“I love it here but after a while we get a little tired of seeing all these naked statues,” a Midwest couple confided to me about their first trip to Rome.
I had already decided that Italy was my favorite country on my first whirlwind trip to Europe. A Eurail pass was my ticket to scour the country. After traversing Italy back and forth a few times, the sensory overload from being exposed to so much art, pasta (washed down by portable flasks of Chianti) and history was fabulously intoxicating.
The Italian culture had cast a spell over me, as did each town and area that I visited: Venice, Florence (when I arrived here on the overnight train I thought I’d awakened in heaven), Capri, Pompeii, Assisi, Umbria, Tuscany. Travelers may be inexorably drawn to any of these locations and land in Rome with only a day en route to their desired destination. But to me, the Eternal City was the pinnacle of my trip, one of the awe-inspiring events of my life.
If you have just one day in Rome before heading out to other spots in Italy, prioritizing and wise scheduling is key. My recommendation is to first head to the Coliseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum, the heart of Ancient Rome. This will truly bring alive those high school world history textbooks. Present-day Italy is fascinating and wonderful, but it’s this firsthand exposure to layers of history that makes your visit a memorable and transcendent one.
Walk up the steps of Capitoline Hill to the summit for a magnificent view of the Roman Forum and Coliseum. This is the Cambidoglio, a sacred site of ancient Rome.
A short walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali brings you to the ruins of the various forums of Imperial Rome, including the Roman Forum. Then explore the 1,930-year-old Coliseum. A combination ticket to the Coliseum also grants access to the Palatine Hill, an area inhabited by the first inhabitants of Rome as well as several emperors and philosophers. The Palatine Museum provides historical context. Allow 3-4 hours for an unhurried exploration of the area. Take a map as a guide to the ruins – and to avoid lines it’s best to order and print out your ticket online.
The afternoon presents several options. The Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps is a wonderful Roman neighborhood. Walk around and take in the sights and sounds around you. Nearby, Caffe Sant Eustachio serves what many locals claim is the best coffee in Rome. The Keats Shelly House is also near here and worth a visit.
I recommend the Vatican Museum for an afternoon visit, even if you aren’t Catholic. Timing is essential here to avoid the long lines. If you arrive a few hours before closing time, you’ll have less of a wait than if you visit in the morning. Again, it’s best to reserve in advance online. The museum has stunning galleries – a breathtaking collection of treasures acquired by the Catholic Church since Pope Julius founded it in the 16th century. The Sistine Chapel is here, a must see.
One of the most well-preserved structures in Rome, the Pantheon, is a temple dating from 27 BC. It stands at the Piazza della Rotonda and is well worth a visit. Next to the Pantheon is the Piazza Navona, considered by many to be the most beautiful square in Rome. There are several dining choices at hand. Round out your day here and head back to your hotel to get a good night’s sleep for whatever your next stop is in this magical country.
And if you want to stretch out the night a bit, head over to the Trevi Fountain and toss in a coin to ensure your return. La Dolce Vita!