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La Dolce Vita: A 5-Day Itinerary for Experiencing Rome’s Charm

People walking across Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome. The photo is taken from above, in Castel Sant'Angelo. The bridge is framed by interior of Castel Sant'Angelo

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t see it all in five. Don’t fret. You’ll want a reason or a few to return to the Eternal City. 

Let your days in Rome fall into la dolce vita. In the morning,  take in the sights, learn about Rome’s history, and admire the city’s exquisite beauty. Let leisure define your lunches. Maybe start with wine, enjoy your courses, and end with espresso. Wander back to your hotel to recharge yourself and your phone. After a good nap, dress for dinner. Enjoy Apertivos before. Or not. 

At this pace, so long as you plan well, in five days, you’ll have time to see: Vatican City, the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon, and a little bit more. The itinerary below takes into account that on a five-day visit to a city, there is a day that you arrive and a day that you depart. Those days require their own special considerations. 

For our full list of restaurant recommendations, see our post, Rome: 8 Restaurants to Dine at on Your Roman Holiday. Not sure where to stay? See why we loved staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton Rome Monti

Day 1: Arriving in Rome

If, like most who fly into Rome, you land at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino (FCO), we recommend taking the Leonardo Express train from Fiumicino Airport railway station (about a 10-minute walk from baggage claim) to Roma Termini Station. Leonardo Express leaves for Roma Termini every fifteen minutes. The ride is just over 30 minutes, and as I write this, its cost is €14 (about $15 USD).  

From Roma Termini, you might be able to walk to your hotel. If it’s too far out, you can use the subway line from Roma Termini Station to get to your destination.   

We keep our arrival days low-key in case of flight delays or out-of-our-control snafus. A relaxed arrival day is a cushion between you and Murphy. I do not book tours for arrival days or make restaurant reservations. Arrival days are for wandering and eating at highly-rated places where a table can be snagged without a reservation, like Pinsitaly. They’re also for catching up on sleep if you’re jet-lagged. 

My Step Count for the Day: 12,471. 

A man in a blue long-sleeved shirt, wearing glasses and holding a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo as he sits at a table in a restaurant.
Chris at Pinsitaly before the crowd arrived (about 30-minutes later).

Day 2: Vatican City

8:15 A.M. Take The Tour Guy’s Semi-Private Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel. It’s a comprehensive, well-paced, 3-hour tour that allows you to bypass all lines. No ticket line. No entry line. Just stick with your guide carrying the red flag and go. 

During our tour, we learned a lot and saw an incredible amount of stunning artwork. Without our knowledgeable and passionate guide, I don’t think we would’ve gained much insight into what we looked at, and I know we would’ve been overwhelmed. At the end of the tour, we had access to St. Peter’s Basilica to enjoy at our own pace.

Our Top Travel Tips for Visiting Vatican City:

🤓 Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days for avoiding crowds on your Vatican City tour. On Mondays, several popular museums in Rome are closed, which means more visitors turn their attention to Vatican City. On Wednesdays, the Pope addresses pilgrims from all over the world at St. Peter’s Square. Fridays and Saturdays are busier because it’s the weekend. The Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays. 

🤓 Learn from our one big mistake, and do not make lunch reservations for afterward. We ran out of time to climb to the top of St. Peter’s Dome. On the plus side, missing out on this experience gives us a reason to return to Rome. Also, our entire lunch experience was amazing. 

🤓 Dress code alert! Shoulders, knees, and everything in between must be covered. No exceptions.

After you lunch whenever, wherever, however, so long as you get to have as much time in Vatican City as you want, wander back to your hotel. Take time to enjoy whatever sights you encounter along the way. We climbed the steps to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at The Victor Emmanuel II National Monument (Vittoriano, Altare della Patria). It’s unpopular with some Romans who feel it looks out of place and call it “the wedding cake.” Regardless, the monument and views from it offer great photo opportunities. We also saw the Forum of Augustus and Forum of Nerva ruins.

My Step Count for the Day: 18,774.

Day 3: Colosseum and Roman Forum

9 A.M. Take The Tour Guy’s Special Access Colosseum Arena Floor Tour through the Gladiator’s Gate. This extensive tour allows you to skip the line, access three areas of the Colosseum in-depth, and explore the Roman Forum with a knowledgeable, history-loving guide. After, you can climb Palatine Hill. 

At the Colosseum, you’ll enter through the gladiator’s gate and walk in the footsteps of warriors – warriors who, according to our guide, had more in common appearance-wise with Danny Devito than Russell Crowe. 60,000 people could sit in the Colosseum, watch gladiators fight, and see exotic animals pop up through trapdoors to give those battling an extra challenging time. In the Roman Forum, you can see remnants of where Julius Caesar spent his last night. Visit the statues sculpted in honor of the Vestal Virgins and see what remains of their house. There are remnants of temples and various buildings. The good news is that once your 3-hour tour is done, you’re welcome to stay in the Roman Forum for as long as you like or until 4:30 P.M. when the forum closes. 

Colosseum and Roman Forum Travel Tip:

🤓Bring a valid I.D. Security may ask you for it at the Colosseum and Roman Forum entrances. If you don’t have it, you may be denied entry. 

Like Day 2, wander back to your hotel. Maybe find a piazza to relax and enjoy an apertivo or two. 

My Step Count for the Day: 16,975.

Day 4: Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, + More

Bernini's Fountain of the Leaky Boat in front of the Spanish Steps. Jon Keats lived and died in the building to the right of the staircase -- the lighter building with white accents.

Wake as early as you can, grab a quick bite if you must, drink your espresso, and see the sights as the sun rises. To put it in a less romantic way, try to make it to these popular tourist spots before everyone else does. Because, well, tourists. 

Trevi Fountain

Close your eyes and throw a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder into Trevi Fountain for good luck and to return to Rome one day. Throw two coins to find your love in Rome. Make it three if you want to get married soon.

The coins are collected from the fountain each night and donated to charity, so there is no need to worry about the money you toss into the fountain going to waste.

Spanish Steps

More than photogenic and worth climbing for photo-worthy views, the Spanish Steps, like so many places in Rome, are romantic. At their bottom, admire the “Fountain of the Leaky Boat,” sculpted by Pietro Bernini and his son, the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Right in front of the Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti  stands the Sallustian Obelisk, which dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. 

Second-generation Romantic English poets lived nearby, including John Keats, who lived and died in the house to the 135-step staircase’s right. You can tour his former home today. These are the same steps where Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) accidentally on-purpose runs into Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) in Roman Holiday

Fountains and Spanish Steps Travel Tip:

 🤓Do not follow Audrey Hepburn’s example! In the movie, she sits on the stairs, eats gelato, and appears to toss it on the ground offscreen when she’s done. Roman Holiday came out in the ‘50s. Things have definitely changed. You can get fined €400 ($450) today for eating, drinking, or sitting on the steps. From what I’ve read, police typically issue warnings, not fines. These rules apply to Trevi Fountain and several historical sites throughout the city. Rome is the world’s biggest outdoor museum and city officials would like tourists to treat it with the respect they would while enjoying art inside a museum.

Two cups of coffee on saucers accompanied by spoons with the Caffe Greco A.D. 1760 printed on them. Two goblets of water. All on a table with the lush interior of an upscale cafe in the background.

Antico Caffè Greco 

Sit down inside sumptuous Caffè Greco and imagine Keats, Byron, Goethe, and other great intellectuals, writers, and artists of all stripes drinking their coffee and discussing whatever the topics of the day might have been. It’s less than a 2-minute walk from the Spanish Steps. The space is inspiring with its plush red seating and walls full of paintings. Their coffee is strong, and their service is elegant. 

🤓Antico Caffè Greco, Rome’s oldest café, is a splurge. If you’re visiting Rome on a tight budget, you may want to skip this suggestion.   

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini in Rome's Piazza Navona.
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini in Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is free to enjoy and worth spending a bit of time at on your way to Castel Sant’Angelo. Give yourself some time to admire its  Baroque-style fountains: Fountain of the Four Rivers, Fountain of the Moor, and Fountain of Neptune. If you’re feeling behind schedule and like there just isn’t time to visit the Piazza before getting to Castel Sant’Angelo, don’t stress. The walk between the two is only ten minutes. You can visit after and have an aperitivo at one of the cafés surrounding the piazza. 

Melissa wearing navy Tory Burch sunglasses, Cotopaxi winter jacket, and a brightly colored scarf as she stands in front of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) 

Before Castel Sant’Angelo became Castel Sant’Angelo, it was the Mausoleum of Hadrian, a monumental tomb for Emporer Hadrianus and his family, built between 134 and 139 A.D. Its name changed after (according to legend) Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the castle in 590 A.D., ending the plague in Rome.

The castle’s seven levels hold 2,000 years of Roman history. Over the centuries, it has been a fortress, a castle, a prison, barracks, and a warehouse for war materials. Today, Castel Sant’Angelo is a museum where you can see furnished papal apartments, paintings, statues, and frescoes. 

Castel Sant’Angelo Travel Tips:

🤓 Have your camera ready! Even if you’re not into history or art, the views of Rome from Castel Sant’Angelo make it worth visiting. 

🤓 Give yourself 2-3 hours to tour Castel Sant’Angelo. 

🤓Castel Sant’Angelo is closed on Sundays. 

Return to your hotel for some R&R. You deserve it after all you’ve accomplished. 

My Step Count for the Day: 18,812.

Day 5: Arrivederci Roma

Pantheon 

At 9 A.M. the Pantheon opens its immense 2,000 year-old doors to the public. Built between 118 and 125 A.D. during Emporer Hadrian’s reign, the Pantheon boasts the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. At its top is an opening (oculus) 27 feet in diameter. We asked a gentleman working there about the opening and he explained that if a covering were put over the oculus, the entire dome would crumble. In addition to the architectural marvels and gorgeous artwork, you can see the tomb of Raphael. 

Pantheon Travel Tips:

🤓 Dress code alert! Like the Vatican, the Pantheon is a Catholic place of worship. There is a dress code

🤓 Fun fact, the official name of the Pantheon is Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres. That’s what it was renamed when it was converted into a Christian church in 609 A.D. 

🤓 If you love sculptures, take a two-minute walk over to Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. 

Depending on when your flight out of Rome takes off, there may not be time to do much else. We wandered in and out of Monti neighborhood shops. Then, we ate pizza at L’Angolo di Napoli. After that, we bid Arrivederci to Rome and boarded a train back out to the airport. Once there, we finally made room for gelato at Venchi.

My Step Count for the Day: 11,257.

A few more travel tips:

🤓 Make restaurant reservations ahead of your trip, especially for dinner. The best restaurants in Rome often have little more than a dozen tables—book in advance to prevent disappointment.  Rome: 8 Restaurants to Dine at on Your Roman Holiday

🤓 Where to stay: DoubleTree by Hilton Rome Monti

🤓 When it comes to seeing major attractions that are likely to be overrun by fellow tourists or that may be once-in-a-lifetime dream historical sites to see, pay for a well-rated guide in a small group situation. If we’d toured the Vatican Museums, Colosseum, or Roman Forum on our own, we would not have gotten nearly the value out of our time as we did by going on the tours. If you’re paying hundreds of dollars in airfare and accommodation to be in Rome and you’re into history or art, invest in the tours if you can swing it. 

🤓 Save money by booking your trip for January or February, Rome’s slow season. You’ll also avoid the heat and the crowds. On the downside, it might rain.  

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