Rome in a day: perfect self-guided tour for first-time travelers

Even if you’ve planned to visit a city as rich in history and art as Rome in a day, don’t be discouraged. Twenty-four hours is enough to embark on an unforgettable itinerary through the historic center of Rome, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, touching many of the city’s most spectacular monuments. I was born and raised in Rome and now live outside the city, but as soon as I can, I leave the Roman countryside to walk again among ancient churches, squares, bridges, and fountains, to spend one more exciting day in Rome.

In this article you will find a lot of information that will be useful if you are visiting Rome for the first time, to not feel awkward at the entrance of the stores and monuments, and to fully enjoy the wonders that you have around without having to worry about planning too much.

The route that I propose is about 5 km long and should be undertaken on foot, or by bicycle or segway, but remember that in many parts of the historic center of Rome private cars can circulate, so if you do not feel safe in heavy traffic, it is better to walk.
You will start walking from the Piazza del Popolo metro station and end up at the Cavour metro station.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO FACE THE TOUR OF ROME IN A DAY?

  • Very comfortable shoes, such as sneakers or sport sandals.
  • Everything you need to protect yourself from the sun and rain, such as a hat or umbrella.
  • A camera, or a phone with a good camera, because you will be taking hundreds of pictures.
  • A selfie stick
  • Water to drink while walking
  • Multivitamin supplements, especially if you’re traveling in the summer
  • Have a good breakfast before you start walking. Along the way, I’ll suggest places to sample Roman street food, such as gelato and pizza by the slice, and also where to stop for dinner.

HOW TO SEE THE BEST OF ROME IN A DAY – ITINERARY

1 Start

We start from the metro station Flaminio – Piazza del Popolo, line A

best pizza in rome
Rome’s typical pizza al taglio

2 The first appointment is with street food

Before passing under the arches of the Porta Flaminia to access one of the most beautiful squares in the world, if you’re a little hungry, you can go to Mondo Arancina, on Via Flaminia 42. The store prepares tasty and crispy Roman pizza by the slice, with a variety of toppings. Pizza by the slice is charged by weight. You tell the saleswoman what kind of pizza you want and how big, she will do her best to understand you, then weigh it in front of you and ask if you want to eat it right away or take it away.
This store also prepares Sicilian arancini, which have a filling of rice, meat/vegetables, they are very nutritious and fill enough even the most craving.

Piazza Del Popolo, Rome, Italy
Fountain and church in Piazza del Popolo, Rome

3 People’s Square – Piazza del Popolo

It’s time to admire the square from which you access Rome’s historic center from the north. The entrance is triumphant, with the massive three-arched marble monument intersecting the Aurelian Walls, which ran in Imperial Rome around the entire historic center.
Piazza del Popolo itself is rich in monuments, I have described them in my article on Piazza del Popolo:

  • The Egyptian Obelisk at the center of the Fountain of Lions
  • The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo where you can admire two paintings by Caravaggio for free
  • The Twin Churches

The current arrangement of the square is the work of the Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier, at the beginning of the 18th century.
From behind the Twin Churches branch off three streets that lead straight to the heart of the historic center. Take the one on the left, Via del Babuino, to reach another of Rome’s iconic sites.

rome bucket list
The Spanish Steps and the Church Trinità dei Monti
Barcaccia Fountain Piazza di Spagna Rome landmark
Fountain of the Barcaccia at the Spanish Steps | Rome landmarks

4 Piazza di Spagna – Spanish Steps

The square has inherited this name because of the presence of the building of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. There are many elements connected to the papacy in this square. Let’s not forget that the popes, for many centuries, belonged to the noblest and richest families in Rome, and were the main commissioners of works of art.
But the most fascinating elements of this square are the fountain and the staircase. The Fountain of the Barcaccia, literally a “derelict boat”, actually recalls the boats that landed at the nearby port on the River Tiber carrying wine. This is a work by Pietro Bernini, father of the more famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, author of many other sculptures in Rome, which we will see later. It seems that the boat is about to sink: this was a stratagem to exploit the fact that in that spot the water coming from the Virgin Aqueduct had low pressure.
The monumental staircase known as Spanish Steps was built at the beginning of the 18th century by Francesco de Sanctis to connect the Pincio hill, where the 16th century (but in Gothic style) church of Trinità dei Monti, stood, to the square with the fountain.
The Church of Trinità dei Monti had replaced the sumptuous Roman villa of Lucullo. The King of France bought the land to buid a residency for Franciscan monks. Inside the church, the most famous work is a portrait of the Virgin in a pink dress.

TIP: Reach the top of the stairs to have a unique perspective of the piazza and the pedestrian alley in front of it, Via Condotti.

5 Shall you stop here and shop?

From Piazza di Spagna starts Via dei Condotti, a pedestrian street full of boutiques of big brands. The street then intersects Via Del Corso, also full of stores, one of the commercial hearts of Rome. Of course, if you have only one day to spend in Rome, it will be difficult to find time to devote seriously to shopping, so I suggest you reconsider and continue the tour among the historic landmarks of the city

trevi fountain rome
The Trevi Fountain in Rome | Rome monuments

6 The Trevi Fountain

Here is one of the best-known monuments in Rome. The scenographic success of the fountain owes much to the fact that it is located in a relatively narrow square, compared to the size of the fountain. The fountain focuses on itself all the attention of the piazza.
In the past, the square was even smaller. Bernini enlarged it by knocking down some dwellings in the 17th century. That was the period when the pope decided to replace the basin that collected the waters of the Virgin Aqueduct with a monumental fountain. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa when he was a collaborator of Emperor Octavian Augustus, had brought the water to Rome in 19 BC.
The project of the monumental fountain as we see it today is by Bernini, but it was completed in 1762, roughly a century after Bernini’s death, under Pope Clement XII, mentioned in the inscription above the fountain.
Also Nicola Salvi and Giuseppe Pannini collaborated in the realization of the fountain, while the whole group of statues is the work of Pietro Bracci.
In the center of the central niche, stands Ocean making its way through pulled by two horses that symbolize the two aspects of the sea, one placid and the other agitated. In the side niches, two statues represent the Abundance and the maiden who indicated to Roman soldiers where the spring flowed.

TIP:
You’ll see a lot of tourists buying gelato at the shop in front of the fountain, don’t! No local buys gelato there, in fact, it’s very expensive… Just in the next stop, I’ll point you to a secret gelato shop where you can enjoy a delicious gelato.

The Pantheon, Rome in a day
The Pantheon | Must see in Rome in a day

7 The Pantheon

While foreign travelers quiver to finally be in front of the Colosseum, the Pantheon is the most beloved monument of the locals, and also the best preserved. Today’s structure was built in the early years of Hadrian‘s empire, between 118 and 125 AD on an older, rectangular temple built by Marcus Agrippa, as mentioned in the inscription on the frieze.
The only inner hall of the building is accessed through a large portico with 18 monolithic columns. In the cylindrical hall, the proportions are perfect: from the floor to the top of the dome there is the same measure of diameter, so the hall could perfectly fit a sphere.

The most fascinating element is the dome, of impressive size for that time, considering that the weight is all downloaded on the cylindrical walls. The dome was made in a hollow cast and then filled with different types of building materials: light pumice at the top, while travertine marble, tuff, and heavier materials alternate towards the more solid base of the dome.
The numerous niches that open towards the center of the room must have housed statues of deities, as recalled by the Greek name of the building (pan-theon, or “all the gods“) that was dedicated to all the gods.
In the Pantheon are buried illustrious personages such as the painter Raffaello Sanzio and the kings of Italy Vittorio Emanuele 2 and Umberto 1. The building was converted into a Christian church in the 17th century.

8 Have gelato near the Pantheon

It’s time for a well-deserved break and to refresh yourself with authentic gelato. Head to Buccianti Gelateria Artigianale on Via Giustiniani 18A, just a short walk from the Pantheon.
If you want to eat something more substantial and savory, try Lost Food Factory, where you can choose from a menu of over 40 sandwiches made with fresh ingredients.

Capitoline Hill Rome monuments
The statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill

9 Piazza Venezia – Altar of the Fatherland – Capitoline Hill

From the Pantheon walk towards Piazza Venezia. This large square is crisscrossed by cars and buses and surrounded by large buildings, some of which, such as the Assicurazioni Generali, were built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, taking the place of much older structures.
The massive, bright white marbled monument to Victor Emanuel 2, also called Altar of the Fatherland, Vittoriano, or jokingly by the locals “typewriter” is from the same period, therefore much more recent than many other monuments you’ll meet in Rome. The Altar of the Fatherland was built to celebrate the king who had achieved the unification of Italy. Today one part of it houses exhibitions, while the side elevators (€10), lead to a terrace where you can enjoy a wide view of Rome, especially of the nearby Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Much more ancient is the so-called Capitolium, one of the mythical seven hills on which Rome was built, and this is certainly one of the first to be inhabited. Tradition has it that here was founded a village by Saturn himself. At the foot of the hill were found ceramics dating back to the 14th century BC. The hill hosted the first temples to the Roman gods.
The current arrangement of the beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio, which is accessed via a staircase guarded by two statues of lions in Egyptian style is the work of Michelangelo Buonarruoti in the first part of the 16th century. From the square, you can access the Capitoline Museums, the oldest public museum in the world (1471).
The oldest building in the square is instead the Tabularium, opposite the entrance staircase, which since 78 AD has housed the public archives of the Romans, in particular, the decrees and laws engraved on the bronze “tabulae”.
In the center of the square, stands the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, an example of an “enlightened” emperor.

TIP1: Walk around the Tabularium building to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Roman Forum.
TIP2: Stop for a coffee at Caffé Terrazza Caffarelli, one of the most beautiful cafes in Rome, which is accessed through a side door of the Capitoline Museums building (no need to pay the museum entrance fee). From the Caffarelli Terrace, you can admire the rooftops of Rome without standing in a line!

The Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
The Roman Forum

10 The Roman Forum and the Imperial Forum

The last leg of our one-day itinerary in Rome starts from Piazza Venezia and proceeds to Via dei Fori Imperiali. Here you will experience one of the most exciting moments of the tour. Via dei Fori Imperiali is an elevated street with access limited to pedestrians and bicycles that offers a unique view of both the Roman Forum and the Imperial Forum, the two hearts of ancient Rome, where the public life of the Romans took place. Given the antiquity of the sites, the buildings are mostly reduced to ruins. To get to know the Roman Forum in more detail, you should use a guide, or join an organized tour of the Roman Forum. The visit takes at least a couple of hours, I do not recommend it if you have decided to spend only 24 hours in Rome.
Instead, I suggest you enjoy as much as you can the view of the Forums from Via dei Fori Imperiali, and especially enjoy the view of the Colosseum standing at the end of the street!

colosseum rome italy
Inside the Colosseum | Rome monuments and landmarks

11 Colosseum

Here’s the icing on the cake for this walking tour of Rome’s historic center. Your feet may hurt, but the satisfaction will be so great, which is why I left the Colosseum, one of Italy’s most important landmarks, as the last stop.
The first thing to do here is to walk all around the Colosseum and notice the different styles that follow one another, traces of interventions at different times.
The construction of the monument began under Vespasian, in about 70 AD. The place chosen was where the artificial lake of Nero‘s sumptuous residence was located. In this way, it was possible to save on excavating the foundations.
The Colosseum was conceived as a structure where everyone, including the people in the lower social classes, could attend the games for free. The stands and entrances were divided by caste, the seats of the nobles were reserved.
Until the reign of Domitian, were practiced in the Colosseum also naval battles, then the gladiatorial fights and hunts wild animals took were predominant. For the construction, 100,000 cubic meters of travertine and 300 tons of iron were used.
If you want to visit the majestic interior, remember to reserve your tickets in advance on the Coopculture website and to be at the entrance at least 20 minutes before visiting hours.
After seeing what you thought was the highlight of your visit to Rome, allow yourself some time to relax and to eat delicious local food.

monti rome neighborhood
Monti, Rome: Piazza della Madonna dei Monti

12 Dinner in the quaint Monti Neighborhood

Just minutes from the Colosseum is one of Rome’s prettiest districts, the Monti district. Life in Monti centersa around Piazza della Madonna di Monti, along Via Urbana and around Piazza degli Zingari. These places is all worth exploring if you have the energy. Here you will find all the street food you want: gelato, pizza, crepes, rosette, and much more. But also pubs, wine bars, second-hand clothing stores, and an essay cinema.
You can find out more in my article on the Monti Neighborhood.
For a complete meal, I recommend
Aromaticus | Excellent quality vegetarian and vegan dishes in an aromatic plant and seeds store that is also a cozy and friendly restaurant. | Address: Via Urbana 134
La Mucca Birichina | Pizza and typical Roman dishes at a fair price | Address: Via Urbana 12

END OF THE TOUR OF ROME IN 24 HOURS…

I know that you are already dreaming of your next trip to Rome. Maybe next time try to stay at least 2, 3, or 4 days, although there are so many things to see that even a whole week would not be enough.
Now all you have to do is say goodbye to this incredible city and return to your hotel, station, or airport.
From Monti, you can take the Metro Line B at Cavour Station.

Let me know if you enjoyed this self-guided walking tour of Rome in a day!

 

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1 thought on “Rome in a day: perfect self-guided tour for first-time travelers”

  1. Rome is high on my list of places to visit once we can resume international travel. I visited as a teenager and you have highlighted several of the places I experienced. The city’s history and character, which you capture so enthusiastically, are the chief reasons I want to return.

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