Greetings Internet Stranger! So you want to have a perfect 24 hours in Rome? I assume that means that you want to see all the major sights: the museums, the Roman ruins, the Colosseum. But perhaps you also want to try some new foods and explore restaurants that you won’t find on the regular tourist trail? Then this day has you covered! Come with me and you’ll get know both the Hidden Rome and the Obvious Rome.
24 Hours in Rome
Where to Stay?
It’s going to be hard to find a hotel in Rome. The poor little city is just starting to get tourists. What to do? But if you’re looking for a hotel that has air conditioning, affordable rooms, an excellent location, and breakfast on the roof, I suggest the Hotel Otivm. Rather stay in a creepy underground lair that will steal all your money and give you no coffee? I can’t help you there, Internet Stranger!
24 Hours in Rome
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Rome is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American or from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Rome
Morning: Capitoline Museums
Let’s start our 24 hours in Rome with Obvious Rome. Mornings are for museums, I always say, and the major museum in Rome is the Capitoline Museum. If you are a museum lover, you simply can’t miss them. Why am I so emphatic on this subject? Because the Capitoline Museum was the first museum in the world, that’s why! So all those who love the mighty museum must pay homage to its creation here.
Unsurprisingly, the Capitoline Museum features a staggering collection of both ancient Roman and Renaissance Roman art. There are other things too, but I don’t think they’re as important. Remember, when in Rome, you should just focus on the Roman stuff. Plus, I believe every museum is better if you give yourself a focus to concentrate on. So today we are going to try to learn about Rome with…
Approximately top 5: the capitoline
Let’s getting started by meeting your new Roman friends.
He’s still mad about being put in prison because of astronomy.
2) Pope Innocent X by Alessandro Algardi
This is way less creepy than that painting Velazquez did of him.
3) Marcus Aurelius
We’ve got lots of Marcus Aurelius, both inside and out. We all know him from getting murdered by his son Commodus in the movie Gladiator.
Shh! He’s meditating! In real life, he probably was not murdered by his son, but Commodus did turn out to be an awful emperor just the same. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s go meet him in person.
One symptom of his megalomania was that he liked images of himself dressed up as Hercules like the one pictured above. I’m pretty sure a sane man would not have commissioned a statue of himself looking like that.
5) The founder of Rome, duh
My favorite Rome-Related sculpture in the Capitoline Museums is this 5th century piece of Romulus and Remus suckling at their wolf-mother’s teats. This statue has since become a symbol of Rome and it has been in the museum since it opened.
Look how cute and innocent they are! Never forget that Romulus is totally going to grow up and murder Remus with a rock. I think what I ended up learning about Roman sculpture is that it’s very good at taking potentially complicated issues like fratricide, wrongful imprisonment, and madness and making them look classy. I guess that’s what civilization means!
24 Hour Tip
You have to go through a security check to enter the museum, so you can’t just wander in and out as you please. I found this out because my audio guide died and I needed another so I had to go through security two times. Then my second audio guide didn’t work either. With only 24 hours in Rome, there’s not enough time for that nonsense. Maybe don’t get the audio guides at the Capitoline Museums should be another tip.
24 Hours in Rome
Afternoon: Explore Roman Ruins
Of course, you didn’t just come to Rome to examine statues of lunatics dressed in silly outfits, did you? You want to be able to tread the same steps those same crazed, long-dead, Roman feet trod, no? This is why we will continue our 24 hours in Rome by seeing all the Roman ruins you can shake a stickus at. But first…lunch!
Approximately top 5: Roman ruins
1) Alimentari Pannella Carmela
Are you in the market for a perfect panino for about three Euros? Of course you are! It’s a little bit of a walk from the Capitoline Museums, but it’s worth it, and this is Rome! You will not be disappointed by the views of the city as you stroll to the sandwich shop.
Though Alimentari Pannella Carmela was written up in Lonely Planet, it’s still just a hole in the wall food shop, so you have to look for it carefully. The staff when I was there didn’t seem to speak English, but they had an English menu so it didn’t matter.
I ordered the Parmesan/bresaola (air-dried beef) sandwich pictured above with arugula and lemon juice. Everything from the bread to the shaved Parm to the bresaola was so light and flavorful, I could hardly believe that this was the same kind of beast as the heavy and flavorless sandwiches served at my school cafeteria. Is there any food that is capable of being so good and so bad as the humble sandwich?
2: The Colosseum
OK, this is it. The Big Cheese. The Head Honcho. The number one tourist attraction in Rome. The Colosseum. It’s got colossal in its name for a reason. Even if you buy your ticket in advance online, you are going to have to wait on a long line to get into this bad boy. I say it’s worth it though just to see Imperial Rome’s playground.
In fact, future people might feel the same way about the ruins of Times Square that we feel about the Colosseum. Except in Times Square we don’t have gladiator contests, we just have naked cowboys and guys dressed up as Elmo who try to rob tourists.
24 Hour Tip
You’re going to have to wait on line to get into the Colosseum no matter what. But if you don’t buy your tickets in advance then your line will be so long that the polar ice caps will melt and Italy will fall into the Mediterranean long before you get inside the Colosseum.
And we don’t want to spend our 24 hours in Rome on line! Just buy the tickets in advance here. It will cost two extra Euros, but it will be the best two Euros that you ever spent.
24 hour treasure: the audioguide
Once you get inside the Colosseum, you really should pick up an audio guide. There’s not a lot of signage inside the Colosseum, so you’ll need the audio guide’s help to explore and fully enjoy yourself. Normally you’ll start your tour on the top floor:
And work your way to the bottom!
You’ll learn lots of fun facts about the Colosseum. For example, did you know that there was one festival at the Colosseum in which a giant model of a whale was brought out? Of course, a giant fake whale is not enough, so the Romans had stuffed it with fifty bears who were then released to fight with each other. Animal cruelty is so very entertaining!
Although Christians were certainly persecuted under Imperial Roman rule, there is no information proving that they were ever persecuted in the Colosseum. Nevertheless, there is a cross in the Colosseum to commemorate Christian martyrs of the time period.
See! The cross is right on top of the arch. All in all, I expect it will take you about an hour and a half to explore the Colosseum with the audio guide, and probably an hour to get through that line if you buy your tickets in advance. That seems kind of unfair to me, but whoever said life was fair? And we still have plenty of our 24 hours in Rome left!
3) Palatine Hill
The Palatine Hill (and neighboring Roman Forum) are excellent places to spend the late afternoon. The sun won’t be so hot and you can feel free to peruse the grounds of some of the finest Roman ruins you will ever lay your grubby little eyes on.
24 Hour Tip
You will of course have saved your ticket from the Colosseum, so you can just enter here without paying anything. I suggest that you enter through the Palatine Hill entrance because it’s the least crowded.
Palatine Hill, one of the famous seven hills of Rome, was like the Park Avenue of Ancient Rome. It was where every Roman who was any Roman had a home. I think the most fun way to explore the ruins is to try to imagine what they would have looked like in their heyday. So examine this and pretend you are looking at some ancient Roman’s glamorous palace!
4) The Roman Forum
Continue to the Roman Forum and you will see what used to be Roman’s largest and most important marketplace. It also was where Julius Caesar was stabbed, right around here.
What’s that? You don’t think my photo is good enough to capture the importance of the spot where Caesar was brutally stabbed to death on the Ides of March? Et tu, Internet Stranger?
The Roman Forum’s ruins are more impressive than Palatine Hills, and as you explore here, you’ll find many other ruins of temples and triumphal arches–pretty much anything you’d expect to find in a Roman ruin.
It’s both thrilling and terrifying to think that all this rubble once was the center of the known universe:
What will my beloved New York City look like 2000 years from now? I don’t want to think about it.
24 Hours in Rome
Evening: Trastevere Food Tour
The Trastevere Food Tour, like the Tapas Food Lover Tour in Barcelona, is expensive but worth the money. You get to try ten different tastings of traditionally Roman food, hang out with fun people, and explore the adorable little neighborhood of Trastevere. Trastevere is right on the left bank of the Tiber and it reminds me of the Latin Quarter in Paris minus all the tourists because it’s full of winding streets and adorable buildings.
24 Hour Tip
If you arrive in Trastevere before the tour starts, be sure to spend a little time wandering around. Don’t miss the gilded walls of the interior of Santa Maria in Trastevere! Normally the church is open until 9 so you should be fine.
When our group of 12 finally gathered for the tour, we met our guide who was a young and enthusiastic Roman. Is it maybe redundant to say that a tour guide was enthusiastic? I have only ever met one tour guide who wasn’t, and he was French, so that doesn’t count. Anyway, I’ve forgotten our guide’s name so I will just call him Camillo because that is Italian but not offensively stereotypical. He gave me a great introduction to…
Approximately top 5: trastevere treats
1) the humble trattoria
Our first stop was at a Roman trattoria called Da Enzo al 29. Camillo told us that trattorias are the best places to go if you want to try basic Roman food. As long as there are actual Italians eating there, the food should be good. We snacked on some fresh melon, prosciutto, and burrata. It tasted just like an Italian summer, but the fresh burrata was my favorite part.
2) Spirito di Vino
This is a restaurant that has wine cellars that are older than the Colosseum. I was so excited about descending into this historic building that it was hard for me to concentrate on the food. We had a few snacks like some shockingly good cauliflower puree with olive oil, but the focus here was on the wine.
The wine we tried came from Etna, so the grapes were grown in volcanic soil. I don’t know enough about wine to know what difference that makes, but I do know the wine was tasty and drinking volcano wine in an ancient building is really exciting.
Next we tried some crumbly, buttery handmade cookies from a bakery with a kitchen that looks like something out of Mad Men. I don’t like babies at all and I’m not Italian, but this kitchen makes me want to be someone’s Italian nonna so I can move in here and bake all the things.
Then we got to eat the cookies! My favorites are the “brutta ma buoni” crispy hazelnut cookies in the middle. Camillo explained that this means “ugly but good”. Both of those adjectives are accurate!
4) Antica Caciara
Here we picked up some all-important porchetta samples. The porchetta was just as good as the stuff at Angrypig, which is saying something. The owner of the deli was an older Italian gentleman who looked exactly like the image that pops into your head when I say “older Italian gentleman who runs a deli”.
There was a vegetarian on our tour who couldn’t eat the porchetta, but he seemed pretty content with his cheese. I am always so surprised when vegetarians are pleased with the veg options because if I were vegetarian, I would never be happy about anything.
5) snacking, Italian-style
The first was my beloved suppli rice balls. This one was full of Bolognese sauce and mozzarella. It was like getting to eat a cute little pizza ball. I want to have these for a snack every day of my life.
And the second was Roman style pizza. Confusingly enough, this restaurant is called I Suppli, but we got some delicious red pizza there too.
6) Enoteca Ferrara
This is a more modern Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. We had cacio e pepe, which is just pasta with black pepper and cheese, ravioli, and gnocchi. They were all good, but I am obsessed with cacio e pepe, which tastes way better than it has any right too. It’s just noodles, cheese, and pepper! Why is it so good? And why doesn’t it taste that good when I try to make it at home?
7) Gelato at Fatamorgana
I had learned at this point that you are supposed to get two flavors at a time when you order gelato. It was summer, so I wanted to try the cherry sorbetto along with a flavor called Kentucky chocolate. This is, no joke, chocolate with tobacco in it. I couldn’t taste the tobacco, but the chocolate was extremely dark and strong, just like I like it.
I still can’t believe that I ate all that. Actually, I can because I am always hungry, but I’m going to be ladylike and pretend I can’t believe I ate all that.
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Rome!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Rome right now? Let me give you some suggestions for further reading for your Rome itinerary. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to Rome if you want more tips on things to do. They divide the chapters according to neighborhoods, which is very helpful.
If you want to find some fascinating nonfiction about Rome, try reading Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like an expert on arguably the most famous artist to ever work in Rome.
If you’d rather go in for historical mystery, try the Marcus Didius Falco series, set in ancient Rome. I recommend starting with The Silver Pigs. You’ll never look at Rome the same way again after reading this book!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Rome. If you want to add 24 hours in Rome with the Pantheon, try this one. And if you’d like to see the Vatican, go here. And if you’re looking for Borghese Park, I’ve got you covered here.