24 Hours in Rome — It is no surprise that Rome is often called the “Eternal City”; its fascinating treasures warrant a lifetime of exploration. Nestled on the Tiber River, the ancient city is a city of layers, where contemporary establishments are built on thousands of years of history, offering a glimpse of Rome’s many avatars from the different eras. Starting from a small Latin village to the cradle of Catholicism to the center of the powerful Roman Empire into the contemporary Italian capital, Rome offers an overwhelming level of historical grandeur and cultural magnificence that spans more than 2,000 years.
With a focus on preservation rather than innovation, Rome is a vast haven of priceless Renaissance and Baroque art, picturesque backdrops, and culinary treasures. The city itself is a museum, presenting visitors with a peek into the Roman past with its glorious blend of ancient ruins, historical sites, and aging edifices. Even though it doesn’t change as much as other European capitals, Rome never ceases to surprise.
To maximize your trip, experience the city by foot or bike, as public transportation is not the most reliable and many of the main tourist destinations are walking distance apart. Rent a vintage Vespa scooter and tour the city a la Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in A Roman Holiday. Or walk through the cobbled streets of the city and indulge in a full-fledged sensory experience. Catch a whiff of the warm aroma of local pizzerias. Feast your eyes on the iconic Coliseum ruins. Sample the Italian goodness of homemade gelato. Listen to the sweet melody of accordions dotted throughout the city. Feel the velvety texture of real Italian leather.
To fit in all of the major highlights of the city, you may have to start your day a little earlier than should be allowed on vacation, but you’ll thank yourself later.
1) A visit to Rome is incomplete without a cup of signature Italian coffee, otherwise known as Italians’ liquid fuel. Around the corner from the Pantheon is arguably one of Rome’s best coffeehouses – Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè. Even native Italians will walk blocks just to recharge themselves with a shot of their espresso. Begin your busy day with a strong cup of coffee and a cornetto, and get ready to embark on a journey through the art, beauty, and culinary wonders of Rome.
2) Beat the crowds in the early morning and take your time admiring the beautiful dome of the Pantheon – a monumental temple dedicated to the ancient gods of Rome. Today, it is used as a church (Santa Maria Rotonda). Not only does it serve as the burial site of illustrious Italians such as Raphael and Baldassare Peruzzi, it is also a popular venue for weddings. The Pantheon is a stone’s throw away from Piazza Navona, the most picturesque square in the city.
3) Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain and make a wish for your return to Rome! Just don’t take a dip a la Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita; it’s prohibited!
4) Take a break on the Spanish Steps with a serving, or two of delicious Italian gelato. In the summer months particularly, you will find gelato vendors and gelaterias dotted in every corner of the city.
5) Reconnect with the Rome of yesterday as you enter the ancient ruins of the Coliseum – the largest amphitheatre built during the Roman Empire. It used to be the site of gladiatorial battles, animal shows, and other public spectacles. It is known as one of the finest examples of Roman architecture and dates back to the 1st century AD.
6) Erected over the Tiber River is the footbridge, Ponte Sisto. Catch stunning views of the city as you cross the bridge and find sweet pleasures in the form of quaint cafes and enchanting boutiques along the way.
7) Grab lunch on the go at one of the many pizzerie al taglio (sliced pizza – Rome’s version of fast food) in endless varieties, including the standard choices – pizza margherita and pizza al funghi.
8) Make your way over to the Vatican, a landlocked city-state within Rome. One of the main attractions is the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica – an example of Renaissance and Baroque excellence dating back to the 5th century. Avoid going on Sundays when a huge crowd assembles to hear the Pope deliver his sermon. For some of the best panoramic views of the city, climb the 320 steps to the Cupola (top of the dome) of St. Peter’s or whisk to the top on an elevator. Word of caution: it’s advised for men and women alike to cover up shoulders and legs, as you may not be allowed to enter otherwise.
9) Marvel at Michelangelo’s hand-painted biblical masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took him almost 5 years to complete it! If you go on the last Sunday of the month, entry is gratis.
10) Peruse an exclusive display of magnificent Renaissance and Baroque art housed in a sprawling 17th century villa, Galleria Borghese. You can enjoy artwork by Titian, Rubens, Raphael, and Caravaggio and beautiful sculptures by Bernini. Reservations are required. This is part of the Vatican museum series. It’s hard to avoid art while in Rome, and there is no shortage of museums or art galleries, so prioritize your visits based on your personal interests and tastes.
11) Treat yourself to an authentic Italian dinner at Ai Bozzi in the lively district of Trastavere. Take a stroll through its winding streets and you will fall in love with Rome for the 100th time that day.
12) Wind down after a long day of sightseeing with a cocktail and live music at the eclectic Micca Club, or mingle with the city’s glamorous intellectuals at Bartaruga in the cozy Piazza Mattei. Alternatively, head to Via di Monte Testaccio, Rome’s nightlife hub to find some of the hottest and hippest clubs and bars. For the culture vultures, an evening at the opera might be a good option. Check the LaRepublicca newspaper for listings of shows and events.
Only 24 hours to spare can hardly do its timeless grandeur and beauty any justice at all; however, it is ample time to intrigue your senses and pave your path for return. Contagious energy is buried in every corner and crevice, and as you roam the city of Rome, you will slowly understand the old Italian adage, “Roma, non basta una vita”—Rome, a lifetime is not enough.
I’m Nyssa. I started The Cultureur in August 2012, almost a decade after contracting the travel bug while on a Model United Nations conference in Russia and Finland.
And from there, when I took the first step in solo international travel and decided to study abroad in college,
there was no looking back, and I ended up living, studying, working, and volunteering in 6 countries (the U.S., the UK, France, Iceland, India, and Germany) and traveling to 50+ others.
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