While there is enough to do in Rome to spend weeks – it is possible to hit the highlights in a one day whirlwind tour of the city (I recently did this when I had a 10 hour stop over in the city last Christmas Day). You won’t be able to go into any of the paid attractions – especially if any have long lines, but with this tour you will be able to at least see the main highlights.
1) Start at Termini station
Termini station is the main hub for transportation in Rome, with connections to other cities via high speed rail, to the airport via an express train and to the rest of the city with connections to the metro system. There is not much to see here – you will be walking the entire day so ignore the taxi drivers and street merchants as you head to your first stop.
2) Ancient Forum and Colosseum
As you walk to towards the Colosseum you will see the Ancient Forum. You won’t have enough time to actually visit the ruins (but this is a must do if you have any longer than one day in the city). What you see today are the remains of what was the center of the Roman Empire back in the 7th century. The pillars, monuments and skeletons of buildings were used as temples, basilicas, burial grounds, houses of government and centers of public gatherings in the Roman Empire.
Just a short walk away from the Ancient Roman Forum is the Roman Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheater). Construction on the building was finished in 80 AD, and much of the building still remains standing today. If the building is open you will see a long line snaking around the outside of the Colosseum – be prepared to stand in it for several hours – don’t expect to go inside if you only have a day in the city.
3) Piazza Navona
One of the most famous squares (and my personal favorite) in the city is Piazza Navona. The Fountain of the Four Rivers will be the first thing you see in the center of the Piazza. Designed by Berini the fountain has statues representing the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata rivers which surround the base of an obelisk. There Piazza also houses the Neptune fountain and the Moor fountain. This is an excellent place to sit and people watch, there are often events held in the square. Behind the Piazza are several streets lined with restaurants, you will come back here after a quick detour to see parts of the Vatican.
4) Castel Sant’Angelo
You will head up to the Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built as a mausoleum for the Ancient Emperor Hadrian, but more recently was used as the popes fortress and castle. The bridge leading up to the city offers an excellent view of the Tiber River, and you will be able to see parts of Vatican City rise up above the city on the other side of the bridge.
5) Pasta Imperiale
My favorite hidden gem of Rome is the quick service restaurant Pasta Imperiale. Tucked away on a side street behind Piazza Navona is this small restaurant which makes fresh pastas and sauces daily. They have a selection of 6-8 different pastas which you can pair with 6-8 different sauces – all of which change on a daily basis. They also offer freshly made sandwiches and salads. Grab a cheap meal to go from Pasta Imperiale or any of the nearby shops and head to Piazza Navona to sit and eat.
6) Gelateria Della Palma
See my review of Gelateria Della Palma on a previous post. Be prepared to spend a little while here as the line can be pretty long.
7) Spanish Steps
At the base of the steps you can find the Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat). These steps were built to link the Spanish Embassy and the Trinita dei Monti Church. Now you can take a seat on some of the most famous steps in Europe. Be wary of the Rose Scam (where a street merchant will hand a woman a rose and demand payment from the man).
8) Trevi Fountain
Rome’s most famous fountain is almost certain to be crowded. Whether you visit at night or during the day expect to see hundreds of people crowded around the fountain. The central part of the fountain is the Roman god Neptune. He rides in on a chariot pulled by two sea horses. Neptune is flanked by smaller statues representing Abundance and Salubrity. Tossing in a coin into the fountain is a tradition you cannot pass up. It is said if you toss a coin (correctly) you will return to Rome. The proper way to toss it is with your right hand over your left shoulder with your back to the fountain.
The Pantheon is the domed monument which is the best preserved ruin in the city. The 43 m high dome was the largest in the world until it was dwarfed by the Florence Cathedral. A large hole at the top of the dome is the only source of light. When it is open it is a great place to sit and quietly reflect on your travels.
10) Return to Termini Station
After your quick layover in Rome head back to the station to continue your journey or to your hotel. The entire round trip can be done in as little as 5-6 hours or can take an entire day.