Welcome to Rome, the Eternal City! Home to Caesar, gladiators and delicious gelato, Rome is one of Italy’s busiest cities with so much to discover. But what should you see with just 2 days in Rome?
While Rome is a city known for its icons – the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel – it’s also about daily life on the ground. Outside of those icons there’s still a lot of Rome to explore. I loved the diverse neighbourhoods and just walking through different piazzas. To me, a trip to Rome isn’t complete without some time spent sitting in a piazza, eating gelato and watching Roman daily life pass by.
2 days in Rome isn’t enough time to see everything but it is enough time to hit the highlights and enjoy some of the city. When Colin and I visited in November, we thoroughly enjoyed learning about Rome’s history and eating our way through its food. This trip was my second time to Rome, but can you really get sick of seeing the Colosseum and eating Italian food?
Check out my itinerary for 2 days in Rome below, as well as my tips and suggestions for what to do with more time in the city!
Day 1: Colosseum, Palatine Hill & Roman Forum
Obviously, you’ll want to start your 2 days in Rome at one of the city’s most famous spots, the Colosseum. This is where Lizzie McGuire sang “What Dreams Are Made Of”… and I guess, almost as importantly, it’s also where the gladiators fought back in the day.
To visit the Colosseum you’re going to want to get your tickets ahead of time. Even if you visit in the low-season like we did, it’s important to book ahead as the Colosseum is always busy. It was so busy we actually couldn’t find two tickets to the same tour – but we did end up sneaking me onto Colin’s earlier ticket time. There are different levels of tickets depending on what areas of the Colosseum you want entrance to and if you want a guided tour or not.
We decided to get tickets that gave us entry to the main Colosseum floors, the underground and the top level, tier three. Note that regular admission tickets do not include the underground or tier three. Our tickets also included a guide. With these tickets, we entered from the back of the Colosseum and had a lot of areas entirely to ourselves. I would highly recommend getting the same tickets we got if you want to explore more hidden areas of the Colosseum and get away from the crowds.
On the main level, we entered through the back and had an entire courtyard area just to our group. Here we learned that the Colosseum was built in only eight years. Our guide pointed out marble seats and special boxes where the emperor and guests of honour would sit to watch the gladiators and hunters fight. We also saw the restoration work happening down below – it’ll be interesting to see what the finished restoration looks like when they’re done!
Next we headed down to the underground. This is where slaves lived and where they kept the animals they would release up onto the arena floor. Our guide showed us the make-shift elevator they used to raise animals up from the basement and onto the arena floor. Imagine a singer rising from below the stage at a concert. It would take a team of eight slaves to operate the elevators and they had over 60 elevators underneath the arena. And it wasn’t just lions they were raising to fight. They also had bears, boars, ostriches and even crocodiles!
Lastly, we walked up a few flights of stairs to reach tier three. This was my favourite part of the tour. The views of the city, and especially the Roman Forum, were absolutely beautiful! Again, we had this area just for our small group. We lucked out that it was a sunny, bright November day – the perfect weather to be admiring the views from the top level of the Colosseum.
After our tour, we took a break to head out for lunch. Unfortunately, it’s mostly tourist trap restaurants located right around the Colosseum. We found a couple of places that sounded promising but one had moved and the other was closed (despite their hours on Google saying otherwise). We eventually settled on one restaurant that ended up being just okay; I wouldn’t recommend it.
Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
Following lunch, we explored the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. These sites are located right next to the Colosseum and entrance is included in your Colosseum ticket price. One of the biggest mistakes you could make is visiting the Colosseum but skipping the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Honestly, I much preferred these to the Colosseum, so don’t miss out!
For the Roman Forum, we didn’t have a guide but we did download the Rick Steve’s walking tour audio guide (the same guide we used for Pompeii). This was an awesome (and free!) way for us to learn more about the Roman Forum. I’d highly suggest it!
The Roman Forum is huge and there’s a ton to discover. We saw the original green door, where Caesar was cremated, the Temple of Vesta, and where the Vesta virgins lived. The entire area is like a crumbling Roman ruin playground. There’s a ton to see and walk around, and I love that you can get up close to the ruins.
From there, we headed up to Palatine Hill and took in the most beautiful view over the Forum and city. Don’t miss out on this view! There’s lots more to Palatine Hill than just the view, including other ruins, buildings, fountains and more. But by then, we were getting kind of tired. And, it was closing (make sure you check closing times), so we made our way home.
Dinner & dessert
Colin and I stayed in a hotel out by Vatican City. While not the coolest neighbourhood, our hotel was very nice (and affordable!) and there were good transit connections to everywhere we wanted to go.
For dinner, we headed out to a local restaurant called Goose and it was FANTASTIC! Seriously, we loved it so much we went back the next day. If you happen to be staying near Vatican City, I highly recommend going to Goose for dinner (go early or make reservations). The pastas are amazing and try the tiramisu too!
Day 2: Walking tour & the Vatican
Walking tour of Rome
On day two, we headed out on a walking tour of Rome. Instead of joining an official city walking tour (though I do love those), we did our own walking tour courtesy of another Rick Steve’s audio guide! Rick has a guide that walks you through all of the main icons of Rome in a few hours, and it was an awesome way for us to learn more about the city while seeing everything we wanted to see.
We started at the Campo de Fiori, learning about how the square had transformed over time, and then walked through a number of historic piazzas. We stopped at Piazza Navona to take in some very cool fountains and statues. Next we made it to Rome’s famous Pantheon. The Pantheon is free to visit, so we took a minute to sit down under the giant dome and learn a bit more about the impressive building (courtesy of Rick!). The most impressive part to me was the huge columns out front!
From the Pantheon, we went over to the iconic Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is a must-visit during your 2 days in Rome. The place will be swarming, but push your way through and throw a lucky coin into the water.
While I was excited to see the fountain – the sculptures really are impressive – I was more excited to track down San Crispino Gelateria. I first visited San Crispino when I was in Rome in 2014 and I swear that gelato changed my life. I got a Seville orange flavour and it literally brought me to tears. It had taken me a while to track down the place; I scoured old photos to find the logo and scrolled through Google Maps to locate it. Finally, we found it and I was excited to see if it was still as good as I remembered.
But it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was still very good gelato. But it wasn’t life changing. And I now have a new favourite in Rome (coming up soon!). But if you want to sample some pretty decent gelato, I’d still recommend a stop.
After my gelato heartbreak, we continued onto the famous Spanish Steps while Rick told us why they were important. We took our photos and then continued on towards the Vatican.
Since our Vatican tour was scheduled for the afternoon, we decided to have lunch out that way. After doing a little research, we ended up at Ragno D’Oro. And it was a great find! The food was very simple Italian fare with Roman classics and the clientele was mainly locals. Colin got a carbonara and I got beef with a side salad and both were delicious. I highly recommend a stop here for lunch!
Finish off your lunch with one of Rome’s best gelatos (and Colin’s favourite) at Old Bridge Gelateria. The cool thing about Old Bridge is not only do they have delicious gelato but it’s cheap and you can get three flavours no matter what size you order.
After lunch, we headed over to the Vatican for a tour. The first thing you should know about the Vatican is that while it is the Pope’s residence and a cool site in terms of religion and history, it’s primarily an art gallery. If you go on a tour of the Vatican, you’re seeing the art. Some people (cough, Colin) did not know this and were very surprised (and a little bored) to find themselves walking around art for three hours.
I’m not much of an art person myself but I do think touring the Vatican is something you need to do at least once. It’s a bucket list item and even non-art people will appreciate some of the artifacts. If you want to visit, you should book your tickets ahead of time to avoid long lines.
Our guide told us we had come at the perfect time. November is off-season for the Vatican, outside of the crowds of summer, Christmas and Easter. I remember when I visited in April 2014 that there were lines around the block to get in. But in November 2019, we walked right through the front door! The inside was still pretty busy, so I can’t even imagine how bad it would be in the summer.
While it was interesting to learn about the art and history of the Vatican, it was also pretty draining. As I said, Colin and I aren’t big art history people and we had already been walking around Rome all day long. But we still appreciated some parts. I loved the long hallway of maps with the most impressive ceiling. And speaking of ceilings, you really can’t beat the Sistine Chapel.
Pro tip: Your tour will end in the Sistine Chapel and you’ll then have to navigate a maze to exit. Despite signs saying otherwise, exit to the right to get to St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica. We, unfortunately, did not know this and exited left. We then spent about 30 minutes walking through random hallways, gift shops and rooms until we exited back where we had entered – on the complete opposite side of where we wanted to be at St. Peter’s Square.
Because it took us forever to exit, we were tired and there was a long line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, we skipped it. We got gelato and sat in the square admiring the sunset. But note that some Vatican tickets include entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. So if it’s important to you, I suggest buying a ticket that has skip-the-line entry.
While we headed back to Goose for dinner on our second day, you can mix it up on your 2 days in Rome. A place we wanted to eat at, and that is highly recommended, is Bonci Pizzarium. It’s right by the Vatican and they say it serves up some of the best pizza in Rome with unique toppings but a classic Italian simplicity. I’ll definitely be giving it a try the next time we’re in Rome!
And for dessert, you have to hit one more gelato place. Head to Del Monte, also located near the Vatican, and my favourite gelato in Rome. This hole in the wall place serves up some of the most authentic and flavourful gelato I’ve ever had.
Tips for 2 Days in Rome
- Buy your tickets in advance, especially if you’re visiting in the busy season. As I mentioned, we visited in November and even then we needed to buy tickets in advance for the Colosseum and the Vatican. Make sure you book yours early too!
- Plan to do the Colosseum early in the day so you have lots of time to explore the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. As I’ve laid out in my itinerary here, I would dedicate an entire day to this area.
- To save a bit of money, pick up snacks at a local grocery store. There was a Carre Four located near our hotel and we were able to grab great snacks and breakfast items there. Plus, it’s always fun to check out a local grocery store!
- We took transit (buses and metros) to get around the city. And since we only had 2 days in Rome, we bought single-use tickets. If you’re staying longer or doing more travelling, look into passes or multi-day tickets. These tickets can often be bought from magazine stalls, bakeries, etc. So we bought our tickets for the day when we were picking up our croissants and coffee for breakfast!
- November was the perfect time to visit and I’d highly recommend planning your trip for November. The weather was still quite nice – sunny and around 15C – and the crowds were really small compared to what you’d see in the summer.
- Rome has a couple of different airports, so note which one you are flying into/out of and the best way to get from the airport to the city. We ended up flying to the farther airport and spending much too long on a bus and train to get into town.
- Italy is a very regional country, meaning different foods, customs and cultures come from different places. Naples is known for its pizza whereas Florence is known for its steak. Of course, you can get pizza in Florence and steak in Naples, but it won’t be as authentic. In Rome, you will definitely want to try carbonara, the pasta they’re know for. No matter where you go in Italy, you should always do a little research to see what the local fare is and ensure you’re eating the good stuff!
- The magic of Rome isn’t in the Colosseum or the Vatican. It’s in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Make time to sit in squares and piazzas, shop in local markets, grab a gelato and lean against a fountain, and eat as much of the delicious Italian food as you can!
More than 2 days in Rome?
If you have more than 2 days in Rome, that’s amazing because there’s a lot more to see and discover. One area of Rome I haven’t been to yet is the Trastevere neighbourhood. This is supposed to be a really cool local area great for eating and hanging out. I’d also love to visit the famous Villa Borghese.
You can head up to Gianicolo for beautiful views over the city, walk the Appia Antica (an ancient Roman road), visit the Altar of the Fatherland or Castle Saint Angelo, and admire more churches like Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Slightly outside of Rome, I highly recommend visiting Ostia Antica. It’s like a mini-Pompeii, but you can get there on the subway in about 30 minutes. Plus, it’s way less crowded than Pompeii. I visited in 2014 and often had the entire place to myself.
If you have even more time in Italy, consider heading out of Rome and exploring a new part of the country. Thanks to fast trains, you can be in Naples in about an hour and in Tuscany in 90 minutes. Continue exploring Venice, Milan and the lake region, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, Bologna (next on my to-visit-in-Italy list!) or down to Sicily. There’s always something amazing to discover – and eat – in Italy!
And that’s how I suggest you spend 2 days in Rome! What do you think? Anything I’ve missed?
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