Unlocking Rome: A 4-day adventure in the Eternal City

Sunset on the Tiber in Rome, in the background is the Dome of St Peters Basiclica

Embarking on 4-day adventure to Rome is to step back in time to immerse yourself completely into the heart of Italy’s vibrant history, culture, and charm. From the jaw-dropping Colosseum to the serene beauty of the Vatican, every corner of this Eternal City invites exploration and discovery. In 4 days, you’ll explore hidden alleys, eat your weight in delicious Roman cuisine, and wander through the city’s captivating neighbourhoods. So, get ready to dive into the magic of Rome one day at a time.

Day 1: Vatican City and Artistic Marvels

St Peter’s Basilica

Let’s being our adventure in the Eternal City, with the smallest country in the world, Vatican City! As your opening gambit in Rome, Let’s begin with St Peter’s Basilica. Truly an architectural marvel, you are immediately struck by the sheer grandeur of the every single inch of the basilica. A true testament to the ingenuity of Renaissance visionaries. Every detail of the basilica will leave you awestruck.

Entry to St Peter’s Basilica is free. However, you will likely need to queue for more than an hour (peak season can be several hours). There are a number of guided tour options available, if you don’t like to wait in a queue

The Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums give a sublime glimpse into the evolution of human creativity. Take your time wandering through the labyrinthine galleries filled with priceless artifacts and masterful works of art. Do you not miss the: Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments, Nero’s Bathtub, The Gallery of the Animals, and my personal favourite: The Gallery of Maps.

Allow at least 3 hours to wander through the galleries to take it all in. Eventually, you will arrive at the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel

There isn’t a word to describe seeing the most famous ceiling in the world for the first time. It is utterly mind-blowing. It is virtually impossible to stand still for long to fully appreciate it, due to the size of the crowds but stay to the sides of the chapel you will be able to linger for a little longer.

Note: No photos are allowed to be taken inside the chapel. (the one above was taken before I realised and then WAS shouted at in Italian)

Tickets to the Vatican Museums sell out extremely fast, if you have a specific day/time in mind, so book ahead.

A Late Lunch Roman style

Time for a late lunch! Take a wander back into town and grab a mid afternoon bite at Antico Forno Roscioli (Via dei Giubbonari). This hole in the wall bakery and deli is great for a quick lunch. Do try the suppli, a very Roman Snack (a fried ball of rice with a range of different fillings). There is no seating here, rather a stand up affair on the street outside. If you don’t mind waiting, do stop at the sister restaurant Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina at the end of the street. The food here is 100% worth it – do note however, the line here is almost always quite large.

After lunch, stop at Fatamorgana Chaivari a few doors down for some gelato. There are dozens of flavours to try;  from your traditional to your more experimental – my personal favourite: the Olive Oil and Almond (Spectacular!).

Spend a couple of hour meandering through this area to see some incredible street art and then stop for a quick beer at Open Baladin (Via degli Specchi, 6, 00186). Over 40 Italian beers available on draft are on offer (as well as your usual international pints) you will be spoiled for choice.

Explore Rome at night with a local

Discovering Rome at Night: Join an evening walking tour to see the city in another light, quite literally. A walking tour with a local adds a bit of magic and context as you wander the streets of Rome. It will also help in getting your bearings for the next few days ahead. I took the Rome by Night tour hosted by New Rome Free Tour this two-hour saunter commencing at 8:30pm through the city was fantastic.

Day 2: Ancient Wonders and Culinary Delights

The Colosseum

Stepping into the mighty Colosseum is like travelling back through time to the height of ancient Rome’s glory. As you gaze up at it’s towering walls, you can almost hear the roar of the crowds and the clash of gladiator swords echoing through the eons. To this day the Colosseum still holds an undeniable aura of power and majesty.

Upgrade your entry ticket to explore the underground chambers and understand further the operation of a ‘live’ day as it once was. Linger on the main arena floor and admire the jaw-dropping architecture. Every moment spent here is a testament to the grandeur and ingenuity of the Roman Empire

Did you know? The Colosseum once had a retractable roof, it was operated by thousands of sailors who would pull in and out the sail-like coverings depending on the weather at the time.

Tickets to enter the Colosseum vary in price. We did the 3-hour VIP tour that included access to the arena floor and the underground level. Tickets are approximately 35 Euros each, pre-booking your tickets for the Colosseum is a must as they sell out rather quickly. These tickets also include entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Palatine Hill & The Roman Forum

Perched above the Roman Forum like a silent guardian is Palatine Hill. According to legend this is where Romulus founded the city of Rome. Once the home to emperors, senators, and aristocrats, today visitors can wander through the lush gardens, the sprawling ruins of palaces and temples, each offering a glimpse into the lifestyles of the ancient romans. Palantine Hill offers breathtaking views of the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, and the city beyond.

Overlooking the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill

Once the bustling centre of public life in ancient Rome. The Roman Forum is a sprawling open-air museum, that offers a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s greatest civilisations. Highlights not to miss include: The Temple of Saturn, the imposing Arch of Septimius Severus and the Basilica of Maxentius. Exploring the Roman Forum is an unforgettable step back in time.

Lunchtime in Travestere

Now, that you have worked up an appetite make your way to the neighbourhood of Travestere. Here, enjoy some of the best pasta in the city at Trattoria Da Enzo (via dei Vascellari 0015). It is popular amongst both locals and tourists alike, this trattoria offers a range of Roman cuisine that’s simply delicious.

Stroll along the Tiber and take in the sunset

Spend the the rest of the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere of Travestere, before sauntering along the Tiber to Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II for one of the best sunset views in Rome.

Sunset views from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II

Time for an aperitivo, the tradition of pre-dinner drinks and snacks to “open up the stomach”. Let’s head to Wisdomless Club, (Via Sora 33, 00186). A cocktail bar slash tattoo parlour that creates some of the most exciting cocktails in the city in an unexpectedly opulent environment (it’s giving villain’s lair if i’m honest). Keep an eye out for the gold alligator!

After a cocktail (or two), let’s head back across town for dinner at Al42 (Via Baccina 42, 00184) for a hearty, tasty meal. So tasty in fact when I had my first bite, it almost brought me to actual tears, that’s how good it was (the plate in question: the mezze maniche alla matriciana). For seconde, I had the beef cheeks, which were fantastic. The menu changes seasonally but is definitely worth a stop in the evening. Do be prepared to wait for a seat in the small dining area, the wait is definitely worth it!

Finish off your evening taking in a jazz show at Charity Cafe (Via Panisperna, 68). Featuring live Jazz & Blues every night of the week, it is the perfect way to round out your evening.

Day 3: Baroque Beauty and even more culinary delights!

As the old adage goes: The early bird catches the worm. In the case of Rome, being awake ahead of sunrise allows for some quieter moments without the crowds that are a constant in this city.

The Trevi Fountain all to myself

The Trevi Fountain

One such location is no other than the Trevi Fountain. During most parts of the day is very crowded and very loud. You may have already seen it on your walking tour on Day 1, but do come back in the quieter hours of the morning.

Tucked away in the beating heart of the city, it is the sound of the water that will draw you ever closer, until finally rounding a corner. …… Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale and grandeur of the Trevi Fountain, especially when you practically have the entire place to yourself. The simple description of the Fountain is EPIC, which doesn’t do it justice. A shimmering masterpiece of Baroque artistry, the fountain features intricate sculptures of mythical beings and sea creatures. Do linger here and take in as much detail as possible, as it’s still dark, the lighting adds to the magic of the Trevi Fountain.

Don’t forget to throw a coin in over your left shoulder before you go. According to legend: Throwing one coin, means you’ll return to Rome, throwing 2 coins means you’ll return and fall in love, throwing in 3 coins means you’ll return to Rome, fall in love and marry. Regardless of your luck here, all the coins collected in the fountain go to charity.

The perfect sunrise at Capitoline Hill

If you are visiting in Winter and it is still dark, let’s walk to a special dawn spot, Capitoline Hill. At the rear of Capitoline Hill Museum and to the left, there is a small area that is wonderful for the sunrise and views of the Forum.

Sunrise from Capitoline Hill overlooking the Roman Forum

From here, retrace your steps and head towards the Pantheon. Although not open at this time of the morning, this quiet part of the day is the perfect time to take in the grandeur of the building itself.

Around the corner from the Pantheon in the Piazza della Minerva. There is a lovely little Bernini piece that you must see. The Elephant and the Obelisk. Unveiled in 1667, incorporating a Egyptian red granite obelisk thought to be from the Temple of Isis, it is held up by the sculpture of an elephant that represents wisdom.

Take Breakfast at Sant’Eustachio Caffé for the best coffee in the city and delicious cornetti (a traditional Italian breakfast pastry).

The simple joy of an Italian breakfast

Piazza Navona

Stroll to the Piazza Navona, the beating heart of life in Rome. This lively square was originally built as a stadium in the 1st century. Today, it is now adorned with stunning baroque architecture, fountains and bustling cafes.

At it’s centre stands another of Bernini’s fountains the magnificent Fountain of Four Rivers. It depicts four river gods representing the major rivers of the continents known at the time.

The Palazzo Altemps, Museo Nazionale Romano

A stones throw from the Piazza Navona is a hidden little gem. The Palazzo Altemps (Piazza S. Apollinare, 46) is a Renaissance palace housing a remarkable collection of sculpture and artifacts from ancient Rome to the Baroque period by Caravaggio, Bernini, and Canova and many many more. Don’t miss the frescos that adorn almost every wall and ceiling.

Inside the Pantheon

Now that the sun is well and truly up, back to the Pantheon we go to explore the interior. The Pantheon is truly a marvel of ancient Roman engineering and architecture, and is one of Rome’s most beloved landmarks. Built over 2,000 years ago by Emperor Hadrian, this iconic temple-turned-church boasts a breathtaking dome with an oculus at its center, allowing natural light to illuminate its hallowed interior. Stepping through its massive bronze doors, you’re greeted by the awe-inspiring sight of the vast rotunda, adorned with marble columns, intricate mosaics, and a serene atmosphere that transcends time. Pre-book your entry tickets, as one of Rome’s favourite landmarks it is also one of the busiest, so avoid the queues.

After your busy morning exploring, take a light lunch, but nothing massive as you are going to eat quite a lot this evening

Exploring Prati: Join a Food Tour

Over 4 hours you sample some of the tastiest roman delights and wander through the streets of Prati you’ve had so far on this adventure. The tours are run by Roman Food Tour and costs around 80 Euros for the 4 hour experience. You’ll will try a range of dishes from cheeses, to salumi, aged balsamic vinegar, pizza, and pasta dishes and a range of wine and prosecco.

A particular highlight from the tour is the pizza at Bonci. This pizzeria is famous in part thanks to Anthony Bourdain but largely due to it’s innovavtive seasonal menu. This is hands down the best pizza I’ve eaten in Italy, we tried several flavours: the mortadella and the fig versions were especially good.

Day 4: Hidden Gems and Farewell Moments

On your final day in Rome, make it count with a journey that encapsulates the city’s timeless allure. Start your day by ascending Aventine Hill, a tranquil setting offering panoramic views of the sprawling metropolis below. Wander through lush gardens and hidden pathways, stumbling upon iconic landmarks like the famous keyhole view of St. Peter’s Basilica—a picture-perfect moment to capture the spirit of Rome in a single frame.

Next, venture to Circus Maximus, once the grand stage for chariot races and gladiatorial contests. Though the grandstands have long since crumbled, the expansive space still echoes with the whispers of ancient spectators. Take a leisurely stroll along the ancient track, imagining the thunderous applause and cheering crowds that once filled the air.

Circus Maximus

Cap off your Roman adventure with a visit to the Spanish Steps, an iconic symbol of the city’s timeless elegance and charm. Instead of ascending the stairs, make a stop at the rooftop bar at Il Palazetto (Vicolo del Bottino, 8) to enjoy the view over a final glass of wine. It’s the perfect spot to reflect on your unforgettable journey through Rome.

View of the Spanish Steps from Il Palazetto rooftop bar

Travel Tips and Resources for Rome

How to get there

From Leonardo DaVinci Fiumicino Airport take the Leonardo Express to Termini Station approx. 14 Euros each way and a 32-minute journey is the cheapest and quickest way into town, tickets can be purchased at the station.

From Termini Station, you might walk to your accommodation from here or jump on the metro to a closer station.

When to go

If practical, avoid peak season April to November, The weather is hot and the crowds are at their absolute peak. This trip was taken in January, the weather was mild and the city not hugely busy with tourists.

Getting Around

Rome is truly built for walking, but it also boasts a very efficient subway system that will get you around town quickly and inexpensively. The metro of Rome is super easy to navigate as there are only 3 lines! Tickets can be purchased at the stations themselves.

For more information on route maps and tickets go to www.rome.et/metro

Accommodation in Rome

There is every kind of accommodation available to you in Rome, at all budgets. For a general overview of hotels in Rome, do check out the Rome page on Booking.com

During my 4-day getaway I stayed at the Residenza Martitti Contemporary Suite. This well priced and cosy hotel has an unmatched location and wonderful and friendly team who are only happy to share their Rome recommendations with you. One of the highlights of the Residenza Martitti is a beautiful roof terrace overlooking sections of the Forum and the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (aka the National Monument)

View from the hotel terrace at The Residenza Martitti

Rome: Top Tips

  • Prebook your attraction tickets for the Vatican, The Pantheon, The Colosseum and The Forum and skip the queues.
  • Add the audio tour + underground tour to your Colosseum ticket, if you are a history /architecture/engineering nerd. The added detail and exclusive areas below the main floor are well worth it!
  • Get your coffee order right, Cappuccino is for the mornings (before 11am) and espresso for the rest of the day.
  • On the first Sunday of every month, entry is free to several landmarks in Rome. Check the individual location websites for more information.
  • Bring comfortable shoes, you’ll be walking a lot.

Arrivederci Roma!

As this adventure draws to a close, memories of cobblestone streets, ancient ruins, and gelato-filled afternoons linger. Whether it’s tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain or savoring a slice of authentic Roman pizza, every moment in the Eternal City is a testament to its enduring allure. As I bid farewell to Rome, not only do I leave with copious amounts of oils, vinegar and cheese, but a piece of Rome’s timeless magic, ready to inspire new adventures and stories for years to come.