, you most certainly cannot miss the Basilica of Santa Maria, which dates back to the 3rd century AD. You’ll find breathtaing mosaics and an awe-inspiring apse within!
We’re going to talk more about food soon but just note that Trastevere has a ton of delicious options and is a great dining alternative compared to the more central parts of Rome.
Bonus Sights to See:
We have just a couple special mentions which we also saw on our one day adventure but we didn’t include them above. They’re wroth seeing but it depends on how much more you’re willing to walk.
Note that both of these sights are near the Mouth of Truth. So if you’re in the vicinity and want to look around then here are some cool spots!
Circus Maximus (Near the Mouth of Truth)
This large, public park is where chariot races and other large events took place. Of course, a lot of time has passed since its prime and most of the ruins are buried. However, it’s a nice area and a lot of fun to walk around and imagine what it originally looked like!
Rome Rose Garden (Near the Mouth of Truth)
This lovely garden is where we went after the Mouth of Truth. We were truly looking for a spot to rest our legs and enjoy the garden. There wasn’t much in the way of seating but we found a nice shady spot in the grass.
There’s a fountain here where you can refill your water and there’s also a public restroom! And yes, it’s free to enter!
Some Food to Eat in Rome
Cacio e pepe
This pasta dish is a Roman classic. Translation: cheese and pepper. It’s creamy, to die for, and usually served with bucatini pasta, a thicker version of spaghetti. If you eat nothing else in Rome (how sad that would be…) then try this!
The perfect idea for a picnic? A bottle of wine, assorted Italian meats, and a block of pecorino Romano cheese. This cheese is made from sheeps milk in Lazio, the same region that Rome is located.
This pasta dish is one of our favorites and one that we cooked throughout our travels abroad. You can always find fresh pasta and pancetta in European groceries (and usually very cheap!). Egg, pork (pancetta or guanciale), pecorino romano, and pepper, all of these simple ingredients combine to make one memorable pasta.
Last but not least, gelato. A trip to Italy isn’t complete without this very popular dessert. Our go-to gelato spot is Giolitti, a central location (near the Pantheon) that serves as a great pit stop (or two) in between sightseeing. When in Rome…
Wrapping Up Your One Day in Rome: Self-Guided Walking Tour
This itinerary is packed and you may not be able to make it happen exactly like we did. However, we hope this has given you some idea of how you can navigate the city and have an amazing day in Rome. Whatever your itinerary looks like, have a great time!
Don’t forget to download our map!