Three Perfect Days in Rome – Rome 3 Day Itinerary.

The perfect stress-free itinerary for a trip to Rome, Italy.

See it all and still have time to relax.

Vatican City at Night
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Vatican City at Night

Three Perfect Days in Rome – Rome 3 Day Itinerary

There is so much to see in Rome and you could spend weeks here and still not see it all.  But you can see most of the major sites in 3 days at a relaxing pace that still gives you plenty of free time to just wander and discover the many charms of this fabulous city. I’ve traveled to Rome many times and am heading back later this week.  This trip is going to be special – my husband and I are taking our adult children and spouses/significant others.  Both my husband’s family and mine have deep roots in Italy.  My maternal grandmother was born on the boat coming over from Italy just before reaching Ellis Island.  Both of my husband’s grandparents were born in Italy and immigrated to the US.  So we both grew up with rich Italian traditions and now we have a chance to share Rome and Italy with our children.

The Perfect Stress-Free Itinerary for First Time Visitors to Rome

I planned this itinerary for first-time visitors to see as much as possible while having time to explore the city and just experience the Roman culture.  I’ve also included some sites that I’ve never taken the time to see. We wanted to see the major sights but we also wanted to be able to enjoy our family and make this a stress-free trip.  Since there are eight (8) of us traveling together, I chose to book private transportation for transfers to and from the airport and for a day of sightseeing in ancient Rome.  The cost actually turns out to be very reasonable and based on past experience, taxis and buses for eight of us would cost about the same as hiring a private driver for the day.  Plus, there are so many benefits that come with having a private driver at your disposal.  With a private driver, we can change plans based on the weather or whim, we can spend less time getting to and from locations, and local drivers always help me discover something new about the city.  I booked my transfer and driver through Top Tour of Italy and they have been so helpful and very attentive.

Planning the Perfect Rome 3 Day Itinerary

  • Book a hotel, a VRBO (condo or home rental) or Airbnb between the Vatican and Piazza Navona.  This is an important part of this itinerary.  The neighborhood is bordered by the Tiber River on three sides and a short walk to the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo The currently very trendy Campo de’ Fiori is to the east and Piazza Navona to the NW.

Where to stay in Rome for the Perfect 3 days in Rome
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Where to Stay in Rome

There are several reasons I recommend staying in this area, first, it’s a great location for trips into Vatican City, centrally enough located to make seeing all the sites on this list easy, and it’s a little off the beaten path, so once the tourists on the way to and from the Vatican go to more fashionable neighborhoods you have a little authentic local feel. This area isn’t as touristy as staying by the Spanish Steps, has lots of great little osterias that cater to locals, gelato shops, bakeries, local wine shops, and charcuterie shops.  This means you will be treated to amazing food, at reasonable prices surrounded by Italians instead of tourists from Cleveland.  There’s nothing wrong with tourists from Cleveland but it’s way more fun to immerse yourself in Italian culture.

Things to Do Before Your Trip

Six (6) Months or More Before Trip to Rome

  • Book tickets to attractions before you leave and make sure your buy skip the line tickets
    • Buy Skip the line tickets for the Colosseum or book a tour.  I booked a private tour since there will be eight of us traveling together.  The tour company will be providing us with a driver and have purchased our tickets for the Colosseum and arranged a guide for the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill
  • Book an Early Access Tour to the Sistine Chapel & Vatican Museums it also includes skip the line access to St. Peter’s Basilica & the Pope’s crypts.  – this is pricey but so worth it, you’ll have about 20 to 30 minutes with a maximum of 15 people in the chapel before it is open to the public.  I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel a number of times and since I’m only 5’4″ I’ve always had trouble getting a good view and since groups are moved through I’ve always felt rushed and never really experienced the awe of this Chapel.  You’ll see the highlights of the Vatican without the crowds and have time for exploring other parts of Rome on the same day.
  • Book a visit to the Tomb of Saint Peter and the Necropolis 
under the Vatican Basilica.  Special visits to the necropolis underneath the Basilica are only possible with special permission granted from time to time by the “Fabbrica di San Pietro”.  Visits are organized according to the schedule set by the Excavations Office and in order to preserve the site and the venerated tomb of the Apostle Peter, only around 250 visitors per day are permitted to enter per day.  Get ticket information.  If you choose the Early Access Tour of the Sistine Chapel, you can schedule the 11:00 AM visit to the Necropolis.  This visit takes about an hour, so you’ll be done around lunchtime.

One (1) Month Before Trip to Rome

  • Arrange transportation
  • Get familiar with the city & download maps to your phone.
  • Learn a little Italian – most Italians speak some English but at least trying to speak a little Italian will be greatly appreciated.  Don’t worry if you’re pronunciation isn’t perfect.  Just give it a try.
  • Read menus in Italian online before you go and translate them.  This is really important if you are on a special diet, vegetarian, vegan or just don’t want to eat the lungs of a small animal like a rabbit…yes there is a story there.

Arrival Day – Three Perfect Days in Rome

Castel Sant'Angelo 3 perfect days in Rome
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Castel Sant’Angelo – 3 Perfect Days in Rome

Today’s just a half day of sightseeing and eating!  I recommend arriving in Rome on Saturday or Sunday if you are interested in attending the Papal Audience on Wednesday.

You’ll arrive in Rome after an overnight flight.  This is a day to take it easy and still see some sites. Most flights arrive so that you’ll end up in Rome by around noon.  If you’ve booked in the neighborhood I recommended you will be very close to Castel Sant’Angelo and some amazing food.

Check into your lodging or at least drop your bags off.  DO NOT lay down or nap.  Grab a quick cool shower, if you can get into your lodging, the shower should make you feel better.  But now it’s time to go power through the afternoon.  This is the best way to get yourself on the new time zone and will help you make the most of your time in Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo - daytime 3 perfect days in Rome
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Choose a little osteria or pizzeria and grab a leisurely bite to eat.  I don’t have wine until dinner on the day I arrive – I would be asleep on the table if I started drinking at lunch.

Once you’ve had a little food and your first taste of local Italian culture, it should be around 2 or 2:30 PM, it’s time to head to Castel Sant’Angelo across the Ponte Sant’Angelo or “Bridge of Angels”.  Take your time crossing the bridge to appreciate the angles on the Ponte Sant’Angelo.  The angles were designed by Bernini and carved by multiple artists.  The angels tell the story of the Passion of Christ, beginning at the right-hand side of the southern end of the bridge and zigzagging towards Castel Sant’Angelo.  The inscriptions on each statue tell the Passion.  Plan to spend a couple of hours wandering around the museum and exploring the Papal apartments. Castel Sant’Angelo is Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm. The museum is closed on Monday, Christmas day and New Year’s day.

Stroll through the Corte Suprema di Cassazione (Supreme Court Building) and cross back over the Tiber via Ponte Umberto I Bridge.  Enjoy a walk to Piazza Navona.  Along the way, there are a number of beautiful churches with paintings and sculptures by some of the great Italian masters and other historic architecture to visit or just admire.  This is a couple you might want to visit:

Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps – 15th-century palace housing Renaissance artworks & antiquities, Greek & Roman sculptures & library.  The museum is open until 7:45 PM

S. Maria della Pace – 1400s church with curving porticoed facade, plus frescoes by Raphael & elegant, 2-tiered cloisters.

Piazza Navona – Lively square, filled with locals and tourist alike.  There are lots of cafes and restaurants but resist the temptation to eat here.  Food will be expensive and typically will have service fees will be added.  Plus, there are so many places to eat that are fabulous a quick walk off the square.

Fountain of Neptune “Fontana del Nettuno” – 16th-century marble fountain depicting mythological cherubs & Neptune fighting with an octopus.

Fontana del Moro – fountain located at the southern end of the Piazza Navona.  It represents a Moor, or African, standing in a conch shell, wrestling with a dolphin, surrounded by four Tritons.

Obelisk Agonale Piazza Navona – Ancient obelisk standing at 16.53 meters, in the center of Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers.

Sant’Agnese in Agone – a 17th-century church with frescoes, large-scale sculptures & a shrine containing St Agnes’ skull

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart “Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore” – Worth a quick peek.  A beautiful church that dates back to the 13th century and then rebuilt in the 1450’s.

Other sites of note:

San Luigi dei Francesi  “Church of St. Louis of the French” – France’s baroque national church in Rome, known for the Caravaggio paintings in its chapel.

Palazzo Madama “Madama Palace” – Seat of the Italian Senate, housed in a former 15th-century Medici palace with a later Baroque facade.

Dinner – By now you should have walked off lunch and it should be around 6 or 6:30 PM.  Dinner in Rome is usually between 8:00 -9:00 PM.  So you’ll be eating on the early side but after an overnight flight it’s a good idea to get to bed early + tomorrow is a busy day of sightseeing.  Leave Piazza Navona and head to one of these Restaurants:

  • Il Corallo – Via del Corallo, 10-11, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
  • I Pizzicaroli piazza Navona – Via della Fossa, 9, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
  • Coromandel – Via di Monte Giordano, 60/61, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
  • Ristochicco – Via di Panico, 83, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
  • La Salumeria – Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 24, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

Day 1 – Three Perfect Days in Rome

The Perfect Ancient Rome Itinerary

  1. Plan to start your day around 7:30 with a cappuccino and an Italian pastry at a local bakery.  Check google maps before you leave so you’ll have an idea where the closest cafe is to your lodging.
  2. Plan to be heading to the Colosseum by around 8:30.  A leisurely visit to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum will take you about 3 hours.
  3. Visit Circus Maximus
  4. Stop for lunch close to the Colosseum.
  5. Visit San Clemente Basilica & Catacombs – The church we see from the street was built in 1108 AD.  But as you descend into the catacombs you’ll enter a pagan temple dedicated to the god Mithras, build around 200 AD.  Definitely worth the trip.
  6. Visit the Ancient Appian Way
  7. Head to the Pantheon
  8. Find a little bakery or cafe and buy pastries or bread for tomorrow morning, since you’ll be up and out early.
  9. Now it’s time to wander, people watch and sip wine in a little cafe.
  10. Plan to have dinner around 8:00 PM

Day 2 – Three Perfect Days in Rome

The Perfect Day Visiting the Vatican and Wandering in Rome

You’ll get an early start today if you booked the early access Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica + the Vatican Crypts you’ll meet your guide around 7 AM.

  1. Make coffee at your lodging and eat the pastries you bought yesterday while you walk over to the Vatican.  If you are lodging in the neighborhood I recommended you’ll only be a 10-minute walk to the Vatican.
  2. Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica + the Vatican Crypts
  3. Visit the Tomb of Saint Peter and the Necropolis 
under the Vatican Basilica
  4. Lunch
  5. Pick-up Papal audience tickets
  6. Bone Chapel
  7. Wander and discover
  8. Dinner & wine
  9. Gelato

Day 3 – Three Perfect Days in Rome

Papal Audience, Ostia Antica and Lunch on the Med

  1. Attend Papal  Audience.  This is not just for Catholics or Christians.  It’s a pretty cool site to see St Peter’s Square filled with people and hear the Pope address the audience.
  2. Visit Ostia Antica, a very well preserved ruin of an ancient seaport.  Many compare the site to Pompeii, without the crowds.  Tickets for Ostia ruin site are not included and to be paid at the entrance, 12 euros each) I used a private car service since there are 8 of us.  There is a train that will get you close.
  3. Have lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.
  4. Head Back to Rome for a farewell dinner
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