Rome is on many backpacker itineraries as they set off to traverse the best of the European continent. However, like all of the other “must see” destinations in Europe, it’s usually only granted a 48-hour stopover, hardly allowing travelers enough time to explore the deep history of the Eternal City. Rome also tends to be one of Europe’s most expensive destinations for food and lodging, which also relegates tourists to grant it less time.
Fortunately, there is time to hit most of Rome’s top attractions in 48 hours with this guide. However, know that you’re only skimming the surface of all that Rome has to offer.
Whether you’re Catholic or not, The Vatican is a must on any Rome to do list. It not only houses the history of the Christian faith, but also much of Rome’s history dating back to the Etruscans. It’s here that you should start your 48 hours in Rome.
Many travel experts suggest an entire day at The Vatican. While I can’t argue that the seed of the Catholic faith doesn’t deserve more time, I will counter that it is feasible to visit the holy city in a half day. The trick is to sign up for a private tour that starts before The Vatican opens to the public. While expensive, the tour will usher you through everything from the Sistine Chapel to the Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica, all with minimal crowds.
After you finished with your morning tour of the Vatican, make your way on foot to Central Rome with a final destination of the Pantheon. Be sure to stop at the Frigidarium for a sample of gelato along the way. Locals normally gather around the corner to snack on some of the freshest gelato in Italy. Try the coconut or pistachio.
The Pantheon looms in what appears to be a normal Roman square. Yet, there is nothing normal about the Pantheon. The building has been in use since 14 BC as an early Roman temple, a Christian church, and a tomb. Self-guided audio tours are available for a fee and point out the various paintings by Roman greats like Bernini and Raphael along with the saints and kings buried within the building. Or, download a free audio tour from Rick Steve’s.
Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain
While both the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain are fun stops on the Roman tourist circuit, neither requires much time. After the Pantheon, continue your walk north towards the Trevi Fountain. Maybe stop for a cappuccino along the way and sip it while you enjoy Rome’s largest Baroque fountain. After, continue the walk further north to the Spanish Steps. You must walk to the top for a skyline view of Rome.
Your second full day in Rome should begin at The Colosseum and then continue to the rest of ancient Rome. There are several options for buying tickets to tour The Colosseum. Some savvy tourists show up early and wait in line. However, even during the offseason, I waited over an hour to buy a ticket before the site opened. Once inside, the crowds were quite small since it was still early in the day.
Another option is to buy your ticket at Palatine Hill and tour it and the Roman Forum first. Tickets do include admission to all three sites, after all. Then, head to The Colosseum. The only caveat is that The Colosseum will be quite busy unless you drop in at the end of the day.
The dark side of Rome
Many organized tours offer visits to Basilica San Clemente and the Capuchin Crypt along with one of Rome’s catacombs. Those tours are time consuming though, as the catacombs are on the outskirts of the city. The Basilica San Clemente and the the Capuchin Crypt can easily be visited on their own.
The Basilica San Clemente provides many layers of Roman history - a twelfth century church built on a fourth century church, which is built on a first century Etruscan temple, which is built on a 100 BC Roman road and apartment building. The Capuchin Crypt on the other hand highlights the altars within the crypt that the Capuchin monks built from human skeleton fragments. Yes, you will be standing under chandeliers handcrafted from human bones.
The best of Rome
As you can see, it’s quite easy to see the best of Rome on a 48-hour jaunt. You do have to be disciplined though to visit all of the top attractions. Once you’re done, celebrate the accomplishment with a sampling of Italy’s growing craft beer scene in the Trastevere district. It’s also a good opportunity to step outside the tourist circuit and experience modern Roman culture.
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