One day in Rome isn’t nearly enough time to view every relic and ruin in this ancient metropolis.  If you’re cruising from Rome or just passing through on a whirlwind tour, here is my list of the eight best things that you can’t leave Rome without seeing.

Entrance to the Pantheon in Rome.
Entrance to the Pantheon in Rome.

What to see in Rome in a day – get going!

Most likely, if you’re reading this article, you are planning a Mediterranean cruise that either arrives or departs from Rome.  But you are actually going to arrive or depart from Civitavecchia.  It’s the closest port to Rome.

Even though it’s only an hour’s drive from Civitavecchia (in good traffic), it’s always best to spend at least one full day to explore this incredible city.  With very careful planning, you really can see quite a bit in one day.

Stay in the center of Rome

Entrance to Hotel Barocco at Piazza Barberini.
If you stay at a centrally located hotel, like the Hotel Barocco at Piazza Barberini, it’s a short walk to many iconic landmarks.

Especially if you plan to arrive the day before your cruise, or stay only one night after, reserve a hotel in Rome’s city center.  It will put you within walking distance to many of the most important ancient, religious and historic landmarks.  Staying somewhere near the Spanish Steps or Trevi Fountain puts you right in the middle of everything.

With only one day to tour Rome, here are eight important highlights to include on whirlwind walking tour.

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Trevi Fountain

Mid-afternoon at Trevi Fountain in the heart of Rome.
Mid-afternoon at Trevi Fountain in the heart of Rome.

No visit to Rome would be complete without a stop at Fontana di Trevi.  Completed in 1762, this beautiful, intricately carved fountain, located on Via Della Muratte, has been used as a backdrop in dozens of movies. It’s said that tossing a coin into the fountain means a return trip to Rome is destined to happen.

Spanish Steps

The famous Spanish Steps in Rome.
There is almost always a crowd of tourists sitting on the famous Spanish Steps, taking a break from their walk.

Piazza di Spagna, the famous Spanish Steps, is located at Via Condotti and Via Frattini, a short walk from Trevi Fountain.  Named for a nearby palace that once housed the Spanish Embassy, this is a wonderful spot to soak up the sun, stop for a cuppa at famous Babbington’s Tea Room or climb the 137 steps up to the Cathedral. A stunning vantage point to look out over the sea of tourists, decide on the next point of interest or just absorb the ambiance of this iconic landmark.

Pantheon

Rome's Pantheon.
Dating from 125AD, the Pantheon the most complete ancient building in Rome.

Perhaps Rome’s most perfectly preserved ancient monument is the Pantheon, built in 27 B.C.E.  Once a Christian church, it’s the burial place for Italy’s royalty as well as the artist Raphael. There’s no admission fee or dress code so all visitors can enjoy the still-colorful murals, towering religious statues and the oculus that allows daylight to illuminate the interior of this sacred building.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona and the Fountain of Four Rivers.
Piazza Navona, with the landmark Fountains of the Four Rivers by Bernini.  Photo:WikiMapia

This not-to-be-missed piazza is close enough to the first three places to be included on a one-day walking tour. Piazza Navona is home to Bernini’s much-photographed “Fountain of the Four Rivers” and a popular, centrally located meeting place for tourists and locals to just hang out.  Cafes and shops line the piazza making this a good end-of-the-day destination for a coffee and a freshly baked Italian pastry.

Coffee break time

Goodbye, Hotel Barocco. Hopefully, the coin in Trevi Fountain will do its magic....
To Rome with Love.  Hopefully, the coin in Trevi Fountain will do its magic….

Crave a cappuccino? Rome is dotted with busy, little coffee bars, most of which do not have seats.  Act like a local.  First, walk in and pay at the register.  Then, head to the bar and the barista will read your coffee order from the receipt.  Almost immediately, your coffee will appear on the countertop.  Watching a barista at work is like watching a well-choreographed, fast-paced ballet.

Colosseum

If your legs haven’t yet given out, add a fifth or sixth landmark to your walking tour. Explore the magnificent ancient ruins of the Colosseum or the sprawling 19th century square, Piazza del Popolo.

The Roman Colosseum.
The largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire, the Colosseum hosted gladiator “games” for over 100 years.  Photo: Walks of Italy.

Designed for Emperor Vespasian in 72AD, is an engineering marvel.  It’s a sight to behold and even more breathtaking and somewhere eerie, to explore.  Once, 50,000 spectators would watch and cheer as the Gladiators entered the ring to battle wild beasts, as well as each other.

Inside, visit the second and third levels to look out over the immense arena and the hypogeum; a maze of underground passages through which millions of beasts were shuttled to their doom. in   Some tours also include guided tours of the hypogeum.

READ MORE: 11 Myths and Misunderstood Facts about travel in Italy

If you plan to visit the Colosseum, it’s important to prebook a tour so that you can skip the incredibly long lines of impromptu tourists. Check online for tour operators that offer “skip the line” admission.  Two such companies include Viator and Walks of Italy.

Piazza del Popolo.
Piazza dell Popolo, is one of the oldest squares in Rome. Check out the Egyptian Obelisk and the two churches that form the junction of the “Trident” roads.  Photo: WolfgangM

Piazza del Popolo

This piazza may look familiar; it’s been the scene-stealer in dozens of movies.  The most recent is Woody Allen’s homage to the Eternal City, “To Rome with Love.”  While the piazza was designed by Napoleon’s architect, Valadier in the 19th century, the towering Egyptian obelisk dates from the 13th century BCE.   The 115-foot monument was relocated from Heliopolis to Rome under the reign of Emperor Augustus.  Walk around the square or just sit, relax and watch everyone else.

Perhaps the best-kept secret is hidden away at the north end of the Piazza del Popolo;  the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.  Inside, you’ll find several small chapels, two of which are an art lover’s dream.  The Chigi Chapel, designed by Raphael, is home to several carvings and statues by Bernini.  The Cerasi Chapel displays two 17th century Caravaggio oil paintings:  the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter.

Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
The Sistine Chapel after hours with Walks of Italy. After the hundreds of tourists have left, your small group is alone, while your guide explains in detail about Michelangelo’s masterpiece.  Photo: Walks of Italy.

What about the Vatican?

Decisions, decisions.  If your main goal in Rome is to tour the Vatican Museum and grounds, then instead of a walking tour, hop into a taxi or take the subway to Vatican City, across the Tiber River.

One of the frescos in the Vatican museum on the way to enter the Sistine Chapel.
One of the beautifully preserved frescos in the Vatican museum on the way to enter the Sistine Chapel.

It would be impossible to see many of the iconic Roman antiquities and the treasures of the Vatican all in one day.  The Vatican Museum includes eight museums, art galleries and the Sistine Chapel.  A word of advice again: plan ahead and purchase your Vatican and Sistine Chapel tickets before you leave home.

In reality, one day in Rome, or even a few days still isn’t enough time to see, do, taste and sip your way around the Eternal City. But if you only have one precious day, it’s possible to experience a taste of Rome that will linger in your memory for many years.

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5 Comments on Rome in a Day- Best 8 Things You Don’t Want to Miss

  1. Hi Emma, Thanks for your comments today! Have a wonderful time in Rome over Christmas.
    Sherry

  2. I’m actually heading to Rome on Christmas day this year! I have already been before so don’t think I will bother getting the train in. I’m not sure if many things would be open on Christmas day anyway? I’m hoping that the sun will shine regardless.

  3. Thanks, Marcello. It packs a lot into only 8 hours, but at least someone can see a few incredible Roman sights.
    Sherry

  4. Excellent guide for those in a hurry! I was in Rome a year ago and while it took me a lot more than 8 hours to get around, I’d say it’s workable for those short on time 🙂

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