I’m lucky to say that I have visited many beautiful cities already, but Rome is still one of my most favorite places on earth. This fascinating city offers sightseeing without end. Therefore, you should definitely plan several days – at least three I would say. Why am I writing about Rome in one day then? Well, even though I’ve been there several times, my last visit was only for one day. But since my husband has never been to Rome before, I really wanted to show him as much as possible. Of course, you´ll see only the top attractions (and not even all of them) but that’s just how it is when you have little time. So, put on your walking shoes and let’s go.
By the way, Rome is the largest city in Italy with about three million inhabitants in the urban area. It offers a large amount of important buildings and museums and the UNESCO declared the historic center, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican City as World Heritage Sites in 1980.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The first stop – and one of the top attractions already – is St. Peter’s Basilica. I would always recommend coming here as early as possible, because tourists are arriving in masses pretty quickly and then there may be very long waiting times.
The Basilica of St. Peter belongs to the Vatican and is the religious center of this independent state. The predecessor of today’s St. Peter’s Basilica, Alt-St. Peter, was already built around the year 324. The construction work of the present building already started in 1506 and was largely completed in 1626. With a built-up area of 20,139 m² and a capacity of 20,000 people, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest and most important churches in the world. So even if you do Rome in one day, be sure you go inside, no matter how long the waiting line is. After all, the incredible dimensions are not as clear from the outside as from the inside of the church.
St. Peter’s Square
Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the St. Peter’s Square, right in front of the
Basilica. The place is oval shaped and 240 meters wide. In the middle of St.
Peter’s Square stands the Vatican Obelisk, which was brought to Rome in AD 37.
So, the Obelisk was even here before St. Peter’s Basilica was built and dates
back to the Circus of Nero, where Saint Peter and many other Christians were
According to legend the former metal globe at the top, held the ashes of Julius Caesar. But the globe was removed from the top, opened and found to be empty. Today you can see the globe in the Museo dei Conservatori. Maybe the legend about the cross at the top of the obelisk, which says that it holds a part of the cross of Christ, is true? True or not – the obelisk is indeed 25.31 meters high, has an estimated weight of over 320 tons and stands on a 8.25 meter high pedestal.
Around St. Peter’s Square, the 284 columns, arranged in 71 rows of four, are 140 statues of saints, each about 3 meters high.
Rome from above
You should definitely take the time to visit the dome, even if you only have one day in Rome. From up here you have both a breathtaking view of the interior of St. Peter’s and an amazing view over the whole city and the Vatican. You have the choice whether you want to go the entire way on foot – then there is a total of 551 steps – or if you want to take the elevator. But even then, there are still 320 steps to climb.
If you are in Rome for a longer time, you must visit the Vatican. As there is a lot to discover and you can spend a complete day there, we unfortunately didn’t have time for this. We only did Rome in one day though…
Not far from St. Peter’s Basilica you´ll find Castel Sant’Angelo. It was built between 135 and 139 and was originally Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum. In order to connect the tomb with the other side of the Tiber, the bridge next to it was built, which today bears the name Ponte Sant’Angelo. When the city wall was fortified, the solidly built mausoleum was converted as a citadel into the fortifications. In the 6th century, the Gothic king Totila recognized the importance of the castle as a control of the city and used it therefore as a military base. Since 1901 Castel Sant’Angelo is a museum.
The Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo is worth a visit, with many frescoes, armory, chapel, libraries, treasuries and the tomb of Emperor Hadiran. You also have a wonderful view of the city from up here. Again, since we only had one day in Rome, we didn´t have the time to go inside.
Piazza Navona is one of the most popular squares in Rome and certainly one of the most crowded. Incidentally, the square is neither round nor rectangular, but oblong-oval and dates from the 15th century. Before Piazza Navona, this was the stadium Circus Agonalis in 86 BC. Sports competitions and other events took place in this stadium. When Circus Agonalis collapsed, it left a place surrounded by ruins. Later houses were built on these ruins, creating Piazza Navona, which still has the shape of the stadium.
There are countless restaurants and cafes at the piazza. If you want, you can take a break and enjoy the beautiful view of the square. However, be careful – as usual in Italy you pay “Coperto” here, which is a user fee for plates, glasses, cutlery, tablecloths, napkins and of course the great view. Sometimes this Coperto is above average. So first read the fine print on the menu. If you do Rome in one day, you won’t have to stay here too long – just stroll over it once.
Sant’Agnese in Agone
The Basilica of Sant’Agnese in Agone was built in 1652 by Girolamo Rainaldi on the spot where Saint Agnes died as a martyr. It is a very nice church and definitely worth a visit.
Fontana del Moro
A pupil of Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta designed the fountain at the south end of Piazza Navona, Fontana del Moro, in 1576. Four marble tritons sit in the fountain. Bernini enlarged the fountain almost 100 years later, adding another male figure “il Moro” in the middle, holding a dolphin at the caudal fin. In 1874, during the restoration of the fountain, the figures were replaced by copies and the original statues were taken to the Villa Borghese park.
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, one of the largest and most famous fountains of Bernini, can be found in the center of the piazza. Gian Lorenzo Bernini built the fountain between 1648-1651. Four male figures each symbolize the rivers Danube, Ganges, Nile and Río de la Plata, which are located on one of the four continents that were known at that time. The fountain not only represents the world known at that time, but also the Pope’s claim to rule over the earth.
The Fontana del Nettuno
The last fountain added to Piazza Navona was the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune Fountain), at the northern end of the square. Its purpose was to make the square more symmetrical. Giacomo della Porta designed the fountain in 1878 without any figures, due to lack of money. It was not until 1873 that Antonio della Bitta added the god of the sea, Neptune, who stabs an octopus.
The Pantheon is located at Piazza della Rotonda. At first glance it might not be the prettiest building you´ve ever seen – too massive and too gray and dirty. But as soon as you enter it, you know why it is one of the most significant monuments in the city and a must-see, even if you only have one day in Rome.
Emperor Trajan started the constructions
around AD 114 but it was Emperor Hadrian who completed it between AD 125 and AD
128. Built on the Campus Martius, the Pantheon was probably a sanctuary,
dedicated to all the gods of Rome. Probably? Yes, because it is still not completely
clear whether the Pantheon was a temple or an imperial representative building.
The dome has a diameter of about 43 meters. Since the interior is as tall as it is wide, the dome would touch the ground as a complete sphere. At the peak of the dome you´ll see a circular opening of nine meters in diameter, which is, next to the entrance portal, the only light source of the interior. The floor of the dome is slightly inclined to the center and provided with small drains, in order to divert the rainwater that penetrates it. By the way, this imposing dome symbolizes the sky, the opening in the middle the sun and the connection to the stars.
From AD 609, the Pantheon was converted into a church and consecrated to St. Mary and all Christian martyrs. Probably it is due to this fact that the building is one of the best-preserved monuments of Roman antiquity – its status as a church saved it from being used as a quarry for other building projects.
Fontana di Trevi
Fontana di Trevi is probably the most famous fountain in Rome and in my opinion it isn´t a typical fountain at all. Part of the Fontana di Trevi is integrated into the façade of Palazzo Poli Palace and it has the shape of a triumphal arch. It is 26 meters high and 50 meters wide and in its center stands a statue of the ocean god Oceanus. It shows the forces of nature, which are threatening mankind.
Yes, throwing a coin in the
fountain is a must! According to legend it brings good luck to throw coins over
the right (!) shoulder into the Fontana di Trevi. If you throw a single coin,
you will return to Rome. If you throw two coins, you will fall in love with an
Italian. If you throw a third coin, you will even marry your lover.
The employees of the city take out the high amount of coins once a week. The revenue is estimated at over 1 million Euros per year. Since the money is donated to charity, it is even more fun to toss a coin or two. During our visit, the Trevi Fountain was without water due to renovation breaks, which was sad – especially because we couldn´t throw a coin.
Sure, everyone knows it and yet – it is quite different to really stand in this huge amphitheater and imagine all the fights and murders that happened here. It is unimaginable and almost gives you goose bumps. So it is a no-brainer to see the Colosseum – whether you have time to do Rome in one day or only one hour.
By the way, the Colosseum
is the largest ancient amphitheater in the world.
In AD 72, the construction of the Colosseum in Rome had begun under Emperor Vespasian. Already in AD 80 it was opened with 100 days lasting games – with gladiator fights, rebuilt naval battles and animal hunts.
The audience entered the
colosseum through one of the 80 gates. Of these, four entrances were reserved
for privileged guests, such as senators, who thereby entered secured areas
within the amphitheater. The Colosseum offered space for 50,000 visitors.
Still, the building could have been evacuated through the corridors in only
five minutes. That´s probably why many of the former principles of designing an
arena are still used today in the construction of stadiums.
The Colosseum has a
circumference of 527 meters and a height of 48 meters. The round shape was
chosen so that gladiators and hunted animals had no corner to hide. The
corridors below the arena weren´t originally there, so after removing the
wooden floors it could be flooded and sea battles could be played. Later, a
system of rooms, corridors and utility shafts was built under the arena. Here,
gladiators waited for their fight. Also, a complex stage technology was
integrated – there were numerous trapdoors, ramps and pulleys for show effects.
When Christianity finally became popular in Rome in 313, Emperor Constatine abolished gladiatorial combat. They did live up again, but were finally banned in 438 under Valentinian III. As a result, the building lost importance. Overall, the Colosseum was in operation for almost 450 years. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it was repeatedly used as a quarry for city palaces like St. Peter’s Basilica. This ended only in the 18th century, when Pope Benedict XIV declared the place to be a dedicated martyrdom site, as many Christians died in its honor.
Moreover, today it is a symbol
against the death penalty – it shines in a gold and green light installation, every
time a capital punishment isn´t carried out, or when it is completely abolished
in a country.
Trajan’s Column is a 35m high column of honor for Emperor Trajan and it was erected in AD 113 by the Roman emperor. The column is richly decorated with a spiral rising frieze. Shown are successful wars of Trajan.
The Trajan’s markets, directly behind Trajan’s Column, have six floors whose façades are semi-circular. The Trajan’s markets are considered the first covered shopping center in history. From the semi-circular cloisters on the right and left side, small retail spaces for the dealers branched off. Today, it houses the Museo Fori dei Imperiali, with 170 original fragments from Roman times. The Trajan’s markets have a total floor area of 2,000 square meters.
The Forum Romano is a very
special place – but you need a little fantasy to imagine what it looked like
some time ago.
The area was a swamp before
the forum was established in the seventh century BC. The forum began to develop
when in 490 BC two temples were built in honor of the gods Saturn and Castor.
In ancient Rome, the Forum Romano was the social, cultural, economic and
political center of the city and it was considered the center of power of the
entire Roman Empire.
Today, only ruins are left
of the Forum Romano. Like the Colosseum, it was used as a quarry for the
construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Nevertheless, there are still many traces
of the old forum. And some monuments are still very well preserved, such as the
Arch of Titus, later used as a model for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Unfortunately, we didn´t have enough time to visit the grounds of Forum Romano, but I’d recommend everyone with more time to plan at least one or two hours for a visit. You see, one day in Rome is just not enough.
Tip: At the ticket booth in
front of Forum Romano you can buy a combi-ticket for the Colosseum and Forum
Romano. You might avoid the long lines in front of the Colosseum.
Victor Emmanuel II Monument
The monument was erected for Victor Emmanuel II between 1885 and 1927. Inside, there is the Museo del Risorgimento with an exhibition on the Italian Revolutionary Wars.
The Victor Emmanuel II Monument stands out and is a thorn in the side of many Romans. To be honest, I can understand that, as it does not really fit into the cityscape. It is way too white, too chunky and massive. So, if it was just the building itself and you only had one day in Rome, I wouldn’t have recommended a visit. Nevertheless, a visit is worthwhile, as you have a great view of the city from the roof “Terrace of the Quadrighe”.
Unfortunately, that was everything we were able to see in only one day in Rome. Of course, there are much more attractions and must-sees in Rome – still I think we saw a lot and my husband got a very good impression of this amazing city. If you are lucky and have more time in Rome, you should definitely check out all the other interesting places. Below you will find some of my other recommendations.
You have more than one day in Rome? Then visit the following sights
Actually, the Spanish Steps in Rome are called Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti. The name Spanish Steps derives from the Piazza di Spagna, which lies at the foot of the stairs.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
In the Vatican Museum you can find one of the largest and most important collections of cultural treasures from all over the world. Therefore a visit is an absolute must for Rome visitors. But you should plan enough time – at least half a day I would say. The museum consists of 12 complexes and over 1,300 rooms. For a round tour you have to walk seven kilometers. The most famous part of the museums is probably the Sistine Chapel, which was inaugurated in 1483. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the chapel on more than 520 square meters, where scenes of Genesis can be seen. Above all, “The Creation of Adam”, which shows how Adam is brought to life by the outstretched finger of God.
The Palatine is one of the seven hills on which Rome was built. The Palatine is today one of the most important and largest excavation sites, with a high number of imperial palaces and temples. Also, the hut of the city founders Romulus and Remus was supposed to be here.
It was the largest circus in ancient Rome and probably the largest arena ever built. The Circus Maximus was 600 meters long, 140 meters wide and there was enough space for over 385,000 visitors.
Villa Borghese is a large landscaped garden with many buildings such as the Galleria Borghese with its museum, temples and fountains. By the way, the Italian “Villa” does not mean big house, but big garden.
Bocca della Verità
The antique marble face is around 200 years old and bears the name “Mouth of Truth”. Already in the Middle Ages it was believed, that if one puts his hand into the mouth and did not speak the truth, that it would be bitten off. So, it is a mixture of lie detector and test of courage. Bocca della Verità is located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
Baths of Caracalla
In AD 216, Emperor Caracalla opened the new thermal baths, making it the second largest bathing complex in Rome. The number of bathers that could be served is estimated at 6000-8000 per day. Today, the Baths of Caracalla are the best-preserved spa complex of this size in Rome.
It is the smallest of the seven hills of Rome but the symbolic power is huge. Here, in ancient times, military, civil and religious power was concentrated. The Capitol Square (Piazza del Campidoglio) was completely designed by Michelangelo. Worth seeing is also the Musei Capitolini with one of the greatest art collections in the world. Countless sculptures, reliefs, paintings and priceless mosaics are to be found here.
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo is the “people’s square” in the middle of Rome. On the historic Piazza stands the largest obelisk in Rome. The square was once the first sight of the city for visitors arriving from the north.
Campo de’ Fiori
Campo de ‘Fiori is a very nice place with a special atmosphere. Every morning (except on Sundays) marketers come here to open colorful stalls, selling vegetables, fruit, cheese, pasta, clothing, homewares and lots of Rome souvenirs.
Over the Tiber you should go, if you are in the mood for culture and nightlife. Trastevere is considered a bohemian district. Locals as well as tourists enjoy the quaint streets, the romantic Piazza Santa Maria and the seemingly endless number of bars, restaurants and pubs. Originally, Trastevere was a neighborhood of workers, immigrants and outsiders. The neighborhood has maintained its internationality to this day, but house prices have risen over time. Nevertheless, there are still numerous small independent shops, so not only night owls, but also shopping fans get their money’s worth.
My tip: The catacombs
If you have more than one day in Rome, I would definitely recommend this attraction. One of the largest and most important catacombs in Rome is the Catacombs of Calixtus, which was built around AD 150. In these places of burial, 16 popes and many martyrs are buried. It extends to an area of about 15 hectares, spreads over four levels, up to 20m deep into the ground. The total length of underground corridors is about 20 kilometers. The graves in the catacombs are estimated at 370,000 – but the number of burials is estimated to be well over a million due to reuse.