Rome has enough to see and do to keep you busy for weeks – but we think two days is plenty of time to get to grips with the Eternal City’s best bits. The secret is having a plan, which is where we come in.
We’ve put together an in-depth guide to spending 48 hours in Rome, from which sights to see when, to where to grab a few scoops of cioccolato gelato. Once you’re done reading, let us know in the comments what your ideal 48 hours in Rome would entail!
08:00 If your Rome hotel doesn’t serve breakfast, do as the Italians do and grab a coffee and croissant from a nearby café. Then make your way to the entrance to Palatine Hill on Via di San Gregorio, where you can buy a combination ticket that includes the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. Alternatively, hop on a guided tour that includes priority entry to the Colosseum.
09:00 Start off exploring the ruined palace and stadium of Palatine Hill, before stopping in the botanical garden to admire the views across the Forum. Head down to the Forum and you can walk along dusty paths past temples, churches and the impressive Arch of Titus. Once you’re done, exit the Roman Forum and walk next door to the Colosseum – your combination ticket means you can skip the queues at the ticket office and walk straight in.
12:00 Pop round the back of the Colosseum to Via Labicana, where you’ll find the Basilica di San Clemente. It’s a multi-layered church – the 12th-century basilica was built on top of a 4th-century church, which was built over a 2nd-century pagan temple – and is one of our favourite sites in Rome. Admire the beautiful mosaics in the basilica, before descending below ground to explore the remains of the earlier buildings.
12:30 It’s almost time for lunch, so make your way over towards Piazza della Rotonda, about half an hour’s walk away. On the way, pop into Signor Panino, a little sandwich shop on Via Piè di Marmo, and pick up a panino to take away – when you get to Piazza della Rotonda, you can perch on the steps of the Fontana del Pantheon and eat it overlooking the Pantheon’s 2nd-century pillars. Once you’ve finished up, head inside the Pantheon and marvel at its tombs, paintings and marble statues.
14:00 Walk 10 minutes eastwards to Via della Panetteria. Look for the tiny sign that marks the entrance to San Crispino, one of the best gelaterie in Rome. Get a coppetta of stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings), nocciola (hazelnut) and cioccolato (chocolate) to go and walk the two minutes to Piazza di Trevi, which is dominated by the iconic Trevi Fountain. Prefer a tour complete with an expert guide? Sign up to the small-group Rome Fountains and Squares tour or the Espresso and Gelato Tour.
15:00 Head down Via delle Muratte and turn right when you reach Via del Corso. The street is lined with high street names and independent clothes stores, so it’s ideal if you fancy a bit of shopping. When you reach Via Condotti, turn right – you’ll pass designer boutiques including Prada, Armani and Gucci, and end up at Piazza di Spagna, with the famous Spanish Steps in front of you. Walk up to the top of the steps for great views and a chance to peek inside Trinità dei Monti church, or find an empty spot on the stairs to rest your legs and enjoy the atmosphere.
16:30 From the top of the Spanish Steps, you’re less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Villa Borghese (just follow the signposts). It’s the biggest public park in Rome, so is perfect for relaxing at the end of a busy day.
20:30 There are plenty of little restaurants around Piazza del Popolo – try the Fiaschetteria Beltramme on Via della Croce, a hole-in-the-wall trattoria serving traditional Roman dishes.
22:30 If you’ve still got energy, walk down to Piazza Navona (about 15-20 minutes). Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers looks lovely all lit up, and the al fresco diners, street musicians and artists give the whole place a lively feel. Explore the streets and piazzas nearby and you’ll find plenty of tucked-away wine bars (we love Cul de Sac on Piazza Pasquino and Caffè della Pace on Via della Pace).
09:00 Arrive at the Vatican Museums bright and early – if you’ve booked your tickets online in advance, you’ll be able to skip the queues. The site is huge, so if you’re not taking a guided tour, make sure you read a guidebook beforehand and decide which parts you want to see. Some of the most popular sections are the frescoed Raphael Rooms, the Gregorian Etruscan museum, and – of course – the Sistine Chapel.
12:00 Time for an early lunch. Refuel with a huge panino from Duecento Gradi (Piazza del Risorgimento) or a topping-laden slice of pizza from Pizzarium (Via della Meloria), before walking round to St. Peter’s Square.
13:00 Join the queue to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. It can look dauntingly long, but it moves quickly and gives you a chance to take in the grandeur of the square and the basilica’s exterior. Make sure you’ve got your shoulders and knees covered – you won’t be allowed in if not. Give yourself at least half an hour to wander through the vast, richly decorated interior. You can also climb up to the top of the basilica, or go underground and explore the necropolis beneath (you’ll need to book in advance via the Vatican’s website).
15:00 From St. Peter’s Square, wander down Via della Conciliazione to Castel Sant’Angelo, a mausoleum-turned-fortress-turned-museum. Tour the frescoed interiors, take in the views of Rome from the terrace (which features in Puccini’s Tosca), then pull up a chair at the castle’s café for an espresso.
18:00 Start your evening off early in Trastevere. The Piazza Santa Maria is the hub of the neighbourhood. Have a drink at one of the cafés edging the square, and perhaps pop in to the church to see the 12th-century mosaics.
19:00 Lively Freni e Frizioni on Via del Politeama is famous for its aperitivo. Order a drink, then help yourself to a buffet of bruschetta, salads, pasta and pizza.
21:00 Tuck in to Roman specialities at Roma Sparita, a lovely restaurant with a terrace on Piazza Santa Cecilia.
22:30 A 15-minute walk takes you across Ponte Garibaldi and over to Campo de’ Fiori, one of the liveliest area in Rome. Pick a bar, order a Negroni, and enjoy your final evening in the Eternal City.
Raring to go? Take a look at our holidays to Rome.
This post was originally published on 9 September, 2015 and updated in May 2018.