Circus Maximus, the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona are all part of the things to see and do in Rome that you definitely want to include in your 3 days in the city – together with the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, the Vatican Museums … and all the other famous sights that Rome boasts. At first it may seem quite overwhelming to plan an itinerary and find time for it all! So how can you actually compose your 3 days in Rome – and cover most of the highlights?
Most of the places included in our Day 1 itinerary are located very close to each other in the very city centre of Rome, so you will not have to spend hours getting from one place to another.
If you are eager to cover as much as possible of ancient Rome, you will do all the things on today’s agenda! If you’d rather concentrate on some specific sights – feel free to skip others – because there are loads of Roman remains, archaeology and culture included in today’s itinerary!
You will begin your 3 days in Rome with one of the absolutely top sights! You’d better buy your ticket online before going to make sure you can go at your preferred time. There are several ticket options (also a combined ticket to visit the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill)
The Colosseum is the huge amphitheatre which was commissioned around 70-72 AD by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son and successor, Titus, in 80 AD. It was inaugurated with 100 days of gladiatorial combats and animal fights. Over 9,000 wild animals seem to have lost their lives during the inaugural games.
Vespasian’s younger son, Domitian, added a gallery to the top of the Colosseum and constructed the hypogeum, which were tunnels used for animals and slaves.
The combatants, the gladiators, were often slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war.
If you please (and are ready to donate a few dollars), you can have your picture taken outside the Colosseum with a ‘modern’ gladiator!
The massive stone amphitheatre, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was an entertaining theatre, and it was besides the gladiatorial combats used for a variety of plays and activities like sea battles, dramas and even executions. Over the years it also served other purposes such as being a fortress and a quarry for the cathedrals of St Peter and St John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia, as well as for fortifications along the Tiber River.
As probably one of the most popular and iconic sights in the world, the Colosseum still stands in the centre of Rome as it has done for two thousand years. Although partly damaged, it has resisted both earthquakes and fires.
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After visiting the Colosseum you will now walk right over to the ancient Roman Forum, in Latin Forum Romanum, which you enter through the Arch of Titus, the triumphal arch commemorating Rome’s victory over Jerusalem.
Forum Romanum is really packed with ruins of important government buildings, temples and monuments from the Roman times. It is together with the Colosseum the most significant remains of the Roman Empire! You can get an overview on this map.
You can easily spend an hour or two here enjoying the splendour of ancient Rome, studying the history of the abundance of ruins from the former Roman Empire. Nowhere else will you find such a concentration of magnificent temple ruins dating back to the Roman era.
Some of the most remarkable structures in the Roman Forum include the following:
- Via Sacra: the main street in ancient Rome running through the Forum.
- Temple of Castor and Pollux: temple built in gratitude for victory at the Battle of Lake Regillus in 496 BC.
- Temple of Saturn: temple from 497 BC dedicated to the Roman god Saturn, the god of agriculture.
- Temple of Vesta: temple dedicated to the Roman goddess of the hearth, Vesta.
- Temple of Romolus: Emperor Maxentius dedicated the temple to his son, Valerius Romulus.
- Arch of Titus: triumphal arch constructed by Emperor Domitian in 81 AD, commemorating Rome’s victory over Jerusalem.
- Arch of Septimus Severus: triumphal arch from 203 AD, dedicated to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta.
- Cloaca Maxima: the world’s earliest sewage system, constructed in the 6th century BC to drain the marshes and remove the waste from Rome.
- The Curia Julia – Senate: the third senate house in ancient Rome built in 44 BC by Julius Caesar.
- Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine: the last Roman basilica built in 312 AD in the city of Rome – and at the same time the largest building in the Forum Romanum.
To visit the Forum Romanum you can get a combined ticket which also includes the Colosseum.
You will continue your sightseeing just beside the ancient Forum where you will find the Palatine Hill. The attractive Palatine has been an inhabited hill since 1000 BC. It is probably the most famous of Rome’s seven hills and used to be the home of Roman aristocrats and emperors.
The Palatine is also believed to be the site where Romulus and Remus lived in a cave (known as the Lupercal) and were found by the she-wolf – which has contributed to the fame of the hill.
On this tranquil site you will be able to explore the ruins of ancient palaces. You can walk between the lush trees and have the feeling that you are far away from central Rome! From the Palatine you have the most breathtaking views over ancient Rome: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus – they are all easily viewed from the hill.
Among other ruins, remains of the Flavian Palace and the Stadium of Domitian can still be seen here, as well as the remarkable Hut of Romulus. Also remnants of the House of Augustus and the House of Livia can be visited on the hillside.
You can get a combined ticket for the Palatine Hill, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum
When leaving the Palatine Hill, you are now also close to the Capitoline Museums which you may choose to visit today. Alternatively, if you don’t want to be too overwhelmed by sculptures, statues and archaeology for now, you may also save this for another day – in case you have more than 3 days in Rome.
Now, after this morning’s load of Roman archaeology around the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum, you will definitely be more than ready for a (late) lunch! You will find excellent restaurant options just north of the Roman Forum.
Continue to the Trajan’s Market which dates back to 107 – 110 AD – and is believed to be the first covered shopping mall – not only in Rome – but in the whole world. Here you will be able to get some insight into the ancient everyday life of the Roman citizens.
The Trajan’s Market was an ingeniously constructed huge complex, built by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. It was located in connection with the adjacent Forum of Trajan and had far more than a hundred shops on multiple levels.
To visit the Trajan’s Market, you will have to enter through the Museum of Imperial Forums.
The Trajan’s Column, located close to the Trajan’s Market, has a magnificent spiral frieze picturing the two battles Trajan had in Dacia (which is modern day Romania). Emperor Trajan’s tomb is underneath the Trajan’s Column.
Circus Maximus is next. This is the 600-metre racetrack, also known as Circo Massimo. Already the Etruscans used the site for public entertainment, and Julius Caesar expanded it to the area it covers today, including seating tiers all way round the track.
A canal was dug between the track and the seats to protect the spectators, as well as for drainage purposes. Moreover, there were subterranean cells (‘cavea’) where animals were held. Seating was subject to a hierarchy: front seats were only for the aristocracy, whereas the rest were for the common people, the plebs.
The stadium was the largest stadium in the ancient Roman Empire (seating 150,000 people) and was in particular used for the popular chariot races. Basically, the course was a simple hippodrome which had banks for the spectators to sit on. Starting stalls were added in 329 BC where up to 25 four-horse chariots could wait for the races to begin.
There could easily be a hundred races a day, but also other events like battles, acrobatics, processions and animal fights took place at the Circus Maximus.
It is ‘fast’ to visit the Circus Maximus chariot racing stadium, since it just takes the few minutes to walk along or across it (there is no fee)!
Last thing for today’s sightseeing is a visit to the Baths of Caracalla or Terme di Caracalla, which you will find within walking distance southeast of the Circus Maximus. The both massive and impressive baths are located along an area brimming with archaeological remains stretching from the ancient Roman Forum all the way down to the Via Appia Antica.
It is a huge complex of thermal baths, built by Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus, also known as Emperor Caracalla, between the years 212 and 216, which could accommodate around 1,600 bathers. At the time it consisted of 3 large bathing rooms including a cold pool, a medium-temperature pool and a hot pool. The water was ingeniously heated by fires under the pools themselves.
In ancient times the Baths of Caracalla also included two libraries, a gymnasium and some lovely gardens where the visitors could relax.
Still today, the baths are very imposing since the walls, foundations and mosaic floors are relatively well preserved – although most of the marble coating and stucco have long gone.
This is end of your visit here – and your first sightseeing day in Rome! You are now ready to go out to enjoy a good meal in a fabulous restaurant – as well as Rome’s nightlife! Check out awesome places to eat in Rome!
You will start Day 2 of your 3 days with an enjoyable visit to the Galleria Borghese located in the northern part of central Rome in lovely park surroundings: the Villa Borghese Gardens!
Galleria Borghese is the world-famous art museum featuring the collection initiated by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the years 1576 – 1633. He was actually no less than Pope Paul V’s nephew!
The exhibitions include classic antiquities dating back to the 1st – 3rd centuries AD, as well as major works by renowned artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens and Botticelli.
You will need to buy tickets online in advance to enter the galleries.
Afterwards you will meander through the Villa Borghese Gardens, the lush public park with monuments, a zoo, ponds, fountains, flower beds, sculptures – a true delight! This is really the place to chill out in central Rome!
The area here used to be a vineyard, but from 1605 the vineyard was converted into an enchanting park by Domenico Savino da Montepulciano and Flaminio Ponzio. In 1903, the Roman government took over the Villa Borghese from the Borghese family and opened it to the public as a small cultural and refreshing oasis in Rome.
Just outside the gardens you will discover the delightful Piazza del Popolo which is the ‘people’s square’. Looking north from here, you will face the massive northern city gate, the Porta del Popolo, designed by Buonaroti and adorned with marble columns and statues. It is a gate of the Aurelian Walls, originally built between 271 AD and 275 AD by the Emperors Aurelian and Probus, later replaced by a gate built by Pope Sixtus IV for the Jubilee Year 1475, and now a construction erected by Nanni di Baccio Bigio in 1562 – 1565 with inspiration from the Arch of Titus. Previously, it was named Porta Flaminia after the consular Via Flaminia.
Also the lovely Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo flanks the piazza.
It is an outstanding square featuring the 36-metre high Egyptian obelisk from 1300 BC, which Emperor Augustus brought to Rome from the Sun Temple of Heliopolis intended to stand on the Circus Maximus. Nevertheless, it was after a restoration in 1589 moved to the Piazza del Popolo.
On the western side of the square you will discover the divine Neptune fountain, Fontana del Nettuno, with Neptune fighting with an octopus and surrounded by tritons.
The Pincio hill on the eastern side of the square, above the Fontana della Dea di Roma, offers panoramic views over Rome.
A few hundred metres from the Piazza del Popolo you will now arrive at the renowned Spanish Steps situated on a slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the lower level and Piazza della Trinità dei Monti in front of the Renaissance church Trinità dei Monti above.
The Spanish Steps is always a lively place in Rome crowded with both visitors, artists and painters portraying people. Take a well-deserved break here people-watching and discover the multitude of nationalities coming to step on the iconic stairs. However, don’t sit on the stairs – this is since 2019 no longer allowed since it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and damage to the marble should be avoided!
If you continue another 10 minutes on foot, you will arrive at the just as iconic Trevi Fountain.
The architecturally sumptuous Baroque fountain definitely ranks among the most famous fountains in the world. Due to its location as a meeting point of three streets (tre vie means ‘three ways’ giving name to the Trevi district), it is named after this district in Rome.
The gorgeous fountain was designed by the architect Nicola Salvi and had the last details completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762. Anyway, its history goes much further back in time, since it was here the ancient Aqua Virgo aqueduct brought water to the city of Rome.
According to the superstitious beliefs, you will return to Rome if you throw a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand. If you throw two, you will fall in love with an Italian, and if you throw three, you will be marrying him or her! Try it out yourself!
In case you haven’t had lunch yet, it is definitely lunchtime by now – maybe followed by some high-quality Italian ice cream!
In the afternoon you will indulge in the spectacular Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore which is a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and one of the grand basilicas in Rome.
According to the legend, the Roman patrician John and his wife experienced a snowfall in August year 358 on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. They had a vision of the Virgin Mary the same night, and on the same spot the snow fell, they now built the church in honour of the Virgin Mary. This gave rise to the other name of the church, Our Lady of the Snows.
Take your time to view the splendours and details of the construction. Other particular points of interest you can enjoy inside the Basilica are the sumptuously decorated Cappella Sistina and the Museo del Tresoro with a range of symbolic and religious artefacts.
Although not located in the territory of the Vatican City State, the Holy See juridically owns the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore!
As the last thing today you may want to walk a bit of the iconic Via Appia Antica. You will find it for instance a bit southeast of the Terme di Caracalla at the Porta San Sebastiano or at the Punto Informativo Appia Antica (you may catch a bus down here).
Along the way you will pass the Catacombs of San Callisto Callisto and the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, where the early Christians were buried, piled up on shelves in underground tunnels. The catacombs were only rediscovered in the 16th century – and stretch much further under Rome than you can imagine! You may want to go to have a look!
When you are done with the Via Appia Antica (or rather the part of it you want to do!), you will return to the gastronomic sides of Rome for a superb evening!
Day 3 includes some of the top sights around Piazza Navona:
14. Campo de’ Fiori
16. Piazza Navona
17. Castel Sant’Angelo
18. Vatican Museums
19. St Peter’s Basilica
Click here for a detailed description of the Day 3 sights: Day 3 itinerary around Piazza Navona
Hotel Villa Rosa has simple and modern rooms with satellite television, air conditioning and a location with easy access to Rome’s historic centre, St Peter’s Church and the Vatican Museums.
Hotel Hiberia is located near the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Trevi Fountain. The hotel offers air-conditioned rooms with a flat-screen satellite TV and has a restaurant serving a large buffet breakfast.
The Spanish Suite Campo de’ Fiori is located near the Campo de’ Fiori, the Pantheon and the beautiful Piazza Navona. Rooms feature a satellite flat-screen TV, seating area and a private bathroom with a shower and free slippers.
Hotel Villa San Pio has elegant rooms with wood floors and decorative walls. Rooms come with free wired internet, satellite TV, air conditioning and minibar. All rooms have a marble bathroom, some even with hydromassage bath. From the rooms you have great garden views.
Palazzo Lupardi Relais has a convenient location close to Piazza Navona and Castel Sant’Angelo. Rooms come with a private bathroom and shower, air conditioning, flat-screen TV, fridge, city views and free WiFi.
If you have more than 3 days in Rome, you may also consider visiting
Domus Aurea – Nero’s Golden House
Book a guided tour to the Domus Aurea, Nero’s sumptuous palace which had 300 rooms and an area which was 25 larger than the Colosseum! The octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling, pavilions, sculptures, atria, fountains, spectacular paintings, frescoes and décor was at the time a combination of marble, semi-precious stones, mosaics and ivory – all lavishly constructed for parties and entertainment. It covered an area which included the Palatine Hill, the Esquiline Hill and the Caelian Hill (including the area where the Colosseum now is).
There are so many more fascinating things to see in Rome, and if you have the time you can for instance also consider visiting
Santa Maria in Trastevere in the Trastevere district, one of the oldest churches in Rome dating back to the 340s, or
The Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano, which ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, including St Peter’s Basilica! It is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope!
Are you going to Florence? Check out here which museums and sights you can cover in 3 days in the Renaissance city: Top Things to See in Florence in 3 Days
Read next: Discover Siena
Find useful travel gear: Travel Essentials
Best Things to Do in Rome – What to See in 3 Days
Best Things to Do in Rome – What to See in 3 Days
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Best Things to Do in Rome – What to See in 3 Days:
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Things to see in Rome – see Rome in 3 days