Rome is jam-packed with things to do and see. These are some of our suggested itineraries. Make sure to leave yourself time to just wander and get the feel of the city as well.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if that’s all you have to see it, take a deep breath, strap on some stylish comfy sneakers, and grab a cappuccino to help you get an early start. Get ready for a spectacular sunrise-to-sunset spree of the Ancient City.
Begin by exploring Rome's most beautiful neighborhood, Vecchia Roma (Old Rome), the area around Piazza Navona. Start out on Via del Corso, the big avenue that runs into Piazza Venezia, the traffic hub of the historic center.
A block apart are two opulently over-the-top monuments that show off Rome at its Baroque best: the church of Sant'Ignazio and the princely Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, aglitter with great Old Master paintings. Mid-morning, head west a few blocks to find the granddaddy of monuments, the fabled Pantheon, still looking like Emperor Hadrian might arrive shortly. A few blocks north is San Luigi dei Francesi, home to the greatest Caravaggio paintings in the world.
Just before lunch, saunter a block or so westward into beyond-beautiful Piazza Navona, studded with Bernini fountains. Then take Via Cucagna (at the piazza's south end) and continue several blocks toward Campo de' Fiori's open-air food market (for some lunch-on-the-run fixings). A great place to stop for a cheap and quick panino or a slice of pizza is Forno Campo de’ Fiori (Campo de’ Fiori 22).
Two more blocks toward the Tiber brings you to one of the most romantic streets of Rome, Via Giulia, laid out by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century. Walk past 10 blocks of Renaissance palazzos and ivy-draped antiques shops to take a bus (from the stop near the Tiber) over to the Vatican.
Gape at St. Peter's Basilica, then hit the treasure-filled Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel) in the early afternoon—during lunch, the crowds empty out! Wander for about two hours and then head for the Ottaviano stop near the museum and Metro your way to the Colosseo stop.
Climb up into the Colosseum and picture it full of screaming toga-clad citizens enjoying the spectacle of gladiators in mortal combat. Follow Via dei Fori Imperiali to the entrance of the Roman Forum. Photograph yourself giving a "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" oration (complete with upraised hand) on one of the marble fragments. At sunset, the Forum closes but the floodlights come on.
March down the forum's Via Sacra—people walked here centuries before Christ—and back out into Via dei Fori Imperiali where you will head around "the wedding cake," the looming Vittorio Emanuele Monument (Il Vittoriano), to the Campidoglio. Here, on the Capitoline Hill, tour the great ancient Roman art treasures of the Musei Capitolini (which is open most nights until 8), and snap the view from the terrace over the spotlit Forum.
After dinner, hail a cab—or take a long passeggiata walk down La Dolce Vita memory lane—to the Trevi Fountain, a gorgeous sight at night. Needless to say, toss a coin in to ensure your return trip back to Rome.
Temples Through Time: Religious Rome
Making a trip to Rome and not going to see the Vatican Museums or St. Peter's Basilica is almost like breaking one of the Ten Commandments. If you head out early enough (yes, 7 am), you might get a jump on the line for the Vatican Museums, where one of the world's grandest and most comprehensive collections of artwork is stored. Even better, book tickets online at biglietteriamusei.vatican.va beforehand, and you get to skip the line, period (tickets cost slightly more—€20 instead of €16—but it saves you headaches). Once you've conquered both, take the Metro from Ottaviano to Piazza del Popolo (Metro stop: Flaminio), where Santa Maria del Popolo is not to be missed for its famous chapels decorated by Raphael and Caravaggio.
Head south along the Corso for about 10 blocks toward Sant'Ignazio, an eye-popping example of Baroque Rome, with its amazing “Oh, I can’t believe my eyes” optical illusion of a dome. Take Via Sant'Ignazio to Via Piè di Marmo, which will lead you to Piazza della Minerva, where Bernini's elephant obelisk monument lies in wait. Take in the adjacent Gothic-style Santa Maria sopra Minerva, best known for Michelangelo's Risen Christ.
Then make your way south to Corso Vittorio Emanuele and the bus piazza at Largo Argentina where you'll take Tram No. 8 to picturesque Trastevere, one of Rome's quaintest quarters. Make your way through a series of winding cobblestoned alleyways and piazzas toward the famed Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, where one of Rome's oldest churches—Santa Maria in Trastevere—stands. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church has a fine display of glimmering gilded mosaics covering what is perhaps Rome's most spectacular nave.
Retail Therapy: Shop-’Til-You-Drop Rome
For serious shoppers, there’s no better place to treat yourself to some retail therapy than the network of elegant streets at the Spanish Steps. If money is no question, Rome's Via dei Condotti (Metro A stop: Spagna) is paradiso. VIPs can continue their shopping spree down streets Via del Babuino for fabled antique furniture and fine jewelry, and Via Frattina for exclusive boutiques. Even if you're penny-pinching, window-shopping can be just as fun as you make your way down to the more affordable Via del Corso. Department-store-style shopping can be done in the Galleria Alberto Sordi halfway along the Corso, or at COIN in Termini station.
If vintage is your thing, head toward Piazza Navona and down Via del Governo Vecchio, where an assortment of vintage consignment shops features high-end clothing, handbags, and accessories.
Now that you've blown your shopping budget, it's time for real bargain-shopping Roman style. For rock-bottom bargains try the city’s open air and flea markets. Rome's largest and most famous are markets on Via Sannio in San Giovanni (Monday–Saturday only) and the Porta Portese market (Sunday only) in Trastevere.
The market on Via Sannio specializes in new and used clothing, shoes, and accessories. The Porta Portese market sells everything but the kitchen sink: clothes, souvenirs, antiques, housewares, and knickknacks galore.