Greetings Internet Stranger! So you want to see Rome in a Day? I hope you like beautiful things because you’re going to get an eyeful of them! Get ready for flawless sculpture, gorgeous nature, and fascinating Etruscan artifacts. You can end the whole day scarfing a bowl of delicious pasta. What’s to hate? Absolutely nothing, you fool! Stop making me ask myself silly rhetorical questions!
Rome in a Day
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!
Rome in a Day
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.
Rome in a Day
Morning: Borghese Gallery
The Galleria Borghese is a divine art museum housed inside this swanky villa in the middle of Borghese Park. (I mean the term divine metaphorically as opposed to literally; this is Rome we’re talking about so I have to be careful using the word divine.) It is often ranked as the best museum in Rome, and quite possibly one of the best museums in the world.
Be sure to take an audioguide so you can wring every drop of artistic knowledge from your earpiece. As you wander around, don’t just notice the sculptures and paintings. The house used to belong to the fabulously wealthy Borghese family, so the walls and ceilings are sumptuously decorated. Don’t miss out! This is a ceiling:
And this is a wall:
In comparison, the ceiling and walls of my apartment are currently literally crumbling because my super won’t fix the AC and it’s starting to leak. It’s good to be a Borghese!
24 Hour Tip
You have to buy tickets online here. The tickets are timed, so you must show up promptly, and you only get two hours in the museum no matter how much you beg and plead to stay. This process should give you some idea of just how popular this museum is. Also purses are not allowed inside, so check your bags before you wreck the artwork.
Given that time is limited, I’m sure it will help for me to suggest the…
Approximately top 5: Galleria Borghese
You will begin on the first floor, which houses the gorgeous sculpture collection. Possibly my favorite work of art in the museum is here.
1) She’s got it, yeah baby she’s got it
Let’s start with this sculpture of Venus, as done by Italian master craftsman, Antonio Canova.
The model for this sculpture was Pauline Bonaparte, sister of this Napoleon fellow I’ve heard so much about. She married into the Borghese family and that’s why they have this sculpture of her. Apparently it was Quite The Scandal for a noble lady to be sculpted in the nude back then.
I just can’t get over how much easier it is to get a naked image of yourself nowadays. That poor lady having to sit for days on end for this, when now all she’d have to do is use Snapchat.
2) The works of Bernini
The Borghese is most famous for its collection of Bernini sculptures. Above we have the obligatory sculpture of David.
Why were these Renaissance dudes so into David? Is it all just about homoeroticism? Am I being naive?
I prefer this phenomenally lifelike piece by Bernini of Apollo and Daphne.
Apollo and Daphne is the story of how there was this one god (Apollo) who woke up one day and decided to rape a wood nymph and then get a sandwich. But this wood nymph (Daphne) was not having it and prayed to her father to rescue her.
Instead of just actually stopping the rape from happening, her dad thoughtfully turned her into a laurel tree, which Apollo promptly co-opted as his personal symbol. I feel like Greek mythology is just tales in which everyone makes exclusively terrible life choices all the time.
Anyway, on to the sculpture. You can’t really see in my picture, but it’s remarkable how Bernini manages to make his marble take on such realistic textures. I feel like I can actually see Daphne’s skin transforming into wood before my very eyes! God-on-tree sexual harassment aside, this sculpture is breathtaking in person.
3) Caravaggio’s “Boy With a Basket of Fruit”
Up on the second floor, you will find the paintings. Just like with the sculpture collection, the best known paintings are Made in Italy.
That sounds like one of those overly literal joke titles I would give the painting, but really that is what it’s called. The colors of the fruit and the boy’s cheeks are so vibrant, you feel like you could just reach out and pinch them. Well, pinch the boy, eat the fruit, as I always say.
4) Sacred and Profane Love by Titian
I get that the naked lady is supposed to be Profane Love and the lady wearing way too many clothes for a nice summer day in Italy is Sacred Love, but what does the baby represent? Baby Love? Sometimes I think I’m not very good at art criticism. If you’re dying to learn more from someone with a bit more expertise, check out this cool Italian video tour of the Borghese here.
Fun Fact: Titian’s real name is Tiziano Vecelli.
24 Hour Treasure
It’s very important to find one work of art that isn’t famous in a museum so it can be your personal discovery. I personally fell for this picture of Orfeo by Marcello Provenzale. I like how it looks like that freaky dragon creature on the left is definitely planning to eat Orpheus as soon as he stops playing.
Once you are done, I suggest heading back to Borghese Park about ten minutes before your ticket says you have to go. Unless you feel like staying and yelling, “HELL NO, WE WON’T GO!” at the museum guards. That seems like it might be a good way to get thrown into a Roman jail.
Rome in a Day
Afternoon: Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia
You might think that two museums in one day is a bit much, but the Etruscan Museum is a history museum, and the Galleria Borghese is an art gallery, so it’s a totally different experience. The Etruscan Museum is dedicated to the Etruscans, who were the ancient peoples of northern Rome before the ancient Romans arrived.
So I guess basically that they were the Grumpy Old Men of Italy. (“In my day we didn’t have pizza! We just squeezed tomatoes directly onto our tongues and held our tongues over the fire to warm up the tomatoes and that’s the way it was and WE LIKED IT!”)
Be warned that there aren’t a lot of restaurants in Borghese Park, so I suggest bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying it on the grass in between your two museum experiences.
24 Hour Tip
The English sign language sitch can be a little lacking in this museum, so now’s a good time to share my favorite tip for enjoying any kind of art or history museum. Any kind of critical interpretation is just based on recognizing a particular pattern and then determining the significance of this pattern.
But when you go to a museum, don’t try to interpret, especially if you don’t know much about the subject. Just look for patterns. This makes exploring the museum like a game, and everyone likes games!
Here are two patterns I learned about Etruscans. They liked depicting birds:
They also liked depicting people with creepy pointy faces.
See! Look how much fun I had finding birds and creepy pointy faces! And I don’t even have to think about why that is. Was the bird sacred to Etruscans? Did they all have really pointy chins?
Alternately, did they worship a pointy-chinned bird god? That’s for the experts to decide! I bet if you go to this museum, you’ll learn a different pattern that didn’t even occur to me. Don’t be shy! Give it a shot!
Rome in A Day
Late Afternoon: Stroll Through Borghese Park
I’m a big believer in doing something totally relaxing between the hours of 5 and 7 PM when I travel. I call this my daily interlude. You can go to the movies, explore a neighborhood without any set itinerary, or even go back to your hotel and take a nap. But you’re already in Borghese Park, so unless you’re about to collapse from exhaustion, spend a few hours strolling Borghese park and embracing its charms.
I personally was full of energy, so I went on a sculpture hunt. I found sculptures of Victor Hugo
a South American writer named Inca Garcilaso de la Vega
and this cat. (He’s not a statue.)
See if you can find more than I did in Borghese Park. You win nothing but bragging rights, but I often find bragging rights are more than satisfactory.
When you’re done with the sculpture hunt, take a load off your old tootsies with a quality tome. The Borghese Park is absolutely perfect for just such an activity. Let’s go ahead and choose the loveliest place to curl up with a fun novel. How about here?
Oh blarf, those giant purple flowers are just hideous. How about here instead?
Much better! If you’re looking for a good book to read in Rome, I recommend Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. Let me give you just the short version: Popes Be Crazy. If you want more details, you have to read the book!
Rome in a Day
Evening: Dinner at Caffe delle Arti
The Caffe delle Arti is the restaurant inside that beautiful National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art that you see pictured above. I found this to be the perfect place to dine in the park because you can nom on pasta while eating alfresco in the beautiful weather.
I started with a tasty and surprising fried burrata cheese salad, but the highlight of the meal was the cacio e pepe. This is one of the most popular dishes in Rome, even though it’s just handmade pasta, pepper, and cheese. But look how fresh and delicious it looks! You can even see the pepper on top of the pasta. Don’t you want to eat it now?
And it goes so perfectly with that glass of Pinot Grigio you see in the background. Truly this was the perfect Roman summer outdoor dinner.
Further Reading: Rome in a Day
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 Rome in a day with the Pantheon, try this one. And if you’d like to see Rome in a day with the Vatican, go here. Finally if you’re looking for Rome in a day with the Colosseum, I’ve got you covered here.