Rome travel guide: where to stay & must-see sights

Jun 29, 2019

Time for part two of my Rome travel guide (if you missed part one, head over here)! This time I’m covering where we stayed and what we did. Read on for tips on how to beat the lines for the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s, plus my marathon walking tour of Rome!

Where to stay

We stayed at this Airbnb near the Vatican and I would definitely stay here again. It was small like all European apartments, but still a comfortable size for three people. Our host, Lavinia, was super thoughtful and gave great recommendations for places to eat (most of these restaurants are from her guidebook). It was close to the major sites but still had a neighborhood feel which was appreciated.

What to do

We had two full days in Rome and this is what we did. It’s jam-packed and could easily be a three-day more leisurely agenda.

Day 1: Vatican

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Vatican museums + St. Peter’s. Reserve your tickets ahead of time to beat the worst of the line. We got ours for 9am right when the Vatican opened and literally walked right in. Much much preferable to the past two times where I stood in line for several hours!

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The Vatican is overwhelming — there’s just no way around it. We took about 3 hours for the museums and an additional 30-45 mins for St. Peter’s. (you could definitely spend more time in St. Peter’s but our brains and legs were dead at that point!) I’d recommend taking it easy the rest of the day. It was rainy and cold so we just hung out at the Airbnb, took several naps, ate some snacks, and decided where to eat dinner.

Also, pro tip that I learned from the internet: when you’re done with the Vatican museums, instead of going all the way back out and around to enter St. Peter’s (and stand in another line), there’s a “secret” shortcut. It’s actually not secret, but it’s the way the tour groups use to get to St. Peter’s. Lucky for you, there are always so many tour groups in the Sistine Chapel that no one will notice if you temporarily join one of them. At the back of the Sistine Chapel, there’s the main door to the left that is marked “exit.” Don’t use that door. Instead, use the door to the right and you’ll get to walk directly over to St. Peter’s. Trust me, it’s much better!

See all those chairs set up behind us? Yeah, the Pope had an audience in St. Peter’s square literally while we were in the Vatican musems and we totally missed it. 🤦🏼‍♀️

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Day 2: Rome sights

AKA Maria’s Marathon Walking Tour of Rome. Google tells me it’s 5.5 miles (8.9 km) round trip so wear your walking shoes! If you have more than just two days in Rome, I’d recommend splitting this into two days and doing Piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum on a separate day.

Start at Bar Tassoni for some coffee. You’re going to need it.

Piazza Navona + Fontana dei Fiumi

Famous piazza with fountains designed by Bernini. The main fountain in the center depicts the major river on each continent known at the time: Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio della Plata. Here’s some more fun facts.

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Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi for Caravaggio paintings

This is a very typical Roman Baroque church, which means that everything is ridiculously way over the top and gold-plated. But in one of the side chapels are Caravaggio’s paintings depicting the life of St. Matthew which are absolutely stunning. Definitely worth a quick stop in to see, as pictures don’t do them any justice. (More info if you’re interested)

Pantheon

Last time I went to Rome, you could stand in the center, but this time it was roped off. We still got the obligatory (if slightly off-centered) photos looking up at the top. Don’t forget to say hi to Rafael’s tomb! Here’s some more fun facts. (If you want to go to Mancini Leather, now is a good time)

Trevi Fountain

Be prepared to see this with 5,000 of your closest friends if it’s spring or summer. This fountain is at the end of one of the famous Roman aqueducts and if you can fight your way through the crowds (or if you go in the off-season), you can even drink from a water fountain here. Here’s some more fun facts for your enjoyment.

Optional: Chiesa di Santa Maria dell Vittoria for Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Theresa

Note: this church closes at noon and re-opens at 3pm. We tragically showed up five minutes after noon to find the church very closed. 😭 But it’s definitely worth the hike if you’re up for it — this statue is one of my favorites and even more amazing IRL. Also, yes, that is an angel about to plunge a spear into St. Theresa who is in ecstasy. The double entendre was not lost on Bernini either.

Piazza Venezia and Altar of the Fatherland

Iconic piazza next a monument to WWI soldiers. You can get a nice view of the city if you climb the steps to the top of the monument. Plus it’s a pretty impressive massive marble building.

Trajan’s Column and the Roman Forum

One of my favorite things about Rome is just how OLD it is, and how you can still see remnants of the centuries of past people who lived there. After all the baroque art and marble, it’s a nice change to wander around the Roman Forum and imagine what the city must have been like back then. Here’s some info about the column and fun facts about the forum, but also be sure to read the signs they have posted — they’ve got some interesting info!

Colosseum

So I’ve never actually gone in the Colosseum, so I don’t have any advice about that. But the outside is pretty darn cool, both during the day and at night. Tip: there are bathrooms on the western side that are decent. Be sure to bring a euro coin though. Then circle around to the northern side — it’s way less crowded and the view is actually better here! Also a great time to stop and get some gelato of course.

And there you have it! Feel free to stop in an Irish pub to rejuvenate yourself on the way back. 😄

I apologize in advance to anyone who decides to embark on my walking tour of Rome. But if you take lots of breaks for food and coffee, and stop to take everything in along the way, it’s really not that bad!

Looking for more? Read my tips for traveling and my tips for eating out on the low FODMAP diet!

Other recommendations

There you go! Like I mentioned earlier, this is a jam-packed two days in Rome. If you have more time, I’d first recommend splitting the sights up over two days. But, if you have more than three days (or you’ve done all the typical things already), below are some recs for other things to do!

I’ve never had time to go, but I’ve heard great things about the Villa Borghese gardens and museums. The Colosseum is also really pretty (and less crowded) at night if you have time to go see it.

I also highly recommend trying to get reservations for the Vatican Scavi (excavation) tour. They were booked up already this time, but I’ve done it before and it’s pretty cool — you get go under the crypt and see the old Roman burial site St. Peter’s was built on and where they believe St. Peter himself was buried! Definitely book 3+ months in advance though. This site has instructions for how to make reservations.

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