Do you only have two days in Rome? No problem! Two days is still plenty of time to see the main attractions of the “Eternal City”. In this two-day Rome itinerary, we’ll go over visiting the Colosseum, the Vatican, and even some of the more off-the-beaten-path options that you won’t want to miss. In a city this bustling with tourism, it’s of the utmost importance to pick the best and most efficient guided tours– especially when you only have 48 hours! Luckily, Dark Rome‘s skip-the-line and no wait tours make seeing everything in a short amount of time easier than ever before. After we review what to see in Rome in two days, I’ll then dole out some of my juiciest recommendations on places to find authentic Italian food and gelato. Whether it’s your first or tenth time in Italy, I hope you have an unforgettable trip to Rome!
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Although in the present day we know this building as “the Colosseum”, that’s not what the Romans would’ve called it! In fact, this Ancient structure’s actual name would be the “Flavian Amphitheater”. Drawing approximately 7 million visitors per year, the Colosseum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, if not THE most popular. So, why does this amphitheater attract so many visitors? To understand, you’ll have to take its shock factor and bloody, yet enthralling, history into account. First of all, the Colosseum is still standing over 1,950 years after its original construction. If anything, this should prove that the Romans had architecture down to a science– even in 70 AD. It only took eight years to build the Colosseum! Secondly, can anyone resist seeing where the gladiators fought in person?
How to visit the Colosseum
As I mentioned previously, the Colosseum is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the world. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure to think ahead and choose an appropriate guided tour. Yes– it is possible to visit without a tour– however, I think you’d miss out on a lot of exciting information! Additionally, the line to get into the Colosseum can take hours when visiting during high season. To make your visit run as seamlessly as possible, I recommend booking one of Dark Rome’s Colosseum tours.
I chose the Private Colosseum Tour with Roman Forum and Palatine Hill during my Rome trip. With Dark Rome, you have skip-the-line access to each of these sites. Especially in warmer weather, this can make a huge difference! I would also recommend choosing the earliest time available for your tour. For example, the Colosseum is less crowded in the mornings, and the temperature is also much more refreshing. My guide, Marco, did an outstanding job of making the Colosseum come to life before my eyes. As many of the Dark Rome guides are experts in their fields, Marco’s background in archeology made the tour particularly engaging. We learned about the variety of games played in the amphitheater, as well as about the most famous Roman emperors. Afterward, I felt very inspired to pick up a book on Roman history!
Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum
After exploring the Colosseum, you’ll want to go across the street to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Both of these sites are within the same archeological park; additionally, admission is included with your Colosseum ticket! As a heads up, these attractions are overflowing with ruins; nonetheless, there aren’t many signs with explanations. Therefore, going with a guide is your best option. So, what exactly will you be able to see here?
- Palatine Hill: According to the legend of Romulus and Remus, Palatine Hill is where the city of Rome was first founded. During your visit, you’ll be able to see highlights such as the ruins of the Flavian Palace, the Stadium of Domitian, the Baths of Septimius Severus, and the Houses of both Augustus and his wife, Livia. I was particularly interested to see the ruins of Circus Maximus, an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium.
- The Roman Forum: At the Roman Forum, you’ll be able to imagine the layout of Ancient Rome. Here, you’ll find the remains of temples (later converted into Christian churches), palaces, and the building where the Roman Senate met. Moreover, you’ll even be able to see and walk along the Via Sacra (“Sacred Street”), the original main street of Ancient Rome.
Walking tour of Rome’s most famous sights
One of the best ways to understand a new city is to take a walking tour. Therefore, I think it’s best to spend part of your first day out of two days in Rome on the Best of Rome Walking Tour. Afterward, you’ll be able to locate all of the city’s major sites without any trouble! Plus, I always find that going on a walking tour helps me find my bearings and get an idea of places that I’d like to revisit. It’s also essential to start your visit to such an exciting destination with a little history lesson! Nonetheless, if you’d rather explore on your own, I’ll detail the main Rome bucket list attractions you won’t want to miss below.
The Trevi Fountain, which opened in 1762, is undoubtedly one of the most famous historical sites in Rome. Not only that– it’s also one of the most recognized fountains globally! I think most of us are probably familiar with this spot due to the popular practice of coin throwing. Legend says that you should throw a coin into the Trevi if you’d like to return to Rome! So, you’ll want to bring some spare change to this spot. To throw your coin in correctly, you’ll want to toss it with your right hand over your left shoulder. Each year, these thousands of coins are then collected and used to support a supermarket for Rome’s needy.
The Spanish Steps are a stairway of 135 steps connecting the Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinità dei Monti. So, why are they “Spanish”? Well, the Spanish Embassy sits within the Piazza di Spagna (Plaza of Spain) at the bottom of the steps. So, it seems that this nationality extended onto the stairs as well. Now, on to the real question: why are the Spanish Steps so famous? The most obvious response is that they’ve appeared in various iconic films, such as Roman Holiday (1953) and Eat Pray Love (2010). They’ve become such a popular photo spot that police have recently begun banning tourists from sitting on the Spanish Steps. Although you might not be able to sit on the steps, it’s still worth stopping by for the pretty view and photo opportunity!
The Pantheon, which translates to “of the Gods”, was originally a Roman temple that was later converted into a Christian church. This structure is one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman buildings, despite all of the barbarian raids after the fall of Rome. Whatever the reason may be for its survival, you cannot skip the Pantheon on your vacation to Rome. The great news is that this landmark is currently free to enter! On your visit, I’d recommend spending at least 20 minutes wandering the Pantheon on your own. However, if you’d like to delve into the history a bit more, you can rent an audioguide for €5.
Since the Pantheon can get busy, the best time to visit is during the early morning: approximately 8:30-11:00 AM. You may also want to keep in mind that this building is still a functioning church. Therefore, another interesting activity at the Pantheon is to attend mass. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on Pentecost Sunday, you’ll have the privilege of witnessing something quite magical! On this particular day, thousands of rose petals are dropped through the Pantheon’s dome, symbolizing the Holy Spirit’s descent to Earth.
On your walking tour of Rome, another must-see spot is Piazza Navona. This public square, which was formerly the site of a stadium in Ancient times, is now one of the most beautiful plazas in the city. Here, you’ll find fountains, a giant obelisk, and a lively atmosphere. If you need a break after so much walking, sit down at one of the local restaurants or cafés in the Piazza. You’ll notice that Navona is an ideal location to hang out and people watch! Although this plaza gets rather hectic during the afternoon, it can be a fun experience to see the area come to life. Filled with musicians, artists, pantomimes, and more, I recommend taking the time to at least pass through Piazza Navona! If you happen to be visiting Rome during the winter season, you’ll encounter a bustling Christmas market in this square.
You’ll notice that an underlying theme in a city as ancient as Rome is the repurposing of historic buildings. Of course, the Castel Sant’Angelo falls well within this category. While your associations with the word “castle” may be romantic, Sant’Angelo was first built as a mausoleum! Over the years, it then took on the role of a military fortress, a safe house for the Pope, prison, and finally, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo. Legend holds that the original name for this building, the “Mausoleum of Hadrian”, was replaced with “Castle of the Holy Angel” due to a vision Pope Gregory I had of the Archangel Michael.
If you’d like to go inside the castle to explore its museum, the ticket will cost €15. Many travelers are divided as to whether or not the museum is worth visiting. Nonetheless, everyone recommends seeing the panoramic view from the top. If you’d rather save your money, you may want to visit on the first Sunday of the month. On this day, you’ll be able the enter the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo for free! However, you may find that the line is also a bit longer on this day. Whether or not you choose to enter the museum, I still think it’s worth walking by the castle to check it out!
The Vatican, which serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, is also an independent city-state. While its borders may cover a small area, Vatican City holds some of the world’s most famous pieces of art. For this reason, when you think of the Vatican, you might associate it with Michelangelo or Raphael’s most famous works. Furthermore, St. Peter’s Basilica, a church located in Vatican City, is currently the second-largest Christian church building in the world. According to the Catholic Church, this basilica stands on the site where Saint Peter was crucified and also supposedly holds his remains. Therefore, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica are popular places of pilgrimage. Many even speculate that the Vatican is the world’s most-visited Christian holy site. If you’re traveling for religious tourism, you may be interested to know that the Pope speaks publicly in Saint Peter’s Square most Wednesdays.
Before visiting the Vatican, double-check that you’re familiar with the rules! Due to its status as a holy place, you’ll have to follow a particular dress code. Make sure that you’re wearing clothing that covers both your shoulders and knees, and leave your hat at home. While you can take photos in the Vatican Museums, you’ll have to make sure that your flash is turned off. Furthermore, the Vatican does NOT permit taking pictures or videos within the Sistine Chapel. You also won’t be able to carry around items such as backpacks, umbrellas, camera tripods, or selfie sticks.
How to visit the Vatican
As you can imagine, the Vatican is a top-rated attraction for those visiting Rome. Tourism in Vatican City is currently at an all-time high, receiving around 6 million tourists per year. In just one day, the number of visitors can reach up to 30,000 people. With these types of numbers, I’m sure I don’t have to explain how long the line to enter the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica can get! So with only two days in Rome, how can you see the Vatican without having to spend hours in line? I have the perfect answer: Dark Rome’s no wait Vatican Tours! Dark Rome is an official partner of the Vatican. Therefore, they have their own entrance, meaning that you’ll get to pass by both the public and even other tour operators in line. You’ll find that this is even faster than skip the line!
On my Private Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica tour, we breezed right in! Our tour started at 1:30 p.m., and the Vatican was busy as usual, but we didn’t have to stand in line AT ALL. Now, the Official Partner entrance isn’t the only perk of booking a tour with Dark Rome. This tour company also has private access to the Vatican Museums in the mornings! So, with Dark Rome, you can go into the Vatican thirty minutes before other tour operators and 1.5 hours before the public. My tour was in the afternoon this trip, but next time I plan to do one of the early-morning Dark Rome tours of the Vatican. I’d love to see what the Sistine Chapel is like when it’s empty!
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are so extensive that it can be challenging to decide precisely what you want to see! Below, I’ll focus on a few of my favorite sections within the museums before we move on to the most famous attractions.
- Round Hall: This room, with a dome ceiling modeled after the Pantheon, will undoubtedly catch your eye. Here, you’ll find an impressive bronze Heracles statue that dates back to sometime between the 1st and 3rd century A.D. You’ll also notice Emperor Nero‘s large porphyry stone bath in the center of the room.
- Gallery of the Candelabra: This gallery initially began as a long hallway in 1761, which was later walled and decorated. The gallery’s name is derived from the giant marble candelabra, which divides this section into six separate rooms. I found that I couldn’t stop staring at the gorgeous paintings on the ceiling of the gallery, all surrounded in gold detail!
- Gallery of Tapestries: You have to walk through this gallery on your way to the Sistine Chapel, so you might as well enjoy the intricate tapestries! As you pass through, the pieces on your right represent scenes from Pope Urban VIII‘s life, while those on the left depict the life of Jesus Christ. If you look up at the ceiling, you might notice that it looks like it contains 3D plaster designs. Nonetheless, if you look closer, you’ll see that these are paintings!
- Gallery of Maps: As soon as you enter this gallery, you’ll probably be able to tell why it’s my favorite part of the museum. Walking through, you’re surrounded by large frescoes that are maps of the Italian peninsula. Not only that, but the vaulted ceilings are dripping in gold detail and color! I recommend taking the time to peruse this gallery.
The most popular attraction at the Vatican would have to be the Sistine Chapel. Without a doubt, most travelers come to this site to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. The ceiling contains panels depicting stories from the Old Testament, with the central section focusing on the Book of Genesis. Then, Michelangelo’s large fresco on the altar wall shows the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment. Throughout these frescoes, you’ll be able to find hidden faces and meanings. For example, in The Last Judgment, you’ll find St. Peter standing to the right of Jesus, holding the keys to heaven. The individual representing this saint is Pope Paul III, the pope who oversaw the completion of the Sistine Chapel! To be able to locate and understand all of these small details, you’ll want to visit with a guide (shout-out to Louise!).
The great part about going to the Sistine Chapel with a guide was that she explained the intricacies and importance of Michelangelo’s work before we even went in. This way, I felt I was able to enjoy the splendor of the Sistine in silence. If you don’t know the background, it may be difficult to understand how the chapel represented such a significant advancement in art at the time of its completion. You have to remember that, at that time, it was a huge deal that Michelangelo was so capable of accurately representing the form of the human body!
The four rooms of the Pontifical Palace that are referred to as “Raphael’s Rooms” served as the residence of Pope Julius II and some of his successors. Raphael’s first frescoes done at the Vatican can be found in the Room of the Segnatura. This room also contains one of Raphael’s most famous works: “The School of Athens”. If you look closely at this fresco, you might even be able to recognize a few famous faces, including Raphael himself and even Michelangelo!
St. Peter’s Basilica
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be religious, visiting St. Peter’s Basilica is still a worthwhile experience. The basilica marks a key site for the Roman Catholic Church as it is believed to be the place where St. Peter was crucified and buried. For this reason, multiple Christian churches have been built at this location, ever since Constantine the Great converted to Christianity. Furthermore, the basilica is a common place for popes to be buried.
Upon entering, you’ll most likely be taken aback by the size of St. Peter’s. The dome may be its most impressive work, rising to 448.1 ft (136.57 m) from the floor to the very top. While inside, you’ll want to make sure to see another famous Michelangelo piece, the Pietà. This renaissance sculpture depicts Mary holding the body of Jesus after his crucifixion. Another impressive sight is St. Peter’s Baldachin. This bronze canopy marks the tomb of St. Peter in a rather theatrical way!
See Rome’s crypts and catacombs
After you’ve checked off Rome’s most famous attractions, you might want to see something more off the beaten path. As a response to wanting to show a lesser-known side of the city, Dark Rome created the original Crypts and Catacombs tour. This guided experience explores Rome’s obsession with death in a straightforward way, showing you ancient burial sites as well as some of the Eternal City’s oldest churches. The Crypts and Catacombs tour makes a great activity when visiting Rome at any time of the year. However, I felt that it was particularly appropriate as I happened to be in Rome over Halloween!
Catacomb of Callixtus
Our first stop on the Crypts and Catacombs tour was the Catacomb of Callixtus. This burial site, which sits along the Appian Way, is one of the most notable catacombs in Rome as it previously contained the tombs of various Popes. On our way to Callixtus, my guide, Andrea, explained that there are approximately 60 total catacombs in Rome. Nonetheless, archeologists continue to make new discoveries. In fact, if you were to line up all the catacombs in Rome, they would reach all the way to Florence. So, these burial sites are almost like an entire underground town of the dead.
Roman law in ancient times required bodies to be buried outside of the city walls, and the dead were often cremated. However, the early Christians (who were not accepted at the time) believed that they would live again and would, therefore, need their bodies after death. Thus, they chose to bury their dead outside of the city, but underground in catacombs. This way, running out of space wouldn’t be an issue. In the Catacomb of Callixtus, you’ll be able to observe many of the early symbols of Christianity, including the fish, the shepherd, prayer signs, and the Chi-Rho.
Basilica of San Clemente
The second stop on our tour was the Basilica of San Clemente. This site is a perfect example of how places and buildings tend to be “recycled” in Rome. Here, you’ll be able to see three tiers of history and Roman society: a lower level with a room used by the cult of Mithras, a 4th-century basilica that continues to function, and the present basilica that is used by Irish Dominicans.
Santa Maria della Concezioni dei Cappuccini and the Capuchin Crypts
Of course, our last stop had to be something truly mind-boggling! The Church of Santa Maria della Concezioni dei Cappuccini is where you’ll find the Capuchin Crypts. I can honestly say that I had never heard of this place before. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most off-the-wall experiences that I’ve had in a destination as popular as Rome! The Capuchin Crypts are where the bodies of 4000 friars were relocated in the 17th century. However, the Capuchin monks at the time decided to try something a little different than a traditional burial. Instead, they rearranged these bones artistically to demonstrate a point: time is up, and death cannot be escaped.
Try the best gelato in Rome
Did you go to Rome if you didn’t have any gelato? I don’t think so! If it’s your first time in Italy, you may be wondering: how is gelato different from ice cream? Typically, gelato is made with more milk than ice cream, but a lower proportion of cream. Furthermore, gelato is churned much slower than ice cream, meaning it contains less air, resulting in a denser dairy treat. Now that you’re craving some gelato let’s talk about where you can find it. Even if you’ve had a packed day of exploring Rome, you still have time to grab some delicious gelato before ending the evening. Many gelaterias are open until late into the night– sometimes even as late as 2 AM! Although I doubt you’ll find lousy gelato anywhere in Rome, here are some of my favorite gelaterias to put at the top of your list.
Where to find authentic gelato in Rome
- Frigidarium: Located just down the street from Piazza Navona, Frigidarium is a perfect example of an authentic Roman gelato shop. Plus, it’s super affordable as well! Depending on the time of day, you may have to wait in a long line, but it’s 100% worth it. Just make sure to think about what flavor you’d like to try before you get to the counter. I recommend tasting the frigidarium or pistachio flavor!
- Come il Latte: Tucked away on a quiet street and away from the tourist sites, you’ll find Gelateria Come il Latte. Although it might be a bit out of the way, many say it’s the best gelato they’ve ever eaten! This gelateria has a very diverse list of flavors, so go for a flavor you haven’t tried before. I’d suggest the ricotta apple and cinnamon for starters.
- Gelateria del Teatro: Located close to the river, this gelateria is nestled among some of the most picturesque streets in Rome. At this spot, make sure to taste one of the herbal infused flavors. These include creations such as lavender and white peach, rosemary honey and lemon, and stracciatella mint!
- Old Bridge Gelateria: This gelateria makes an ideal stop before or after entering the Vatican due to its nearby location. If you’re having trouble deciding on a flavor, go for the pistachio and Nutella.
- GROM: With multiple store locations throughout Rome, GROM may be the most convenient option for finding some top-notch gelato! The easiest to find may be the GROM gelateria on the side of Piazza Navona. You can even find gluten-free options here!
Don’t miss these restaurants!
With only two days in Rome, you’ll want to research the places you’d like to eat carefully. As Rome is a reservation city, I’d highly urge you to make evening reservations at restaurants that you don’t want to miss. If you’re a fan of red wine, most places will have a vino della casa that’s usually quite delicious! Wherever you end up dining, end your meal with limoncello for the real Italian experience. Below, you’ll find some of my favorite spots for an authentic Italian meal:
- Ristorante Aroma at Palazzo Manfredi: Looking to have dinner with one of the most refreshing views in Rome? Aroma Restaurant comes with not only a Michelin star but also a direct view of the Colosseum! This venue makes the perfect spot to celebrate a special occasion or even for your last meal in Rome before heading home.
- Terrazza Borromini: You’ll want to make a reservation to dine at this terrace at sunset. Although a bit pricey, the view over Piazza Navona is worth every penny!
- Ristorante Virginiae: Just a five-minute walk from Piazza Navona, you’ll find authentic Roman cuisine at Virginiae Restaurant. I happened to stumble across this hidden gem and have recommended it to everyone! You can’t go wrong with any of their pasta options, but I would choose the gnocchi or lasagna.
- Da Romolo: If you’re searching for an option close to the Vatican, look no farther than Da Romolo. With exceptional service and a reasonably priced menu, this place can get jam-packed in the evenings! So, always make a reservation ahead of time. In true Roman fashion, order the Spaghetti Carbonara!
I hope you enjoyed this two-day Rome itinerary. If you did, pin it for future reference!
This post was written in collaboration with Dark Rome as part of a press trip. I received complimentary tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican, crypts and catacombs, and a ghost tour. However, all opinions are my own, and I wholeheartedly recommend doing one (or more!) of their tours while in Rome. No monetary compensation was received for this post.