Caput Mundi! The capital of the world! This is the Latin name that the ancient Romans gave to their city. Of course, it is no longer the centre of a great empire. However, make no mistake, it is still a stunning travel destination. In fact, the city is overflowing with travel possibilities. Historic ruins? Check! Long walks? Check! Local eateries? Check! Rome ticks all the boxes.
In these days of city breaks, the question is how to make the most of short visit. More to the point, how can you make the most of 24 hours in Rome?
Early morning flights or trains will transport you to the city (see Practicalities below). You can negotiate to check in early at many hotels. This gives you the time to freshen up and relax, so take a shower before you head out to see the sights. Most of the main places of interest are packed into the historic core of Rome. Therefore, it is a good idea to pay a little extra for a central hotel if you are able to be flexible with your budget. The Pantheon area is well-located and scores high points in terms of impressive historic monuments.
Lunch in Historic Rome at La Lupa
When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Well, they love their food in this country. Therefore, you might as well start your trip with a local lunch. Head up towards Piazza di Spagna where you will find Antica Osteria La Lupa. Although the food may be unspectacular, the setting is gorgeous. Sit on the terrace outside and feel as if you are a million miles away from the tourist masses a few streets away.
Via della Lupa 6, 00186 Rome
Explore Rome on Foot
Piazza di Spagna
When you’ve eaten your fill, it will be time to get started on your walking tour of the city. Head to Piazza di Spagna where you will find the iconic Spanish Steps. All life is here! It’s the place where tourists and locals alike sit, chat and just watch the world go by. The fountain at the bottom is a photographer’s dream. In consequence, you will have to compete for space to take your shots with the world, his wife and her mother. Once you’ve survived the photo shoot, dodge the bodies and make your way to the top of the steps where the Trinità dei Monti church is located. Again, this is another great place to get good photos. In this case, you will have views down the steps and panoramas of Rome in the background.
Villa Borghese is perhaps best known for its museum and art gallery. However, a walk in the neighbouring gardens is free. La passegiata is a truly Italian tradition and you can expect to see couples and families wandering around on a sunny day. There are plenty park benches, so no need to worry about getting tired. Make sure to take a peek down into Piazza del Popolo, one of the most famous squares in central Rome.
Via delle Quattro Fontane
Now it’s time to backtrack to Trinità dei Monti. Don’t worry! There is a good reason for this and you won’t be disappointed. Via delle Quattro Fontane is a long and hilly street that elevates street art to a new level. Walk up the street to the intersection with Via Quirinale and Via Venti Settembre where the four classical statues are located. There is a statue with a fountain on each street corner, hence the name ‘Street of the Four Fountains’. The two bearded male figures represent the Tiber (Tevere) and Arno rivers, while the female figures are the Roman goddesses Diana and Giunone. The sculptures are intricate in detail and it’s one of the city’s secret places. You won’t have to battle the masses to take photos. In fact, this is a place that invites you to linger.
Trajan’s Forum and Il Vittoriano
Continue straight along Via delle Quattro Fontane until you reach Via Nazionale. There, you should take a right and head down in the direction of Piazza Venezia. On your way you will come across Trajan’s Forum, another reminder of the imperial history of the city. Dominated by the imposing Trajan’s Column, many consider this to be the greatest of the imperial fora. Should you have time, it is also thought to be best to visit it before you go the Roman Forum (separate tickets required). It apparently helps you to put everything in perspective. If you arrive too late for a visit, it is another great place just to stop and look.
Once you finish admiring it and taking photos, continue on to Piazza Venezia. The nearby Vittoriano was built to honour Italy’s first king. It is an imposing structure that is worth a daytime visit to see panoramas of the city and the surrounding mountains. However, it is clearly militaristic and not particularly loved by the local populace.
Dinner at Antico Arco
Antico Arco, located near Villa Doria Pamphilj, generates a lot of buzz. Note that the location will require a taxi (ten euro each way from the centre). Overall, I can recommend it, although my meal there with a friend can perhaps best be summed up as ‘fireworks and flops’. First, the fireworks were my starter (a deconstructed kebab), the amuse-bouches served between the courses (a fava bean soup and a mini dessert of orange and chocolate crumb), and also the bread, which was some of the best I ever tasted. However, the lamb main was unspectacular and the actual dessert had an overpowering spicy taste. It was a little disappointing given that the restaurant often receives rave reviews. Your call!
Budget on about 150 euro for a meal for two including wine.
Piazza Aurelio 7, 00152 Rome
Those who want to finish the day with a dose of Roman nightlife might check out the trendy Bar del Fico near Piazza Navona. On the other hand, you may be dog tired after the day and decide to save your energy for the following morning. In this case, a letto!
Breakfast With A View
Why not enjoy a typical Italian breakfast of a brioche, coffee and juice in Piazza della Rotonda? The square is absolutely enchanting. After all, it isn’t every day that you get the opportunity to have breakfast accompanied by views of an almost fully intact Roman monument. Also, it’s Rome, so you can just enjoy people watching and soaking up the atmosphere. Ristorante Di Rienzo has great views of the Pantheon. If you stay at the reasonably priced Di Rienzo Palace, they will include breakfast in the price of your room.
Explore More Rome on Foot
For better or worse, the Pantheon is now a Roman Catholic church. As a result, there are restrictions on your visit. For example, you can hardly go in to take photos if there is a service taking place. However, you should certainly see its vast interior when you are in Rome. This incredible edifice gives you a sense of how the city looked like in its imperial heyday. Along with the Colosseum, it is a place that transports you back to ancient Rome and it is almost perfectly preserved.
As it is a church, signs tell you to dress respectably, not to make noise and not to use flash photography. The fact that the Catholic Church decided to use it as a church enabled it to survive in its current form. On the other hand, it somehow just doesn’t feel right for many visitors. After all, it still looks and feels like a Roman monument.
9-19:30 Monday-Saturday, 9-18:00 Sunday and 9-13:00 on Public Holidays
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
Another church! It’s Rome! About a ten minute walk from Piazza della Rotonda, you will find Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, which gives its name to the piazza where it is located. From the outside, it may appear uninspiring. However, wait till you see the artwork inside. Apart from art by Raphael and Sansovino, the highlight of a visit must be the Madonna di Loreto by Caravaggio. Seeing this piece of art is a true ‘wow’ moment.
Just a five minute walk from Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Piazza Navona packs a punch. In a city of fountains, you will find three masterpieces here. Its centrepiece is the magnificent Bernini Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, but the Fontana del Moro and the Fontana del Nettuno, which are found at either end of the piazza, are also stunning. View the square from the arched entrance of the nearby Museo di Roma. This place is a highlight of a trip to Rome!
The Trevi Fountain
Make your way over to the Trevi Fountain. Is it touristy? Yes. Do you need to be careful there? Yes, there are pickpockets. Should you see it? Yes, yes and YES again! Not only is it the largest Baroque fountain in the world, but it is arguably the most beautiful fountain in the world. Under a clear blue Roman sky, the Trevi Fountain positively sparkles. Of course, the secret is out and has been for a few centuries. However, no visit to Rome is complete without seeing it and you may want to go back again and again. Why? Because it looks different but equally captivating whether you visit in the early morning, during the day or at night. According to local superstition, you will return to Rome if you throw a coin in. Indeed, maybe you will want to return as soon as you see the Trevi Fountain.
Lunch at Spaghetteria L’Archetto
Spahetteria L’Archetto. This is a real find. Serving a more than comprehensive range of pasta and pizza, it attracts both locals and tourists alike. You can either eat outside on the terrace or inside in the main restaurant. Although it is not located far from the Trevi Fountain, prices are really reasonable. The service is helpful and the food is tasty. What better way to finish off your trip to Rome!
Via dell’Archetto 26, 00187 Rome
Getting There and Away
Rome has two major airports. All the main airlines use Fiumicino and it has links to other destinations in Italy as well as other destinations in Europe, the Americas and Asia. The Leonardo Express train runs to Roma Termini Station every 30 minutes and costs 11 euro. The price of a taxi has apparently been capped at 48 euro due to complaints about tourist scams. Ciampino is often used by low cost airlines such as Ryanair and it is located closer to the city. However, there are no train services, although buses take about 40 minutes to reach central Rome.
Trenitalia offers train services throughout the country. It is a good idea to book your tickets in advance. Be warned that the website is a bit unwieldy to use. Trains from Milan take about three hours, while similar express services from Venice and Florence take 4 hours and a little over 1 hour respectively.
There is accommodation for all budgets in Rome. Di Rienzo Palace, near the Pantheon, is highly recommended. A single here costs around 80 euro per night and includes breakfast at their restaurant in Piazza della Rotonda. The bathrooms are sumptuous and the rooms are more than adequate. Also, you can laze on the rooftop sun terrace on a warm day. Salvi, who manages the hotel, speaks fluent English and provides a friendly welcome to the city. Take this as a rave review from this traveller and I’m not paid to give recommendations!
Many travellers wax lyrical about Trastevere and it could be the place to go if you want more of a local experience. There are apparently some really good AirBnB apartments and rooms available if you book early enough.
Foodies should note that Trastevere again gets top marks from travellers for the quality of its local eateries.
Rome is touristy and this has an impact on both price and quality. Stay away from the main tourist attractions and you will find good value restaurants. Travellers staying in central Rome will find good bargains if they are prepared to do a bit of footwork. Spaghetteria L’Archetto (mentioned above) is excellent value and most dishes cost less than 10 euro.
Rome is touristy. Therefore, you have to be careful of pickpockets around all the major tourist sites. Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket and be careful in crowds such as when you travel on buses and trains. Take particular care in Termini Station. Just to give you a flavour of this, a gang of gypsy children surrounded me at the underground station in Termini a few years ago. Although they got nothing, they managed to slit every pocket in my trousers!