Updated: April 11th, 2018
It can be done!
Yes, traveling on a time budget is my thing, but I know what you’re thinking: just 2 days in Rome? Clearly I’m a crazy person. And you’re absolutely right. I don’t know anyone that would disagree with you there. Least of all the people who ate Lembas bread at my Lord of the Rings-themed wedding.
2 days in Rome is a real travel challenge not for the weak or slow. Or those who enjoy sleep or rest of any kind. Pansies! It’s for those with real balls and nerves of steel–for those with nothing to lose but calories! It’s a sun up to sun down (and then some) situation. It’s an unattractive but comfortable so you don’t care shoe situation. It’s mapping. It’s planning. It’s pushing and shoving and probably cursing at some old grannies. (They started it!) It’s the Black Friday of international travel.
I’ve done the 2 days in Rome thing a couple of times (same itinerary, different companions) and I can attest that, as far as travel itineraries go, it’s the closest one to a Halloween haunted house: you’re trying to get through it as fast as you can to the sugary treat at the end and somewhere in the middle is a dead body.
So while little here is done on a whim and few sites can be spontaneously visited, you can absolutely see the highlights with just 2 days in Rome if you PLAN ACCORDINGLY. You’ll understand when you see the lines at the Vatican Museum or St. Peter’s but just take my word for it. Would you show up at Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving just hoping to get in a little light shopping? Hell-to-the-no.
So get your shopping lists and mall maps. Put on those God awful sneakers and fanny packs. And maybe a safety whistle for good measure. Go over your game plan and put on your game face. It’s the crack of dawn and those doors are about to open. There are only so many Tickle-Me-Elmos to go around.
2 DAYS IN ROME // SORTA HELPFUL TIPS
For 2 days in Rome to be successful, you need. to. plan. You need to accept the fact that you won’t be able to see everything this magnificent city has to offer and that you’re going to be rushed. You need to be organized, assertive, and open to a kind of travel you maybe aren’t accustomed to. And above all, you need to be hella caffeinated.
HOW YOU WILL SUCCEED:
Based on experience, there is only one way to succeed at 2 days in Rome: book yourself on an organized tour. You know the ones–you’re sheep-herded around some lady all day who totes a tall stick with a ribbon on top. You wear headphones and a walkman around your neck and try desperately not to get lost. If you haven’t been on one of these tours, you’ve definitely made fun of someone who has.
These types of organized tours are so not my style but sometimes you gotta get through some compromising unpleasantries to live the kind of life you want to live–like pap smears or looking at photos of your hair stylist’s baby in the bathtub. “Yeah… cute…”
Organized tours similar to the ones I’ve taken are a euro a dozen. (Only in real money, much more than that.) You can book them online ahead of time, through your hotel concierge the night before, or by selling your soul to the devil. I’M KIDDING!
WHY SHOULD YOU BOOK AN ORGANIZED TOUR?
- They pick you up and drop you off.
- You’ll get a knowledgable tour guide for the entire day.
- Lunch is sometimes included.
- YOU GET TO SKIP ALL THE LINES.
- ⇡⇡⇡⇡⇡ I cannot stress the value of this enough.
Nothing, I repeat NOTHING feels better than walking past the wicked long line of people waiting to get into the Vatican Museum and right up to the entrance. Who has an extra three or four hours of their vacation to wait in line? Not me. Not you. WE ARE IN A HURRY. Even if I had a year to spend in Rome I wouldn’t wait in that line. I may look stupid with this headset on trailing a guy with a bright orange flag atop a pole but I don’t look near as ridiculous as those fools.
Now, I’ve tried my damnedest to find out the name of the tour company I used (both times) but I’ve had zero luck. On both of my trips to Rome the tours were booked for me and I can’t seem to get any information. So unfortunately, no, I can’t tell you the name of my tour provider. However, I’ve done a bunch of research through the tour provider I use now, and found these for you:
- Vatican Express | Approx. 2.5 hours; visits the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica and square; access an hour before regular opening times; skip the line into St. Peter’s.
- Ancient Rome | Approx. 3 hours; visits the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum; and skips all the lines.
- Rome in a Day | Approx. 8 hours; visits the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Vittoriano, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica. That’s basically all of my 2 days in Rome in one exhausting day. I imagine you would just wear roller skates the whole time? Please advise.
- Private Day Tour of Rome | Approx. 7 hours; visits the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and more. Another busy day but it’s a private tour so you have your own tour guide and still get to skip all the lines. Priceless!
2 DAYS IN ROME // DAY 1
Some things about Day One of 2 days in Rome: Day One is the only day that requires an organized tour. Day Two is a list of self-guided spots that you can do at your own pace. I recommend the organized mega tour for the first day so you can relax a bit on the second. There is a method to this madness!
Now, you can book a tour with just about any combination of sites on it, however, there are a few that you absolutely need to see with only 2 days in Rome. Here are the highlights:
NEED TO KNOW // VATICAN MUSEUM:
- Pope Julius II founded the Vatican Museum in the early 1500s.
- The art inside the museum has an estimated value of $15 BILLION dollars. ⇠ read ‘bazillion‘
- There are nine miles of art inside. Wear those orthopedics!
- It will be cuh-rowded. I mean, just absolute mayhem.
- Each time I’ve toured the Vatican Museums I’ve seen different parts–so check with your tour company if there is something specific you wish to see.
- The origin of the Vatican Museums can be traced back to one particular piece of art: the statue of Laocoön and His Sons. It was discovered on January 14th, 1506 just chillin’ in a vineyard. ⇣⇣⇣
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THE VATICAN MUSEUMS ON YOUR 2 DAYS IN ROME?
- It’s one of the top art museums in the world. (6th most visited in the world to be exact)
- It houses many famous works of art. My personal favorite: Raphael’s School of Athens
- Because the Sistine Chapel is here and everyone wants to see that. To get there you have to go through here.
First rule of the Sistine Chapel – NO. PHOTOS. So in their place I have inserted this photo, just one tiny piece of Michelangelo’s ceiling, provided free to me at pixabay.com. Loooooophole!
NEED TO KNOW // SISTINE CHAPEL:
- I’ll say it again–no photos. I know you’re going to attempt it anyway. Juuuuust don’t. They will yell at you. And it’s a silent room.
- It was named after Pope Sixtus IV who had it restored wayyyy back in 1477.
- It’s the place where they vote on a new Pope. (See: the movie Angels and Demons–Tom Hanks will teach you everything you need to know about that.)
- The ceiling and the back wall were painted by Michelangelo between 1508-1512. If you want to know everything there is to know about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel (who doesn’t!), I highly recommend reading Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. I talk more about it in this post.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THE SISTINE CHAPEL?
- You’d feel like an idiot if you made it all the way to Rome and didn’t see the Sistine Chapel. That would be like visiting New York City and not visiting the most important monument there, the cronut shop.
- It’s probably the most insanely monumental work of art in the world.
- Regardless of your religious beliefs, this is where the magic happens for 2.1 billion people–Christians make up 33% of the world. That’s the largest of any religion. And you’re right there, in the room where they choose their leader. If you’ve ever wanted to feel really insignificant, this is the place.
ST. PETER’S BASILICA
NEED TO KNOW // ST. PETER’S BASILICA:
- It was built over the burial site of St. Peter, the first Pope and one of Jesus’s apostles who was crucified here, upside down.
- The original St. Peter’s Basilica was built on this site in the 4th century. What you see now is the “new” St. Peter’s Basilica and was built between 1506-1626. ⇠A really long time… but not so much when you consider this was constructed by residents of the land of wine and siestas.
- It was designed by Michelangelo (busy guy), Carlo Maderno (who?), and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (we’ll get to him on day two).
- You can climb the dome! I just found this out actually. Have any of you done this?
- There are dead popes on display… just prepare yourself for that. It’s unsettling.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT ST. PETER’S BASILICA?
- Like I said, it’s the biggest church in the world. The enormity of this place will blow your friggin’ mind.
- If you are one of the 33%, this is your mothership.
- Even if you’re not, hearing the Easter choir warming up inside this place will still give you chills.
- Because you’re a fan of Dan Brown. Seriously, you must read Angels & Demons before you go to Rome.
It’s time for lunch. You made it through half the day! The particular tour I took booked us lunch at a nearby restaurant. Don’t get jealous–it was terrible. And a baby threw up. Grab yourself something to eat but hurry up; you’ve got centuries more to explore!
(I don’t have any pictures of the crappy lunch, so here’s a photo of my train station breakfast and the Papal apartments.)
NEED TO KNOW // COLOSSEUM:
- The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Dave Matthews could have fit so many stoned white people in here…
- Construction took place between AD 72 and AD 80. About the time that line at the Vatican Museum started forming.
- Held an average audience of 65,000 sickos who loved blood and guts.
- It was built using the “spoils” taken from the Jewish Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem–then 100,000 Jewish prisoners were brought back to Rome and used to build the damn thing. So… that’s kinda messed up. I guess I’m lucky; the meanest Roman I met was the one who begged for money after he forced his accordion music on me.
- If you’ve ever wanted your picture taken with a sexy gladiator, now’s your chance!
There is so much interesting, need to know information about the Colosseum. Some of it you probably know already, the rest you will learn on your tour or by watching Gladiator.
If you have only 2 hours instead of 2 days in Rome, the Colosseum should be your one and only stop. Besides gelato.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THE COLOSSEUM?
- To finally step inside the building you’ve heard so much about your entire life
- Because it takes you back to one of the most fascinating (and gruesome, yeah!) times in history
- To see the contrast of how this enormous, ancient building stands smack in the center of a bustling urban center
- Because, here, shouting, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” has never ever felt so good.
NEED TO KNOW // ROMAN FORUM:
- The Roman Forum was once the center of Roman public life.
- This is where the Senate and the Republican government got their starts.
- This was the market, an arena, the seat of government, the parade route, and the spot where Julius Caesar’s body was burned, to name a few. ⇣⇣⇣
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THE ROMAN FORUM?
- Because admission to the Colosseum usually includes the Roman Forum as well sooooo why not?
- Everything you’ve ever imagined of ancient Roman life took place here.
- This stuff is really old.
- The original toga party – TO! GA! TO! GA! TO! GA!
NEED TO KNOW // PALATINE HILL:
- Palatine Hill is the ancient-most part of the city.
- This is where the word “palace” comes from.
- Palatine Hill is the location of the legendary cave where Romulus and Remus were found with the she-wolf. Remember that gem of a story?
- Ruins of the palaces of Augustus and Tiberius are found here.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT PALATINE HILL?
- Well… the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are all on the same ticket for starters.
- Because so much of ancient Roman history happened here.
- The nasoni! The best water you’ll ever have comes out of pipes here at Palatine Hill.
These organized tours usually start somewhere in the vicinity of 7:00 am and end roughly around 5:00 pm. So while that’s definitely an exhausting ten hours, without the tour guides each site would have taken you a day each. You saw that line, right?
WHERE TO STAY IN ROME
I used to be the worst at record-keeping so I can’t even remember the names of all the hotels I’ve stayed at in Rome. (Too much vino? Probably.) However, I’ve done some searching and found these great options:
- Hotel Primavera | It’s just a 2-minute walk from Piazza Navona and has really cute rooms. The reviews are great and it’s praised for its cleanliness! It’s in an amazing location and serves a complimentary breakfast every morning. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
- Trevi BB Hotel Roma | I’m totally staying here next time. Free WiFi and breakfast, nice modern rooms, perfect location (right next to the Trevi Fountain), and the reviews are great. Plus: air conditioning because summer heat in Rome is no joke. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
- Hotel Trevi | Also located near the Trevi Fountain (such a great, central spot in Rome) and similar to the above description but modern-er. Really nice looking place with great reviews and still affordable by Rome standards. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
Now you’ve got the rest of the evening! Drink wine! Eat pasta! Drink Limoncello! Eat gelato! And onto DAY TWO!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ANCIENT SITE IN ROME?
LET ME KNOW BELOW!
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