Traveling to Rome Italy and looking for the perfect Rome itinerary? Check out this epic 3 days in Rome itinerary and the see the best that Rome offers only in three days.

How to Spend 3 Days in Rome – Perfect 72-Hour Itinerary


Last Updated on May 6, 2024 by Soumya

This 3 days in Rome itinerary is curated by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt, the world’s most popular travel blog for budget travelers.

Considered the epicenter of the Western world for centuries, Rome is one of my favorite cities in Europe. With its sprawling ancient ruins dating back thousands of years, incredible food, and world-class shopping, it has something to offer every kind of traveler.

As a history buff (I have a degree in history), I never get tired of exploring Rome. There’s just so much to see. You could easily visit multiple times (as I have) and still only scratch the surface.

But if it’s your first time visiting and you only have a couple of days, what should you prioritize?

To help you make the most of your visit, I’ve created this three-day itinerary for Rome that will show you the highlights while also getting you off the beaten path so you don’t miss out on the best things the Eternal City offers.

It will also ensure you’re not rushed, giving you time to take in the sights at your own pace, wander around, and enjoy the local pace of life.


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Marveling at Rome's architecture - Matt Kepnes in Rome for 3 days
Spending 3 days in Rome is a great way to start exploring this history city.
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

Here’s my ideal three-day Rome itinerary:

Rome Itinerary: Day 1

Free walking tour

When I arrive at a destination, the first thing I do is take a free walking tour. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land on a budget while also connecting with a local tour guide who can answer all my questions (they’re also great for food and nightlife recommendations).

Most free walking tours last 1.5–2 hours and cover the highlights. (While they’re technically “free,” be sure to tip your guide at the end, as that’s how they earn a living.)

Take a paid walking tour if you want to learn more about the city and its history. These tours usually provide more detail and can be more educational.

My go-to company is Take Walks, which offers tours to places many other companies don’t have access to. Many options are available, from history tours to haunted walks and everything in between.

Here’s a list of the best walking tours in Rome if you want to learn more.

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Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona in Rome Italy
Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona in Rome.
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

While you might stop here during your walking tour, it’s worth spending some more time soaking up the ambiance.

Piazza Navona is Rome’s most popular piazza, a perfect place to grab an espresso at one of the many outdoor cafés as you people-watch.

The piazza is oval-shaped. In the first century CE, it was used as an ancient Roman circus for horse racing and other sporting events.

Later, it was transformed into a stadium in 80 CE, though it fell into ruin after the fall of the empire. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that it started to be used again when the city market was moved here.

Be sure to check out the fountain in the center, designed in 1651 by Bernini for Pope Innocent X. Called the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), the statue features an Egyptian obelisk as well as gods representing major rivers on four continents: the Ganges, Danube, Nile, and Río de la Plata.

In the winter, a large Christmas market is held at the piazza.

Pantheon

Pantheon in Rome
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

Located five minutes from the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s major historic sites.

Built around 125 CE, this Roman “temple to all gods” is one of the most impressive buildings still standing from ancient times and an absolute must-see. It looks today much like it did almost 2,000 years ago, which in and of itself is impressive.

The Pantheon is by far one of the best-preserved such buildings in the world and has been in use continuously since its construction.

Hadrian, who reigned from 117 to 138, built it over Agrippa’s earlier temple. The temple’s rotunda design was a revolutionary concept at the time.

Be sure to walk through the heavy bronze doors and look up to gaze in wonder at the world’s largest unreinforced dome.

The Pantheon is the final resting place of many famous Italians. Raphael – the Renaissance Painter and Architect, King Umberto I, and Queen Margherita of Savoy are all buried here.

Admission was free up until 2023. Now, it costs 5 EUR to enter. Make sure to get tickets in advance, as they sell out fast!

Pro Tip: Book your Pantheon fast-track ticket in advance here.

Appian Way

Next, we’re going to head south. The Appian Way was a major imperial roadway stretching from Rome all the way down to the boot of Italy. It was finished in 312 BCE and is so well preserved that you can still see the ruts in the stones left by chariots.

The route begins at the Gate of San Sebastian, located along the third-century Aurelian Walls.

You’ll soon come across ancient Christian catacombs, as the dead could not be buried within the city walls. This includes the Catacombs of San Callisto, which once contained the tombs of a few popes. There are a few other catacombs around town, but this is the best choice if you just want to see one. It’s a bit morbid but super interesting!

As you continue along the road, the brick-sized cobblestones of the Appian Way give way to large basalt stones filled with ruts made by the continuous movement of Roman chariots thousands of years ago. Centuries-old mausoleums and shady umbrella pines flank the road, making it the perfect place for a stroll or a bike ride (both options are enjoyable, though I prefer to walk).

You could easily spend a few hours exploring here. So, if you’re visiting during the warmer months, bring lots of water!

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Trastevere

End your day wandering around Trastevere, one of the best foodie neighborhoods in town.

Spend some time exploring the winding, cobblestone-lined alleys and buildings covered in ivy. It’s achingly picturesque and makes for a great place to eat and people-watch.

Fewer tourists go here than the historic center, so it has a more authentic feel.

Trastevere is also where I stay when I visit Rome, as some of the best hotels in Rome are here.

Rome Itinerary: Day 2

Spanish Steps

If you didn’t see them on your walking tour, start your day with a visit to the Spanish Steps. Built in the 1720s, this is a grand staircase, with the lively Piazza di Spagna at the bottom and the Church of Trinità dei Monti looming at the top.

The Spanish Steps were once the best place to have social gatherings. Here, you could hang out and people-watch (I loved coming here at the end of the day to take in the city), but doing so is no longer allowed (as part of new preservation measures).

However, the Spanish Steps are still one of Rome’s most iconic attractions and a must-visit. You can still climb them to the top, and it’s a great place to snap a few photos as you start your day.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain in Rome
When in Rome, do not miss the Trevi Fountain.
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

Next, walk over to the famous Trevi Fountain, which is just ten minutes away on foot. Thousands of people visit this fountain every day, so it’s best to come first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.

Roman architect Nicola Salvi designed this Baroque fountain that stands over 86 feet (26 meters) tall. He built it largely of stone from a quarry near the city.

Today, the Trevi Fountain is a true emblem of Rome. It depicts Oceanus, the god of water, and the contrasting temperaments of the sea, from calm to stormy.

There is a fun legend behind the Trevi Fountain. If you throw one coin over your left shoulder into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome. In case you want to throw two coins, you’ll fall in love with an Italian. If you throw three, you’ll marry the Italian.

Tourists throw around 3,000 EUR into the fountain each day. I’m not sure how many of these wishes come true, but the money is collected and donated to charity.

Just avoid a midday visit, as the fountain gets swamped with tourists.

Pro Tip: Uncover the mysteries of Trevi Fountain on this in-depth guided tour.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

This unassuming Baroque church is a must-see site for art lovers, just a short 15-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain.

The highlight here is a massive Bernini sculpture called “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” in one of the chapels. The statue shows the Spanish nun lying on a cloud and being pierced by an angel’s arrow.

Teresa of Ávila, also called St. Teresa of Jesus, was a 16th-century Carmelite nun and mystic known for her spiritual writings, poetry, and austerity. The trick is to try and see the statue from different angles. From one angle, it looks like the angel has a soft smile; from another, she looks really angry.

From there, you can walk to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which are right beside each other. It doesn’t matter which you do first, as you can get a single ticket that includes entry to both.

Colosseum

Matt Kepnes in front of the Colosseum in Rome
Matt in front of the Colosseum in Rome.
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

A Wonder of the World, the Colosseum is one of the most recognizable and jaw-dropping sights on the earth. This first-century amphitheater was the largest ever built.

When it was first built, the Colosseum was used for gladiator fights and important public events in the Roman Empire. These included animal hunts, dramatic plays, military drills, and even executions.

It had 80 entrances and exits and could hold a whopping 50,000 people in its heyday.

From the Middle Ages onward, it was repurposed into workshops and housing for common people. At one point, the Colosseum was even a Christian shrine.

Today, the Colosseum welcomes over 12 million people a year, so expect crowds (buy your ticket online to secure your spot).

Pro Tip: Join this guided tour of the Colosseum with exclusive access to the gladiator arena.

Roman Forum

Matt Kepnes at the Forum in Rome on his 3-day itinerary
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

Today, the Roman Forum might look like a mess of rocks and half-broken temples, but it’s one of the most iconic Roman sites in town.

This swath of dirt was once the center of the known world, lined with shops, bustling open-air markets, and temples.

However, once the Roman Empire fell, the Forum became cow grazing land. In the Middle Ages, it came to be known as Campo Vaccino, or the Cow Field.

As time passed, much of the marble that was used to build the temples was plundered, and the forgotten area was eventually buried.

The Forum was lost to the world until archeologists rediscovered it during an excavation in the 19th century. Today, it’s one of the city’s most important historic sites.

Pro Tip: You’ll love this Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum Guided Tour.

Rome Itinerary: Day 3

Castel Sant’Angelo

Start the day with a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo, popularly known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian.

A giant stone structure on the banks of the Tiber, this massive structure was used as a fortress by the Pope during the Middle Ages (there’s a “secret” route between the fortress and the Vatican called “The Passetto” that was actually used by Pope Clement VII in 1527).

There are seven levels in total, and the Terrace of the Angel has some of the most stunning city views. It’s a great place to watch Rome come to life as you start your day.

Vatican City

When in Rome, you cannot miss visiting Vatican City, an independent city-state surrounded by Rome. It’s the smallest country in the world (by landmass) and gained its independence in 1929.

There are a few things you’ll want to see in Vatican City, including the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Square, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Vatican Museum
Spiral Staircase Vatican Rome
The beautiful spiral staircase of the Vatican Museum.

Home to the famous Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum houses miles of rooms and hallways featuring the world’s most impressive art.

Don’t miss the Michelangelo masterpiece on the chapel’s ceiling. Other unmissable art includes the rooms frescoed by Raphael and the paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, and Fra Angelico, among others.

There’s so much to see here that I suggest taking a guided tour if you have the budget. It’s the best way to really dive deep into the art and history.

Pro Tip: I recommend getting a skip-the-line ticket to avoid the long ticket lines.

St. Peter’s Square & Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica Rome | Stories by Soumya

This ornate and iconic church was designed by some of the world’s most famous artists, including Michelangelo, Bernini, and Bramante, and consecrated in 1626, 120 years after construction began.

St. Peter’s Basilica sits at the exact spot where a 4th-century church once sat and where St. Peter himself was crucified. His bones are actually in an ancient necropolis below the church.

Inside the basilica, look up to see one of the world’s tallest domes covered with the finest mosaic featuring biblical characters, angels, and cherubs against a starry, golden sky.

Do not miss the large marble sculptures of saints, popes, and biblical figures. Be sure to climb the 550+ steps to the top of the dome!

Pro Tip: Book this St. Peter’s Basilica, Papal Tombs, and Dome Climb Tour.

Testaccio

End your day in the Testaccio neighborhood, located south of the vast city center. It’s popular with younger Romans, as it’s noteworthy for its nightlife.

The area is a former working-class district and was also once home to the city’s main slaughterhouses. As part of their pay, workers would get raw meat that they could take home to cook.

Many, however, took their meat to nearby restaurants and had them prepare it instead. Thus, this area is where many of Rome’s iconic dishes came from, making it a great place to grab dinner after a long day of exploring.

Matt Kepnes in Rome Italy
Image courtesy: Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

Wrapping up this 3-day Rome itinerary

I’ve visited Rome a handful of times over the years and always loved my time there. There’s just so much to experience: layers of history, mouthwatering cuisine, and incredible museums.

If you follow the above itinerary, you’ll make the most of your time without rushing, soaking up all the Eternal City has to offer as you explore this historic metropolis.

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Traveling to Rome Italy and looking for the perfect Rome itinerary? Check out this epic 3 days in Rome itinerary and the see the best that Rome offers only in three days.

About the author

Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured in the New York Times, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications, as well as on CNN and the BBC. You can follow him on social media at @nomadicmatt. When he’s not on the road, he lives in New York City.


Soumya is an acclaimed travel writer who has traveled to 30+ countries and lived in 8 while pursuing her passion for history and culture. Her writings have been published in BBC Travel, Architectural Digest, National Herald, and many more. She loves exploring world heritage sites and has a deep affinity for everything ancient, especially the lost civilizations of Mesoamerica!

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