Confession: I was just 3 days into my week-long trip in Rome when I began strategizing on how to stay even longer. Master plan? Attend grad school in Rome. Obviously that didn’t pan out, but I was so in love with Rome that I was looking for any excuse to stay.
How does one even begin to summarize the Eternal City? Thousands of years of history preserved almost perfectly. It’s uncanny. You’ll just run into monuments and landmarks. Rome is covered in them.
I had my expectations set low for Rome, only to be blown away by everything I experienced. “Just so you know,” a fellow travel addict tried to warn. “It’s so crowded and dirty. It’s just not what I was anticipating.” Now removed, it seems like kind of a silly complaint. Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, of course it won’t be sparkling clean. Honestly, I thought the city, for all its inhabitants and visitors, was pretty well kept.
It’s a major tourist hub, there will be crowds. But they’re here because Rome is a treasure. So here it is, a 4 day Rome itinerary to take in the city’s best. Have fun!
How to Spend 4 Days in Rome
Map of Rome
Introduction to Rome
Official Language(s): Italian
Emergency phone number: 112
When to Go to Rome
Early fall is perhaps your best bet to experience Rome at its… calmest. Not that Rome is ever truly calm, but you get what I’m saying.
The November weather when I visited was extremely pleasant. Most days I wore jeans and a t-shirt. The crowds are there, of course, but they’re much more manageable. Most places, like some of the churches I’ll mention in a bit, didn’t even have a line to get in.
Where to Stay in Rome
Seven Rooms Vatican
(Ignore the mess, I had just unpacked.)
Seven Rooms Vatican feels like a high-end hotel, but at a good price. The neighborhood is what really sold it to me. It’s a 10 minute walk to the Vatican, and about 50 minutes to the Colosseum. It’s far enough removed from the tourist scene, but still major sights were still easily accessible. Giulio was also a wonderful host. He drove us to and from the airport and recommended some wonderful places to visit.
How to Get Around in Rome
Rome Transport Tickets
I walked to the vast majority of the sights I visited in Rome. The city is so beautiful, I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Rome’s public transportation is vast and capable of taking you anywhere. Worst case scenario, you can always call an Uber.
Where to Eat in Rome
Da Francesco began my carbonara obsession. It’s a delightful restaurant a few minutes from Castel Sant’Angelo. We were able to get a seat outside, and I’d recommend it if you can. The food is delicious and the environment is a delight.
Roscioli is sort of a hub in Rome. Just 10 minutes walk from the Pantheon, there’s a store, bakery and a restaurant. I reserved a space in advance so we could all be seated in the wine cellar. It felt like a true Italian experience; good wine, a variety of delicious bread, and pasta cooked al dente.
Bella Napoli was a frequent stop of ours, ever since we saw reviews saying “large portion sizes.” Uh, they’re not kidding. I’d order pasta and have enough leftover for breakfast. The quantity was massive, but the quality was there. I had pasta and pizza during my visits, and both were fabulous.
Ristorante Nicò was my first Italian meal, and first taste of pizza in Italy. I loved it. It’s a small, family-run joint and the people who run it couldn’t have been nicer. They gave us recommendations based on our preferences and welcomed us to Italy. I had the quattro formaggi and it was a true experience. I’ve never tasted parmesan so fresh and flavorful in my life.
Day 1 of 4 Days in Rome
Rome’s Ultimate Walking Tour is a perfect way to start your Rome experience. At least, that’s how my time in the city began. It’s a free tour (but please tip your guides, k?). Consider it an introductory tour to Rome.
It begins in Piazza del Popolo, which is charming enough on its own. The guide will take you through Via del Corso, the Pantheon, the Fiumi fountain and end at Castel Sant’Angelo. You’ll leave with endless recommendations for restaurants and sightseeing. I can’t believe it’s free. It covers so much ground in so little time.
Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
Our Rome’s Ultimate guide, Chris, cited the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola as a must-see. In his own words, the painted ceilings rivaled the Vatican. He’s not kidding. They’re spectacular. It’s not a really “hot” destination, so there wasn’t a line to get in and we moved around pretty freely. Thank goodness. I could spend hours gazing at that ceiling.
The Trevi Fountain is nearby. Photos don’t do it justice. It’s overwhelming, pretty and elaborate in person. The story goes that if you close your eyes and throw in a coin backwards into the fountain, your wish will come true. I wished to be back in Italy as soon as possible. (Spoiler alert: It worked.)
Not too far off are the Spanish Steps. As of 2019, you can no longer climb these steps. The government has roped them off as the wear and tear over the years was starting to show.
You can still visit and admire from a distance though.
Day 2 of 4 Days in Rome
The Vatican Museums
I think an entire day should be devoted to the treasure trove that is the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Purchasing your ticket online will give you booking times, and I’d go as early as possible (early being 9:30 a.m.). The sooner you can get there, the better.
Remember that this is a religious area. Shoulders must be covered to enter the Vatican.
The area itself can be a bit confusing to navigate, but it’s one of those places where getting lost only leads you to another beautiful area. I loved exploring the Vatican Gardens. It made the lead up to the Vatican itself seem all the more special.
Inside the museum, you’ll notice a shortcut for those who are short on time and want to get straight to the Sistine Chapel. It’s convenient for the harried, but if you can, spend the 2-3 hours and walk through the whole damn maze of stuff. It seem endless; famous sculptures, Raphael’s work, and ancient artifacts as far as the eye can see. Take your time.
When you finally do reach the Sistine Chapel, don’t be an idiot like I was. You can’t take photos while you’re there. I missed the sign. A guard politely informed me and I was so embarrassed. Don’t give tourists a bad rep, just stand back and take in the beauty.
There’s a couple of eating options in the museum, and I’d recommend a stop for lunch before embarking on St. Peter’s Basilica. You’re gonna need the fuel if you plan to climb the dome.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter, and the line always looks near impossible from the get go. It looks bad, but give it 45 minutes and you’ll be inside. It moves much faster than it looks.
The Basilica is impressive and beautiful beyond words. It really is an architectural marvel. While I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, being in the largest Catholic Cathedral almost felt like coming home.
Climb the Dome
But, ah, do let me warn you. Climbing the dome is rough. I paid €8 to go up the elevator and skip the worst parts and I still felt winded. Bring water. The dome is so much larger and stair-filled than it looks. But, oh man, look at that view.
Day 3 of 4 Days in Rome
Galleria Borghese houses artwork so powerful you don’t even need to be a Bernini or Caravaggio fan to appreciate it. The museum’s pieces are expertly laid out so you can walk around the sculpture and see every angle. It’s amazing.
After your tour with art, it’s worth your time to walk around the gardens and park for a bit. There’s something magical about fall in Rome, and the surrounding area of Galleria Borghese seems to know it.
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a stunning church to end the evening on. There’s something about seeing it during the sunset that adds to the experience, in a way. The opulence struck me right away. The ceiling, the altar, all of it felt like a Basilica someone like me wouldn’t be allowed near.
Day 4 of 4 Days in Rome
Visit the Colosseum, Forum and Pantheon
Perhaps Rome’s biggest draws, the Colosseum, Forum and Pantheon, are within feasible distance of each other. You don’t necessarily need to book a tour, but I did anyways. I love history. I wanted to hear every detail behind every step I’m about to take. That’s a tad dramatic, but what good is a visit if you don’t know the history?
The tour I booked is linked here. I loved it and thought it was fabulously executed. Roberta was our guide and she is a well of historical facts. First, she took us through the Colosseum, explaining the effort it took to build the arena (unfortunately, it was slave labor), the process to become a gladiator and what the spectators would’ve witnessed.
Next, we were guided through the Forum. It’s a sprawling area of ruins that’s really cool, but it can be difficult to know what the function of each space was.
Enter Roberta. She showed us where the government building were, how the market functioned and explained the role of the Vesta Virgins. I was fascinated.
Finally, you’ll arrive at the Pantheon. No one is 100% sure how the dome was created, and quite frankly I can’t say for sure either. But it is marvelous. So difficult to photograph, sadly. But so beautiful. Many famous Romans are buried here. If you’re a fan of Raphael, now’s the chance to pay your respects.
The area of Trastevere, known colloquially as “Rome’s favorite neighborhood” deserves to be your final stop. It’s an area lost in time. Cobblestone streets, vines growing on the sides of buildings and open shutters await. It’s almost as if you’re discovering Rome’s hidden quarters. It’s quieter, and the experience is sweet.
Basilica di Santa Maria
I walked through Piazza di Santa Maria and peeked into the Basilica of the same name.
Rectory Church of Santa Cecilia
It took a bit of legwork, but I also managed to find the Rectory Church of Santa Cecilia. If you find yourself near Trastevere, just wander around without an itinerary. You’ll always stumble into something beautiful.
Know Before You Go
I’ve said this about previous cities, and it applies doubly to Rome; every single thing here has a history. Reading up on history beforehand will enhance your experience and give you a deeper appreciation for the Eternal City.
It also helps to know a little Italian when you arrive. Nothing overly complicated, just phrases like “thank you,” “please,” “Do you speak English?” etc. Given that Rome is so visited, it’s appreciated when tourists make the effort to speak the language. It doesn’t have to be perfect. My Italian certainly never will be.
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