Rome is a destination deserving of several days’ exploration. Yet after two weeks spent gallivanting through Lake Como, Santa Margherita, the Cinque Terre & Florence, I had just two days left (on my own!) to explore the vibrant, historic Eternal City. Not nearly long enough for a curious first timer!
With so much to see (and so little time), my success relied on devising the ultimate plan of attack. So after sourcing a trusty map (& an equally reliable Wi-Fi connection) I got to it – crafting an action-packed itinerary that would make the impossible, possible.
Fast forward two days and I was exhausted, but exhilarated. I’d walked everywhere, seen (almost) everything, got lost, got lost again, and sampled some of the best food of my entire Italian adventure as a sophisticated solo diner. And while I’m sure I only touched the surface of this incredible city, it was more than enough to motivate me to return as quickly as I can.
So here it is – your tried-and-tested guide to a FABULOUS 48 hours in Rome (plus the essential photo highlights). I promise it’s achievable – with or without a travel buddy!
MORNING: The Colosseum, The Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
A trip to Rome isn’t complete without a tour of its top ancient sites – and there’s no better way to start to your 2 day tour. Rome’s infamous gladiatorial arena, The Colosseum, is easily the most fascinating. Head there early, grab an audio guide, and let yourself be transported back to 80 AD – when gladiators fought wild animals – and each other – to the daily delight of 70,000+ spectators.
Then, make your way to Palatine Hill and the remarkable Roman Forum. Once the social, political & commercial hub of the Roman empire, the area is now a sprawl of ancient ruins that date back to the 8th Century BC. Once again, to understand the significance behind each excavation, a physical guide, audio guide or detailed guide book is essential! Tickets to all three attractions can be bought in advance here.
LUNCH: Piazza Navona
Most food options near the Colosseum are “touristy” at best, so save your hunger and make your way into Central Rome for something more authentic. Santa Lucia Ristorante is difficult to beat. Located just a minute away from pretty Piazza Navona (a lively square filled with ornate water fountains, street artists & cafes & restaurants aplenty), it offers sophisticated Roman dishes served with true Italian passion.
AFTERNOON: The Pantheon & Piazza della Rotunda
After lunch, pay homage to one of the world’s most well-preserved ancient monuments – the Pantheon. Set against the vibrant Piazza della Rotunda, this 2000 year old church is home to the largest unreinforced concrete dome that has EVER been built. Once you’ve inspected its interior, browse the nearby boutiques (and gelato stores!) & take a short stroll to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – the only gothic church in Rome – before returning to your hotel to prepare for dinner.
EVENING: Dinner & Drinks in Trastevere
A night out in Rome’s trendy Trastevere is simply non-negotiable. The former working class, now ultra-fashionable neighbourhood is home to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants – including celebrity favourite Antica Pesa. This fine dining establishment opened in 1922 and has been handed down through four family generations. Its walls are lined with black & white photos of every star that’s visited (think Robert de Niro, Denzel Washington & Daniel Craig) and you too will be treated like royalty. Book a table in the courtyard well in advance & prepare yourself for night to remember.
MORNING: St Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
Rise early and make your way over the Tiber River to the Vatican City. If you got a little lost navigating the streets on Day 1, rest assured that you simply cannot miss St Peter’s Square. Bordered by over 200 ornate columns, it is a fittingly grandiose entry to the main attraction – St Peter’s Basilica.
In a city that is FILLED with amazing churches, St Peter’s is the biggest and most spectacular. The doors open at 7am & strict dress codes apply, so make sure you get there early with your knees and shoulders covered. After exploring its lavish interior (including a tour of the tombs of the popes underneath), climb to the top of the Basilica dome for sweeping views of the city. Then, exit the church and make your way to the Vatican Museums nearby.
Boasting one of the best art collections in the world, the Vatican Museums (which open at 9am) are also home to the unmissable Sistine Chapel – featuring Michaelangelo’s famous painted ceiling. Stand in awe for as long as the crowds allow, before making your way through the remainder of the galleries.
LUNCH: Trevi Fountain
For lunch, head back into Central Rome – but first, stop by the beautiful Trevi Fountain. Here, the tradition is to throw a coin into the water to ensure you’ll return to Rome. When your wish is complete, go snag a table at Trattoria Al Moro. Order an Aperol Spritz, eat some pasta, and watch the passing parade.
AFTERNOON: Spanish Steps, Shopping & Aperitivo Hour
After lunch, make your way to the lively Spanish Steps (or Piazza di Spagna) – which just so happen to be located on the edge of Rome’s most enviable shopping district. Once you’ve taken in the scene, shop your way down Via dei Condotti before stopping in at the magnificant Hotel de Russie (one of Rome’s most exclusive accommodation options) for signature cocktails in the courtyard. If it turns into dinner, so be it!
EVENING: A Night at the Opera
There’s no better way to end your visit to Rome than with an authentic opera performance. During my stay, I secured tickets to a Three Tenors tribute hosted by St Paul’s Within the Walls – which made for an absolutely unforgettable evening. My suggestion? Check for upcoming performances before you arrive or keep your eyes peeled when you get there.
Finally, if you can, return to the Trevi Fountain again at the end of your final night. The fountain takes on another persona after dark – and offers a fitting conclusion to a truly fabulous 48 hours.
Anything I’ve missed or should experience when I return? Let me know in the comments section below!