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Our Italian Summer, Part 2: Roman Holiday – A 3 - 7 Day Itinerary

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

As promised, this 2nd post is about the 3-ish days that we spent as Roman tourists. This was part of our 10-week Italian Language Immersion Summer Plan. We spent most of our time as locals (doing some local tourism as well – subscribe by clicking above to get alerts for other itineraries) and only did the foreign tourist thing during the 3 weeks that Marino could join.

Clockwise from top left: Fontana di Trevi, Castel Sant'Angelo w/ view of Basilica di San Pietro, and Il Coloseo
The "must-do's": Fontana di Trevi, Castel Sant'Angelo w/ view of Basilica di San Pietro, and Il Coloseo

It is 2nd in a multi-part series that includes the following itineraries and useful information:

- Part 1: a breakdown of the whole summer, where we stayed, how we got about, etc.

- Part 2: a 3-7 day Roman Holiday – the must-see Roman to-do list (what you're reading now!)

- Part 3: When you only have 2 1/2 days in Florence and Your Son’s Name is Dante

- Part 4: Two kids, a stroller and 2 1/2 days in Venice

- Part 5: A quick escape up the central Italian Coast – Grosetto & Pisa (and why not Cinque Terre with two small children)

- Part 6: Napoli, Capri and Pompei in 3 Days (2.5 if you have to)

- Part 7: All the hidden gems you never thought to see and are so much more authentic than the usual tourist attractions (Tarano, Tropea, Gargano/Peschici, Forme, Ortolano)

- Part 8: Logistics when traveling through Italy (internet/phone, transportation in and between cities, places to stay, etc.)

In this post, I cover what we did, how we had to plan it, where we ate (locally recommended places only!), how we got around and I’ll even touch on where to stay/how to book (even though we had housing provided on the outskirts of Rome). There are definitely some lessons learned, especially when it came to planning!

If this is your first time in Rome, there is a LOT to see and everyone’s trying to see it so you HAVE TO PLAN AHEAD! Hopefully this can guide you in that planning!

If you’ve been before and want to hear more about some locally recommended sites to explore, there’s definitely information in here for you as well!

If you already know where you want to go and just want practical tips, skip around as you need. There is a lot of information to cover for each venue so please bear with me!

If you are interested in the other parts of the series – our home base, Florence/Venice Itinerary, Pisa/Grosetto Itinerary, Napoli (Naples)/Capri/Pompeii Itinerary, local favorites/hidden gems itinerary, and other practical information, please subscribe above to get alerted as each new post is published.

So, this post goes as follows:

  • Precautionary note about planning

  • General helpful tips about planning a Roman Vacation

  • The Itinerary

  • Details about the places that require planning

  • Information about other places on our itinerary, especially the local spots!

  • A few kid-specific activities at the bottom of the post

A Precautionary Note: PLAN WAY AHEAD, especially with COVID!

Whether this is your first time or it’s been a while, you HAVE to plan ahead. When I say “ahead,” I would normally mean at least one month out, if not earlier, especially if you plan on traveling during high-season – I know!

With COVID and the more limited number of entrances now allowed, I would probably plan at least 6-8 weeks out. That’s insane! At least for me and at least when you’re also planning out other trips/itineraries for the weeks prior as well. But I think it is necessary. The last thing you want is to have to rearrange everything because you didn’t call enough ahead of time (like we had to) or not be able to see everything you wanted to.

When planning, check the individual activities to see if they have special hours/procedures during COVID. For example, the Vatican has a 7-page-long document outlining the new procedures during COVID that trumps any other information available out there, including on their own website.

Our 3 days in Rome were split up – August 13, 14, and 20 – precisely because I thought 3-4 weeks in advance booking should be ok. When I started booking, the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums were booked up on the days/hours we needed. . . so, we had to rearrange everything based on ticket availability.

Also, there are different types of tickets and some book up faster than others. For example, we could not get the “lower levels” tour of the Colosseum. With everything else we had planned, we just couldn’t adjust another day to try to find one available with that option. It wasn’t the biggest fail – but we probably could have gotten entry if I had known to book earlier out.

I should also mention, we took the train in to Rome three times for half-days in the city to explore some child-specific activities that we wouldn't have time for when seeing the sites with Marino. So, technically, we spent a little more time in Rome than just three days. Still, I think the essentials can all be done in three.

Planning ahead will also save your budget and a LOT of time and ensure that you actually get to see everything you want to see. For example, if you can’t book directly from the source, there are many companies that purchase bulk tickets for walking tours. However, these are live-guided tours and so, you are paying a premium price because they are your only option if everything is already booked directly.

As for time, it is true that some places don’t sell out BUT the lines to purchase tickets can be very long and the ability to skip those lines is helpful when you have a lot to see in a little time.

General Helpful Tips about Rome

At the time of writing this, the Roma and Omnia Passes has been suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. Still, it is worth a mention. If you plan far enough ahead and are able to coordinate your activities so that they fall on consecutive days, it is definitely worth checking out the value of the Roma Pass and/or Omnia Pass. This was irrelevant for us because we could not schedule our activities on consecutive days.

I only recommend looking into these passes for the adults. As previously mentioned, most places have free or significantly reduced entry for children, and they can also ride public transportation free of charge. This makes the benefits of the passes negligible and might even end up costing you more if you purchase for the children.

Also, a cautionary note, many of the activities still require you to reserve a time slot, even with the card - again, because of limited capacity. So, DO NOT assume that if you purchase these cards, you do not have to reserve a time slot.

The Roma Pass can be purchased for 2 or 3 days and provides discounts at many tourist attractions. If this is your first time in Rome and you are planning many tourist places, it is definitely worth it. For the 3-day pass, the first two activities are included, while the first activity is included with the 2-day pass. The rest of the activities in the network (so check if everything you want to see is included) are discounted - so it is best to plan the one or two most expensive ones (depending on which pass you get) first. Also, there is free access to all public transportation.

Since the Vatican sites are not part of the network, you can purchase the OMNIA pass instead. It is a 3-day pass and includes the Roma Pass as well. The difference is that you also get access to the Vatican museums and a hop-on/hop-off bus tour operator. You also get skip-the-line privileges with all of your bookings.

Whether these passes are worth it really depends on what you want to see and when you're going to see it. AND please don't forget that it probably is NOT worth it to purchase one for the children. Even if you're planning on skipping the line at many places, I would calculate first whether there is really much of a cost savings for the kids.

  • Bring along a cardigan/zip sweater OR ALWAYS cover your shoulders!

Sometimes the most exciting discoveries in a new place are the random hidden gems you come across along the way. There are so many beautiful old religious sites all across Rome and you never know when you might want to take a peek inside. However, as a general rule, a woman’s shoulders are supposed to be covered and you wouldn’t want to miss out on one of these relics of olden times just because you don’t have something to cover your shoulders.

  • Packing Lunch (see below for authentic eating experience in and around Rome)

Before I tell you all the practical reasons why, let me just say that packing a lunch is the BEST way to try the incredible assortment of foods Italy has to offer. I also strongly recommend that you pack a lunch if you 1) are traveling on a budget, 2) have a tight itinerary, and/or 3) have kids.

You can stop in any supermarket and get fresh baked bread, an assortment of Italian salami (salame – singular), formaggi (formaggio – singular), and veggie spreads/marinated veggie options for a fantastic lunch sandwich (there’s a prepared foods section, too). If you’re staying at a place with a minifridge, you can save more $ if you purchase items sliced at the deli section, and even can try a larger variety of Italian foods than if you just get from the prepared food section – e.g. getting capocollo for a homemade sandwich rather than the usual prosciutto (and there are like 10 different kinds of prosciutto!).

the salume area of a typical grocery stores with so many more options of Italian cured meats than you would find in the prepared food section or a restaurant
If only you could see the cheeses in front! or the marinated veggies! or the breads! . . .

This will be so much more cost-effective. The reality is that MOST of the tourist attractions are in the center of Rome. The other reality is that restaurant prices in the center of Rome reflect that it is a tourist location. So, you can save lots by packing lunch.

You will also save loads of time. Unless your eating schedule is drastically different from everyone else, chances are that you’ll be eating at the same time as most of the rest of the tourists in Rome. That means lines or slow table service and getting yourself to and from one extra location between tourist sights. The more convenient the location, the more likely you’ll be paying more for your food.

If you have kids, it is so much less stress to pack a lunch and plan out your day so that you’re picnicking at one of the sites with lots of room for them to run around and get their energy out. The itinerary below takes all of these factors into account and I’ve noted where we picnicked or could have if we had been more organized on that particular day, like here, at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (too hungry to take a picture while snacking):

  • Water

There are water fountains – “nasoni” – all over Rome actually! They don’t look like the “drinking fountains” we’re used to in the U.S.A. but I promise, it is clean, potable water – and . . . it is really cold so it is so refreshing on a hot Roman summer day. By the way, some of the fountains are the endpoints of aqueducts that have been supplying Rome with drinking water since the time of the Roman Empire! So, just bring the water bottles and you can refill along the way with natural, cool, refreshing water!

Leila pouring water into a water bottle from a Nasoni at the piazza in front of the Pantheon
So much more fun than the Pantheon (behind me)!
  • Accommodation

I strongly suggest getting accommodation in the city center in Rome. Unless you have a lot of time in Rome and can really split up your itinerary over more days, you don’t want to lose time going back and forth.

I ONLY recommend this for the days of your itinerary when you plan on being in Rome as a tourist. Otherwise, I strongly recommend finding a home-base in a small town on the city-outskirts, like Tarano, which was our home base. Again, this means planning ahead to make sure you can arrange all the activities across a 3- to 5-day spread.

A map of Rome with a circle around the city center showing to stay anywhere there, or three smaller circles around major tourist attraction centers
Anywhere in the big circle is fine - or, stay near the sites in one of the smaller circles and easily travel to the others!

It doesn’t really matter what kind of accommodation you get. They’re all priced about the same – whether a private apartment or a hotel room, whether through AirBnB, VRBO, or a travel site like What kind of accommodation matters less than what features it has.

The main features I would make sure you have are a mini-fridge (at least), internet, and proximity to a main metro or bus line. Mini-fridge so you can stock up on packed lunch foods and snacks. Internet so you can plan out your routes – public transportation and your walking routes –, as well as download any audio tours you might need for the day.

And being near public transportation is important because Rome is pretty big and there is much to see. While I strongly suggest walking around once you get to a certain area, there is too much to see to get to everything everywhere all the time, by foot. Saving 30 min. on the front and back ends to/from hotel to a location or to public transportation or in having less transfers is really helpful when you have a packed itinerary.

Part 7 of this series has a lot more information on planning, transportation apps, etc. Subscribe above to get alerts about new posts!

  • Transportation

Two things I will say here about transportation:

1) DO NOT RENT A CAR IN ROME. Rent a car for anywhere else except Rome, Naples, Palermo, and Milan. Rome, especially! Only cars with special permits are allowed in the city center, parking is impossible EVERYWHERE – e.g. we planned a dinner in Marino (one of the 7 Castelos of Rome) and had to switch to another Castelo because we couldn’t find ANY parking for 2 cars.

2) Try to use bus lines more than subway lines, unless you have long/far commutes. That way, you can take in more of the city sites and get a peek into more residential and non-tourist areas between tourist sites.

Dante and Leila sharing a seat on the bus in Rome
Noisy but real, and you see so much more of the city!
  • Breakfast

This are three types of places you should look up in the area surrounding your Roman home base – a “bar,” “bar/forno” and/or “forno.”

- A “bar” is where every Italian goes to get their morning coffee and “cornetto” (Italian croissants).