Introduction

With this guide I want to give some ideas to who is coming to Rome and is short of time. A needed premise is that for Rome a whole life is not enough, if you want to discover every bit and hidden secret that this eternal city has to offer. This said, it is possible to visit the essential of the city in couple of days, if you are up for a quite long walk 🙂
This guide is based on my experience as Roman who lived in the city for 20 years and then came back as a tourist so there might be secrets that I don’t know (and don’t trust anybody who claims to know them all, because they don’t) but combining this with what you can read online or on a travel guide, and you should be covered pretty well.

The first day is focused on mostly open monuments on a walking track, while day 2 is focused on few attractions that require queues and more time.

General information

How do I reach the city? How do I move around in Rome? Where should I take my hotel? Is it safe? What should I wear?
Let’s go in order:

  • Reaching the city depends on how you are arriving to Rome. If you are arriving by plane you will most likely arrive at Fiumicino airport (official name Leonardo Da Vinci). From there you can take a taxi, they have flat fee up to the ‘entrance’ of Rome + the price from there to your actual destination. The flat fee is something around 48 euro for the city center. The actual best way from here is to take a train to Rome. There are two trains that reach Rome, one is ‘Regionale’ FL1 that costs 4 euro and makes some intermediate stops or the ‘Leonardo’ train, that is direct to Termini station and costs 14 euro. The time difference is about 15 minutes, so you can save 10 euro in my opinion. The FL1 leaves every 30 mins from 5.30 to 23.30, while Leonardo train is active 24h.
  • There are few options to move around in Rome: bus, underground, tram, city train, taxi, car, scooter. For a tourist I would recommend to move with buses/underground/trams which together make the 99% of public transport system, but let’s go into detail.
    Bus: there are bus stops almost everywhere, even and especially in the city center, which is all you are going to visit. The price for one ticket (75min) is 1.50Euro but you can buy 24h tickets for 7 euro or 48h for 12.50Euro and this will cover everything you can possibly need. The service is from around 6 up to midnight, when usually the last bus leaves. During the night there are night buses tho, they make crazy long routes and it might take a while to go to destination, but in extreme cases that’s also an option. Generally buses are crowded, sometimes very crowded. The presence of tourists also is a standard condition for pickpockets to be present. This means that, despite you don’t have to feel like in a civil war, you need to take care of your belongings actively. Zip your purse and keep your hands on wallet and/or phone. Don’t leave your bag/backpack/purse unattended and just follow common sense.
    Underground (metro[politana]): there are 2 lines of Metro at the moment, line A and line B, and they have an intersection at Termini Station, where you can change line. Few years ago they extended the line B into a B1, but this is something a tourist is not interested in. The ticket for the underground is the same as for buses, but the single ticket here is not time limited, but it is valid just for one run. Once you leave the station, it’s not valid anymore. During summer the underground can be a quite painful experience if you are unlucky to get one train without/with broken air conditioning, but compared to few years ago it looks like the number of these trains is reduced and now there is a chance you will survive. The underground is a great way to move fast across the city and avoid the traffic in the streets, therefore it is the recommended way to make long distances. Usually there is a train every 5-10 minutes (with some, not so rare exceptions, I guess my record is 21 minutes during peak hour) but underground is very crowded usually, especially between 8-9.30 am and  5-7 pm. The same safety concerns apply for underground. The service is between 6 and midnight and there is not service during the night. During Friday and Saturday anyway, the last train departs at 1.30 (rather than 23.30).
    Tram: This might be a good compromise between bus and underground, the ticket is the same as for the bus, but the number of routes is relatively limited, so the possibility to use trams depends strongly on the destination. There are few routes that can help in the city center, but this is not the main transport you are interested in.
    City train: they mostly go outside the city, so they also are not your concern.
    Taxi: just if you are in extreme emergency. They are expensive, very expensive. They tend to overcharge tourists. You cannot stop them on the road generally (call 3570, one of the main companies) and you have no way to tell if they are making longer route to make you pay more. Just don’t use taxis in Rome, unless you have really no other way to get somewhere.
    Car: renting a car in Rome,or driving your own, is not a good idea. Fuel in Italy is very expensive (unleashed 1.40+ euro/l , diesel 1.20+ euro/l), the traffic will steal most of your time, you cannot drive in many areas of the city center, basically all parking spots in the city center are paid (1.50 euro/h scaling to flat fees for longer periods) and last but not least, it is not that unlikely that your car might be damaged. Generally speaking, driving in Rome is a bad idea, you will just get stuck in the traffic with all other cars yelling at you because you don’t drive like them (a.k.a. not respecting rules) and you will pay more. The only reason I can see to do that it’s if you want to visit the area around Rome (Ostia, I Castelli etc.), but it’s not in the scope of this guide.
    Scooter: If you are an experienced scooter driver, this can be an option for you. Scooters can go in the city center (where cars cannot if not paying a ‘subscription’), you can avoid traffic, parking is not an issue and you will be independent. If you can rent one, this might be a good idea, BUT you need to be aware of the security concerns. The traffic in Rome is wild and you need to take in consideration the fact that people might cross your road, pass with red light etc. . If you are ok with this, then think about it.
  • Where to choose your hotel? Well, this question is quite hard. First of all, I am a fan of AirBnb, as usually the quality/price ration is very high, but I know that the prices in Rome are not very good. So, where you should take your hotel? If you are planning to stay out at night, until late, then take a central one and be ready to spend money, a lot of them, and you will walk back to it. If on the other hand you are planning to get back home before midnight, then the only important element is that the hotel is near an underground station. This is the best way to get back fast and safely home and therefore is the most important element in the choice of hotel. It doesn’t matter much how far, and if you are on a budget you can try looking for something further from the city center, since you are going to be in the city center in something like 20-45 minutes anyway and it’s just something that you have to do twice in a day. I suggest underground and not bus because you won’t be delayed and waste precious time in traffic (and underground is somehow more regular).
  • Rome is generally safe. It is a big city though, and this has the usual characteristics of theft, pickpockets and so on. Generally speaking, especially around the city center, it’s ok to go around even at night, keeping your eyes open and using just common sense.
  • Clothing depends on the season, but winters are not very cold and summers are on the other hand very very hot. If you are visiting during winter (bad choice anyway), just a tshirt+sweater+coat is enough, while during summer you need to be as light as possible, since even at night it will be more than 20 degrees (can be 35+ during the day). Because of this, the best time to visit the city with nice weather and not packed with tourists is from March to May.

Ok, I am ready, I know how to reach the city, I have my 48h ticket for public transport, where do I go?!

This is the itinerary I would suggest for a first-timer in Rome!

Day 1

Get up from the bed, pack some water, put some comfortable shoes and head outside. You can have breakfast in any of the millions of bars that you will find around. Preferably choose one with a queue of people. If coffee or general quality is good, people go back to the same place all the time, so a queue usually is a good sign for a restaurant or a bar. The classic Italian breakfast is coffee (espresso)/Cappuccino + some pastry (cornetto is like a croissant). The price for this usually should be around 2.50 euro. If you are in the city center can be more, but don’t pay more than 4 euro, definitely.

Go to the underground station closer to you and jump in. The destination will be ‘Flaminio’ station, on A (red) line. If you are close to B line, you will need first to go to Termini, and then get on the A line from there. Flaminio station is close to Villa Borghese, a huge park in the heart of Rome with a lot to offer. Probably you can spend half a day in the park, but you don’t have all this time, so just one hour walking should be ok. The entrance is visible with huge gates and you won’t have problems to find it. There is not a special place to go in the park, just get lost there, and maybe aim to check the small lake in the middle. You can see fountains, buildings, gardens and much more here and it’s a good way to start the day before having to fight with masses of tourists.
As soon as you leave Villa Borghese, head to Piazza del Popolo. You will have to go back where you entered and cross the street on your left. Before visiting piazza del Popolo, let’s make a small detour. As soon as you pass the gate to piazza del Popolo, with the square in front of you, follow the walls on your left. There is not a sidewalk for you, but you can walk there, cars will dodge you, there is always someone passing anyway. You have to head over the hill. First there are some stairs, then you will reach a road that you have to cross twice (it makes a U) and then there will be other stairs. In a few minutes, you will reach the balcony of Pincio. Here there is a garden and there is the balcony itself with a pretty cool view on the city. This is destination #1 for dates 🙂 (there is a ‘Nasone’ , public water fountain, where you can drink and refill your bottle here, they are pretty common around and Rome’s water is very good, you don’t need to spend money to buy it).

After hanging out on the Pincio balcony, head to Piazza del Popolo again, check the ‘three churches’, literally, and head to the central road that starts from here. This is Via del Corso, the central street. You can actually take any of these 3 roads, all of them have luxury shops where you can look fancy stuff. Probably only look because they are crazy expensive, but lately more and more affordable shops are opening there. Next stop: the Spanish steps (Piazza di Spagna). To reach this, you need to keep walking straight on Via del Corso, until you cross Via dei Condotti (if you took the left road, Via del Babuino, just keep straight), at which point you turn left and you will find in front of you the steps and the fountain “La Barcaccia”. You can explore around here before going back to Via del corso. From here, keep walking in the same direction as before, until you reach Largo Chigi with ‘Montecitorio’ on your right, the italian parliament. Keep straight for a bit more, and turn on the left to ‘Via dei Sabini’, in a couple of minutes of walking you will notice a crowd, and it means you reached the Trevi Fountain, one of the best (if not the best) fountains in the world. Throw a coin in the fountain from your back and make a wish, and go back to Via del Corso again. After few streets turn on the right (Via dei Montecatini) and then merge into the road on the right again. On your left there will be a church called ‘Stant’Ignazio da Loyola’. The church is not very famous but has a cool feature of a dome painted on a flat ceiling that gives the impression of an actual dome. If you just keep walking straight instead, you will reach the Pantheon. This is a Roman construction dedicated to ‘all the Gods’. You can enter for free inside and you will find some famous people buried there, among whom, Raffaello. Cross the square in the same direction you were walking and keep heading in that direction taking any alley you can find, you will end up in Piazza Navona, where you can see the Fountain of the four Rivers, made by Bernini, a church from Borromini and two more fountains.

After piazza Navona, you can walk to Trastevere area. For this you need to head South-West, and reach the Tevere (river) and then cross any bridge you will find. If you go straight South from Piazza Navona (Via della cuccagna, cross the street, turn a bit left and right on Via dei Baullari) you will pass through Campo de’ Fiori, where there is a market and the statue of Giordano Bruno. Keep walking until you reach the Tevere and cross it passing on Ponte Sisto. Turn left and then cross the street to keep going South. Here now you just need to get lost and have a feeling of one of the most touristy but still authentic Roman areas. Here is also a good place to eat, there are plenty of restaurants. I can recommend Roma Sparita, but check on TripAdvisor or similar yourself not to have bad surprises. Keep in mind that some restaurants (like Roma Sparita) need a reservation otherwise it is very unlikely to find a table, moreover consider that restaurants in Italy are usually open from 12 to 15 and then from 19 to 23.

Depending of how much time you have left, you might decided to take a small detour to the Gianicolo balcony, where you can have a nice view.
From Trastevere, you have to reach the Tevere again and walk on the right side. You have to pass the Tiberina Island on your left, and cross the river at the next bridge. Turn right and then take  the first left heading to the ‘Bocca della Verità’, from here is very easy to see also the ‘Circo Massimo’. Unfortunately this now is just a hole with some grass, but if you read about it and you imagine how it was two thousands years ago, you will really feel walking on history, literally.

By the time you reached here, depending on how fast you have been, it will be dark or evening anyway. It’s time for the dessert. From Circo Massimo, take ‘Via di San Teodoro’ and walk straight. Go uphill whenever you have a choice (if you follow the road, that turns left, you will find a road going uphill on your right) and you will end up at ‘Campidoglio’. Here there is a museum, probably closed at this time, and a statue of Marcus Aurelius. But this is not it, if you walk North, you will have a panoramic view of the Roman Forum. This is really wonderful and at night is way better that during the daytime. You can see also the Colosseum on the background, your last stop of the day. Head to ‘Via di San Pietro in Carcere’ and at the of it you will reach Via dei Fori Imperiali. Here you go on the right, and you can enjoy the walk surrounded by Roman ruins and emperors’ statues. At the end of this big street, there will be you final reward for the day, The Colosseum. It doesn’t need a presentation, and you can walk around it and in the surrounding area (near the Arc).
The walk ends here, where you can take the underground ‘Colosseo’ from B line and head back to the hotel or apartment where you are staying.


Day 2

I premised that the second day would have been for attractions that require a queue, so start this day preparing some water and a good dose of patience. There are two main missions for the day, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums. They both can require hours to enter due to the queue, so the earlier you go, the better. They are close to each other, and the best way to get there is with the underground, getting down at Ottaviano (metro A, red line).From here it will take few minutes of walking until you reach Vatican City. Depending on your interests, you can choose to visit first one, than the other. I recommend to visit first the museums that can get really crowded, while to enter in St.Peter’s Church, where you will find the Sistine Chapel the queue used to flow decently.

This can take up to 4 or 5 hours, so there is no much time left. After leaving Vatican city it is worth to walk on Via della Conciliazione, until you will reach Caster Sant’Angelo, a round fortress just above the Tevere. You can visit it and enter if you have time, and from here there is a very beautiful view of St.Peter’s Church that is one of the most famous photographic spots of Rome. You can end the day just walking around the area and enjoying the surroundings, or you can make a last sprint and walk again in the direction of Circo Massimo (facing Castel Sant’Angelo, on the left) but once you are near it you can turn right, on Clivio dei Publicii and follow the road. You will reach first on your left the ‘Giardino degli Aranci’, where you can have another view of the city center and then, walking few hundred meters more, you will see on the right a door, closed, with a keyhole. Usually there is someone looking through the keyhole, and that’s what you also will have to do. From this keyhole you can see through a garden and then you can see the dome of St. Peter directly. You can then walk back to Circo Massimo where you can find a stop of underground (B line, blue) and get back home.

Some more info

There are a lot of things left out of this guide, why? Because Rome needs 10 days to be visited decently, this is what I would squeeze in 2 days.
Also, I mentioned one or no places to eat at all. This is because having been a citizen of Rome and not mainly a tourist, I am not expert of restaurants in the city center itself, and I know that the quality of those you can find can range from totally tourist trap up to wonderful, so I will let the choice up to you for that. I want to also say that if you go during the spring/summer, you can usually have a meal consisting of a big ice cream (Gelato). Being a Gelato fan myself, I know some places in the city, but they are scattered around and don’t fit very well into the itinerary I made. Nevertheless, if you will have more time, you can try them out, I will list them at the end.

Conclusion

Rome is a beautiful city and one big suggestion that I can give you is to blend with locals. Roman people are very friendly and if you strike a conversation or you will be open you will have friends instantly that can recommend places or restaurants, just be open and enjoy the Italian way.
The second suggestion I want to give to those who will follow this guide is to come back. Take more time, and come back. You can spend one day in Villa Borghese, or shopping in the city center or for millions of other stuff.

I hope you will find this useful and as usual, let me know if you have any request, suggestion, appreciation or feedback, I highly appreciate it!

Daniele

Some resources

If I want an ice cream… Come il Latte Take the handmade cone for 5 euros.
If I want a pizza… Al grottino dal 1936 Wonderful pizza, not far from Circo Massimo 15 euro p.p. . Don’t forget suppli’
If I want a fish italian meal… Eleonora D’arborea Take the starters mix and a first or a second dish. 30-40 euro p.p.
If I want a dessert… Pompi Take the tiramisu 5 euro p.p.
If I want some roman dish… Roma Sparita Order a suppli/Fiore Di Zucca fried and Cacio e pepe as pasta. 15 euro p.p

The website of the public transport company is this.
The website of the company that operates the train to/from the airport is this.
Tourist information website.

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