Three Days In Rome

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

If you have a limited amount of time, you can see the main highlights of Rome in three days.  This will give you a good introduction to the city.  Here are my picks for things to do in Rome.

Day One

Most American flights arrive in the morning to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Rome.  Catch a ride to your hotel, eat a light lunch, and take a nap.  In the late afternoon, wander the narrow backstreets of old Rome in the area by the Campo de’ Fiori.  Stop for excellent traditional thin crust pizza at the tiny Pizzeria da Bafetto (on the corner of Via Sora at Vial del Governo Vecchio 114). Take a leisurely stroll around the Piazza Navona, Rome’s most interesting night scene.  Check out the art for sale by local artists.

strolling the Piazza Navona at dusk
Strolling the Piazza Navona at dusk on a summer evening

Next, walk over to the 1,900 year old Pantheon.  At night the inside is closed, but the view of the building lit up in the dark is mesmerizing.   Stop for a chocolate hazelnut gelato in one of the many gelaterias near the square.  Keep walking these streets if you aren’t tired; else go to bed.  It will be a busy day tomorrow.

A view of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy at night
The Pantheon at night

Day Two

In the morning put on your comfortable walking shoes and take the metro or a taxi to the Colosseum.  Originally called the Flavian Ampitheater and built in 80 AD, the stadium was an arena for spectator sports in Roman times.  It’s an impressive structure.  Afterwards grab a sandwich and a drink from a food stand. Next door is the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.   The Forum is ancient Rome’s birthplace and civic center between the seven hills of Rome.  Today it is mostly ruins, but it is easy to image what happened here so many centuries ago.  Stand in the spot where Julius Caesar was murdered!  The Palatine Hill is where the Emperor’s palaces were.

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy
The Colosseum

After seeing those sights, you will be ready for a snack and a rest.

fresh fruit stand in ROme
A healthy snack for the tired traveller

Next, walk most of the length of the Via del Corso, the main shopping street of Rome. Look for leather jackets, handbags, and briefcases, or whatever fashions catch your eye. Take a right at Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps.  Climb the steps for a view of the surrounding area.

By this time, your feet will probably hurt.  Maybe instead of walking, you can ride a Vespa.  But watch out for the crazy Roman traffic!

the blue Vespa
The best way to get around Rome - a Vespa!

Sit outside to eat dinner at a café in one of the side streets near the Trevi Fountain.  After dinner, sit by the fountain to see the sculptures and watch the people of the world walk by.  Try to guess which country they are from.

Day Three

This morning go to the Vatican City.  Sign up ahead of time on the Vatican’s website for a guided tour of the Vatican Museum in English. You’ll be able to avoid the long ticket line, but not the crowds you will encounter inside.  The Museum tour includes a few minutes in the Sistine Chapel, and concludes with a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica.  The end of the tour deposits you in St. Peter’s Square.

One of the ceilings in the Vatican Museum
An example of a ceiling in the Vatican Museum

If you still have the energy for more walking, take a taxi to the Villa Borghese Gardens.  It is a large park perfect for strolling or napping on the grass in the shade of a large tree.  When you are refreshed, if you are an art lover, visit the Borghese Gallery.  Next, walk down the Via Veneto, through the old Roman wall.  If you have been traveling for a while, you may be tired of the pasta and pizza menus and crave some American food. In that case, go to the Hard Rock Café on Via Veneto, just before the Piazza Bernini.


Surviving the Vatican Line

St. Peter's Basilica

The line followed the contours of the buildings around one side of the great square.  Metal barriers four feet high ensured that people stayed in line.  It was late afternoon.  There was only an hour left to tour the Vatican Museum and see the Sistine Chapel.  I didn’t think we were going to make it.  The line was too long and moving too slowly.  At least we would get in to see St. Peter’s Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Long lines and crowds are a given if you visit Rome in the summer.  We were there in early September.  The peak crowds of August had dissipated but there were still large numbers of tourists in the city.  We had done fairly well at the Colisseum, only waiting about ten minutes.  It was a different story at the Vatican.

We passed through the gate at the start of the line.  There was no one there.  I got an excited feeling like I was at the amusement park and there was no line for the giant rollercoaster.  That meant I could race through the empty waiting lanes to the front of the non-line and jump on the rollercoaster right away.  And come back and do it again.

We walked through the empty lanes, zigzagging our way along the edges of buildings.  As we came around a corner we finally caught up to the real end of the line.

“Hey, I expected a much longer line.  We’ll be inside in no time.” I said confidently.  My family knows how much I hate waiting in line.

Tourists have evolved many line waiting strategies.  Some people tell jokes or stories to their companions.  Some read a guide book to learn about what they are about to see. Today, many people play games or watch videos on their smart phones.  We decided to watch the tourists around us and make up stories about who they were and where they were from.

There was a couple behind us.  They were clearly American college students.  They had the requisite backpacks and t-shirts with “Harvard” written across the front.  The guy had long curly hair, a scruffy beard, and baggy board shorts and flip-flops.  The girl had nice legs and exhibited them below tiny shorts from Victoria’s Secret with the work “Pink” across her butt.  The girl was chattering non-stop in a southern accent about Rome, the wine they had drunk, where they were going next, and how limoncello was such a great desert.

We didn’t have to guess where they were from or what their story was.  She was telling everyone within earshot.  We weren’t eavesdropping; that would be impolite.

The line was barely moving.  I couldn’t tell what was up ahead or what the hold-up was.  I tried to have a good time anyway.  I wasn’t stuck in a little grey cube staring at a computer screen.  I was enjoying a sunny afternoon in a beautiful city and about to see magnificent works of art.

St. Peter's Basilica
The dome of St. Peter's Basilica

The line inched forward.  The whole time we were subjected to the American girl’s monologue about her European vacation.  The guy played a game on his phone and grunted from time to time.  He had heard it all before.

As we got closer I saw that there was a metal detector gate that each visitor had to pass through.  Each visitor was also getting scanned with a metal detector wand by a security guard.  No wonder it took so long for thousands of tourists to pass through here.  It was reasonable and appropriate precaution to be sure.

Before we could pass through the metal detector we were inspected by the fashion police.  A matronly looking older woman was checking the clothes of each person wanting to get in.

It was a warm day.  I had on baggy cargo shorts and a button-down short-sleeve shirt.  She waved me through.

She objected to the attire of my other companions.  My wife was wearing a skirt whose hem was just slightly above the knee.  My 18 year old daughter and her friend both had on sun dresses with spaghetti straps and that also came above the knee.  The woman screeched in Italian and pointed to a sign above the gate that described the required dress code.  For women, shoulders must be covered and skirts or pants must cover the knees.  They couldn’t go in.

“You go in and we’ll wait back there,” said my wife.  The girls were disappointed.

My wife and the two girls left to walk all the way back through the line to the starting point.

I passed through the metal detector gate and was being scanned by the security guard when the American college students reached the hemline inspector.  The guy was waved through.  His board shorts were morally appropriate.

Of course the girl was stopped.  The hemline inspector shook her head and made a “tsk, tsk” sound.  She pointed to the back of the line.  The American girl was mad.

“That’s the second day in a row that she wouldn’t let me in!” she said as she stomped away.

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