If you only have one day in Rome, chances are you’re overwhelmed by the incredible options of what to see and do. The good news is, with this free walking tour of Rome you’ll see the top sights, with time to stop for a delicious gelato along the way.
First up though, have you considered which Rome attractions are on your bucket list?
If they include the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and Vatican City, you’ll see them and many more on this tour, with my recommendations for the easiest way to get around them all in a day.
So, all that’s left to do is pack your comfy walking shoes and get ready to explore the Eternal City in one magical day.
Walking Map of Rome
The following Rome sightseeing map will lead you on an adventure across 1 day in Rome. It covers about 12 kilometres in total and winds through the city’s historic streets, via all those iconic attractions you don’t want to miss.
To make the most of the free Rome walking tour, it’s designed to allow enough time to properly discover each attraction but to keep moving towards the next in order to fit them in. However, if you can’t resist lingering over pizza, all you need to do is step up the pace.
How to Spend One day in Rome
Your self-guided walking tour of Rome starts and ends at Termini Train Station. It follows an exciting path to the Colosseum first and moves on to cover all the top things to see in Rome, before taking you back around to the Trevi Fountain and the station.
However, if the Vatican Museums are at the top of your must-see list, it’s best to start the day there and buy early access tickets to avoid the long queues. You can still fit other attractions in and you’ll find my recommendations for an alternative route towards the end of this article.
=> Starting Point – Termini Train Station
Most short stopovers in Rome begin and end at Fiumicino Airport. With direct trains available from the airport to the city, I’ve chosen Termini Train Station as the easiest starting point. It’s also the main hub for trains from other destinations in Italy and Europe.
Don’t worry about dragging heavy bags around either, as you’ll find Termini luggage storage facilities to safely stash your things for the day.
Stop #1 – The Colosseum
After stretching your legs on the easy walk from the station, you’ll start the tour off with a bang at one of the top places to visit in Rome. On first sight, the Colosseum offers one of those gasp-worthy moments, right before you frantically reach for your camera.
Built in AD 80, it could host more than 60,000 people all vying for the grisly privilege of watching gladiator battles, wild animal fights and public executions.
It’s enough to simply gaze in awe at the exterior of the ancient site, however, if you want to go inside it’s best to buy entry tickets online first. Then, you’ll see evidence of the intricate underground passageways and trap doors used for the brutal shows, along with the enormity of the famous landmark.
Stop #2 – The Roman Forum
No ancient Rome tour is complete without discovering the Roman Forum, which is just a stroll from the Colosseum. Though its majestic temples and imposing buildings now lie in ruins, you can certainly see, and feel, the sheer grandeur of the Roman Empire’s political, commercial and social heart.
This was the home of the Vestal Virgins who kept the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta alight, and the site where Julius Caesar was cremated at his namesake temple.
The Egyptian granite columns of the Temple of Saturn hide secrets of the state treasury and was repeatedly destroyed by fire across the years. It’s definitely worth it to download an audio guide to learn about the site’s incredible history, while you’re exploring.
Stop #3 – Piazza Venezia
After popping back out from an ancient history trance, your walking tour continues onto the Piazza Venezia, which is literally located in the heart of Rome. It’s a breathtaking spot, with the white marble of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument taking centre stage.
In fact, a whole area of Rome was demolished in order to make way for the structure and it was built to commemorate the unification of Italy.
If you feel like a coffee, there are plenty of cafes to get one here, before delving into the museum at the Palazzo Venezia. A huge collection including paintings, wooden sculptures, silverware, tapestries and weaponry stretches across more than 20 rooms and a garden adorns the centre of the palace. Back outside, don’t miss out on taking a snap of Palazzo Bonaparte, the former home of Napoleon’s mother.
Stop #4 – Largo di Torre Argentina
It’s said that Julius Caesar was murdered in the ruins surrounding the Largo di Torre Argentina. Fast forward to the future and it’s long been the home of a volunteer-run cat sanctuary. This is the next stop on your tour of Rome, to see the ruins of four Republican-era temples that are thought to have been constructed between the 2nd and 4th centuries BC.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with Argentina…
Nothing, as it happens. The name is taken from Argentoratum, which was the Latin name for the city of Strasbourg, the hometown of the Papal Master of Ceremonies.
Only cats are allowed inside the complex, though rumoured plans are constantly in motion to renovate the area and open it to the public. However, you can view the ruins from surrounding walkways.
Side trip – Campo de’ Fiori
At this point in your Rome sightseeing tour, it’s time to check the time. Is it already after 1pm? If it is, skip this side trip and make your way to the Pantheon. Otherwise, get set for the delicious delights of the morning market at Campo de’ Fiori. It’s the city’s most famous market and brims with fruit and vegetable stalls, flower merchants and locally made delicacies.
The vibrant, local action takes place on the site of the ancient Theatre of Pompey and some remnants are seen throughout. However, it’s hard to notice anything but the tasty treats. Refresh with a glass of freshly-squeezed juice, pick up something to snack on and don’t miss out on trying some sun-ripened fruit.
Stop #5 – The Pantheon
All of the best walks in Rome lead to the Pantheon and it pays to prepare yourself for yet another gasp-worthy moment. The 2000-year-old temple is the best preserved of Rome’s ancient structures and features the largest unreinforced concrete dome that was ever built.
Its existence is thanks to Marcus Agrippa, the son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. Dedicated to the planetary gods, early Christian emperors stopped all pagan worship in the temple and today it continues to function as a church.
Michelangelo is said to have stated that the Pantheon was built by angles, not by men, and that’s not so hard to believe.
Stop #6 – Church of St. Louis of the French
As you continue walking through Rome, the next stop is the opulent Church of St. Louis of the French. The Roman Catholic church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Louis IX and St. Denis the Areopagite and it’s still an active place of worship for Rome’s French community, as it has been since 1589.
Being Rome, the Baroque structure is built on ancient sites, namely the Baths of Nero and the Baths of Agrippa. Wander inside to see the three famous Caravaggio paintings, The Calling of Saint Matthew, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Saint Matthew and the Angel, near the main altar.
Stop #7 – Piazza Navona
Among the spectacular things to see in Rome in one day, the Piazza Navona is one of the most extravagant. Three elaborate fountains take the spotlight and the one in the centre, Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi, was designed by Bernini in 1651. Surrounding this is an ever-revolving parade of people including artists, magicians, dancers, hawkers and camera-happy tourists trying to take it all in.
Borromini, one of the most important architects of the century, designed the splendid, 17th-century Baroque Sant’Agnese in Agone Church. Speaking of architecture, simply turn around in circles here to treat your eyes to the array of Baroque palaces. The largest is Palazzo Pamphilj, which now houses the Brazilian embassy.
If you’re not running out of time, restaurants and cafes surrounding the square let you sink in for a bit and soak up the atmosphere.
Stop #8 – Vatican City
Of all the things to do in Rome, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vatican City tops many travel bucket lists. This Roma walking tour doesn’t really allow time to immerse yourself in the Vatican Museums, so choose the alternative tour below, if that’s your main priority. It does, however, give you time to check out one of the most famous squares, and most-visited churches, in the world.
The sheer size of St. Peter’s Square is a sight to behold. With 284 columns topped by sculptures of saints, the design of the square is a symmetrical masterpiece, so move through the crowds to view it from a variety of different angles. Dominating the city’s skyline, along with the square, is one of the largest churches in the world.
The highlight of St. Peter’s Basilica is Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring dome. However, an exploration of the grandiose interior, which houses invaluable works of art, is a mind-blowing experience no matter where your eyes come to rest.
Stop #9 – Castel Sant’Angelo
Your day tour in Rome continues onto the banks of the Tiber River and Castel Sant’Angelo. Also known as Hadrian’s Tomb, this is another great spot to stop for a drink at the cafe housed on the top floor, for panoramic views of the city. The walls of this soaring, cylindrical building also hold fascinating secrets of its history as a fortress, a prison, a hideaway, a mausoleum and place of myth and legend.
Across numerous floors, it’s now a museum with a large collection of paintings, military memorabilia and medieval weapons. The opulent interior features frescoes showcasing Alexander the Great, historic Papal rooms, prison cells and the Hall of the Urns, once used as a resting place for the remains of the imperial family.
Stop #10 – Spanish Steps
No visit to Rome is complete without a stroll up the picturesque Spanish Steps. Built in the 1720s, the famous staircase joins the Piazza di Spagna with Trinita dei Monti Church.
When you climb the 138 stairs, terraces along the way offer gorgeous views. However, it’s worth it to go all the way to the top to gaze out over the labyrinth of streets and see the butterfly-shaped stairs from a different viewpoint.
If you still have enough time on your Rome self-guided walking tour, there’s plenty to see nearby. Keats-Shelley House rests at the bottom of the steps, with a museum highlighting the English Romantic poets. Surrounding this area you’ll also find many of the world’s luxury high-fashion brands like Fendi and Valentino.
Stop #11 – Trevi Fountain
By now, chances are you’ve decided that walking around Rome is one of your favourite things to do. The last stop on this Rome, full day tour gives you the chance to return, or so legend has it.
The beautiful Trevi Fountain is an icon of the city and tossing a coin into the water is said to ensure you’ll be back – as long as you do so facing away from the fountain, with your right hand, over your left shoulder.
The marble creation is an enchanting mix of seahorses, mermen and the god Oceanus, with cascading water that you can hear long before you see it. If you happen to arrive at the Trevi Fountain at night, lights add a stunning, dramatic element.
On the way back to the nearby Termini, stop by the Quirinal Palace, home to the residences of the president, and Palazzo dell Esposizioni to see revolving art exhibits.
Finish – Back to Termini
Time for a breather and to collect your things from the station, after visiting the top sights to see in Rome. If you’re feeling hungry or have some time to kill before your flight or train journey, you’ll find a funky food court with a great array of cuisines to keep you full and busy until it’s time to leave.
ALTERNATE ROME ITINERARY (STARTING FROM THE VATICAN)
If your priority on a Rome city tour is to explore the Vatican Museums, this alternate tour gives you time to do so, while still fitting in some of the best things to see in Rome, in one day. The key to giving yourself as much time as possible is to purchase early access tickets in advance and head to the Vatican Museums first.
With one of the world’s most astounding art collections, it’s little wonder that the Vatican Museums are a ‘must-do’ in Rome. Founded in the 16th century by Pope Julius II, it’s certainly a mighty place to explore, with about 7 kilometres of corridors and rooms to discover.
The moment everyone waits for is that first glimpse of the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s magnificent ceiling frescoes. But, it’s really just the tip of the historic iceberg here, with the Raphael Rooms, the Room of the Segnatura, Borgia Apartment and the Gallery of Maps competing with a seemingly endless array of masterpieces.
Alternate Tour from Vatican City
Following the Vatican Museums, continue exploring Rome on foot by walking to the Castel Sant’Angelo. From there, visit the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, in that order, before returning to Termini.
WHERE TO EAT IN ROME
As I’ve mentioned, places to stop for a bite to eat abound on this Rome travel itinerary. However, it pays to be wary of tourist traps, which include many restaurants immediately in the vicinity of attractions. Although sometimes it’s worth exorbitant prices and substandard food if it means settling in to take in the views.
Otherwise, you’ll find plenty of options just a street or so away from most of the top sights.
Around the Colosseum, avoid the restaurants just outside and walk to Li Rioni for some of the best pizzas in town. Centro Storico is a neighbourhood known for fantastic restaurants in the streets surrounding the Pantheon. Just a few steps from Vatican City, Borgo Pio is a relaxing neighbourhood with a range of family-run trattitoris and bars, including the highly-rated Arlu.
TIPS FOR VISITING ROME IN A DAY
So, what do you need to know for your day-long Rome getaway? As with travelling in any big city, it pays to be prepared before you launch into the adventure. Though it’s an easy city to walk around and explore, these steps help you to avoid small, or large, inconveniences, to visit Rome in one day without a hitch.
Deciding what to wear in Rome all comes down to the season, so make sure you check the weather forecast before flying in. Summer can be sweltering hot and winter is fairly mild, though you’ll still need a warm coat, boots and a scarf. Speaking of which, carry a scarf or wear something to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting religious sites, including the Vatican Museums (for men and women).
To ensure you enjoy the best walking tour in Rome, comfortable shoes are a must! Though it’s a fashion capital and you might be tempted to wear those heels, cobblestones and uneven surfaces dictate flat footwear for a long day of walking. While Rome has gorgeous weather, rain is, of course, a possibility. However, don’t worry about packing anything as you’ll find that street vendors magically appear with umbrellas at the hint of grey skies.
Along with your Rome walking tour map, make sure you travel with some cash, just in case something on the street catches your eye or you dine at a smaller venue that doesn’t accept cards. However, credit cards are accepted at nearly all major retailers and businesses.
ATMs are called Bancomat and you’ll find plenty of them near attractions on this walking tour. If you need to exchange your currency for the Euro, head to a bank or Foreign Exchange Bureaus.
When you visit Rome the biggest safety issue you’re likely to encounter is pickpocketing, otherwise, it’s a relatively safe city. Pickpockets operate around the most crowded areas, like the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. This is very easily avoided though, by not carrying anything in your actual pockets.
Wear a cross-body bag you can keep a close eye on at all times. If you’re taking a backpack, make sure you keep it closed and pop a little lock on the zip, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Never leave belongings where you can’t see them, such as draped over the back of a restaurant chair or anywhere out of easy reach.
Buy tickets in advance
To make the most of a day or 24 hours in Rome, you’ll save an incredible amount of time booking ‘skip the line’ tickets. You can buy them online and, when you see the queues to buy entry tickets at attractions, you’ll do a little happy dance that you only have to line up to get in the door.