Before my recent Mediterranean cruise, I flew in a day and a half early to enjoy one day in Rome. Here’s my itinerary for what to see in Rome plus what tours I booked.
During my one day in Rome, I was able to see all the sights like the Colosseum, Vatican, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain, plus I also enjoyed a food tour.
My day was spent enjoying a self-guided walking tour as well as a food tour in the evening that worked as dinner. For those that want to see the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, I was able to book a tour for that on my return from the cruise, however, I’m including it in this one-day itinerary if you’re open to a long day.
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Morning in Rome Itinerary First Stop at the Vatican
Start your morning with an early breakfast at your hotel and head to the Vatican for a tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica if you choose. One thing I learned about tours during my time in Europe is that the larger ones are not pleasant.
I was supposed to do a private Vatican highlights tour with an added secret Masks room tour with LivTours but the timing didn’t work with our transfer so I missed it. If you’re really interested in the Vatican, then this would be an ideal tour to book for a private experience.
For your morning tour of the Vatican, if you don’t book the private tour, I highly recommend the Semi-Private Early Morning Vatican Tour with LivTours. This semi-private tour will only have 6 people and will start at 7:30 am.
You’ll get to tour the Pinecone courtyard, Octagonal Courtyard & Belvedere Palace, Muses Room & Belvedere Torso, Lacoon statue, Apollo Belevedere statue, Gallery of Candelabra, Gallery of Maps, Gallery of Tapestries, Raphael Rooms, School of Athens painting, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s ceiling, St Peter’s Basilica, Bernini’s bronze altar canopy, and St Peter’s square.
If you are really into art and want to see all that the Vatican has to offer, book the Early Vatican Tour with the Secret Rooms. It includes viewings of the secret Room of the Animals, Hall of Busts, and Cabinet of the Masks, which aren’t included on the traditional tours.
If you don’t care about seeing the multiple rooms of the Vatican museums, you can book the Sistine Chapel tour that skips the other Vatican museums. I don’t recommend this as there is enough time to enjoy all the Vatican sights with my one-day in Rome itinerary and there are some beautiful things to see in the other rooms beyond the Sistine Chapel.
Note: photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Also, I highly recommend you do a little bit of reading about the Sistine Chapel artwork and/or about the Vatican before visiting. However, going on a small-group or private guided tour will let you learn quite a bit about the artistic masterpieces even if you don’t study beforehand.
Starting first thing in the morning will help you beat the crowds and see the Vatican which is located in the upper corner of the “loop” of sights I will reference seeing on your day in Rome. If you don’t book the LivTour, you can book a small-group tour Vatican tour with GetYourGuide, but realize you’ll have around 15-20 people in your tour group and will not be early entry so it will have crowds.
After your tour wraps up, you can visit a small gift shop and post office to the left of the Basilica (right side when leaving the Basilica). Here you can purchase postcards and buy stamps to mail home and they will be postmarked with a Vatican City mark.
It will cost 2.40€ to mail a postcard to the USA from Vatican City, and the postcards can be purchased at the gift shop or even some limited designs are available at the post office. I believe the post office is cash only or has a minimum spend amount to use credit cards.
We stayed at the Starhotels Michelangelo which is located near the Vatican and a great starting point to explore Rome and get to and from the airport. Keep in mind, if you’re taking a cruise out of Rome, it will leave out of Civitavecchia, which is about an hour away from the city center of Rome.
Afternoon Walking Tour of Rome Sights in 1 Day
If you opt for an early morning Vatican tour, you should finish around 11:30 am. From the Vatican, you’ll now have about 5-6 hours to explore the main sights as well as get some lunch along the way. This is a plan that is optimal for people comfortable with walking, you’ll walk around 8 miles to see all the sites.
To avoid walking so much, you can look into buying a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus in Rome. There are a few different brands that offer this and most of them drop at spots near each of the top sights.
Keep in mind that this is just a one-day take in the sights tour. If you want to go inside any of these stops, like the Colosseum, you’ll need a bit more time. This itinerary includes a food tour, which is how I ended my day. However, if that’s not your preference, you could absolutely choose to buy a tour ticket for one or two of the other popular Rome attractions to visit during your one day in Rome.
When I did my 1 day Rome tour, I started at the Vatican and worked my way around in a loop seeing the main sights. We headed east from the Vatican and walked past the Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as Hadrian’s Tomb. We then walked across the Tiber River on the beautiful St. Angelo Bridge (Ponte Sant’Angelo).
You’ll make your way towards Piazza Navona, a famous square with three fountains, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro, and Fontana di Nettuno. This is one of the largest squares of Rome. The most notable fountain in this square is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi which Bernini created in 1651 for the Pope.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, the many streets and alleyways around Piazza Navona are the perfect place to find a café to enjoy a drink and get lunch.
From Piazza Navona, you’ll head towards the Pantheon. Don’t confuse this with the Parthenon in Greece. The Pantheon is beautiful to see inside, so if you love ancient architecture and are visiting during the week (weekends require reservations and have long lines), you might want to go inside. Admission is free.
After the Pantheon, you’ll make your way towards the Colosseum. You can route yourself past the Largo di Torre Argentina which is the area where Julius Caesar was killed.
As you continue towards the Colosseum you pass the Altar of the Fatherland monument. This momument was built between 1885 and 1935 to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. It’s home to the Tomb of the Italian Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame.
Colosseum & Roman Forum Ruins
Following Via dei Fori Imperiali from the monument will lead you past the Roman Forum ruins towards the Colosseum. Unless you buy a ticket for entry to the Colosseum and ruins, you’ll just see these sights from the street, but for me, that was enough for my 1 day in Rome.
Once I saw the Colosseum and captured my photo of the exterior, I headed back up the east side of Via dei Fori Imperiali and then off towards the Trevi Fountain. As you enter the Trevi Fountain area you’ll notice busy cafes and higher prices, so make sure you’ve already eaten lunch before you start this leg of the tour.
The Trevi Fountain is of course spectacular and also very busy. This majestic fountain in the city was built in 1762 and features the god, Oceanus. It’s said that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder while facing AWAY from the fountain, you’ll be lucky enough to return to Rome again.
From the Trevi Fountain, you’ll make your way to the Spanish Steps, which have been featured in a few Hollywood films and shows, including Roman Holiday in 1953. You can no longer sit on these steps, which likely got their name from the nearby Spanish Embassy, but they’re still fun to see in person. At the bottom of the steps is the Fontana della Barcaccia, aka Fountain of the Long Boat.
You can walk along the Via dei Condotti from the Spanish Steps and do some luxury shopping if that’s your choice. Stores such as Prada, Louis Vitton, and Gucci line the road and are ready to welcome tourists with big pockets, you just have to look legit enough to get past the security at the doors.
Now you have seen many of the famous sites of Rome and are ready to head back to your hotel for the night. Or, if you’re up for a food tour, get ready for a progressive dinner around the city.
Evening in Rome with LivTours Food Tour
You’ll walk towards Piazza Mattei for your food & wine tour which will begin at 6:30 pm. This meeting point is at the edge of the old Jewish quarters (“ghetto”) of the city. From there you’ll experience a five-course meal with drinks at various restaurants around the city.
Be sure to ask your guide if there are any special sights to see along the way. During our food tour we passed the Pantheon (which we saw earlier) as well as the spot where Julius Caesar was killed.
Starting off your food tour, you’ll have a taste of three dishes, fried artichoke, fried cod, and fried zucchini flowers. You’ll also taste some delicious Prosseco sparkling wine.
After your appetizers, aka antipasti, your next stop will be for some meat and cheese as well as your choice of white or red wine.
Your next food tour stop will be for a couple of individual slices of pizza. This grab-n-go stop is perfect for tourists and features some unique options like potato and eggplant pizza as well as the classic Margherita.
Now it’s time for your main course and you’ll head to a sit-down restaurant for your choice of pasta, Pepe, Carbonara, or Amatriciana. You’ll also enjoy some more wine along with your pasta.
The food tour will finish at a local gelateria where you can get two scoops of your favorite gelato flavors. It’s all about the stracciatella, aka chocolate chip, for me!
The food tour will end around 11 pm, and as you make your way back to your lodging you can see Rome at night. Your tour guide will help direct you to your hotel from the gelato shop where the tour ends.
Book this food tour with LivTours.
I’m amazed at how much we were able to see in just one day in Rome!
Tips for Touring Rome in One Day
This tour works well if you have Google maps on your phone, but we did it all with a tourist map from our hotel. You can buy maps from most of the souvenir shops around the city, or buy one on Amazon before you leave. You can also use your phone to navigate to the next stop.
Don’t be scared to take some smaller roads between sights versus always staying on the main bus street routes. You can also buy this Walk Rome book from Amazon to help guide you and give you history and information about each of the sites.
I’ve created this custom Google Map to help guide you along the way:
There are free water fountains in Rome and the water is safe to drink. I wasn’t sure about this but asked plenty of people and did some research and it’s true. So, don’t forget your water bottle, and watch for fountains around popular sites so you can refill while you’re out.
I felt very safe while walking around Rome at night, but I wasn’t alone, and I did wear my locking sling bag across my front instead of my back. Be a smart traveler and always stay alert to your surroundings and make sure you behave like a confident traveler.
Remember that other than the Vatican tours and food tours I mentioned above, this plan doesn’t include any other site tours. If you are planning to tour another attraction, do your research beforehand about ticket options and reservations. There are plenty of people around the popular attractions that will try to sell you entry into the sites, and they often aren’t reputable so beware.
If you’re not into walking, the hop-on-hop-off bus tour is an excellent option to save you some time and walking. Ticket prices vary based on the length of time you want to access the buses and if you want all-day access or just one loop. There are also a few competing companies all selling the tickets, and getting seats can be tough during the busy tourist season.
I hope this itinerary plan has helped you prepare for your trip to Rome! I know that it’s a city that deserves days and even weeks, but at least this Rome in a day plan gives you a taste of the highlights, and lets you capture some great instagrammable photo spots in Rome! It’s perfect for those who are coming to Rome for a Mediterranean cruise, or for those who are planning a trip to Europe.
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[…] enjoy the sights. On my Costa Cruise, I arrived early and we took in all the tourist sights with my one day in Rome itinerary! We also did a food tour at night and I highly recommend it for experiencing some Rome […]