Best Things to Do When You Have Just One Day in Rome
If you have just one day in Rome, some careful planning is needed to make sure you see the top sites and still experience the culture of the city. Many cities exist that if you really put your mind to it, you can see most or all of their main sites in a day.
Rome, unfortunately, is not one of them. Home to a history that ranges from Marc Antony to gladiator fighting to Catholicism, the eternal city has enough sites to fill up a week – and that doesn’t even include taking time for a six-course meal or leisurely enjoying a cup of gelato in the middle of one of Rome’s impressive and lively squares.
However, with a little planning – and the understanding that you won’t be able to see everything – the city can be experienced well even if you only have one day in Rome.
What you’ll find in this One Day in Rome Article:
1. Top 10 Attractions
2. 1-Day Rome Itinerary
3. Itinerary Modification Ideas
4. Night Life
5. Where to Stay
6. Transportation Tips
7. Extra Info for Cruisers
Top 10 Must-See Attractions in Rome
Here are what I (and many people!) consider to be the top 10 attractions to see while in Rome. With only one day in Rome, you aren’t going to have enough time to see all of them if you really want to experience each one. However, with some guidance from this itinerary and a bit of determination, you can see quite a bit and, most importantly, get a feel for the culture and dynamics of Rome.
- The Colosseum – A huge stadium used for gladiator fights in ancient Rome.
- The Forum and Palatine Hill – Palatine Hill is the founding location of Rome and the Roman Forum served as the central location of daily life and government in ancient Rome.
- Spanish Steps – A cascade of steps in one of Rome’s most luxurious squares, perfect for a midday break.
- Pantheon – The largest unreinforced dome in the world.
- The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – An ode to the art and artists of the Renaissance plus other important works of Roman art.
- St. Peter’s Basilica – The largest Christian church in the world and also houses important works of art.
- Trevi Fountain – One of the world’s most famous fountains; a Baroque masterpiece located in one of Rome’s prettiest squares.
- Piazza Navona – A wonderful example of Baroque architecture.
- Trastevere – A beautiful Italian neighborhood with many shops and cafes, plus an old-world charm.
- The Catacombs – Burial tombs of citizens from ancient Rome.
One Day in Rome Recommended Itinerary
For the optimal itinerary to a wide range of Rome in a short amount of time – and especially for those who are visiting Rome for the first time, here is a recommended itinerary of how you should spend your day in Rome:
The 1-day in Rome infographic is fun, but let’s get into more detail, shall we? 🙂
Vatican City: St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel
If you get into Rome the night before, then I recommend you begin your day in Vatican City the following morning and start your day early.
Vatican City is actually a sovereign state that resides within the city of Rome and is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. After decades of hostility between the government of Italy and the Holy See (a Catholic governing entity which for centuries had ruled much of central Italy), a treaty was signed in 1929 declaring Vatican City to be a separate state. The pope is the ruler of Vatican City, which has a population of less than 1,000 people and covers 109 acres.
If you get into Rome the night before, begin your day in Vatican City and start your day early. Why? Because then you can begin your itinerary at St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church and is the burial site of St. Peter. It is unforgettable any time of the day with its high domed ceilings, late renaissance architecture, and looming altar; but when it first opens in the morning and is void of crowds it’s hauntingly mesmerizing.
Standing in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, when it’s just you and the statue is almost eerie as the statue is so lifelike; just you and the white marble curves of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ in her arms. With no one elbowing you out of the way that early in the morning, you can have a closer look at Michelangelo’s signature – his only work of art to carry it.
Also take note of the impressive altar at St. Peter’s Basilica. The brown columns extending toward the ceiling on each side of the altar gives a surprisingly rustic hint among the otherwise ornate detailing of the altar and leads the eye through the altar to an impressive etching of a dove on the wall behind the altar that is surrounded in a gold halo.
When to Get There: St. Peter’s Basilica opens at 7 a.m. Yes, it’s early, but if you only have one day in Rome isn’t it worth sacrificing a few hours of sleep to see more of the city?
St. Peter’s Basilica Quick Tips
Location: Piazza San Pietro, 00120
Hours: April – September, 7 .a.m. – 7 p.m.; October – March, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Open daily.
Short on Time Tip: Go early in the morning to avoid crowds.
The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Next, head to the Vatican, the vast museum that houses thousands of years of artwork collected by the Roman Catholic church over the centuries.
There are three ways to do the Vatican.
- Stand in line for your ticket and to enter.
- The second is to buy your tickets online before arriving, thus skipping that line.
- The third is to sign up for a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.
If you’re short on time in Rome, don’t even think of doing the first option. Even if you get there right after you visit St. Peter’s Basilica at 7 a.m., an hour before the museums open at 9 a.m., you’re going to have a line to wait in. And not just the visible line, there are tour groups that are going to get to go inside before you as well. For one day in Rome, your best bet is buying tickets online (tickets cost 15 Euro) and getting to the Vatican as early as possible.
Now, here’s a small trick for your one day in Rome. If you’re not in Rome early enough in the day to get to St. Peter’s Basilica right when it opens, then I recommend tagging Vatican City onto the end of your day before the Museums close at 6 p.m. as the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are less busy in late afternoon. You can even look into doing an after-hours tour of the Vatican Museum if you are staying in Rome overnight or late into the evening.
Notable works of art housed in the Vatican Museums include:
Raphael Rooms: Raphael painted these rooms during the same time Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel. The four Raphael Rooms house some of the most famous paintings done by Raphael, depicting scenes from the Catholic faith with stark emotion and vibrant colors.
Gallery of Maps: A long hallway with massive, beautifully drawn and ancient maps depicting the layout and territories of Italy over the years lining the walls.
Laocoön and His Sons: This is a large statue depicting sea serpents attacking the two sons of the Trojan priest, Laocoön, who is struggling to save them. The artist is unknown; however, when it was discovered it had a large influence on the artists of Rome at the time, including Michelangelo, who appreciated the lifelike emotions depicted in the statue and the way it combines beauty and death. As such, this piece of art had great influence on Renaissance art.
Your time in the Vatican ends with entrance to the Sistine Chapel, which was rendered into a fresco masterpiece by Michelangelo’s skilled hand. Michelangelo spent four years painstakingly painting each scene.
The ceiling is divided into panels, each depicting one of nine stories from the Book of Genesis, showing scenes such as the creation of the world, the story of Adam and Eve, and Noah and the Great Flood in an array of color, emotion, and detail. The wall above the altar depicts The Last Judgment and shows souls being released into heaven or held onto the ground by demons.
Vatican Museum Quick Tips:
Address: Viale Vaticano, 00165
Phone: +39 06 69884676
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Ticket office closes at 4 p.m.)
Vatican City Dress Code Note: Both St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums have a strict dress code. Knees and shoulders must be covered for both women and men.
Short on Time Tip: Spend 90 minutes max in the Vatican (not counting the Sistine Chapel). You’re not going to have time to see everything so use the maps provided in the museums to check where the works of art you most want to see are and don’t spend a ton of times browsing through the rest of the museum – though if something catches your eye – stop! It may end up being some part of art history that astounds you that you never knew existed.
Must-See Rome: the Colosseum and Forum
Of all the historic remnants in Rome, the Colosseum is often a favorite with visitors. With a history steeped in gladiators, lions, and bloodbath, it’s no wonder people are fascinated in learning about the barbaric practices the Colosseum was once used for and standing right where it all happened.
The construction of the Colosseum began in 72 AD and housed battles between gladiators – who were often law breakers – as well as battles between gladiators and predatory animals such as lions. All for the entertainment of the king and his subjects.
A good guide can make all the difference for Rome’s Colosseum, with the best guides regaling their audience with animated stories of blood and toil, loss and victory, while teaching you gruesome Colosseum tips like how they used sand in the arena because it absorbed the blood the best. Guides can be arranged when you arrive or before you get there (latter is best bet if you’re on a time crunch).
If you decide to wing it and get there to find a long line, hiring one of the guides milling about on-site can get you in faster for not too much more money than the entrance fee – typically an extra €10-12. Chances are you won’t even have to look for them as they’ll approach you in line. Be sure to ask questions to make sure they’re English-speaking and reputable. They should have a badge to show you. Also ask how long the tour is in case you’re on a time-crunch. You can always leave the tour a bit early if needed. Also, ask how long until your tour starts. Typically they don’t start a tour until they have enough people, so you’ll want to ensure they’re close to that limit and will be starting very shortly so you can save wait time.
After many years of being closed, the Colosseum reopened the underground section of the attraction; however, the days and times it is open are sporadic, and a tour needs to be booked in order to see it. If you’re short on time in Rome, it is probably best to hold off on this tour until you come back to Rome and have more time – unless you’re a diehard Colosseum fan, then check if it will be opened while you’re there and be sure to book it beforehand as time slots fill up very quickly.
Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum
Near the Colosseum are Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.
After your whirlwind morning of history and sight-seeing, you may be ready to relax into the dolce vita side of Rome. However, if seeing the Forum — the political center of ancient Rome — from a distance isn’t enough and walking through it is a must for you, then grab a snack (slice of pizza is always a good choice in Italy) to get your energy back up and walk the short distance from the Colosseum to the Forum.
If you’re a huge history buff, renting a guide here will be worth your time; otherwise, walk the grounds on your own, as then you’ll be able to determine your schedule.
If you’re not doing a tour of the area, start your self-guided tour at the entrance to Palatine Hill.
Palatine Hill is the land that the rulers of Rome used to live on. Today, excavations have found remnants of their buildings and way of living and have unearthed some of it for visitors to see.
The beginnings of Palatine Hill goes back to the story of two twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who as infants were left for dead by the river after the uncle of their princess mother took the throne by force from their king grandfather and plotted to eliminate all rightful heirs to the throne. Romulus and Remus were saved by a she-wolf, who kept them alive until a shepherd found the babies, and he and his wife took them in. The boys grew up and killed their great-uncle to take back Rome, which was rightfully theirs. The brothers built a city, which was to become Palatine Hill, but then had a falling out and Romulus killed Remus. Romulus became the ruler of the territory, which became Rome, named after him.
Whether or not you believe in some of the Roman mythology surrounding the dawn of Rome, the insurmountable history of Palatine Hill can’t be ignored. It is generally believed that the first Romans did indeed live on the land of Palatine Hill and over the years it served as the home for a number of emperors, including Augustus, and other wealthy Romans.
Notable Points of Interest at Palatine Hill:
House of Augustus – Emperor Cesar Augustus was one of the greatest emperors of ancient Rome and built a modest (compared to what he could have built), but impressive house on the grounds of Palatine Hill in which he lived during his reign. The remains of decorative frescoes can be seen throughout what’s left of the house, with some areas still remarkably bright in color despite the centuries that passed before the building was excavated in the late 1900’s.
House of Livia – Livia, also known as Julia Augusta, was the wife of the emperor Augustus. Compared to most women throughout ancient history, Livia was a surprisingly modern woman by today’s standards. She got a divorce in order to marry Augustus, was politically influential, and even had control over her own finances. She used this independence to set up her own residence, believed to be the House of Livia, which is still remarkable today for the remnants of the impressive frescoes she had commissioned to be painted on her house. Excavation is still occurring on this piece of history so the House of Livia is only open to the public at certain times. If it is opened while you are visiting, be sure to see it before leaving Palatine Hill.
Flavian Palace – The Flavian Palace was an elaborate palace built under the rule of Emperor Domitian with lots of marble and ornate touches. The Flavian Palace served mostly for governmental meetings and affairs, and you can tour what’s left of its rooms while visiting Palatine Hill.
Hippodrome of Domitian – The Hippodrome of Domitian is actually a stadium built on the grounds of Palatine Hill that is generally believed to have been used for foot races and other sports. Others, however, believe that due to its small size it may have just been a stadium-inspired garden.
Palatine Hill Quick Tips:
Location: Via di San Gregorio, 30
Hours: Opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes one hour before sunset. Closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Admission: Entrance fee is included in the Colosseum ticket, which gives you access to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. Tickets can be bought at all three locations.
Short on Time Tip: If you’re interested in learning the history while walking through, get an audio guide as opposed to a human guide since you can go more at your own pace. Audio guides can be rented at the entrance.
Photo Op Break
When you reach the edge of Palatine Hill, you’ll have a great birds-eye view of the Roman Forum. Take it all in from this angle (it also makes for a great photo opportunity) and then head down to explore it on foot.
The Roman Forum served as the launching pad for the Roman Empire and how it should be run. Political and religious meetings were held on the Forum grounds, and it was also where the people of Rome would do their shopping and go to school.
Significant parts of the Roman Forum you don’t want to miss seeing include:
Tempo di Guilio Cesar – This temple was the area of the forum where Julius Caesar, one of the most famous emperors of Rome, was cremated. He is the only person whose burial was allowed to take place on the grounds of the Roman Forum.
Tempio di Vesta and the Atrium Vestae – This temple was erected to watch over a burning flame that had to be kept going at all times of day and night. The Romans thought if it went out it would bring destruction upon Rome. The attendants to this flame were girls called the Virgin Vestals. They had to remain celibate for 30 years while watching the fire. Virgin Vestals lived in the Atrium Vestae and any Virgin Vestal who broke their chastity vow or let the fire go out was buried alive as punishment.
Arch of Constantine: The Arch of Constantine is hard to miss, as it is a massive imperial arch that was built to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. The arch has been very well-preserved over the centuries and features some prominent reliefs on the sides of the arch, some which show Constantine conquering the battle.
The Forum Quick Tips
Location: Via della Salaria Vecchia, 5 / 6
Hours: Opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes one hour before sunset. Closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Admission: Entrance fee is included in the Colosseum ticket, which gives you access to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. Tickets can be bought at all three locations.
Short on Time Tip: Get a map of the area to quickly navigate your way to the top Forum sites you want to see, and then only stay to see more if you feel confident on your timing for the day’s activities.
Time to Relax and Experience Living la Dolce Vita
Despite being a huge metropolis, Rome is still quintessential Italy and made for relaxing and enjoying the best things in life. Even with just a day in Rome, you’ll want to carve out some time fo la dolce vita (aka “the good life”) living. Such as drinking cappuccinos and eating mouthwatering food.
After touring the Colosseum and Forum you’ll no doubt be hungry, but don’t eat by the Colosseum. Unfortunately, subpar Italian does exist in Rome and it’s often found near the main tourist sites.
Instead, head to the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome and eat at one of the areas many low-key restaurants that serve up home-made classics like Italian thin-crust pizza and gnocchi. Pizzera Ivo and Sette Oche are popular options.
Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain
After so much sightseeing and a big meal, you’ll no doubt be ready for a little break. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are perfect for that.
Start this part of your day at the Spanish Steps, which is a large outdoor staircase cascading down one side of the Piazza di Spagna square. The Spanish Steps get their name from being on the site of a previous Spanish ambassador’s residence.
You’re no longer rallowed to sit, eat, or drink on the steps, but if you still have some enegy you can walk up and down them. Or just enjoy the view of the stately steps from below and check out the rest of luxurious Piazza di Spagna at the base of the steps that is bordered with top restaurants and designer fashion stores.
Spanish Steps Quick Tips
Location: Piazza di Spagna
Hours: All Day
When you’ve had your fix of luxury, head down the back streets of the area to the Trevi Fountain, but first you may want to take a little detour…
Does Rome Have the Nicest McDonald’s in the World?
When leaving the Spanish Steps, you’ll pass quite possibly the nicest McDonald’s in the world. I don’t often recommend going to McDonald’s while on vacation, but this one is worth a quick walk through just for fun to see the opulent fountains, salad bar, and ornate detailing around the booths. You can also purchase a gelato from the fast food restaurant’s own gelato stand to eat while you walk to the Trevi Fountain.
After about a 15 minute walk from the Spanish Steps, you’ll arrive at the Trevi Fountain, a huge baroque fountain stretching across the Piazza di Trevi square. The Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762.
The central figure of the Trevi Fountain is a statue of Oceanus, the Greek god of the ocean, who is watching over two Tritons, one of whom is leading a behaved hippocamp (a sea horse) and the other is leading a hippocamp fighting against him. The conflicting hippocamps are used to demonstrate the uncertainty of the changing sea – sometimes the water is calm, other times it’s rough.
While at Trevi Fountain you’ll see a lot of coin tossing going on: Legend has it that if you toss a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome someday. If you’re short on time in Rome this time around, it’s worth a shot to ensure your return to the grand city!
I have reason to believe it. I’ve been to Rome more than any other European city and each time I’m there I’ve tossed a coin into Trevi Fountain. I’m now awaiting my next trip. It’s only a matter of time, if the legend is correct. 😉
Trevi Fountain Quick Tips
Location: Piazza di Trevi
Hours: All Day
The Pantheon via Piazza Navona
The Pantheon is a sight to behold due to the sheer size of its dome that still looks relatively untouched. It stands, regal and ancient looking, near the busy and beautiful square of Piazza Navona – one of the cities greatest examples of Baroque architecture.
The Pantheon was originally commissioned to be a gift to the gods. It was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times (the last time by Hadrian around AD 126) and today the dome of the Pantheon is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and is a gift to set your eyes on. A hole in the center of the ceiling opens up to the sky, providing a burst of light in the Pantheon. I try not to think of the “un” part of unreinforced when standing underneath it. Instead, do like I do and just marvel at the nearly 2,000 year old piece of domed architecture that has managed to stay in one piece all these years.
Pantheon Quick Tips
Location: Piazza della Rotonda
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Monday – Saturday; 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Sundays; Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and May 1.
Short on Time Tip: Since the Pantheon is just one round room to tour, this is a quick stop on your day’s itinerary and needn’t take longer than 15 minutes to really get a feel for the site.
Rome Itinerary Modification Ideas
Visiting the recommended sites will give you a great feel for the history and culture of Rome in one day. You’ll also see pockets of urban society effortlessly living their life around these remnants of Rome’s previous civilizations. To add more into the day would really rush things, and you want to enjoy your time at each site. However, since not everyone places value on the same types of attractions when traveling, here are some additional tips on fitting in a visit to some of the other top 10 sites in Rome.
Itinerary Change for Museum Enthusiasts
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica and Museo Nazionale Romano are two of Rome’s best museums. You probably won’t have time to visit both, but if seeing more works of art besides those that are in the Vatican Museums is important to you, visiting one of these art museums will be memorable. To maximize time, sub out Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica
Located in Palazzo Barberini, this museum houses many important works including Raphael’s La Fornarina.
- Location: Via Barberini
- Phone: +39 06 4824184
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Closed Monday
- Admission: €7
Museo Nazionale Romano
Visit this museum for an impressive array of statues and classical art.
- Location: Viale Enrico De Nicola, 79
- Phone: +39 06 3996 7700
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 7:45 a.m.; Closed Monday
- Admission: €7
Itinerary Change for Ancient Architecture Buffs
For visitors to Rome who want to see as much of the remains of ancient Rome as possible, a visit to Terme di Caracalla and the Catacombs are must-sees.
Terme di Caracalla
Remains of the public baths of Rome, built in the 3rd century.
- Location: Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 52
- Phone: +39 06 39967700
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – one hour before closing; Monday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Admission: €6
A tunnel of underground burials meets you at the Catacombs in Rome. The Catacombs are a result of an ancient Rome rule forbidding anyone from being buried within the city walls. The largest one to visit is San Castillo.
- San Castillo Location: Via Appia Antica, 110
- Phone: +39 06 4465610
- Hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.; From June – September it is open until 5:30 p.m. and in February it is closed.
- Admission: €5
Nightlife of Rome
If you’re spending 24 hours in Rome, then you’ll get to check out the nightlife of the city. There are many places to go after dinner – which, be prepared, can go pretty late due to multiple courses and slow service. Although that’s no problem in Rome, which keeps going long after the sun goes down and its famous landmarks are bathed in shadows and the glow from street lamps.
Here are some popular areas for a night out on the town in Rome:
This is the area to go to for some crazy partying and dancing, particularly via di Monte Testaccio, a street of wall-to-wall clubs. Testaccio has many dance clubs and lounges, many of which cater to the well-heeled locals and visitors of Rome. You may even see a few Italian celebrities. Expect to pay a cover and party well into the morning hours as the atmosphere at most clubs here don’t start to hit their groove until after midnight.
Popular nightlife places in Testaccio:
Radio Londra – One of Rome’s hottest clubs for house music in Rome with rotating DJs that spin beats next to the large dance floor, plus live bands some nights of the week.
Location: Via di Monte Testaccio, 67
Shake – A cave-like and more intimate club experience with a dance floor accompanied by live bands or DJs. Plus a Mediterranean buffet for refueling after all that dancing.
Location: Via di Monte Testaccio, 35
Phone: +39 329 621 0208
This area is more laidback compared to Testaccio and is a popular local hangout. Many of the bars and lounges in this area look out onto plazas and as it gets crowded inside, the action generally spills out into those plazas for a fun, outdoor ambiance and a great night of drinks and socializing. Though many of the popular nightspots are referred to as cafes, they still serve wine and beer with appetizers.
Popular nightlife places in the Trastevere:
Freni e Frizioni – This former mechanic garage transformed into a hip wine bar attracts an urban and hip crowd.
Location: Via del Politeama, 4
Phone: +39 06 45497499
Bar San Calisto – A beloved and unpretentious bar that has been around for decades. Bar San Calisto serves up wine, beer, and cocktail favorites until 2am with an expansive outdoor patio to hang out on. (And then opens back up at 6am in case you need some strong coffee to start your day with!)
Location: Piazza di S. Calisto, 3
Phone: +39 06 583 5869
Where to Stay in Rome
Rome has a variety of accommodations, ranging from the hostels to uber-luxury and everything in between.
Luxury: Villa Spalletti Trivelli
With plush, comfortable rooms and common areas that include a fireplace, you’ll feel right at home at Villa Spalletti Trivelli, located just a few minutes away from the Trevi Fountain. The hotel has an outdoor seating area next to the property gardens, plus an onsite spa. The rooms also have modern bathrooms and contemporary amenities. Suites and balconies are available.
- Location: Via Piacenza 4
- Website: villaspalletti.it
- Phone: +39 06 48907934
Mid-Range: Hotel Centro Cavour
This 3-star family-run hotel is located in the heart of Rome a close walk from the Colosseum. Hotel Centro Cavour has a ritzy lobby that is the gateway to clean and comfortable rooms with a Mediterranean flair. You can also enjoy the small dining area and bar where coffee and breakfast are offered for a small extra fee.
- Location: Via Cavour, 237
- Phone: +39 06 6931 9148
Hostel: Alessandro Palace and Bar
This hostel has a convenient location next to Termini Station. Alessandro Palace and Bar is one of the most famous hostels in Rome and has a friendly, fun environment with both dorm and private rooms available .
- Location: Via Vicenza 42
- Website: hostelsalessandro.com
- Phone: +39 06 4461958
Getting into Rome
A key to making the most of your day in Rome is getting into the city center as quickly as possible. I have arrived into Rome by plane, train, and ship, and each has its benefits and downfalls. Here are the main things you need to know about each method:
Rome is a popular stop on many Mediterranean cruise ships; however, the ships typically dock in the city of Civitavecchia, which is over an hour away from Rome by train. It’s a bit of a hike to the Civitavecchia train station from the port, but a shuttle is available to take you part of the way to the train station and from there it’s just a few blocks to the station. Once there, you can easily buy your ticket to Rome at the station. I discuss this a bit more in my cruise section of this guidebook, but do make sure you glean this one important takeaway – you must make sure you leave yourself plenty of time at the end of the day for returning to your ships and have a backup method of transportation for getting back into the city because your cruise will leave without you if you’re not back in time. (See “Strikes” paragraph below.)
I love traveling by train around Europe. There’s just something so romantic about it, even when stuck seatless and sitting in an aisle in the back of the train (side note: just pay to upgrade your tickets so you have a seat assignment…it’s worth it) and Rome is an easy major metropolis to train it into. The main train station in Rome is centrally located in the city’s Termini neighborhood and is aptly named Termini Station. It has connections from large European cities such as Paris and Zurich plus other Italian regions like Florence in Tuscany. It also connects to Rome’s metro, which can efficiently take you within walking distance to just about anywhere you want to go in Rome.
Rome has two airports. The main one is Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also referred to as Fiumicino, and the smaller one is Ciampino Airport. Most of the major airlines fly to Leonardo Da Vinci, while European budget airlines such as EasyJet and RyanAir fly into Ciampino.
From Leonardo Da Vinci / Fiumicino Airport
The fastest way into the city from Leonardo Da Vinci Airport is via the Leonardo Express Train, which leaves the airport every 30 minutes and heads straight to Termini Station in central Rome. It runs from 6:37 a.m. to 9:37 p.m. The price is €14; kids under 12 travel free when accompanied by an adult. The Leonardo Express is the fastest way into the city and your best bet if you’re short on time; however, if you’re on a strict budget and are willing to sacrifice time for money, than taking a bus into the city center is another viable option. Take the Terravision Shuttle Bus, which costs €9 for a one-way and €15 for a round-trip ticket and will get you into the city in approximately 70 minutes if there’s no traffic.
From Ciampino Airport
Ciampino Airport doesn’t have a convenient train into the city center; therefore, the Terravision Bus from Ciampino Airport is the best option, plus it’s an affordable one – just €4 one-way. The bus runs every 30 minutes from the airport and takes you directly to Termini Station in about 40 minutes. Tickets can be purchased at the bus stop.
If you’re not using one of the above methods and you are driving to Rome, note that – like in much of Italy – traffic in Rome can be a headache. I didn’t drive into Rome, but I have left Rome via car, and let me just say, I was glad I wasn’t driving as being the passenger was stressful enough. But with proper planning and some deep breaths, driving in Rome doesn’t need to be scary. One thing that will help is to plan to get into the city as early as possible so you avoid rush hour morning traffic. Once you get into the city center, find an all-day parking spot and use public transportation the rest of the day. It will save you from spending the day in traffic and trying to find parking at each new attraction.
One More Thing About Public Transportation: Strikes
So, you meticulously planned the fastest way to get from the airport or train station and you’re all ready to maximize your day in Rome and then…you can’t find your preferred mode of transportation into the city center. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common scenario. Italy is notorious for public transportation strikes, and when they hit – which can happen without any warning – you’re out of luck getting onto the train or bus you were planning on taking.
Therefore, it’s always good to have a back-up plan budgeted (both time-wise and cost-wise) into your day in Rome. A taxi or a number for a private transportation company can get you out of a bind when you’re in a pinch. They are much more expensive than public transportation though, which is why it’s good to budget for it. A taxi is about €45 from Fiumicino and €30 from Ciampino. If you don’t have to utilize that money, then you can use that extra budget for a great bottle of wine or a souvenir from your time in Rome. Here are some handy numbers to keep with you while traveling around Rome:
- Taxi Service: Radio Taxi +39 06 3570
- Private Transportation Service: Airports Shuttle Inc. +39 0363560076
Getting Around Rome
In this section, I outline different methods for getting around Rome and what your best options are when short on time.
Compared to the intricacies of the metro maps for London or Barcelona or pretty much any other major city in Europe, Rome’s metro is refreshingly simply with only two lines. This is both good and bad. While this means you’ll be able to quickly decipher what stop you need to get to and not have to worry about too many line changes. The downfall is the metro doesn’t go conveniently close to every major tourist attraction. Which means you’ll need to be doing some walking.
Now, don’t get me wrong – walking around Rome is lovely. However, if you’re short on time, you don’t want to amble too much; you need to get where you’re going quickly. Therefore, this is one time you don’t want to look like the locals (many of who navigate the cobblestoned streets of Italy in fashionable loafers or high heels); put on your sturdiest pair of walking shoes and be prepared to walk as fast as possible along the historic streets of Rome – just don’t forget to look up and around so you can take in all the pretty architecture and trees.
If you feel like putting your life into another driver’s hands, take a taxi. I’ve spent a decade living in road-rage central southern California, but still fear for my life at times when being transported around Italy in a car, especially in busy, cosmopolitan areas like Rome. But I’m usually laughing while fearing for my life because taking a taxi along the streets of Rome is quite the experience, both for the zigzagging and honking and for chatting with the usually friendly driver. Just put on your seatbelt. Taking a taxi is also a good option for spots where it’s a long walk from the metro station if you don’t want to – or aren’t able to – partake in a lot of exercise.
There is a bus system in Rome, too, which may be beneficial for you to utilize if you’re not a fast walker and don’t want to pay for a taxi as the bus line will take you closer to certain major sites than the metro will. Still, be prepared for some walking, though – it’s just the name of the game in Rome where many of the streets leading to popular sights are too narrow for public transportation to enter. The buses typically run from dawn until midnight with some all-night services depending on the route. If you do want to use the bus system, spend time before arriving in Rome familiarizing yourself with the different bus lines, numbers, and routes. You can see route maps here.
Extra Info for Cruisers Spending a Day in Rome
If you’re booked on a cruise that stops in Rome, hopefully you’ve already figured out that the cruise ship doesn’t actually dock in Rome. It pulls into the harbor of Civitavecchia, which is located 45 miles from Rome’s main sites and takes about an hour to an hour and a half to drive to (if you don’t hit traffic).
Your cruise will likely offer a bus option you can take into the city for a fee. It’s usually expensive, but it means you don’t need to think much about how you’re getting into the city. You simply board a bus and you’re whisked away into the city center. Once there you’ll have some free time to explore before having to get back on the bus to head back to the ship. The main appeal of this method is that you’re guaranteed to be back to the ship in time.
There are also shore excursions that offer guided tours once you’re in the city…but if you bought this guidebook you’re probably not as interested in those so I won’t cover it much. Still, keep in mind that some shore excursions offer really cool experiences that are hard to do on your own, like wine tasting or an adventure sport outside the city center, but which also give you time to explore on your own within the city (during which you can apply my One Day in Rome sightseeing tips).
A bus isn’t your only option to get into Rome, though. There is also a train to Rome from Civitavecchia that you can walk to from the port, which is what I did when I visited Rome for a day after my Mediterranean cruise disembarked in Civitavecchia.
The Civitavecchia train station only takes about 15 minutes to walk to from the port entrance, but keep in mind it may take much longer depending where along the harbor the pier is that your ship docks at. There is a free shuttle that runs between each pier and the main entrance. In addition, if you don’t want to walk between the port entrance and the train station, there is a local bus called Argo that runs every twenty minutes and takes less than ten minutes to get to the train station and back to the ship.
The train ride itself will usually get you to Rome’s Termini Station (the main station in Rome’s city center and from where you can easily access the metro) within an hour and twenty minutes. If you’re traveling during shoulder season you can probably just buy your tickets at the station, but I always recommend erring on the side of caution and getting your ticket beforehand when time is of the essence. The trains typically run twice every hour. You can check the schedule at eurail.com.
Many cruises begin and/or end in Civitavecchia. If that’s the case for your itinerary, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Your cruise will likely offer pre- or post-cruise tours. If you choose to do one of these, try to find one that also offers an airport pick-up or drop-off service to increase the value, or one that gives you plenty of free time (especially important for a tour that includes overnight accommodations).
If doing things on your own in Rome before your cruise embarks from Civitavecchia, don’t plan anything for the morning of the day your cruise leaves. Use the previous one or two days to explore Rome and then spend that last morning getting yourself to the port.
Leave early in the morning to give yourself plenty of time in case you run into any transportation hiccups. Even if you don’t run into any issues and you arrive earlier than expected, it’s for the best as there is often a line to get on the big cruise ships and go through the embarkation process. Also, you can usually get on the ship several hours before it actually departs, meaning more time to explore the ship or get a spa treatment (there are often special deals on embarkation day).
When departing your cruise in Civitavecchia, know that you don’t have to check your luggage the night before (which your cruise will likely recommend you do). If you can handle the luggage on your own – one more reason to pack light – you can carry it off with you, instead of collecting it in the pickup zone outside the ship on disembarkation morning (which you’ll be a given a time to do so at). This provides you more control over when you can depart the ship, which can provide a bit more time in Rome – a beneficial factor if you’re only giving yourself a day to explore before a flight home the following day.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you’re not starting or ending your cruise in Rome and instead you just have a port of call there during your cruise, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship (or bus pickup point if you’re using a transportation shore excursion). Cruise ships will leave without you. If taking the train back, have an alternative method (such as phone numbers for a taxi or car service) in mind in case of a sudden strike or some other type of train delay. And give yourself enough time to walk back to the ship once you arrive in Civitavecchia just in case the train station bus or port shuttle aren’t running for some reason.
If you opt for a non-cruise associated vehicle service to and from Rome, be sure you check with the driver for what time you’ll need to leave the city. Do some research of traffic patterns to help ensure you leave the city early enough. And again, give yourself some buffer room for unexpected traffic delays, and have that backup ready to implement!
More than likely, though, your day will go smoothly and you’ll have a marvelous day seeing Rome your way before getting back on the ship for a relaxing evening.