I cannot believe it was only a month ago I was adventuring and exploring in Rome — a bustling cosmopolitan city with ancient ruins, awe-inspiring art, and vibrant street life. While I only had 36 hours, it was so easy to see how Rome is alive, chaotic, and beautiful, all at the same time.
Visiting in late September, I expected cooler weather and fewer crowds, but instead, temperatures soared into the 80s, and at times, the crowds were more intense than those in Times Square. Despite the constant hustle and bustle of Roman City life, there was something so unique and magical about Rome. From the narrow cobble stone streets and piazzas bursting with energy, to the ancient Roman history and beautiful architecture, what’s not to love?
Whether this is your first time in Rome, or you’re short on time and not sure where to start, this guide is for you! Pack your walking shoes — and maybe some pants with an elastic waist band, and get ready for non-stop Roman history and some of the world’s best pizza, pasta and gelato!
Visit the Pantheon — in the Morning & at Night!
Our hotel was right around the corner from the Pantheon, so we took advantage of every opportunity to walk through Piazza della Rotanda to oooh and ahhh over this massive Roman church. The Pantheon was built between 113-125 AD, and due to its continuous use throughout history, the Pantheon remains one of the best-preserved Roman buildings. One of the most fascinating things I learned is that the Pantheon’s dome is the largest, unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world. (And yes, construction on the Pantheon was completed in 125 AD by the ancient Romans — and not built by modern architects!)
Experiencing the Pantheon up-close and in-person was a once-in-a-life experience. If you plan to visit, arrive early. We were able to walk in (with no wait) around 9:30am, but by noon, the line to enter circled the piazza. Admission is free.
If you’re looking for one of the best places in Rome to grab a drink, look no further than Piazza della Rotanda. Absolutely nothing compares to enjoying a glass of Chianti while gazing up at the Pantheon. This became an evening ritual for my mom and I while in Rome!
Check out Vatican City
The Vatican is a sight to be seen. It’s home to the Pope and a trove of iconic art and architecture — from Michelangelo to Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. No big deal, right?
For many, visiting the Vatican is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but for others, the some five million plus visitors a year make the pilgrimage quite daunting.
Limited to 36 hours in Rome, I didn’t get a chance to tour Vatican City, but simply walking around the grounds made my jaw drop. To say the architecture, art, and history are fascinating is a complete understatement. Walking down Villa della Conciliazione and approaching the Vatican as the sun was setting will be one of those, “I will never forget this” type moments.
If you’re planning to tour Vatican City, make a reservation. This will save you hours (and hours) of waiting in line!
Make a Wish at Trevi Fountain
You can’t visit Rome without making a wish at Trevi Foundation! And hopefully you have better luck than I did because the foundation was drained for restoration purposes.
When making a wish, use your right hand and toss the coin over your left shoulder. Doing so will ensure you return to Rome in the near future. And, if you toss two more coins, you’ll be met with new romance and eventually a beautiful Roman wedding!
It is estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. Each year, the money is donated to different charitable causes supporting health, disaster relief, poverty, and migration.
I should warn you — the crowds at Trevi Fountain are absolutely insane! We’re talking wall-to-wall people with no room for selfies, and if you’re not careful enough when making a wish, your coin may not make it into the fountain!
Visit the Colosseum & Palatine Hill
You know that first time you saw the Empire State Building in New York City, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or Big Ben in London, and all you could think was, “Wow. This is absolutely amazing”? Well, this was my exact thought when I laid eyes on the Colosseum.
The massive stone amphitheater, known as the Colosseum, was built between 70-80 AD as a gift to the Roman people. The opening of the Colosseum in 80 AD was marked by 100 days of games — including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. The majority of combatants were men, although other gladiatorials included women, slaves, condemned criminals, or prisoners of war.
By the 6th century, the Colosseum saw a decline in use, mainly due to the struggles of the Roman Empire. Soon, the Colosseum was completely abandoned, and it wasn’t until until the 18th century that various popes sought to restore and preserve this sacred Christian site.`
Serious restoration efforts didn’t start until the 1990s, and since then, the Colosseum has become a massive tourist destination in Rome. It was absolutely amazing to walk the Colosseum and witness the history of Ancient Rome. Our ticket for admission also included Palatine Hill, which was my favorite touristy thing to do in Rome. Palatine Hill is an extensive archaeological site housing the ruins of the Flavian Palace and Stadium of Domitian, along with the House of Augustus. It was absolutely mind-blowing to see these excavations in-person.
Take a Stroll Through Villa Borghese
One of my absolute favorite things to do when traveling is to explore different parks and gardens, and let me tell you, Villa Borghese is definitely a top three in my book! (Just after Central Park and Jardin du Luxembourg!)
An escape from the hustle and bustle of Roman city life, this Italian oasis is just waiting for you to explore and discover its many sights and activities. From museums and galleries, to renting a boat on the pond, Villa Borghese is not to be missed.
If you’re heading to Villa Borghese, don’t miss the Spanish Steps — 135 steps up, overlooking Piazza di Spagna.
Get Lost in Trastevere
If you’re visiting Rome, you absolutely must explore Trastevere! Trastevere is Rome’s most beautiful — and delicious — neighborhood. From the narrow alleyways and centuries-old piazzas, to lively bars and restaurants, you’ll feel as though you’ve been swept back in time to a real Roman neighborhood.
The name Trastevere means “across the river”, and this refers to its location on the west bank of the Tiber River. Trastevere is the perfect neighborhood to set out and get lost — I could have spent all afternoon swooning over the picturesque buildings, old doorways, and hanging ivy.
The Knights of Malta Keyhole
The Knights of Malta Keyhole is one of Rome’s best kept secrets. It’s a bit of a walk from the center of Rome, but the views are absolutely amazing.
The keyhole is part of the property owned by the Priory of the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic religious order of crusader knights. Located on Avertine Hill, just above the Tiber River, the keyhole has a perfectly framed view of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
And, if you’re venturing all the way out to the Knights of Malta Keyhole, don’t miss Giardino degli Aranci, or the Orange Garden, which overlooks Rome and Vatican City.
Eat. Drink. And Repeat
You absolutely, positively cannot visit Rome without indulging in the staples of an Italian diet: pizza, pasta, gelato, and an aperitif! If I’m going to be completely honest, with so many bars and restaurants, it was really (read: extremely) overwhelming deciding where we were going to eat each day. Luckily for us, we didn’t have one disappointing meal, and for this very reason, Rome is at the top of my list of cities to return to!
Having fallen in love with the Trastevere neighborhood, you’ll find most of my restaurant recommendations here. While Trastevere is no longer an undiscovered neighborhood, it’s still very much off-the-beaten path, allowing you to find an authentic Italian bar or restaurant filled with locals.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to share a bottle of wine and a charcuterie board, you must, repeat MUST, visit La Proscuitteria! Small enough to walk by and not even notice the entrance, La Proscuitteria will have you drooling from the get-go. For five euros a person, order a spread of Italian meats, cheeses, and spreads. Space is tight, so arrive early!
If it wasn’t for An American in Rome (follow her on Instagram!), I would have never found the pizza of my dreams: Seu Pizza Illuminati. This is definitely a local hangout, and the pizza might be the best I’ve ever had… and yes, this even includes New York City pizza! I’m not going to lie, Seu Pizza Illuminati is reallllly far from the center of Rome, and there isn’t much to do around the restaurant… but you’ll be thanking me after you’ve just eaten the best pizza of your life!
Assuming you’re in the mood for pasta — because well, you’re in Italy! — head over to Hostaria Capo de’ Fero, for one of the most authentic Italian meals you’ll ever have! Located in Trastevere, Hostaria Capo de’ Fero is family-owned, the wait staff speak little to no English, and the food is delizioso! Plus, they pour extra large glasses of Chianti!
You can’t visit Rome without eating gelato! With over 2,500 gelateries in Rome, it seems humanly impossible to find the absolute best gelato. And I’m sure if you ask five people, they’ll give you five different gelateries to visit. So, while I can’t recommend just one gelateria, I can help you avoid bad gelato — because, did you know, 80% of gelateries in Rome serve fake gelato?! (I’m still shocked by this!) Avoid gelateries where the gelato is piled high in mounds and where gelato is brightly colored because this isn’t natural. Instead, look for a gelateria where the gelato is kept in metal tins, keeping it nice and fresh. My mom and I discovered La Strega Nicciola, an off-the-beaten path gelateria behind Trevi Fountain. The gelato was so soft, creamy, and delicious — I would definitely recommend stopping by!
By now, you’re probably looking for the perfect place to enjoy an aperitif, and don’t worry, I’ve got you’ve covered! While exploring Trastevere one evening, we discovered by Hybris — half art gallery, half wine bar. This is the perfect place to grab an aperitif while watching the world go by. The ambience is casual and low-key, and the crowd is mostly local. Plus, the bartenders know how to make a great aperol spritz!