Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world. However, for many travelers, Italy’s capital serves primarily as an arrival or departure point, rather than a destination to explore. As a result, many who visit Rome are left with just a few days to see as much of the city’s splendors and sights as they can.
However, Rome is compact enough that even with only 48 hours at your disposal, you can see and taste much of what this historic metropolis has to offer.
Day 1: Ancient Rome
Since you have a lot of pasta coming your way today, start the morning by doing as the Romans do, and simply grab an espresso and a cornetto, Italy’s sweeter take on the croissant, before you head to the Colosseum.
While you’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of the Colosseum, and maybe watched “Gladiator” once or twice, the spectacle of seeing it in person is truly unparalleled. Get there early; the Colosseum opens at 8:30 a.m., and it’s best to beat the morning rush of tour buses.
Next, head down the road to the Forum, a large plaza surrounded by ruins of many important buildings from ancient Rome, including the Temple of Saturn and the original Roman Senate house.
The Forum long served as the site of processions, elections, public speeches, trials and even gladiatorial matches in the ancient city. Pay for an audio tour at the entrance kiosk and bring the forum’s ancient history to vivid life.
At this point it’s time for a cacio e pepe break. One of the best places for Rome’s signature pasta dish is Roma Sparita, located across the River Tiber in Trastevere. Roma Sparita’s cacio e pepe brings spaghetti together with Parmesan and pecorino cheese, butter and black pepper.
However, what makes this cacio e pepe particularly special (and decadent) is the bowl of pan-fried Parmesan cheese that the pasta arrives in.
After your lunch, head to the Pantheon, Rome’s most intact ancient monument. Built in the second century, the Pantheon is still in active use today as a church, even though it was originally constructed for pagan worship.
Once you’ve toured the interior, head next door to the family-run Armando al Pantheon. The restaurant specializes in seasonal fare like carciofi alla romana (simmered artichokes) or puntarelle (Catalonian chicory) with anchovy sauce. Also, the coda alla vaccinara (oxtail braised in tomato and celery) is definitely worth a try.
Day 2: Vatican City
Day two starts with an early pizza at Pizzarium Bonci, just outside Vatican City. This tremendously popular pizza shop is famous for their uniquely topped, Roman-style pizza, which is similar to an airier focaccia bread.
Toppings include bottarga (cured mullet roe), roasted fennel, and their legendary potato and cheese, with each portion cut to order.
After pizza, head to the Vatican Museum. This massive collection of Christian relics and artifacts from around the world will keep you busy through the early afternoon.
The Vatican Museum is simply endless, but some of the absolute must-sees include the Gregorian Egyptian Gallery, the Papal Tombs, the Borgia Apartment and the Sistine Chapel.
Once you’ve had your fill of the museum, it’s time to savor another Roman specialty, porchetta. This dish of roast pork stuffed with garlic, rosemary and fennel is found across the city, but Angrypig Birretta e Porchetta, located conveniently close to the Vatican, is the perfect place to refuel with a perfect porchetta sandwich after a long afternoon at the museum.
To finish off the meal, walk a few blocks over to Gelateria Fatamorgana Prati. Each location of this local chain has up to 50 gelato flavors available at any one time.
While it’s hard to go wrong, their lemon curd gelato’s brilliance is almost on par with Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece.
To end the day, walk to St. Peter’s Basilica and stand in awe of the interior of the holiest church in Catholicism. Even if you aren’t a Christian, the sheer splendor and scale of the basilica is both humbling and extremely powerful to behold.
It’s the perfect way to end a whirlwind weekend touring one of the world’s most historic and delicious cities.