Rome might not have been built in a day, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a taste for the Eternal City in one!
A reader recently emailed me and asked if it was worth even venturing out of the hotel, since they would only be in Rome for a little over a day after a stay in Tuscany.
And I responded, “Yes, it is most definitely worth it!” Many travelers to Italy have to head back to Rome or Milan in order to catch flights back to their home country. Instead of taking the plane to Rome or Milan and spending your time in Rome (or in Milan) at the airport, why not head to Rome a day earlier (or Milan, it’s a nice city, too!) in order to experience a little something of this great and wonderful city?
So what should you do if you are only in Rome for a day? Here’s a list of things that you should (and shouldn’t do) in your short stopover:
- DO get out of your hotel room and explore! Rome is such a wonderful and beautiful city. While you won’t be able to enjoy everything that Rome has to offer, after spending all that time and money just getting to Italy, you can have a relaxing time in Rome even if just for a day. Try not to spend your last day in your hotel room watching limited television or boring hotel room service.
- DON’T spend your only day in Rome waiting in super long lines and queues. That means that you’ll probably have to pass up going to Vatican unless you planned ahead and got tickets for a tour. The Vatican is such a huge place that it will totally cut into your time in Rome, and you could conceivably spend your whole day there (and you might be ok with that!). I know, everyone wants to see the Sistine Chapel but I think that there are better things you can do to make the most of your day in Rome – the Vatican isn’t going anywhere.
- DO go to the Trevi Fountain (La fontana di Trevi). It’s always crowded, but if you arrive in Rome early enough, you can sometimes avoid the crowds. It’s such a Roman and Italian icon that it’s a must for every traveler to the city. My favorite time to visit the fountain is late at night. While it’s a bit crowded, it’s simply beautiful (and romantic) when it is lit up at night. Don’t forget to toss a coin into the fountain (over your shoulder with your back to it) to ensure that you return to Rome (this is important, especially if you want to come back again to visit the Vatican Museum).
- DON’T try to spend the day trying to get out of the city. A lot of visitors think that they can do Pompeii or maybe head to Viterbo or Tivoli. I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll spend most of the day in a car or on a train, and you won’t have really enjoyed Rome at all. Traffic and car travel in Rome and Italy can be aggravating, especially if you’re not used to it! Save those day trips for your return trip (which you can ensure by tossing that coin into the Trevi Fountain!).
- DO head to the Villa Borghese and have a stroll through the park. The Villa Borghese is a good place to begin your trip in Rome because there are so many important sites in and around it: Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Galleria Borghese, National Museum at the Villa Giulia (which houses an amazing collection of Etruscan Art), National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Ara Pacis. The gardens and park are also a great place to chill out for a bit, and there’s always something to do there!
- DON’T try to walk the whole city if your visit is a short one. Make efficient use of your time and use public transportation. Public transport in Rome is, when compared to many American cities, simply superb. The metro (la metropolitana or subway, underground) and the bus system is top notch. It will help you get around more efficiently.
- DO try to head to the Roman Forum (take the Metro stop to Colosseo) and have a stroll among the ancient Roman ruins. The Roman Forum (Foro Romano) was, in ancient times, the heart of the city – it’s where a bulk of the commerce and day-to-day government business took place. It was also the religious center of Rome with many notable and important temples. While many of the buildings are centuries away from their glory days, you can still see some spectacular ruins. This is a great area for taking some spectacular photos.
- DON’T get pick-pocketed and watch your belongings carefully. Rome is notorious for its pickpockets and petty thievery. You shouldn’t have any problems if you take the normal, common sense precautions that you would do if you were at home. Avoid looking too much like a tourist, leave valuables at home, keep your wallet in your front pocket, and guard your digital cameras and other valuables carefully. This is especially true on public transportation (like buses and subways) where close quarters can make you an easy target. Realizing that you’ve had your wallet absconded or purse snatched can put a damper on your trip and probably use up any time you might have spent exploring the city filling out police reports for your insurance company back home.
- DO head to Trastevere. Trastevere is very Roman, and there are a lot of great things to see and do: Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Folklore Museum, Santa Maria Della Scala and much more (any decent guidebook to Rome will have a decent number of pages dedicated to Trastevere). I suggest hitting this area in Rome just before evening so that you can stick around there and have a nice dinner there. There are tons of restaurants and trattorie in Trastevere, and it shouldn’t be hard to find a magnificent restaurant to make your last night in Rome a memorable one.
- …and finally, DON’T miss your flight home! Getting to the airport from Rome is not difficult. The Leonardo Express starts early in the morning and takes you directly to the airport, and most hotels will arrange a ride or taxi service to the airport. Might help to book your arrangements when you check-in to ensure that you arrive at the airport on time. For international flights, I suggest arriving two hours (preferably more) before. Check with your airline to see how much time will be required to clear customs and security.
I guarantee that after spending one day in Rome you’ll find yourself wanting to return to experience everything else this magnificent city has on offer!