In “Roman Holiday” Audrey Hepburn perches on the Spanish steps, looking up at Gregory Peck as she eats her gelato. Movies always tend to romanticize places, but Rome still captures that old Hollywood charm. The orange buildings packed tightly up against each other and the Colosseum and Roman Forum still leave a commanding impression on each and every person who walks by. For a city with so much history it's easy to see why it's always busy. I've created your perfect Roman holiday whether you're looking for three, four, or five days in the Eternal city.
The Perfect Roman Holiday: Itinerary and Guide for 3, 4, or 5 days
Below you can find a map of all the places discussed in this post:
Planning your trip to Rome
The wonderful but overwhelming thing about Rome is that there is just so much to see and do. You could spend a full month there and still not tackle your whole to-do list. With a city as interesting as this, with so much history, I was so glad to book this trip with a company called Monograms. Monograms is the answer for travelers that want a perfectly planned trip without the stress of booking transfers. Plus, there is the added benefit of a local host on site, who gives you recommendations based on what YOU want to do. I can't stress enough how important this is. I get daily questions with so many people asking me what to see where, but the thing is, we are all different. I happen to love museums, you might not. So having a local host there who will guide you to the hidden treasures and off-the-beaten-path places as well as tell you the highlights is absolutely fantastic.
Quick tips at a glance:
Rome, Italy's capital, is generally busy throughout the year. I like to avoid summer months when it's very hot and over crowded. You'll find spring and fall have mild temperatures and sunny days.
Brush up on a few Italian phrases so you'll be ready to order or ask a question. I always find knowing a few words really helps. Please: prego, let's go: andiamo, thank you: grazie, etc.
Despite being a major city, it's surprisingly affordable. I think you can easily visit Rome on a budget, but I suggest carrying some cash (Euros) for food and attractions. A major benefit of using Monograms is that many of your attractions will be taken care of, so no need to wait in line (in fact, you'll skip it entirely!).
There is tons to see and do in Rome so I suggest 3 days minimum. I've done two trips, each lasting 5 days and I think that was the perfect time! Recently I traveled to Rome with Monograms (read exactly what it's like to book a trip with them here) and it's safe to say booking with them made the trip. As you're about to see below, there's just so much to do and see in Rome. How can you find what you like and still hit the highlights? Monograms is the answer. With a big city like Rome it's easy to get lost. Having someone to pick you up from the airport, take you to the hotel, and have a local guide offer suggestions along the way is so helpful, especially in a city like Rome.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the lovely Starhotel Metropole. What I love about this area is that you're close to the train station, but also close enough to walk to many of the highlights in Rome. It's very easy to stroll over to the Spanish Steps or Altare dell Patria (also known as the monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel – the first king of unified Italy.) The breakfast buffet is excellent and a special treat since Italians are known for a very basic breakfast. The rooms are warm and inviting and offer the perfect comforts of home.
What to do
There are two things I adore when I land in a city – free things to do and walking tours. Within one morning Rome had ticked both boxes. Rome is an awesomely strollable city, providing you have a good set of shoes and a sparkle in your eyes. Be warned, you do get sidetracked every few steps – whether to window shop or drool over the array of food choices.
Speaking of steps, we started our tour from the Spanish Steps, one of the chicest places to hang out in the city. The steps were strewn with lolling lovebirds, locals, and tourists. These steps date all the way back to the 18th century and are named so as they connect the Piazza di Spagna with the Trinita dei Monti church and the Holy See.
You might like: how to avoid lines and people while traveling. It was a treat to have almost no one on the usually crowded Spanish Steps!
Fun fact – the poet John Keats lived a stone’s throw away from the steps, I love to imagine him and wife Shelley scribbling away from their window with a view onto the sculpted Bernini Fountain below.
From the steps we wandered past one of the most famous shopping streets in Roma – Via dei Condotti where the price tags and well-dressed windows of Gucci and Armani will make your head spin.
As to be expected Rome is a kingdom of churches and the Sant'Andrea della Valle is gasp-worthy gorgeous – soaring ceilings, flooded with light, and adorned in gold leaf, and fine frescoes. The real treasures have to be the two Bernini angel statues. Apparently, the pope declared the statues too beautiful to stand outside, so Bernini’s students created replicas for the famed bridge Castel Sant’Angelo and the Bernini’s stayed tucked away inside.
The San Silvestro Church is another jaw dropping example, seriously – so much beauty in these churches its blinding. The San Silvestro is a melting pot of many different styles, but the influential touches of Michelangelo can certainly be found. Lashings of cool marble, gleaming cupolas, and chapels enriched with 17th century frescoes make for a dramatic display.
All this walking had made us hungry and when in Rome…we decided to hit the pizza and find out what all the fuss was about. Feeling spirited to honor the empire, we ordered margarita.
Rumor has it this famed pizza was named after Queen Margherita who visited Naples back in the swashbuckling 19th century. Sick of haughty French food, the queen demanded the best pizza maker in the city to come and make her a simple dish that pulled together the colors of the Italian flag. Rosy red marinara sauce, a sprig of green basil and the pale white of buffalo mozzarella – an award-winning combo.
It wouldn’t be a complete meal in Italy without finishing up with a super strong cup of coffee. Tazza d' Oro was said to boast the best coffee in Rome, so we stopped by for what we hoped was more than a humble cup of joe. We weren’t disappointed. There was something that felt so stylish standing at the 1940’s style counter sipping a hot and heady espresso on a warm autumn afternoon. My inner romantic just sighed in delight.
Our next stop was the Pantheon, a place I’d been dying to see – a relic of real ancient Rome. Built in 27 A.D (yes you read that right), the Pantheon started life as a Pagan temple dedicated to the gods. From the outside its impressive, but step inside and it blows you away. Perfect symmetry leads all the way to the coffered dome, framed by its opening to the sky, poetically called the window to another world. When the sunlight hits it just right, you get a trickling stream of gold pouring into the temple.
As the daylight started to dwindle we found ourselves just at the right time, standing in front of the Trevi Fountain. The beautiful baroque masterpiece captures Neptune in all his glory surrounded by tritons. The last rays of light, the pale stonework, and the iridescent waters, this is La Dolce Vita. Legend has it that anyone who throws a coin in the Trevi Fountain will return to Rome one day. I emptied my pockets.
Wanting to linger in the area a little longer, we bagged a table at Venchi Chocolate and Gelato. This place is like someone constructed my dreams into reality. They have a chocolate waterfall covering a whole wall, a rich and sumptuous flowing well of cocoa and milk. Not to mention hot chocolate so thick your spoon will stand up, truffles that meld your mouth shut, and first-class gelato.
I recommend heading back at night to also see the beautiful fountain lit up. Yes, it might be a bit crowded but it's worth it to head to the fountain and see it in a different perspective.
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Vatican! The glory of the Sistine Chapel, the brilliance of St Peter’s Basilica, the hope of catching a glimpse of the pope – it can be an incredible European bucket list experience.
But fellow travelers be warned, there can be endless queues and cattle herd crowds. This is not an experience to simply waltz into, but one to carefully plan and turn up armed with a ton of patience.
My number one tip is to ARRIVE EARLY! Sure, I know those lingering espresso mornings are great, but dawdle and you run the risk of getting caught in the tourist trap. Set your alarm, arrive early, buy tickets ahead of time that allow you to skip the line, keep walking and do not listen to anyone.
Don't forget to head up to the top of the dome for some commanding views of beautiful Rome. You can also have a beer at the top. I repeat: you can drink a beer on top of St. Peter's Basilica. So, we did.
Once we jostled our way inside it was like a different world. St Peter’s Basilica is just as pretty inside as it is outside. The whole place is a vision of frescoes, sculptures and art work. The soaring dome and Michelangelo’s Pieta would have been worth queuing days in the rain to see. We also bought some beautiful rosary beads.
The Vatican Museums are vast, and traffic seems to be a jostling one-way system. The Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms are always crammed to the hilts – I suggest taking a deep breath before tackling them or hitting the quieter galleries and exhibitions during peak times and heading back to see the more famous spots when it’s thinned out a bit. The highlight of the Sistine Chapel is the ceiling, so at least you don’t need to worry about trying to glance over someone’s shoulder to see it – you can just lift your head.
The Vatican experience was a little hectic on the inside. I did love standing out in the Bernini designed square, a place surrounded by marble saints. I remembered a saying about renaissance being for the brain and baroque for the heart.
We needed a beer to wash down the wondrous morning. Fortunately, there are tons of cute little spots around Vatican City where you can order a frothy glass of beer and sit out in the sun. Keen to escape the crowds, we headed to the utterly chic and romantic neighborhood of Monteverde for the afternoon.
The gorgeous architecture, secret gardens and large parks set the scene for an amazing lunch on the grass of the Villa Doria Pamhili. Rome’s biggest park is all sunshine and scented orange trees. We went to the supermarket for our usual stash of bread, cheese and cured meats.
Monteverde is also a great starting point for an afternoon stroll down the Tiber River or for heading into the cool neighborhood of Travestere with its cobbled stones, flea markets, and pint sized aperitivo shots.
At this point, my impatience finally kicked in – every step we took in Rome presented us with new wonders – but it was the Colosseum I had really been craving. The mighty arena still stands proud in what was once called the Flavian Valley. This was the home of the games, and the gladiators would live close to the arena.
The power and prowess of ancient Rome really comes to life standing beneath the towering archways. This was akin to the football arena of the old world, a place where warriors would fight bears, leopards, lions and each other for the bloody entertainment of noble masses.
You can duck in and out of the Colosseum at your own leisure, but I wanted the stories to come to life and for this reason, we decided to take a tour. The guide led us through the labyrinth – telling us tales of mighty gladiators, cruel emperors and ingenious engineers. We learned that the stone used to build the Colosseum is called Travatino stone, a limestone that comes from neighboring towns and is a great material for absorbing pollution. Pretty smart.
The tour took about 45 minutes, I’m glad we did it. Even though my imagination can run wild, it’s nice to have an actual historian whittle down the facts and paint a picture of real life in ancient Rome.
For lunch we decided to grab a picnic and head to Palatine Hill. Palatine Hill is hailed as the birthplace for Ancient Rome and holds some of the most impressive ruins. The story goes that Romulus stood upon this hill and chose it as the very spot to start a new empire. It was the home of emperors, senates, and even Caesars. From here we could gaze out onto the ruins of the Palace of Augustus, the Roman Forum, and the crumbling arches and pillars of another time.
If you don’t know the story of Romulus and Remus, legend has it they were the twin sons of Rhea and the God of War – Mars. The other gods were jealous of the happy couple and plotted to kill their babies. Rhea sent the boys floating down the river. They were found by a she-wolf who raised them as her own. When they were men, they decided to build a city, they had a contest to see who would be king and when it looked like Remus would win, Romulus got mad and killed his brother, leaving himself to be crowned king.
Picnics in Rome are far from the usual peanut butter sandwiches. Hit up any deli or local supermarket and stock up on wafer thin melt in the mouth cured meats, ripe nutty and pungent cheeses, pillowy soft focaccia, olives, and even those half-sized bottles of wine – perfect for splitting in two for a sleepy afternoon telling stories on the hill.
From the world’s first sports stadium to the world’s first museum, our next step was to soak up ancient art at The Capitoline Museum. This museum kick-started life back in 1471 after the pope of the time donated a bunch of bronze statues to the people of Rome. Pope Sixtus IV was obviously an art lover because he is the same guy who sponsored Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine chapel.
Tiptoeing through the stunning villa, we admired fragments of the Colossus of Constatine, the Hall of Tapestries with its oversized draping works of art, the glorious statue of the She-Wolf that fed Romulus and Remus, and the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. Heading into the Palazzo Nuovo the beauty didn’t stop. I could have wandered for hours through the halls of marble statues, and gazed at the 16th century ceiling dripping with gilded gold.
After a pit stop for some gelato, we decided to take a break from all the jaw dropping beauty and to seek out something a little more unusual and macabre: The Capuchin Crypts. OK, so ducking down into a church made of human bones may not be at the top of your list, but it’s kind of cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to look at a chandelier made from human skulls? The child skeleton section was a little creepy I will admit.
Back in the land of the living and I was hungry again. Eat, walk, repeat is certainly the mantra for those exploring Rome. We headed over to the charming area of Travestere for dinner.
We finished with a delicious heartwarming dinner of Gnocchi. Gnocchi is a food of the gods, not quite pasta, not quite potato – but a gloriously fluffy mix. Served with a crack of black pepper and fierce grating of snowy parmesan, this is the reason I came to Italy!
Step into the showcase of Rome, we started our day with a trip to the achingly pretty Piazza Navona. Baroque mansions flanked the cobbled square, bold fountains gushed water, and you can definitely see the market vibes that made this place the epicenter of the Italian capital for 300 years. This is such a great little spot to grab a coffee and do some people watching.
The grand master Bernini also left his mark on Piazza Navona with his majestic Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Capturing the four rivers of the Danube, Nile, Ganges and Plate in the form of muscular men, it’s a swoon-worthy piece for many reasons.
Walk over to the nick named “wedding cake” in Rome, aka, Altare dell Patria. This incredible marble temple honors Italy's first king as well as soldiers from WWI.
Next, go over to the Catacombs in the Appian Way. The Catacombs Domitilla are some of the best preserved in Rome. This is because the graves were dug in volcanic rock and there temperature is almost always the same. There are over 15 kilometers of catacombs and people could easily get lost making their way through the tunnels of tombs!
You could spend a month in Rome and probably not see all there is to see in this gorgeous city. So if you extend your trip to 4 or 5 days, here's what to do. I absolutely adored the Borghese gardens and museum. We took the bus and headed over to this lovely museum and gallery. Get a real taste of Bernini's incredible statues and also lounge in the park. Villa Borghese has some of the best Baroque art on earth and I was mesmerized by the lovely galleries.
I recommend having a guided tour at the Borghese Museum to really understand all the history. My favorites were from Caravaggio and learning about his view of art.
After perusing the museum you can head over to the small lake in the gardens for a short ride on a rowboat on the lake. If you want a bit more culture, head to the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia or the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna.
Head to St. Paul's Church to see an absolute stunning view of marble and architecture. Inside you'll find the portraits of all the previous popes.
After, you can head to Campo de' Fiori to check out the fresh fruit, veggies, and flowers. It's so fun to wander the markets and in my opinion, the best place to pick up souvenirs. We brought back delicious sun dried tomatoes and black (squid ink) pasta.
This area is also the perfect spot for lunch. Now that you've heard about what to do, let's focus on what to eat!
Where to eat
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That means consuming vast amounts of gelato, pasta, and pizza. This is the best ways to really experience the city, in my opinion. Don't worry, you'll be doing your fair share of walking to walk off (some) of the calories. Italy has some of the best cuisine with decadent cheese, breads, and wine. So don't miss out. I happen to love grabbing a slice of pizza from a restaurant.
Cooking Class – One of the highlights of my trip was the cooking class, InRome Pizza Making & Gelato class. This was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had (and it wouldn't have happened unless I traveled with Monograms). We made traditional Roman pizza, take note, each region has very different styles of pizza! And we also made choclate and vanilla gelato. It was one of the most memorable meals I had.
Gelato – the Italian version of ice-cream is so good it will make you cry. Creamy, delicious and it comes in every flavor you could ever dream up. You can even get gorgonzola gelato! One of the best places is Giolitti, so good and right outside the Pantheon.
Pizza – officially the birthplace of pizza is Napoli, but fear not – you can still find incredible pizza without heading south. The bases are soft and chewy, the toppings super fresh and simple, and the price tag pocket friendly.
Gnocchi – you may think you have tried gnocchi before but until you have tasted the fluffy potato pasta dumplings swimming in butter, you really haven’t lived.
Carciofo Alla Romana – Roman artichokes can be found on plenty of menus across the city, braised, sprinkled with herbs and soaked in lemon they are delicious as an appetizer.
Focaccia – Topped with sea salt and rosemary and dunked in extra virgin olive oil – this is a staple of Italian life. Throw in some wafer-thin salami and wedges of local cheese and you have a match made in heaven.
Boscolo Exedra – This is the perfect place to go for a beautiful view of Rome. I suggest heading there at sunset for some spectacular skies and rooftop pictures. This restaurant is also the hotel and Sofia Loren loved staying here. Now, there's a suite dedicated in her honor.
Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca – This pasta dish was whipped up in Travestere, one of the poorest (now the coolest) neighborhoods in the city. Tomatoes, salty anchovies, black olives, capers and a hint of fiery chili gives this dish quite the kick.
Espresso – this is Rome after all, it would be rude not too.
Off the beaten path
Don't forget to get lost and just walk the streets. I found some of my favorite restaurants and cafes just walking the streets, gelato in hand. There's also the “Secret Keyhole” in Aventino. This nondescript door is over on Aventine hill. When you look throught he keyhole you'll have a commanding view of St. Peter's Basilica. It's things like this that make Rome so magical.
When booking a trip to Rome I highly suggest checking out Monograms. They are truly an “untour” company. You will not only get to see everything there is in Rome, you'll have a local guide offering off the beaten path places to check out and things to do. After a few days of walking, feasting and drinking in all that art – along with a few glasses of prosecco of course, I was smitten by Rome. It’s a good thing I threw my coin into the fountain, because I am starry eyed and sure I will be returning one day.