Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Piazza NavonaRome 3 Days
The quintessence of a 3-day trip to Rome are ancient Roman structures such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, as well as the impressive St Peter’s Basilica together with the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel featuring Michelangelo’s outstanding Renaissance ceiling. Afterwards, explore the streets of Rome and find your way to the sublime Piazza Navona where you may indulge in some delicious Italian ice cream.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 07 JUN 2020
Circus Maximus, the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona are all places you definitely want to include in your Rome itinerary 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 3 days in the fascinating Italian capital and find time for it all! So how can you actually compose your days in Rome – and cover most of it? Read on to see what we will suggest!
DAY 1: Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Piazza Navona – Rome in 3 days
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 Rome sightseeing 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.
With its 620 x 513 feet (190 x 155 metres), the Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre within the Roman Empire and could easily hold 50,000 to 80,000 spectators.
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.
Since the 18th century the popes have included the arena as a sacred Christian site, and each year on Good Friday the Pope arranges a “Way of the Cross” procession beginning around the Colosseum.
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.
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.
The Roman Forum was the most important marketplace or forum in the heart of ancient Rome. It had a central location between the Palatine and Capitoline hills and was the site of meetings, law courts, temples and open-air markets. It was here criminals were standing trial, gladiatorial matches celebrated and public speeches held. It was the day-to-day Roman life which played out here. The Romans referred to it as the Forum Magnum or just short as the Forum.
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 are the following:
We will strongly advise that you buy your ticket in advance – 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.
Anyway, we definitely recommend visiting the Capitoline Museums in Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of the Capitoline Hill, just next to the Roman Forum. Here you will find the original sculpture of the Capitoline Wolf, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Capitoline Venus, as well as unique busts of Greek and Roman philosophers.
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.
Apollodorus was appointed by Emperor Trajan, who ruled in Rome 98 AD – 117 AD, to undertake the comprehensive construction project with a semi-circular facade bordered by a row of columns. The lower level of the house was projected to contain the shops, whereas the upper floor is believed to have served as the Emperor’s administrative offices and business site.
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.
Originally, the seats were wooden seats, but over the years fires repeatedly damaged them – until Trajan rebuilt the Circus Maximus in stone!
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.
Construction of the Terme di Caracalla also required construction of a new aqueduct to feed the pools with water.
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!
DAY 2: Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Piazza Navona – Rome in 3 days
You will start Day 2 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.
The Piazza del Popolo is a neoclassical square, which was designed between 1811 and 1822. Its symmetric structure, intersected by the grand Via Corso separating the two baroque churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, makes it really unique. 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 fountain was originally designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1574 and further developed with the Neptune statue by Antonio Della Bitta in 1878. As an interesting fact the fountain was formerly named “Fontana dei Calderari” due to its location near a blacksmith street which generated heat for the metal processes!
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 spectacular stairway was designed by the architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi based on a competition. Subsequently, it was constructed in the years 1723–1725 as a convenient link between the Trinità dei Monti church belonging to the French Bourbon kings and the Holy See located below.
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.
The first church on this site was the Liberian Basilica or Santa Maria Liberiana, named after Pope Liberius (352–366). This name can still be used when referring to the building today. Nevertheless, the Basilica was replaced in the year 435 under under Pope Sixtus III.
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.
Throughout the years the Basilica has undergone many changes. It features a 14th-century Romanesque campanile, beautiful 5th-century mosaics, an outstanding Renaissance ceiling, an 18th-century typical Baroque façade with ionic columns and depictions of angels and saints – and predominantly a Baroque interior!
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).
Experience the amazing feeling of literally walking in the footsteps of the Romans! The cobbled Appian Way is one of the oldest roads in Rome. In ancient times the road was used by the troops in order to get down to the port of Brindisi.
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: Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Piazza Navona – Rome in 3 days
Today, you will start the day meandering around the Campo de’ Fiori, where a lively daily market with traditional products and gifts is held most mornings (except on Sundays). The name ‘flower field’ refers to the Middle Ages, when this part of the city used to be a meadow.
In ancient times this area was an empty space between Pompey’s Theatre and the Tiber. Little by little beautiful Renaissance palaces were erected in the neighbourhood – such as the Orsini family palace and the Palazzo della Cancelleria which still flank the square. At that time the surrounding streets were market streets and the square became a cherished part of the Via Papale, the Pope’s road.
In the 1600s the square became the location of both a horse market and ruthless executions! On 17 February 1600, Giordano Bruno, who was a philosopher, was sentenced here for arguing that the universe was infinite and for defending Copernicus’s theory! Later, a bronze statue was erected in the square for the martyr!
With time Campo de ‘Fiori became a daily vegetable and fish market – and today it is still a vibrant and popular market both with local residents and visitors! Take a look at it – and maybe buy a few interesting spices, fruit, vinegar, wine, limoncello, panini – and other souvenirs here!
Next thing on your agenda will be the Pantheon, the largest unsupported dome in the world! Its diameter is 43.30 m (142 ft). It is very well proportioned since the diameter is precisely the distance from the floor to the top of the dome!
The structure is an ancient Roman temple, which was supposedly initiated under the reign of Trajan (98-117 CE) and completed by Emperor Hadrian in year 125 AD. Anyway, according to the legend the original Pantheon was dedicated to Rome’s founder, Romulus!
Two earlier Pantheon buildings have stood on the same site, until they each burned down. One of these was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa under the rule of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), and the other one was commissioned by Domitian.
As the best preserved building in Rome, it provides you with a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience ancient Rome inside the rotunda.
The dome, which is rather Roman in style, has a circular 8.8-metre opening to the sky, a so-called oculus. Notice the massive wall of the rotunda which is unbelievably thick – all 6 metres!
In the past there were statues of both Venus, Mars, and Julius Caesar inside the building. Many years later, the Pantheon was converted into a Catholic church.
When studying the porch, you will notice that it is very classical Greek in style – as opposed to the dome.
Inside the Pantheon you will also find the tombs of tombs Italian monarchs in the period 1870-1946, as well as the tomb of Raphael (1483-1520).
At a short distance from the Pantheon you will arrive at the stunning Piazza Navona.
Now it is time for a truly breathtaking sight to behold, the Piazza Navona. It features all three impressive fountains, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the Fontana del Moro and the Fontana del Nettuno.
The oval shape reflects that the Piazza Navona was originally the site of the Stadium of Domitian – a site of great sports events!
La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi means the ‘Fountain of Four Rivers’. It was designed by Bernini in 1651 for Pope Innocent X. Around an Egyptian obelisk centrally located in the Piazza Navona, the four rivers, the Nile (representing Africa), the Danube (representing Europe), the Ganges (representing Asia), and the Río de la Plata (representing the Americas), symbolise the extension of the papal power.
The Fontana del Moro from 1575 at the southern end of the Piazza Navona shows a Moor standing in a conch shell, fighting with a dolphin and surrounded by four Tritons. The Moor, designed by Bernini, was added in 1653.
The third fountain on the beautiful Piazza Navona is the Fontana del Nettuno, the Neptune Fountain, from 1574, depicting Neptune surrounded by sea nymphs which were added later in 1878. It was designed by Giacomo della Porta, who also stood behind the basin of the Fontana del Moro, and was funded by Pope Gregory XIII.
Moreover, another spectacular construction on the Piazza Navona is the Baroque Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, which flanks the square on the west side opposite the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. It dates back to around AD 300 when St Agnes was martyred here in Rome.
The Piazza Navona is a vibrant square with restaurants and street artists who contribute to the lively atmosphere. There are many lunch options around the square! Do also try some Italian ice cream here and chill out in one of the most stunning squares in Rome!
Continuing in direction of the Tiber River, you will reach Castel Sant’Angelo or the ‘Castle of the Holy Angel’. It is an old fortress in a cylindrical building located on the right riverbank. Its construction was initiated in year 135 by Emperor Hadrian who intended to use it as a mausoleum for himself. His ashes were placed here after his death in year 138 AD. Subsequently, the remains of other emperors were also placed at this location, the last one being Emperor Caracalla in 217 AD.
The massive construction was converted into to a military fortress in 401 AD and included in the Aurelian Walls.
During the plague in 590 Pope Gregory I had a lively vision of Saint Michael the Archangel announcing the end of the disease from the top of the castle. This resulted in the building being topped with a statue of an angel!
Years later, a corridor was established connecting Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican City, such that the Pope could use it in an emergency situation. Pope Clement VII actually used it as a convenient refuge at a later time in history. Finally, it also got to serve as a prison and even as an execution site for some years!
The Vatican Museums are next.
You will now get the chance to visit the absolutely outstanding Vatican Museums. We definitely recommend that you book your ticket online before arriving here.
The Vatican Museums are located within the Vatican City, the Holy See’s independent city state in Rome. Together with the cultural museums including the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican City State holds the impressive St Peter’s Basilica. It is the world’s smallest sovereign state with both diplomatic and religious independence, only covering an area of 49 hectares and having a population of approximately 825 residents. It is ruled by the Pope who is both the bishop of Rome and the head of the Catholic Church.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard, with blue, red, orange and yellow uniforms, is a unit maintained by the Holy See which protects the Pope and serves as the de facto military of the Vatican City. It was established in 1506 under Pope Julius II.
In the 16th century the Vatican Museums were founded by precisely Pope Julius II to display the art works belonging to the popes. The museums were opened to the public outside the Vatican City by Pope Clement XIV in 1771.
Today, the Vatican Museums boast some of the greatest art collections in the world. It is really huge! The 7 km of corridors inside the museums contribute to the fame of the Vatican art.
You will find a wide variety of exhibits here ranging from Egyptian sculptures and mummies to eminent Etruscan art and absolute masterpieces within the painting genre.
Don’t miss the collection of classical statuary in gorgeous rooms frescoed by Raphael in the Museo Pio-Clementino.
As the icing of the cake you will admire Michelangelo’s phenomenal Renaissance ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, painted between 1508 and 1512, as well as the spectacular tapestries by Raphael! Other Renaissance artists who have contributed to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums include Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, Perugino and Luca Signorelli.
After the Vatican Museums you will as your last activity on Day 3 visit the other Vatican sight, namely the spectacular St Peter’s Basilica. It is huge and can accommodate approximately 20,000 people.
With its length of 190 m (624 ft) and height of 46 m (150 ft) with the dome even reaching 136 m (447ft), it is one of the largest churches in the world and an impressive pilgrimage site for Christians. A number of buildings, which you would consider really large in the rest of the world, can actually easily stand entirely inside the dome! You will marvel at its height once standing right under it!
The church is named after one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, Saint Peter, and is built above the tomb of precisely Saint Peter.
Before the present basilica, also known as the New St Peter’s Basilica, there was an older construction. This old church was torn down before the ‘new’ church saw the light of day. Its construction was initiated by Pope Julius II in 1506 and only completed in 1615 under Paul V.
Inside it features St Peter’s Baldachin, which is a Baroque sculpted bronze canopy designed by Bernini, and the Pietà, a Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo which shows the body of Jesus on his mother Mary’s lap after his crucifixion.
If you have more than 3 days in Rome, you may also consider visiting
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
Are you going to Florence? Check out here which museums and sights you can cover in 3 days in the Renaissance city: Best Things to Do in Florence – What to See in 3 Days?
Have you considered what you will do in the (unlikely) event of something unforeseen happening during your 3 days in Rome? Do you need a travel insurance? Click here to get a quote and buy your travel insurance.
Have you checked if you need a visa for your trip? Click here to check and apply for a visa.
GET MORE INSPIRATION
Featured image for ‘Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Piazza Navona – Rome 3 Days’ article, attribution: kirkandmimi