A 2 day Rome itinerary for first-time visitors to the Eternal City

A 2 day Rome itinerary for first-time visitors to the Eternal City

Rome, nicknamed the Eternal City, is probably my favourite city in the world. It has everything you might wish for: good food, sunny weather, and culture to spare. Probably, as a classicist (and one specialised in Latin),

Rome is as close to heaven as I can get. I have been to Rome numerous times now, both during summer/winter schools and on my own. During my latest trip to Italy, however, I finally showed my parents around Rome, who had never been to Rome before. We had two days in the city, and, to be honest, I am rather proud about the 2 day Rome itinerary I devised. Hence, I will share with you our 2 day itinerary.

Day 1 of our 2 day Rome itinerary

Morning

On your first day in Rome, take metro line A to San Giovanni (if your accommodation is closer to metro line B, you can change for line A at Termini). Close to this metro station is the church San Giovanni in Laterano. Since this church is the cathedral church of Rome, it houses the cathedra (seat) of the Bishop of Rome, and is therefore a very important church. Moreover, the inside of the church is stunning. In the 17th century, renovations took place under the supervision of Borromini.

Close to the basilica are the Scala Sancta, the sacred stairs. According to the story, this is the staircase which one led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate (in Jerusalem). The stairs were sanctified because Jesus climbed these stairs. Nowadays, catholic pilgrims climb these stairs.

Next, walk to the Santo Stefano Rotondo (5th century), which is a less famous, but nevertheless a very special church. It is a round church and the oldest example of a centrally planned church in Rome. From the Santo Stefano Rotondo it is only a short walk to the San Clemente.

This church has three different layers. Firstly, you can enter the present basilica from around 1100. Secondly, below this basilica, you can find a 4th-century basilica (which used to be a Roman villa). In its basement you can find a mithraeum (a sanctuary for the god Mithras). Thirdly, Below this house, you can find the foundations of a republican era villa, which had been destroyed in 64 AD by a great fire. For 10 euros, you can explore the lower basilica and the mithraeum as well. I would recommend visiting the lower levels, as it’s very special.

When are we visiting the Colosseum?

By now, you’ll have seen the Colosseum a few times in the distance and you’re probably dying to go up close. Well, the time has finally come. Head into the park next to the San Clemente and walk to the Colosseum. If you’re short on time, I would advise against going inside the Colosseum, since I think the outside is more impressive than the inside. Moreover, the line is often very long.

Next to the Colosseum you can find the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Forum. You can buy a combined ticket for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum (which also includes the Palatine). You can easily spend a few hours exploring these archaeological excavations. However, if you only have two days you can also decide to admire the Roman Forum from above (see below).

Go to the other side of the Colosseum again and walk over the Via dei Fori Imperiali, built by order of the Fascist dictator Mussolini. You’ll see the ruins of the Imperial Forums, a series of monuments constructed between 46 BC and 113 AD. At the end of this lane, you’ll find the Column of Trajan. On your left, the Altare della Patria can be found. Surely, you can’t miss this building of white marble. (To be fair, I think it one of the ugliest buildings in Rome.)

Afternoon

Go to the Capitoline hill. Its square (Piazza del Campidoglio) has been designed by Michelangelo. The statue in the middle of the square is a copy of a bronze statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius. You can find the original in the Capitoline museums, which you can find on this hill as well. Possibly, this museum is my favourite in Rome, so if you’ve time to spare, make sure to visit the Capitoline museums. Head to the Via di San Pietro in Carcere. From here, you’ll have some amazing views over the Roman Forum. Next to the Capitoline hill, you can visit the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli. Striking in this church is the fact that the columns used for this church are Roman columns. All are different, because they were taken from various ancient Roman monuments.

Head back to the Altare della Patria and go to the Via del Corso, an absolutely straight street running from the Altare della Patria to the Piazza del Populo. Take right into the Via dei Condotti to the Spanish Steps. Take some time to admire the fountain and the stairs. Then, go to the Piazza del Popolo. You can climb the balcony, which has some lovely views over Rome. If you’ve climbed to the balcony, you’ve entered the Villa Borghese park. This is the perfect time to relax for a bit. At the other side of the park, the Galleria Borghesecan be found. In this villa, you can admire several famous statues by Bernini (booking tickets in advance is advised).

Evening

In the evening, head over to Trastevere, one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Rome. The best way to get here is by bus. Trastevere is the perfect place to have dinner. The food is not very expensive and the ambiance is great. Make sure to visit the visit the Piazza di Santa Maria and the outside of the basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere (the church is likely closed when you visit in the evening).

Day 2 of our 2 day Rome itinerary

Morning

On day 2 of your 2 day itinerary the time has come to visit the Vatican. First, take metro line A to Ottaviano and visit the Saint Peter’s Basilica. If you want to go to the Vatican museums and you haven’t booked a ticket in advance, it’s best to return at the end of the day as the line will be shorter by then.

After the Saint Peter, head to the Via della Conciliazione and walk to the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was built as mausoleum for emperor Hadrian. Next, cross the Ponte Sant’Angelo, designed by Bernini. Walk along the Tiber and go to the Ponte Umberto I, from where you’ll have a spectacular view of the Saint Peter.

Continue along the Tiber to the Ara Pacis, commissioned by the Senate in 13 BC in honour of the Roman emperor Augustus. It’s one of the most beautiful Roman monuments you can find in Rome. Furthermore, you can find the Mausoleum of Augustus next to the altar.

Afternoon

From the Mausoleum of Augustus, head south to the Piazza Navona and perhaps have lunch here. It’s a very lively square (but also very touristy). Enjoy the street artists of the Piazza, admire the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (by Bernini), and visit the church Sant’Agnese in Agone.

Next, go to the Largo di Argentia and the theatre of Pompey. This is the area where Julius Caesar was killed in 44 BC. Sadly, you can’t see (the ruins of) the theatre anymore. However, you can still obverse that the layout of the houses is in the same shape as the Roman theatre. It’s an area in Rome that is less crowded with tourists, but certainly worth a visit on a 2 day Rome itinerary. Additionally, I would recommend making a detour to the Campo de’ Fiori, a lively square where often a market is taking place.

Cross the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and go back in the northern direction again. The next must see on your 2 day Rome itinerary is the Pantheon. The Romans built this in the 2nd century AD as a Roman temple. However, it was converted into a church later. The dome is very special: it’s the largest “unreinforced concrete dome” in the world. It’s amazing that the Romans could built this almost 2000 years ago! Also, you must make sure to visit the tomb of the painter Raphael, who is buried here.

Finally visiting the Trevi Fountain

At last, a 2 day Rome itinerary is of course not complete without visiting the Trevi Fountain. If you take follow the signs, you’ll find yourself in some of Rome’s lovely narrow streets with restaurants and several shops selling souvenirs. More importantly, you’ll end up at the Trevi Fountain, the most beautiful fountain in Rome. If you drop a coin in the fountain, you’ll return to Rome.

After you’ve admired the fountain, head back to the Vatican if you want to visit the Vatican Museums. Another option is to visit the Galleria Borghese. However, as I have noted above, I would recommend booking your tickets in advance for the Galleria Borghese.

Evening

Lastly, I would recommend ending your 2 day Rome itinerary with dinner in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome and enjoying the lively ambiance of this quarter.

Day trips from Rome

Although you can easily spend days or weeks in Rome itself, you might want to escape the city as well. For example, Ostia Antica and Tivoli are close to the city and make perfect day trips. Moreover, a little further from Rome to the north you can find Cerveteri, a very well-preserved Etruscan necropolis. South of Rome, you can visit Naples and the famous ruins of Pompeii.

Tip: you can easily separate this 2 day Rome itinerary into two parts and include a day trip from Rome in between 2 days in Rome.