How To Spend 36 Hours In Rome

 

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.” – Giotto di Bondone

Rome is at once frozen in time and ever changing. The city is ancient yet no two visits to the Eternal City are the same. Your perspective on a work of art changes with a second viewing. You get lost and discover a charming neighborhood that wasn't in the guidebook. Food tastes different in the fall than in the spring. You turn a corner at sunset and suddenly see the Colosseum in a whole new light. Whether it’s your first visit or your fifteenth, Rome is always full of surprises.


The Colosseum lit up at night.

Rome makes an excellent embarkation or debarkation port, and many cruisers choose to extend their stay. To help you make the most of your time in Rome, we’ve created two 36-hour itineraries – one for first-timers and one for those already familiar with the city's highlights.

36 Hours In Rome: For the First Time

Day One: Morning

If it’s your first time in Rome, you probably want to see the Colosseum. Check it off your list first! History buffs should allow several hours for exploring the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. If you prefer to explore at your own pace rather than on a guided tour, consider downloading an audio guide before you leave home.

Begin at Palatine Hill. This is the most famous of Rome’s storied Seven Hills and boasts ruins of palaces, homes of the wealthy, and a stadium. Next up, the iconic Roman Colosseum! It’s only a five-minute walk from Palatine Hill. The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built and dates back to 70-80 AD. Take your time here and try to imagine gladiators battling it out in front of 80,000 spectators.


A fish-eye view of the Colosseum.

Grab a quick sandwich before visiting the Roman Forum. The restaurants and cafes near the Colosseum tend to be overpriced and touristy, so keep it simple. The Roman Forum is a 15-minute walk from the Colosseum. This was ancient Rome’s main square and is surrounded by the ruins of many important buildings.


Ruins at the Roman Forum.

Day One: Afternoon

From the Roman Forum, walk or take a taxi to Piazza Navona for your next must-do activity: people-watching. Piazza Navona is known for its three ornate fountains, baroque architecture, and bustling atmosphere. Grab a gelato and sit on a bench, or find an enoteca on a side street for a glass of wine.  


Piazza Navona.

Rome is large, yet easy to explore on foot. Beginning at Piazza Navona, it will only take an hour or two to walk a loop that includes three of Rome’s most famous landmarks. Take your time along the way to soak up the ambiance, appreciate the architecture and take some detours. Sometimes the best way to see Rome is to get lost.

The Pantheon is Rome’s best-preserved ancient monument. The temple as we know it was built on the site of an earlier structure by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD. It’s famous for its giant domed roof and oculus (the hole at the top).


The Pantheon.

 The Trevi Fountain is the most famous of Rome’s many fountains and is looking better than ever after a recent restoration project. Throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain to ensure a return trip to the Eternal City.


The Trevi Fountain.

The Spanish Steps connect Piazza di Spagna at the bottom and Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top. The Spanish Steps were made famous in the film Roman Holiday and are an iconic Rome landmark. See the recently restored Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat) in Piazza di Spagna before climbing the 135 steps to look out onto Via della Fontanella di Borghese. Countless high-end fashion boutiques line this trendy street. From the top of the stairs, you can spot the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance.


The Spanish Steps.

Day One: Evening

Italians enjoy long, late dinners, so there’s plenty of time to relax and refresh before dinner. Avoid restaurants right on piazzas, as they tend to be overpriced and touristy. Look for small, family-run restaurants that have menus written in Italian, and do not have photos of the food. Order some cacio e pepe, which means “cheese and pepper” – Rome is famous for it.

Day Two: Morning

On your second day in Rome, visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. It is wise to reserve your visit to the Museums in advance if you’re not visiting as part of a tour. Take your time in both places, stopping for a quick lunch in between. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums can take up most of your day.


Outside St. Peter's Basilica.

Expect lines to enter St. Peter’s Basilica and dress modestly. The basilica is the world’s largest church at over 18,000 square yards. The art and architecture will take your breath away and you’ll want to spend a couple hours appreciating it.


Inside St. Peter's Basilica.


Looking up at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

There are 54 galleries, or sale, in the Vatican Museums. Do your research ahead of time to ensure you don’t miss anything you really want to see. The final sale is the Sistine Chapel, so plan to spend a little longer there.

Day Two: Evening

After your day in Vatican City, walk or take a taxi to Trastevere. The walk along the Tiber River will take around an hour. If you’re up for it, take a detour and explore the Passeggiata del Giancolo. This walk along Giancolo Hill is lined with busts of famous Italian patriots and the panoramas of the city skyline can’t be beat.


The view from Giancolo Hill.

Spend your final evening exploring the narrow, winding, restaurant-lined streets of Trastevere, Rome’s foodie paradise. This neighborhood is known for its thriving nightlife, great food, and craft beer. After a busy day and a half of sightseeing, Trastevere is the perfect place to just get lost. Wander the narrow, winding streets and relax.


Trastevere, Rome.

36 Hours In Rome: Off The Beaten Track

The best thing about visiting Rome for the second or twenty-second time is that you can slow down. There’s no need to rush and check items off your bucket list, because you’ve already done that. You can also explore some of the lesser-known areas of the Eternal City.

Day One: Morning

Begin your day by exploring Rome’s Testaccio neighborhood. This neighborhood is often overlooked in favor of the trendier Trastevere, but Testaccio is where you’ll find authentic, everyday Rome. It’s where Roman foodies go for a good meal and is the perfect place to settle in for a great lunch.

Day One: Afternoon

After lunch in Testaccio, head to Quartiere Coppedè, a small neighborhood known as the “fantasy district” of Rome. The Florentine architect Gino Coppedè designed and built this whimsical part of Rome from 1913 to 1926. That’s positively modern by Roman standards! It mixes Art Nouveau, medieval and Baroque architectural styles, among other influences. Quartiere Coppedè won’t take long to explore. From there, move on to the Villa Borghese Gardens, a fifteen-minute walk away. Villa Borghese is only the third-largest park in Rome, but it covers a sweeping 148 acres. For tourists and residents, it offers a tranquil, lush escape from the chaotic streets of Rome. There’s plenty to see within Villa Borghese including a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, several fountains and three museums.

Galleria Borghese requires an advance reservation but is well worth the time. The gallery limits visitors to 360 every two hours, so you won’t have to battle crowds to get a good look at this astonishing private art collection. Perhaps its most famous piece is Bernini’s Apollo e Dafne – a work of art so startlingly beautiful and detailed that it alone is worth the price of admission.

 
Apollo and Daphne.

Day One: Evening

After you’ve enjoyed Galleria Borghese, walk through the rest of the park. At the opposite end of the gallery, you’ll come across a fantastic view of Piazza del Popolo. If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive just in time for sunset. Take some time to appreciate the piazza’s obelisk, fountains and surrounding churches before dinner.


View of Piazza del Popolo from Villa Borghese.

Day Two: Morning

Spend the morning in Aventine Hill, a quiet residential neighborhood along the Tiber River. This is one of the legendary “Seven Hills of Rome”, offers gorgeous views of the city below, and features several points of interest along a short walking route.

Start at Aventine Hill’s famous “keyhole view”. The Knights of Malta building’s keyhole perfectly frames a view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.


The Knights of Malta Keyhole on Aventine Hill.

From there, enjoy a leisurely stroll to Giardino degli Aranci, an orange garden more commonly known as Parco Savello. The skyline views are as pleasant as the aroma of oranges. In fact, the garden that is so photogenic and romantic that it’s a popular spot for wedding photos. 

A nearby rose garden offers views of the Palatine, and the remains of the famous stadium Circus Maximus are in the area as well. Walk a few more minutes and you'll arrive at Piazza Bocca della Verità, home to the “Mouth of Truth”. Sound familiar? This landmark, also known as the “Roman Lie Detector”, was made famous in the classic film Roman Holiday. Legend has it that if a person tells a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture it will be bitten off.


Rome's famous "Mouth of Truth".

Day Two: Afternoon

Rome’s Jewish Quarter is a ten-minute walk from Piazza Bocca della Verità, and the perfect place to find lunch. This historic neighborhood is off the beaten track for tourists but popular with locals who flock to restaurants along the narrow streets for cucina ebraica romana (Roman Jewish Cuisine).

The cuisine’s most famous dish is carciofo alla giudia, or crispy fried artichokes. (Alla giudia simply means “Jewish-style”.) Pizza Ebraica is another must-try. Unlike traditional pizza, this sweet dessert is made with almonds, raisins, pine nuts and cinnamon. Fried cod, zucchini flowers, and kosher cakes are also popular.

Many of the dishes you’ll find today originated as long ago as the 1500s, when the neighborhood was an enclosed ghetto and Rome’s minority Jewish population was oppressed. The history of the Roman Ghetto is a grim but important part of the city’s legacy. Explore the heritage and traditions of this culture by visiting the Great Synagogue of Rome and attached Jewish Museum of Rome. 

Other landmarks include Teatro Marcello, an ancient theater known as the Jewish Coliseum, and Portico di Ottavia, a crumbling archway that dates back to 146 BC.


Portico di Ottavia in Rome's Jewish Quarter.

Day Two: Evening

If you’re in the mood to continue strolling, Campo de’ Fiora and Palazzo Farnese are only a ten-minute walk from the Jewish Quarter. The streets between Campo de’ Fiora and Piazza Navona are packed with fantastic restaurants to choose among.

Now that you have two great itineraries for Rome, all that’s left is to book a voyage that takes you there! We recommend these itineraries, which either embark or debark from Rome’s port, Civitavecchia. Time to experience la dolce vita!

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