First off, let me be clear. There is so much to see and do in Rome, you will need much longer than 48 hours but sometimes life doesn’t play ball with the best laid of plans. So, if you’re short on time, how do you choose what to see and what to leave? Some sights are a given if it’s going to be your first time; the Colosseum, Forum, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps are high on most people’s lists but how you get around determines how long you’re going to have to enjoy the sights.
Rome is a fairly compact city but is a little let down by its infrastructure. Getting around by the metro is possible but not without some walking. The Colosseum, Spanish Steps and, to a degree, the Vatican are well serviced with adjacent stops but the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and many wonderful piazzas are off the beaten metro tracks.
Rome is a wonderful city to stroll around. You’re never too far from the next coffee shop or patisserie. Enjoy a shaded bench on a main thoroughfare and watch the world go by or do the same in a piazza while a refreshing spray from a fountain ocassionally blows past. Rome, as a city, more than any other begs to be explored. Walking through the streets is walking thorugh history. You don’t have to visit one of the marquee sights to get a taste of history when you are surrounded by it.
48 Hours In Rome – The Colosseum Area
Having said that, you can’t come to Rome and not see the Colosseum. I’ve already written an article about the best way to see the Colosseum and Roman Forum. If you want an in depth view of the Colosseum and Forum on a half day tour you can check out the post dedicated to the Best Way To See The Colosseum.
If you would rather not spring for the expense of the underground tour, a general entry ticket to the Colosseum costs only 25% of the Behind The Scenes Tour and also includes entrance to the Roman Forum and you can stroll both at your leisure. The main hall of the Colosseum has many interesting displays about its rich history and the views over the arena are just as breathtaking. Without the Behind The Scenes guide though you are only allowed on one level of the Colosseum; you won’t be able to stand on the makeshift stage or walk under it in the catacombs.
You can purchase an audio guide of The Forum if you would like to know more about the area or stroll it at your leisure and use your imagination to fill in the grandeur of the ruins. Both the Colosseum and Forum can be busy and hot places; make sure to bring water with you and a hat to protect from the sun in the summer months.
While also in the area a short walk down Viale Aventino will bring you to the site of Circus Maximus. While not much remains of the stadium that once held 100,000 spectators, the size of the arena floor gives you an idea of the scale of the chariot races that would be held here. Today it’s a quiet place perfect for a sit down after seeing the Colosseum and Forum. You can even grab an ice cream in a nearby stall.
Via Alessandrina is a busy thorofare between the Colosseum and Monumento Nationale a Vittorio Emanuele II, the 70 meter tall monument built in honor of the first unified king of Italy. It’s striking white marble walls split local opinion but it certainly makes a statement and you can get a stunning view of the area from its viewing platform.
Just off Via Alessandrina, one of Rome’s original shopping centres is open and free to access, Mercati di Traiano (Trajan’s Market) dates from 110AD. The neighbouring Foro di Augusto meanwhile was built is 42BC and hosts a nightly evening history show where the ruins are the screen. A very popular stop at night. In the day it’s another quiet place with some seats and shade.
The entire area is easily accessible from the Colosseo stop on the blue metro line. You may notice a lot of infrastructure work going on in the area. There is a new metro line being built under the city which will make it much easier and quicker to get around. This area is going to be on of the main hubs when it’s completed.
While not exactly in the area, if a trip to the Pantheon is on your radar the short walk is from Piazza Venezia and the Vittorio Emanuele Monument. It’s a good 10-15 minute walk north west. The most direct route is up Via del Corso before turning left onto Via del Seminario. You’ll know you are approaching the area as throngs of tourists become more prevalent. Entrance is one again free but it is always a busy site.
A couple of blocks west towards the river is Piazza Navona, built on the ancient site of the Stadium of Domitian, its long rectangular shape mirrors that of the stadium it replaced. It’s widely regarded as one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome thanks to the baroque buildings that surround now surround it.
48 Hours In Rome – Shopping
North of Trajan’s Market, Via Nazionale is the main shopping street of Rome. It’s lined with up market boutiques and designer labels and coffee houses. If you want a more authentic experience, don’t be afraid to stroll around the back streets and save yourself the cost of the tourist prices on the main street.
Via Nazionale starts/finishes at Piazza della Repubblica, a sprawling intersection of traffic with one of Rome’s impressive fountains at its heart. If you don’t want to walk up Via Nazionale the Repubblica stop is on the red metro line, one stop along from Termini, the main railway station in Rome.
While here the impressive 128 meter long baroque style Basilica of St Mary of the Angels is worthy of a quick visit. Entrance is free but donations are gladly accepted. Step through the already impressive doors and the vast cathedral like basilica spreads out in all directions.
Ornately decorated walls and ceiling and gold leaf glistening all around. The basilica is so large you will struggle to convey its size in any photo. It’s built on the ruins of the ancient frigidarium of the Roman baths which sadly aren’t open to the public but you can get a view on the way into the basilica if you’re walking from Termini.
48 Hours In Rome – The Spanish Quarter
A few stops down the red metro line from Termini is the Spagna stop. The world famous Spanish Steps are just round the corner from the station entrance. The area also serves some of the best coffee and people watching moments in the city but you will pay a premium on the main routes. Instead head off into a side street to savour something a little cheaper.
You can hunt for a good restaurant or coffee house on your way down to the Trevi Fountain which is a 20 minute walk due South. It’s more or less equidistant from both Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Venezia.
The Fountain again draws huge crowds but with a little patience and perserverence you can get a good shot of the fountain that doesn’t look like every square inch is taken up by everyone that’s decided to visit Rome for that day.
48 Hours In Rome – The Vatican & Tiber River
A stroll along the shaded promenade of the Tiber River is a wonderful way to spend a hot summers day. The nearest metro stop is Flaminio, 1 stop along from Spagna. If you would like to walk from Piazza di Spagna it’s a good 15 minute stroll west. If you take the metro, one block down from Flaminio is Piazza del Popolo, the largest urban square in Rome.
48 hours in town isn’t really enough time to see the Vatican but you can go inside St Peters Basilica, and, if you would like a stunning panoramic view of Rome you won’t beat the one from the top of the dome here. Entrance is free (there’s a nominal charge for the lift up to the roof though if you want that view) but the crowds can be as huge as the basilica itself. The nearest metro stop serving The Vatican is a 5 minute walk due north called Ottaviano.
If you want to see The Vatican you can easilly spend a full day exploring the labyrinthine corridors, galleries and chapels. If a trip to the Vatican is high on your list you will be left with a hard decision of what you want to leave for next time. There is no quiet time to visit either. Tickets regularly sell out no matter the season. If you want to maximise your day it would be best buying a ticket online before you visit and make sure it’s one that lets you skip the queue which regularly snakes round the block.
48 Hours In Rome – How To Tackle The Sights Without Burning Out
Lets assume, for convenience, that you decide to stay close to Termini and the high speed line to the airport. You want to see The Colosseum as a minimum. The ticket also gives you entry into the Roman Forum across the road and is well worth a visit. These 2 sights will easilly take up half a day; a quarter of your available time. The most popular time to visit these sights are in the morning because of the light. In the summer months it also avoids the hottest part of the day.
While this is arguably the busiest time to go, I would suggest that it is the better choice. Your afternoon will be free at leisure to explore the local sights around the area. Leave the metro behind and explore the local streets. You can walk up as far as the Trevi Fountain, across to the Pantheon before an afternoon coffee in Piazza Navona then a couple of blocks further brings you along to the Tiber River and a picturesque stroll before heading back to your hotel. If you have time (and it’s not a Monday when most museums are closed) you could pop into the Castel Saint Angelo fort on the banks of the river and a relative stones throw from the walls of the Vatican City. Stop off in Piazza Cavor, a charming square behing the government building near the fort for a sweet treat.
Day 2 take the metro further afield and work your way back. If you want to see the splendour of The Vatican, today is the best day. Ottaviano is the closest station to the Vatican. Follow the crowds to the Vatican Museum entrance in Viale Vaticano. If the Vatican isn’t for you but you still want that view just follow the walls first down to the end of Vialle Vaticano and onto Via Leone IV, always keeping the walls on your right and you will eventually come to Piazza san Pietro and the world famous basilica.
Fill the rest of your day strolling the streets. Straight down Via della Conciliazone is the Tiber River and Castel Sant Angelo. Don’t cross the river at the nearest bridge, there are better views to be had further upstream, crossing on Ponte Cavour. From here the Piazza di Spagna is an almost direct line 10 minutes to the east down Via Tomacelli before joining Via della Fontanella di Borghese that ends at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.
We all have different tastes and Rome is perfectly poised to capitalise on that. It has history around every corner and some of the finest artworks on the planet. World class dining and shopping sitting alonside some of the finest Roman ruins to be found anywhere.
No matter what you want out of a short city break, I can promise that you will find it somewhere in Rome.