Written by Marta Correale and Mona for MonaCorona.com. Cover image by Mona Corona.
Hi, I’m Marta.
I am an Italian family travel blogger and a mama of 2 lucky enough to call Rome my hometown. I was born in the city and lived there for over 30 years, until work (and love!) led me to move abroad: I now live in Ireland but Rome still has my heart and I visit both alone and with family at least 3 or 4 times each year. Every time I go, I live the city like the local I am but I also love to explore it with the eyes of a visitor, whether it is a week or longer trip, or a shorter Rome itinerary. 2 days is just enough time to see all the top sites. I am a Roman history graduate and I cannot get enough of the city’s beautiful places. On my blog, you will can find many articles about Rome but I also recently started a specialised site just about the city.
Rome is an exceptionally popular European destination. Each year over 4 million visitors trot down the city’s famous cobbled streets and marvel at its timeless charm.
The attention the city gets is, I believe, well deserved. The city has vestiges of a history that spans centuries, timeless art and is a pleasure to explore even for the non-culturally oriented traveller: good weather, amazing food and lovely views make it easy to enjoy and a highlight of many Italian itineraries.
Rome has very many interesting attractions and locals like to say that a lifetime is not enough to get to know the city.
While this is probably true, it is also true that some attractions are of more interest to visitors than others and they are surprisingly easy to visit even in a relatively short amount of time.
Here are the top Rome must-see sites as told by Marta, with the added itinerary suggestions by Mona.
The Ultimate Rome Itinerary: 2 Days in Rome, Italy
Day 1: Rome Self Guided Walking Tours
Day 1 will be spent exploring all of Rome‘s most important and historical places by foot. These are the popular Roman sites that people travel to from all over the world to see, and luckily are in walking distance from one another. I suggest using Google Maps if you wish to walk or use public transportation, however Uber is available in Rome as well.
The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
I recommend all first-time visitors to start their stay visiting the main Rome archaeological area: the historical complex of the Roman forum, Palatine hill and the Colosseum. The best time to visit Colosseum is when it opens at 8:30, so you’ll want to be there bright and early.
Located just beside each other and in the centre of the modern city, these are unique sites both in terms of historical importance and visual impact: this area of the city is stunning!
The Colosseum usually steals the show. A large amphitheatre dating back to the I century AD, the Colosseum still stands amidst the busy streets of modern Rome with its imposing marble arches and tall gates.
It is possible to visit the Colosseum inside and several types of tours are available. The best one to get is the tour that includes a visit to the underground part and the top tier: the underground is the best place to learn about the workings of this building while the top tier has unbeatable views. Advance booking is mandatory to avoid long lines.
Just beside the Colosseum and accessible with the same ticket lie the Roman forum and the Palatine hill. These are large archaeological areas and are a must-see for anyone interested in ancient history.
The most scenic part of the archaeological park is the Palatine: from the top of this hill you have incredible views over the city and the river: go on a spring morning for maximum visual impact!
The time needed to visit this area is about 3 hours.
A 20-minute walk will take you the famous Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous and most photographed fountains in the world.
Tucked away in a small square in the heart of Rome city centre, the fountain is a Baroque masterpiece of stone and water and you reach it via small alleys that suddenly open up to reveal its grandeur.
The fountain never fails to make an impression especially if you come back to see it at night. At this time, the crowds that make it almost invisible during the day are gone and its cascading waters shimmer in the fountain’s beautiful lighting.
Next, you will head to the Pantheon– another important site in Rome city centre. Dating back to the II century AD the pantheon is now a church overlooking a charming square.
The Pantheon is just under a 10 minute walk from Trevi Fountain, and can be visited in about 20 minutes but it is worth spending a little more time in this area and explore the small streets around it. These are the famous cobbled streets Rome is known for and they are truly charming, filled as they are with unexpected churches, restaurants and of course gelato shops!
Recommended gelato shop: Giolitti – one of the most famous in Rome!
Before heading to the Vatican, you will probably want to break for lunch near the Pantheon. A historic restaurant nearby is De Armando al Pantheon. Over half a century old, here you will find classic Roman dishes in a warm and inviting environment. Reservations in advance are strongly recommended.
Alternatively, if you wish to eat by Trevi Fountain, Al Moro is among Rome’s most notable trattorias, featuring a menu of both classic and more obscure Roman dishes.
Another site you cannot miss when visiting Rome is Vatican City. Technically an independent state, the Vatican sits inside the city and can be visited without going through border control or document checks.
Vatican City is located about a 30-minute scenic walk from the Pantheon.
Vatican city has 3 main areas of interest, all beautiful and worth a visit: St Peter’s Basilica, St Peter’s square and the Vatican museums. When planning a visit to this area, the first thing to do is deciding if you want to see all of these sights or only focus on one or two.
If you only want to see the square and the beautiful façade of the basilica, no planning is needed. The square is accessible like any other in Rome and you do not need to wait in line nor to abide by a dress code to enter.
The story is different to see the basilica inside: while free to visit, access is subject to security controls and this means you are likely to have to wait in line for at least some time. Also, the basilica enforces a strict dress code so you want to make sure you are properly dressed on the day you want to visit.
The dress code applies equally to men and women and bans mini skirts, shorts (basically, anything above the knee), sleeveless shirts (T-shirts are ok) and cropped tops.
The Vatican museums are different again: they are just beside the Basilica and they are so vast and popular you must book skip the line tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line for, literally, hours.
You can get reserved entrance tickets from the main museum website in advance. (recommended)
The time needed to visit the Vatican depends on what you want to see: The square and basilica can be visited in about an hour while the museums will require a full afternoon.
If after visiting Vatican City you are ready for a snack or supper, found just outside the Vatican Museum’s entrance is one of Rome’s most popular pizzerias: Pizzarium Bonci. More so a take-out shop (with benches outside to eat on the sidewalk) than an actual sit-down pizzeria, Pizzarium features square pizzas by the slice with both classic toppings and the more creative which changes daily.
If you are looking for more of sit-down table service dining, one of the most notable restaurants in the area is Be.Re. Also famous for their innovative pizzas and other traditional Roman dishes, you will not want to miss this unique dining gem.
Day 2: More of the Top Places to Visit in Rome in 2 Days
Now that you’ve gotten the major sites done with, it’s time to enjoy the beauty of Rome at a (mostly) free and leisurely pace. Although Rome is covered with brilliant architecture and monuments, the city is a masterpiece in and of itself, and there is beauty to be found at every corner.
Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori
Rome is an open-air museum and some of its most impressive attractions are the city’s piazzas. Two worth seeking out are Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori.
Located a mere 5 minute walk from each other, the squares are beautiful and very different from one another. Piazza Navona is grand and monumental, with a large fountain in its centre by architect Bernini, while Campo de’ Fiori is dusty and vibrant. In the morning this piazza hosts a market and in the evening it fills with locals and tourists making the most of the alfresco terraces of its restaurants and wine bars.
Recommended dining nearby: Salumeria Roscioli is a deli, wine bar, and restaurant in one with an extensive menu. It is the perfect place to try one of Rome’s most iconic pasta dishes, cacio e Pepe, and enjoy a fantastic bottle of Italian wine. This place is very busy, so make sure to reserve a table (preferably on the ground floor) well in advance.
For something a little lighter, you may try the Roscioli Caffè nearby, by the same owners.
The Spanish Steps
A 15-minute walk from the above piazzas are the Spanish steps. They climb up to the church of Trinita’ de’ Monti and they are a truly gorgeous site: the best way to visit is to reach them from Via Condotti, Rome’s designer shopping street, and then go up to catch a view from the top.
Tip: Come in the evening for a romantic view over Rome’s sparkling city lights.
Near the Spanish Steps, you may want to break for an Aperol Spritz or cappuccino at Antico Caffé Vitti to retreat from the congested and high energy of the area. No trip to Rome is complete without a good cup of coffee and this signature Italian coffee, and Vitti’s does both perfectly.
The Borghese Gallery and Villa
A very special place in Rome city centre is the large park called Villa Borghese. This used to be an estate of the Borghese family and now is a beautiful public park with a lovely pond, the city zoo and one of the most important art galleries in the city: the Borghese gallery.
For art lovers, the gallery is a pleasure to visit: booking Is required (no walk-in admissions) and I recommend you plan your visit in the morning or early afternoon so you can then take a stroll in the park.
The Borghese Gallery is located a 20-minute walk from the Spanish Steps.
Terraces and viewpoints
Rome is built on several hills and this means it has many beautiful viewpoints from where to catch a view over the city.
Free viewpoints to seek out are the Garden of Oranges, on top of the Aventine hill, the Gianicolo hill, behind the Vatican, and the Campidoglio hill, in the centre, also a location worth a visit in itself.
Some of Rome’s most elegant hotels also offer stunning views from their rooftop terraces. The Eitch Borromini hotel near Piazza Navona or Palazzo Manfredi have views not to be missed.
Visit one of these views for sunset to truly feel the magic of Rome.
The Neighborhood of Trastevere
The hip and quintessential neighborhood of Trastevere is worth a visit to get lost in the picturesque narrow alleyways of Rome while finding some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. Trastevere quickly became one of my favorite neighbors in Rome, and if you are looking to go out at night, this list of bars provides a little something for everyone. The bar Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà is consistently named one of the best pubs in Europe.
If you don’t drink and are looking for some of the best gelato in all of Rome, visit Otaleg in Trastevere for a decadent treat.
Recommended dining in Trastevere: In Southern Trastevere, you will find Tavernaccia Da Bruno, a trattoria serving a mix of Roman, Umbrian and Sardinian dishes. A wood-burning oven, fresh pastas such as their famous Sunday-only lasagna, and a selection of natural wines makes this unassuming restaurant one of the most notable in the area.
Best Places to Eat and Most Romantic Restaurants in Rome
Rome has many wonderful restaurants ranging from traditional trattorias to wine bars and romantic and elegant terraces. Some of my favourite are:
Cul de sac: this is a small yet popular wine bar just beside Piazza Navona. The atmosphere is informal the food genuine and the wine list extensive. A Rome institution, great for lunch or dinner.
Il grappolo d’oro: just off Campo de’ fiori in one of Rome’s most enviable positions this is a great slow food restaurant with Roman staples and seasonal dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.
Da Felice a Testaccio: if you are after traditional Rome food look no farther than Felice, an excellent restaurant in the area of Testaccio famous for traditional Rome fare (especially pasta!)
Aroma Roma: Rome is not just great at traditional food and atmospheres it also does romance and luxury really well, and you can experience it to its fullest in the restaurant Aroma, in the elegant Palazzo Manfredi. With a chef known as Italy’s youngest and brightest talent and unrivaled views over the Colosseum, this is a wonderful place for a romantic rooftop dinner.
Nona Betta: A trip to the Jewish Ghetto will you land you at Nonna Betta, a famous Roman Jewish restaurant serving classic Roman Jewish specialties such as deep-fried artichoke alongside classic Italian dishes such as carbonara. The Jewish Ghetto is a landmark historic area that once held the Jews of Rome confined and persecuted within the walls for a period of 300 years. In the Jewish Ghetto you will find a number of kosher restaurants and a Jewish museum detailing the history of Jews in Rome.
Beautiful Rome City Centre Hotels
Planning a trip to Rome can be complicated, especially in terms of where to stay. Rome has many gorgeous hotels, but the most convenient of which, in terms of location, are in the historical city centre, which is the best place to stay in Rome for a first-time visitor.
Indigo St George Rome (5 stars). A beautiful 5-star hotel in one of the best locations in Rome. Overlooking Via Giulia, one of Rome’s most charming streets, the hotel mixes a modern vibe with design hinting at Rome’s history and fashion and has something truly special: a gorgeous rooftop terrace! (See Mona’s photo above — she also coincidentally chose to stay here on her last visit to Rome and highly recommends it!)
Fifteen Keys Hotel (4 stars) if you are looking for a boutique hotel in a hip and well-located area of Rome, do have a look at the Fifteen keys. This is a lovely hotel with elegant and minimalist design and has a nice leafy inner terrace, which is a lovely touch in such a central location. An excellent choice especially for couples looking for a cozy retreat.
Rome truly deserves the attention it gets and a stay in the city is likely to capture the heart of all types of travellers. You can visit Rome main sights in as little as 2 days however, if you can, I highly recommend you spend at least 5 days in this wonderful city so you can get off the beaten path. Some of Rome hidden gems are wonderful!