Rome is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. The city rich in history and architecture lures travelers and history buffs from all over the world. The beautiful capital of Italy has been home to civilizations for thousands of years. The city is glorious with its remarkable history and architecture even to this day true to the belief of ancient Romans that Rome would be indelible and who aptly nicknamed Rome as the ‘Eternal City’.
One day in Rome is not enough to explore and experience the grandeur of the city. But if you are planning to do Rome in a day you can always start with the top must-visit Rome attractions and then squeeze in some more sights if time permits.
Getting Around in Rome
There is a very good frequency of buses and metros connecting every part of Rome including the Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica. When we visited we took a bus to Vatican City in the morning and walked all the way back to the Colosseum exploring other Rome attractions like Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon on the way. Some of the squares are traffic free areas and if you want to explore them you need to explore on foot.
Top Places to Visit in Rome in One Day
You cannot complete your Rome trip without visiting the greatest treasure trove of art at the Vatican museums and the magnificent St Peter’s Basilica. Vatican City the smallest country in the world is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and the home of Pope from 14th-century. Between From 1309 and 1377 popes resided in the city of Avignon in France. Visiting Vatican City would be your chance to cross out one more country from your bucket list.
How to Reach Vatican City?
So start your day with a visit to the Vatican City. There is a good frequency of buses and metro connecting Rome with the Vatican City. When we visited we boarded a bus from the Piazza Venezia a prominent square 10 minutes walk from the Colosseum. The bus stops at both St Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museums. If you visiting by metro get down at Ottaviano-San Pietro station on Metro Line A which is nearest to St Peter’s Square and Cipro-Musei Vaticani which is close to the Vatican Museums.
Visiting the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are huge with numerous galleries and then there is so much information to know about the exhibits in the museum. It may not be feasible to do it all on your own. Even for a history buff who loves exploring history and architecture it may not practical to go through each and every section of the Vatican Museums.
The best option would be to book a guided tour who would walk you through the important parts of the museums depending on your interest. The guided tours are a great source of information and following the guide, you will be able to explore much more than you would have done on your own.
If you are not planning to go for a guided tour that it is highly recommended you book your tickets to the Vatican Museums online. We visited the museums early morning just around the opening time and there was still a very long queue. You get a direct entry into the museum by presenting the online reservation copy. Once in the museum, you need to collect your printed tickets and audio guides and start your tour of the magnificent museum collection.
Following are some of our favorite sections in the museums and we suggest you do not miss these galleries and museums on your tour of the Vatican Museums.
The Pio Clementino Museum has a wonderful collection of classical sculptures and artwork of Greek and Roman. Not to miss is the large Red Round Room with a magnificent dome. The room displays numerous sculptures and a beautiful floor mosaic work.
While the Raphael Rooms displays remarkable frescoes painted by Raphael, the Gallery of Tapestries displays 15th and 17th-centuries Flemish tapestries. One of the most interesting parts in the Gallery of the Tapestries is tapestry ‘Resurrection of Christ’ when you look carefully you have a feeling that Jesus’ eyes are following you as you walk through the room.
The other important sections are the Gallery of Maps which displays 40 painted topographical maps of Italy and the Gregorian Egyptian Museum which exhibits Roman Egypt antiquities.
The Courtyard of the Pinecone is a square dominated by a large bronze sphere named ‘Sphere within Sphere’ and a bronze pine cone and is surrounded by important Vatican buildings.
The final and the most captivating section in the museums – the grandeur Sistine Chapel. The walls and ceilings of the room are decorated with magnificent frescoes. The Last Judgment by Michelangelo is truly an excellent work of art.
Taking pictures inside the Sistine Chapel is not allowed so you will have to see it yourself when you visit the Vatican Museums.
As we walked towards the exit we walked through several other rooms displaying Christian antiquities and terracotta items and finally through the iconic Bramante Staircase which is a double spiral staircase with wonderful artwork on the balustrade.
The Vatican Garden are the private urban gardens of the Vatican and cover more than half of the country. The garden has several buildings and is decorated with sculptures and fountains. The gardens can be explored on guided tours. With only one day in Rome you may have to skip the Vatican Gardens and head next to the St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The entrance to the St. Peter’s Basilica is free but still, you will see a very long queue waiting to go through the security and enter the church. The best option to skip the queue is again to join one of the guided tours.
The largest church in the world St. Peter’s Basilica is an excellent example of Italian Renaissance. The interior of the church holds some of the exemplary works of baroque art, paintings, and monuments. The most famous artworks in the St. Peter’s Basilica is the Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s Baldachin. You can rent an audio guide at the entrance which will give you interesting historical details of the basilica or the best as already discussed join a guided tour for great insight into the church and its rich artwork.
Also recommended on your visit to the basilica is to climb up the dome which is accessible with an entrance fee. There is an option to reach the dome either by the stairs or elevator. The gallery at the top of the dome offers an impressive view of the interior of the basilica and the panorama of the St Peter’s Square and the city of Rome beyond.
Here are some tips on saving your time when visiting the Vatican Museums and the St Peter’s Basilica when you have only one day in Rome. The Peter’s Basilica opens at 7 AM and the entrance to the dome at 8 AM so you can finish visiting Peter’s Basilica early morning when there is hardly any crowd and then head to the Vatican Museums. Or if you cannot start early then try visiting the St.Peter’s Basilica late afternoon when the crowd is less. In any case, joining a guided tour will help you skip the queue and walk you through the exhibits with loads of information.
St. Peter’s Square
On your visit to the St. Peter’s Basilica you cannot miss this grandeur St. Peter ’s Square with an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the center flanked by two 17th century granite fountains. The square is embraced by two large colonnades with a total of 284 columns and 140 statues of saints on the top.
Note: If you are visiting on a Wednesday there is a Papal General Audiences held in the morning which lasts for a couple of hours. And on Sundays Pope gives a short speech and blessing to the crowd. Both the events take place in the St. Peter ’s Square.
For the second half of your day in Rome, you can explore the Colosseum and the Ancient Rome. There is a good frequency of buses and metros to reach Colosseum from St Peter’s Basilica which will take you around 30 minutes.
Since we have only one day in Rome and we would want to cover as much as possible we suggest you walk all the way from St Peter’s Basilica to Colosseum which will take you around an hour without breaks just stops for pictures. In that way, you will visit more Rome attractions. Squares and fountains are amongst the top Rome Attractions and which exude a historical charm. In fact, Rome boasts of over fifty fountains some of which can be explored if you choose to walk from Vatican City to Colosseum in Rome.
Below are the Rome attractions you can cover if you choose to walk to the Colosseum.
From St Peter’s Square walk straight towards the Castel Sant’Angelo set on the banks of the Tiber River. Castel Sant’Angelo also known as the Hadrian Mausoleum was built as a mausoleum and later used as a fortress. The castle has a museum exhibiting Renaissance collection consisting of frescoes and armory collection spread over the five floors. Do not miss a visit to the castle terrace for wonderful views over the city and the Tiber River.
When we visited there were some locals dressed as gladiators entertaining the passerby. We had a lot of fun posing for the pictures with them. It is definitely one of the fun things to do in Rome.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is connected to the city center of Rome by the gorgeous Ponte St. Angelo bridge. The bridge was built by Emperor Hadrian in 134 AD and is decorated with 10 marble sculptures of angels.
Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. The square stands on the site of the Stadium of Domitian dating from the 1st century AD. During the ancient times, the square was a popular venue for games and theatrical events. It was also the location of the city market during the 15th-century which was later moved to Campo De’ Fiori is another square south of Piazza Navona. You can visit the market if you are here in the morning and explore its fish market and other stalls selling fresh vegetables, flowers, and fruits.
Piazza Navona Square has three magnificent fountains – the Fountain of the Moor, the Fountain of Neptune and the 17th-century Baroque Fountain of Four Rivers at the center of the square. The Fountain of Four Rivers or the Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi is Bernini’s masterpiece and one of the most popular fountains in Rome.
The square is surrounded by quaint cafes and restaurant and lively with numerous musicians and street performers. There are some important buildings around the square including the 17th-century Baroque church Sant’ Agnese in Agone Church, the Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore church and the Palazzo Braschi which is a museum on the history of Rome.
The Trevi Fountain or the Fontana di Trevi is one of the largest baroque fountains in the world. The fountain features Triton guiding the shell-shaped chariot drawn by sea horses. The Palazzo Poli with a triumphal arch and Corinthian pilasters act as a backdrop for the grandiose fountain. Interestingly the fountain has served as aqueduct serving water to the Roman baths during the ancient times.
A popular belief is that one who throws a coin into the fountain with a wish to return to the city is always fulfilled. The tradition dates back to the ancient times when the travelers/sailors threw coins into the fountain for safe journeys.
Trevi Fountain is one of the top landmarks in Rome which you cannot miss on your Rome trip.
Next on your list should be a list to the 2,000-year-old Pantheon which is a former Roman temple. The Pantheon has an exemplary Roman architecture with a portico supported by Corinthian columns leading into an ornate interior where you can see the worlds largest unsupported dome. Interestingly the dome is said to be the most imitated structure of all ancient works.
The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza Della Rotonda which has a beautiful ‘Fountain of the Pantheon’. The square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants.
The Colosseum also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is the largest amphitheater which was completed in AD 80. The colossal amphitheater is said to accommodate around 50000 spectators. It was used for gladiatorial contests, mock battles enactments, mythological dramas, animal hunts and executions until the medieval ages.
The Colosseum as we see today is broken from one side due to the natural disasters, earthquakes and also due to the visitors who carried the pieces as souvenirs.
We had a great time exploring the inside of the Colosseum, wandering the gigantic walls and watching the huge arena imagining during the ancient times the animals were hidden underground and then brought to the arena for animal hunts and gladiator flights.
The entrance to the Colosseum is free on the first Sunday of the month. Though there was a queue it moved very quickly. You can always book your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in the queues to save time. To better understand the history of the Colosseum is free it is recommended you join one of the guided tours.
Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch built to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. The arch is decorated with relief panels and sculptures.
The Palatine Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome and the most ancient part of the city of Rome. The hill is an important archaeological site and holds remains of royal palaces, temples, and several important ancient buildings. You can enjoy some of the magnificent views of Rome including the Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and the Capitoline Hill. There is also a museum on the Palentine hill which displays historical artifacts and archeological findings from excavations.
The Roman Forum is a magnificent site of ancient Rome. The site has numerous ruins of temples, Triumphal arches, monuments and important government buildings from the ancient Rome. The Roman Forum was the center of social and commercial activities of the Roman Empire.
Some of the important monuments in the Roman Forum are Arch of Titus, a triumphal arch commemorating Rome’s victory over Jerusalem, Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine and Temple of Saturn.
Along with Colosseum, the entrance to Roman Forum and Palentine Hill is also free on first Sunday of every month.
Alternative Itinerary to visiting Vatican City
If you want to skip visiting Vatican City and spend your whole day in Rome then below are the Rome attractions and landmarks you should add to your list to explore for the first half of the day.
Start your day wandering the quaint neighborhood of Travestere. The quiet cobblestone alleys are dotted with beautiful medieval churches and amazing architectural buildings are delightful for a stroll.
The most important church in Travestere is the Basilica di Santa Maria or Our Lady in Trastevere Church. The 3rd-century church features a bell tower, a remarkable mosaic of the Madonna and Child on the facade and an opulent interior decorated with golden mosaics and granite columns. The Ionic and Corinthian columns decorating the interior of the church were orginally part of the Baths of Caracalla. The square in front of the church Piazza di Santa Maria is dominated by a beautiful 15th-century fountain.
Other important points of interest in Travestere if time permits are Villa Farnesina is a 16th century Renaissance villa decorated with paintings by Raphael and other Italian painters, Palazzo Corsini and a late-baroque palace holding an exhibition of Renaissance art.
Spanish Steps are an important Rome landmark and one of the top tourist places in Rome. The set of 135 monumental steps connect Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinita Dei Monti at the top. At the top of the steps is the Trinita Dei Monti church, a late Renaissance Titular church.
The Piazza di Spagna at the base of the square is dominated by a baroque fountain called Fontana Della Barcaccia or ‘Fountain of the Old Boat’. The boat is named based on a legend that a boat was washed to this spot when the Tiber River flooded.
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo is a large historic square with an Egyptian obelisk known as the Popolo Obelisk at its center.Popolo Obelisk is one of the oldest and the tallest obelisks in Rome. The square is surrounded by important Rome buildings including the Porta del Popolo part of the Aurelian Walls, twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria Dei Miracoli and the Santa Maria del Popolo.
Villa Borghese Gardens
A short walk from the Piazza del Popolo is the Villa Borghese, a large public park home to several Rome attractions, important buildings, museums, fountains, and restaurants. The most convenient way to explore the park is to rent a bike.
The most popular and prominent museum in the park is the Galleria Borghese. It is an art gallery displaying classical antiquities and classical and neo-classical sculptures. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna which displays over 1000 paintings and arts from the 19th and 20th centuries and the Museo Nazionale Etrusco displaying a collection of pre-Roman antiquities of Etruscan civilization are the two other museums to visit in the Villa Borghese Gardens.
One of the top things to do in Rome with kids is to visit the Rome zoological park which is also located in the Villa Borghese Gardens. Other interesting points of interest for kids are Casina di Raffaello, kids play center with library and San Carlino Puppet Theater hosts which host puppet shows.
The Pincio Terrace in the Villa Borghese Gardens offers wonderful panoramic views of the historic center of Rome and the Vatican City.
If you have enough time before heading to the Colosseum you can stop by and visit this magnificent marble building in Piazza Venezia which is on the way to the Colosseum.
Victor Emmanuel II Monument
Victor Emmanuel II Monument also known as the Altare della Patria is a large marble building built in honor of Victor Emmanuel the first king of a unified Italy.
The building features a colonnade of Corinthian columns at the upper section of the monument decorated with reliefs and murals. At the center of the monument is an equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel. There is a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame dedicated to the World War I under the statue of goddess Roma. Two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas can be seen on the top of the monument. The base of the structure houses the museum of Italian Unification.
Best Time to Visit Rome
The Best of the year to visit Rome are the shoulder seasons – April and May or September and October when the temperatures are warm and the crowd is less. June to August are the busy months when you will see a lot of tourist crowd and temperatures can be high. If you are still visiting during this time make sure to book all your tickets in advance which can help you skip the queues. Winters months are also a good time to visit do remember to carry warm clothes.
The Vatican Museums are closed on Sunday except for the last Sunday of each month. The entry to top Rome attractions including Galleria Borghese, Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill is free on first Sunday of the month.
Where to Stay in Rome
There are plenty of budget and luxury hotels in Rome which are within reach of the important city sights. We asked our travel blogger friends to share their favorite areas to stay in Rome with recommendations on best hotels/hostels. Read our post on the best places to stay in Rome.
We still feel it is not possible to cover the best of Rome in one day so if you can spend a couple of more days in Rome here is our post on the top things to do in Rome in 3 days.
Suggested Tours in Rome
Have you done Rome and the Vatican City or just Rome in one day? Do share with us your experience, we would love to hear your stories.
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