Greetings Internet Stranger! So you want to know how to have a perfect one day in Rome? A perfect day here would combine the tastiest Roman restaurants with all the best sightseeing that the Vatican has to offer. You’ll get Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini for your eyeballs and porchetta, gelato, and suppli for your belly. Sound good? Then let’s go!
One Day in Rome
Where to Stay?
It’s going to be hard to find a hotel for your one day 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!
One Day 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.
One Day in Rome
Morning: Vatican Museums
Despite what you may think based on the name, the Vatican Museums are not museums dedicated to teaching you the history of the Vatican. Rather, they are the repository for all the collected treasures scooped up by papal authority over the centuries. As you can imagine, since the Papacy is almost 2000 years old, at this point that is quite an impressive haul of masterpieces.
There are too many masterpieces to take in during 24 hours, so I’ll get you started with…
Approximately top 5: the vatican
1) art of antiquity
Not all of the art collected in the Vatican is religious. In fact, your tour through the museum will start with many treasures from Antiquity, especially Rome and Egypt. This makes perfect sense, since the Vatican is in Rome and everybody likes stealing treasures from Egypt, even Popes. I assume the statue pictured above is the Egyptian God of sad cats.
2) Go on a hunt for assorted weirdnesses
When you enter, you will be given a map that will help you make sense of the many sections of the Vatican Museum. You will be tempted to make a beeline straight for the Sistine Chapel, but resist this impulse. Pick up the audio guide for an additional 7 Euros for some historical background and see how many other treasures you can find on your journey. There’s a giant pine cone…
medieval tapestries of smug men eating fish…
a room full of giant maps that are beautiful but also highly inaccurate…
and crazy giant mosaics with weird demons on them that you’re not allowed to step on even though I bet that would be really fun.
If you liked the Pantheon, you’ll love the Sala Rotunda, which has a very similar ceiling.
There’s this gentleman, who has a hilariously artificial modesty leaf.
There’s even some contemporary art! Bonus, these galleries aren’t crowded because no one comes to the Vatican for the contemporary art!
If all else fails, you can get some sweet views of Rome in many rooms in the Vatican. If they won’t let you ride in the Pope-mobile, this will have to do.
3) visit the Sistine Chapel
Clearly it’s the Sistine Chapel! Nothing can compare to the sight of the Chapel’s walls and ceiling covered with the myriad images that came tumbling out of Michelangelo’s fevered imagination, illustrating what feels like the entire Bible. Sadly, Michelangelo’s masterpiece is protected by scads of severe priests who yell at you if you try to take a picture. So instead, I will say that my pick is School of Athens by Raphael.
4) admire Raphael’s paintings
Before you get to the Sistine Chapel, you get to walk through the four rooms painted by noted Renaissance man and ladies man Raphael da Urbino. These were the personal apartments of Pope Julius II, and they are truly mindboggling, largely because of the giant frescoes by Raphael that cover the walls and ceilings. The School of Athens depicts many of the most famous Greek philosophers…Plato, Aristotle, Socrates…and so on. Many use this fresco as an example of how important Classical thought was during the Italian Renaissance.
I personally find it amazing how real the subjects in Raphael’s frescoes look. He is such a lifelike painter that looking at this work makes me feel as if I am standing back in Athens myself. If it weren’t for the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms would be the most famous work in the Vatican. I really wonder how that makes Raphael’s ghost feel. Does he spend his days flitting about Rome muttering to himself, “Everyone’s always talking about Michelangelo! Michelangelo, Michelangelo, Michelangelo!” I hope not, Raphael! You’re special too! And you’re really pretty if you just take your glasses off!
5) get Lunch at Angrypig Birretta e Porchetta
I really feel so proud of myself for finding this restaurant Angrypig because I didn’t read about it in any guidebooks or articles about the city. After I was done at the Vatican, I was feeling peckish and wanted to eat something yummy. I used my TripAdvisor app to look up a good lunch place nearby, and lo and behold I found this spot, which is currently ranked #16 out of 9,256 restaurants in Rome. Not too shabby! Although I wonder why the place is called Angrypig. Is the pig angry because I ate him? I assume so!
Porchetta, in case you are unfortunate enough not to know, is a kind of fatty Italian pork roast made with lots of salt and rosemary. It was basically made to be put on a sandwich. I had never seen the kind of black bread that they use at Angrypig, but its dark, rich flavor went perfectly with the melt-in-your-mouth savoriness of the porchetta. Basically I could eat this sandwich every day of my life and regret nothing!
It’s a birreria, so I do regret getting a Coke instead of a beer, but beer makes me sleepy, and I had a lot to do that day! Next time I go, I will risk falling asleep and try one of their beers instead.
24 Hour Tip
Would you like waiting on horrible lines for at least three hours? No, you say? Then you simply must buy your tickets to the Vatican Museums online in advance. You will be able to wait only about fifteen minutes. I recommend getting your ticket for the earliest time possible–9 AM if available. That way you will have plenty of time to see the museum before lunch.
24 Hours: One Day in Rome
Afternoon: Visit St Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is arguably the most important church in the world, even though it is not the seat of the Bishop of Rome (aka the Pope). In Catholic tradition, it is believed to be the resting place of St. Peter, the first Pope, and many other Popes have been buried there.
It is also the place to go if you want to see many astonishing works of Catholic art, including the famous Pieta by Michelangelo. (“Why is everyone always talking about how great Michelangelo is?”–Raphael)
Unlike with the Vatican Museums, there is no way to avoid waiting in a long line to get into St. Peter’s. That’s because it is free to enter, so you can’t buy tickets online or anything. You can’t miss the entrance line because it extends out of the Basilica into St. Peter’s Square. Just enjoy yourself by staring at the beautiful St. Peter’s Square and read a book if you get super bored. You can also take pictures of the Vatican Guards in their colorful uniforms.
24 hour Tip
Once you are inside, it’s possible to purchase tickets to take a tour of the Basilica and of the roof. Unfortunately on this trip, I was not able to go on the roof. Boo! But I do recommend the thorough and rather funny tour provided by the Basilica.
You will learn so much more about the historical significance of the Basilica with the guide. For example, you will learn that there is one work of art done by a non-Catholic in St. Peter’s–the statue of Pius VII done by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The guide said this was evidence that the church was “very inclusive”.
But just about everything in the Basilica is interesting, from the throne of St. Peter…
to the tomb of Pope John Paul II.
From the air vents that lead to the crypt…
to yet another amazing Roman ceiling with a dome.
24 Hour Treasure
Michelangelo’s Pieta is truly one of the most stunning works of art I have ever seen. The folds in the cloth and the bending of the bodies seems so real that it makes the statue hard to look at–as if I were actually observing a mother with her dead son. The one “flaw” in the sculpture is that Mary looks so young when of course she would have been almost fifty. But believe me you will not be thinking this when you look at the sculpture.
Sadly it is hard to get a good photo of the Pieta because it is protected by the glass. This photo does not do the sculpture justice.
24 Hours: One Day in Rome
After a busy day sightseeing, you will want to have a big, satisfying, Italian dinner. I suggest stopping at Prati restaurant L’Arcangelo. It is a cozy trattoria where you can satisfy your desire for some typical Roman foods. To that end, I indulged in the five course tasting menu of Roman specialties. It was money well spent!
First, I started with a ripe and creamy tomato soup. Fun Fact: There is nothing better than an Italian tomato in the summer.
24 Hour treat: suppli
Next came the suppli course. Suppli are fried stuffed rice balls that are a traditional part of Roman cuisine. I think they should be a traditional part of everyone’s cuisine because the crispy rice exterior combined with the warm meaty interior is one of the all time classic pairings, like fish and white wine or Hall and Oates.
Next came the sweetbread course. Sweetbreads, of course, have nothing to do with baked goods. They are a euphemism for the pancreas and thymus glands of an animal. You might be reading that and saying BLARF, but I assure you that they are as rich and satisfying as foie gras in their own way, although the texture is completely different. I’m not at all squeamish about eating every part of an animal. “Waste not, want not,” as I used to tell Benjamin Franklin.
After the sweetbreads came, it was time for the pasta in tomato sauce. This was probably the least exciting course so far, but pasta doesn’t always need to be exciting. It just needs to be delicious. I especially loved the fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano that came on top of my pasta. In Italy, you know you’re not getting Kraft Mystery Cheese.
The dessert was warm bigne, which is Italian for donuts. You can see how the word bigne resembles the French beignet, which we all know and love. These bigne came with a warm and luscious caramel sauce.
I was sad because after the pasta, fried rice balls, porchetta sandwich, and gelato, I was concerned that I hadn’t had enough carbs that day, but I would trust that the next day, I might be able to get some more Carb Loving in Rome.
Further Reading: One Day 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 one day in Rome. 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 one day in Rome. If you want to add one day in Rome with the Pantheon, try this one. And if you’d like to spend one day in Rome with the Colosseum, go here. And if you’re looking for one day in Rome with Borghese Park, I’ve got you covered here.