How to spend 48 hours in Rome, Italy

Nov 5, 2020

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Rome is known as the Eternal City, but you may not have an eternity to see it. If you happen to have just a weekend to explore the Italian capital, don’t worry. You won’t be able to see it all, but you can certainly make a dent in this magnificent place with a 48-hour holiday.

Activities in Rome depend greatly on how many times you’ve seen the city. If you’re a first-time visitor, you’ll want to see all the famous sites, but those coming back for the second or third time may prefer to get off-the-beaten-path a bit. Therefore, each section includes some less-touristy alternatives to check out in lieu of the more famous attractions.

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Rome, Italy. (Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty)


Major air carriers like Alitalia, British Airways and even low-cost carriers like Vueling and EasyJet fly into Fiumicino, Rome’s largest airport. Ryanair and Wizz Air fly to Ciampino airport, the city’s secondary airport. An array of trains and buses will take you from the airports to varying stations and points around the city, and taxi/ride-hailing services like Uber are also available.

Where to stay

Rome has plenty of options for accommodation regardless of your budget. Those wanting a more local experience should consider a home or apartment rental in a neighbourhood like Trastevere, Monti or Testaccio.

If you’re in the market for a splurge (or have a stash of Marriott points), the St. Regis Rome is located off one of the city’s most famous squares, Piazza della Repubblica.

The St. Regis Rome. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

For a more boutique feel, consider the Liberty Hotel, which is home to a gorgeous rooftop bar. The cosy rooms at budget property Hotel Veneto Relais are small but have extra amenities like espresso machines and flat-screen TVs.

Evening 1

Once you’ve checked into your hotel, you’ll want to explore your surroundings. Start by checking out iconic spots such as the Trevi Fountain (make sure to toss a coin in for luck), the Pantheon and the famous Piazza Navona.

The Trevi Fountain at dusk is extra special. (Photo by RilindH/Getty)

A trip to Rome isn’t complete without gelato (even in winter), so make sure to stop at Gelateria del Teatro for a cone to go. Stick to traditional flavours like Sicilian pistachio or Amalfi lemon or sample a unique creation like white chocolate basil or lavender and peach.

Then, stroll all the way down the Tiber River at sunset until you reach Trastevere. Make sure to stop and admire Rome’s island mid-river, Isola Tiberina.

Sunsets along the Tiber are magical. (Photo by lightkey/Getty)

If you’ve already seen spots like the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, consider wandering along the river, through Trastevere and visiting the Parco del Gianicolo, a peaceful green space that offers stunning views of the Roman cityscape.

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for: a chance to indulge in pizza. Pizzeria IVO is one of the most famous no-frills, red-and-white-checked-tablecloth pizzerias, beloved by tourists and locals alike. Located in Trastevere, this spot can get busy on a Friday night, so get there early to avoid waiting.

Related: 7 underrated regions of Italy with the best food and wine

Day 2

If you’re dying to visit the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum, they’re closed on Sundays so you should plan to head there first thing Saturday morning — well, after getting a coffee and sweet pastry at a local spot near your hotel for breakfast, of course. Remember, it’s cheaper to sip your espresso standing at the bar with the locals. Buying tickets ahead of time for these attractions will ensure you avoid long waits in line and disappointment, especially during high tourist season. Remember to dress modestly — you won’t be allowed in if your knees and shoulders aren’t covered.

The Spanish Steps. (Photo by Blueplace/Getty)

Once you’ve had your fill of Renaissance art and tourists, cross the river and head to the famous Spanish Steps. Feel free to walk up and down them, but don’t sit — you could be fined up to £350 for plopping down. Then, stop for a riverside lunch on a barge covered in windows that sits on the Tiber River.

Alternatively, you could skip the Vatican experience and head to the Castel Sant’Angelo, a spectacular Roman monument and fortress in a distinct circular shape that towers over the river. For a stunning painted ceiling without the hordes of tourists, consider a visit to the Sant’Ignazio church. The massive ceiling fresco, covered with cherubs and religious figures upon a blue sky background, will leave you mesmerised.

The ceiling at Sant’Ignazio is a hidden wonder. (Photo by Massimo Merlini/Getty)

Regardless of your selected morning activity, you’ll want to leisurely stroll through the Villa Borghese Park in the afternoon. Those wanting a charming (and also budget) lunch experience can stop at Salumeria Focacci, a gourmet market. Pick up fresh Italian focaccia bread, prosciutto and bresaola (a cured beef) and of course, Italian cheeses (skip the mozzarella and opt for a pecorino or truffle-infused variety), a bottle of local Frascati wine and have your very own Italian park picnic.

For dinner, head back down to the ivy-covered, cobblestone streets of Trastevere for dinner at Spirito DiVino, a slow-food restaurant that takes a modern twist on age-old recipes with a focus on fresh, organic ingredients. Make sure to check out the wine cellar, which has more than 5,000 different bottles.

The neighbourhood of Trastevere in Rome. (Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty)

If you’d prefer to continue on with wine, head over to Enoteca La Vite, a cosy wine bar outfitted in wood that feels like you’re hanging out in someone’s living room. If it’s an Aperol Spritz you’d prefer, check out one of Trastevere’s most famous drinking spots, Freni e Frizioni, where you can order your cocktail of choice and enjoy it under dimly lit chandeliers or on the outdoor terrace.

Related: How to plan a budget trip to Italy

Day 3

You’ll want to get up early to enjoy your last day in Rome. The Colosseum opens at 8:30 a.m. on Sundays, but first, grab a hearty breakfast at Bar La Licata. With specialities like pancakes, eggs and pistachio croissants, the spot combines traditional Italian pastries with international breakfast favourites. For those with dietary restrictions or on a health kick, this spot offers vegan options, too.

The Colosseum at sunrise. (Photo by Harald Nachtmann/Getty)

Buying your combined Colosseum and Roman Forum tickets online is the best plan to avoid waiting in line in the hot sun. The Roman Forum opens at 10:30 a.m., so you’ll want to do the Colesseum first if you can make it there early enough. Make sure to wear sunblock and drink plenty of water, as these attractions involve a lot of walking outdoors.

The Roman Forum. (Photo by PEC Photo/Getty)

An alternative for seasoned Rome visitors is to take a Vespa tour with a company like My Vespa Tours or  Scooteroma. These tours can be curated to your interests, so you can cruise past all the main sights or focus your tour on things like food, street art, Baroque Rome or cinema. If Vespas make you nervous, you could also consider a free walking tour, which may open your eyes to new and interesting attractions in addition to all the fan favourites.

Then, enjoy a late (and boozy) lunch at wine bar Litro, where you can sample biodynamic Italian wines and pair it with organic cuisine. Before heading to the airport, head down to the Mercato di Testaccio to pick up some local delights to bring back home as gifts (or for yourself). Nearby, the gourmet market Salumiera Volpetti also has plenty of Italian food goods — you may want to pick up snacks or food for your flight.

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Bottom line

The Eternal City. (Photo by Harald Nachtmann/Getty)

Whether it’s your first trip to Rome or your ninth, a weekend visit to the Italian capital is never a bad idea. There’s plenty to do when it comes to tourist attractions, but there’s also something special about seeing the hidden, underrated side of Rome, too.

Featured photo courtesy of JaCZhou 2015/Getty

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