Spend an Unforgettable 3 Days in Rome With These 27 Insider Tips
Warning: 3 days in Rome are enough to give you an unquenchable thirst for the city, driving you to come back time and time again.
On my first visit, I only had 72 hours to explore before moving on to the next step of my Italian itinerary, a modern-day pilgrimage along the Via Francigena. However, I swore on the spot that I would return to the outdoor museum that is Rome. (Spoiler alert: I did. I stayed for 17 days, and more trips are planned!)
With the help of some Romans, I was able to jam-pack my first trip to this ancient city. I ticked off not just the top sights – often with a local twist – but also beautiful spots away from the beaten path, which I’m excited to share with you.
This blog post is split into two main sections. The first covers the activities to undertake for an (my) ideal 3 days in Rome. The second is all about food. I’m including my favourite cafes and restaurants, many of which were recommended by Romans.
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Where to Stay in Rome
On both occasions that I travelled to Rome, I stayed at the charming Hotel Gregoriana. Although this boutique hotel is just a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and a gazillion restaurants and shops, it is tucked down a quiet cobblestone lane. That way, you don’t get the impression of being so close to the action, but you have everything you need at your doorstep.
Conveniently, Hotel Gregoriana is just a few minutes’ walk from the Spagna subway stop, too. As such, you’ll have a direct connection to Rome’s main train station, Termini, and to lesser-known but very impressive sights like the Park of the Aqueducts and the Via Appia Antica (which Julius Caesar and his armies marched down over 2,000 years ago!)
With complimentary breakfast, adorable balconies and kind, attentive staff, Hotel Gregoriana is the perfect home away from home for 3 days in Rome – or much longer.
Oh, and this little hideaway has been around for over 40 years, welcoming some internationally famous guests along the way. So you don’t know who you might run into on the staircase!
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18 Unbeatable Things To Do With 3 Days in Rome
Ready to plan your perfect 3-day Roman itinerary? Let’s dive into the magic of the Eternal City.
Day 1 in Rome: Arrival
I got to Rome around lunch on my first day, giving me plenty of time to explore most of the main sights, interspersed with random yet awe-inspiring finds. On Day 1 & 2, I wandered around the city entirely on foot, as the top attractions were within a 2-3 km radius of Hotel Gregoriana. Here’s what I got up to on Day 1.
Chiesa di Sant’Agata dei Goti
After checking in, I had a one-track mind: get to the Colosseum. Even if I had 3 days in Rome, I knew I had to see this classic ASAP. However, on my 20-minute stroll to the World Wonder, I stumbled upon several spots that simply took my breath away.
The first of these was Chiesi Sant’Agata dei Goti. Walking down Via Mazzarino, I was immediately intrigued by the plant-filled, ancient courtyard to my left, so I decided to take a small detour.
I soon discovered that this temple was built in 450 AD by the Visigoths, bringing Germanic religion and culture to Rome. This chapel is an absolute haven of peace.
Visitors can enter the chapel for a quiet moment of reflection or simply wander amidst the plants in the courtyard.
My next discovery on the way to the Colosseum was the Roman Forum, another must if you have 1, 2, or even 3 days in Rome – or more.
2000 years ago, this was the heart of the city: a market surrounded by government buildings and temples, with new constructions added by each emperor to assert his importance.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, popes, then Renaissance officials, used the Forum as a quarry, dismantling the ruins to build new villas around the city.
During the 17th century, the Forum regained its original prestige and began attracting the interest of both tourists and artists. Today, it is an open-air museum, which we can explore free of charge.
Colosseum Away from the Crowds
By the time I reached the Colosseum, it was well into the afternoon. At this time, Rome’s most iconic site was logically crawling with tourists. Fortunately, I’d found out about a handy little trick!
To get better views of the famous site, I didn’t hover at the ledge closest to the Colosseum, where people typically take their pictures. Instead, I made my way up to the nearby Giardinetto Del Monte Oppio, from which I could capture some great Colosseum shots without others in my way – and simply admire the world-famous structure in peace.
During your 3 days in Rome, you’ll be walking up and down a lot of stairs! As you probably know, there are 7 main hills in the city, making for impromptu workouts as you wander around. The tallest of these is the Quirinal, atop of which the palace of the Italian president reigns.
Human activity on this hill dates back to 8 centuries BC, based on tombs that were excavated. This is also a fabulous spot to get a view over Rome’s historic center – and catch a sunset if you time it right. It’s definitely a great pitstop on the way back from the Colosseum.
The name Barberini might already be familiar to my German readers. Indeed, there is a museum of the same name in the very Instagrammable city of Potsdam, actually modelled after the Italian original.
Because of this German connection, I wanted to check out the real Palazzo Barberini, a 17th-century baroque palace, for myself. It was an impressive building for sure, but what I particularly enjoyed was wandering under the stately arches to discover a lovely “secret” garden!
The Palazzo Barberini houses an extensive collection of pre-1800s works and is often considered a hidden gem among locals. If you have at least 3 days in Rome and are an art lover – or simply enjoy beautiful gardens – you may want to add this palazzo to your itinerary.
Villa Borghese Gardens & Lookouts
The Villa Borghese Gardens are the equivalent of Rome’s Central Park, with a major difference. This huge public green space is set atop the Pincian Hill, affording panoramic views of Rome’s historic center to the Vatican and beyond.
You can easily lose yourself in the Villa Borghese Gardens for hours, exploring the various museums, pavilions, ruins – and even a Globe Theater. If you’re pressed for time, however, you can simply wander along the Pincio Promenade for iconic city views amidst the greenery.
The Terazza del Pincio is a popular viewing platform in the Gardens, but it can become extremely full – especially at sunset. I walked by several times during my first 3 days in Rome and discovered that the best way to get the famous terrace all to myself was to arrive just after sunrise. At that time, only local joggers and a few photographers were hanging out.
Sunset Above the Spanish Steps
I ended my first of 3 days in Rome watching the sunset over the Spanish Steps, just a few hundred meters from the Villa Borghese Gardens.
Instead of hovering at the top of the Steps next to the Obelisk, like my fellow tourists, I headed up the staircase to the left of the Trinita dei Monti Church.
This took me to the Instituto del Sacro Cuoro – a French/Italian convent. The wide ledge at the top of the staircase was the perfect place to sit back and get stunning Roman sunset photos high above the crowds.
As an added bonus, being somewhat removed from the crowds, I didn’t have to constantly dodge the rose sellers who would literally try to thrust bouquets into my hands and expect payment! (Although they will leave you alone if you say “NO” very assertively”.)
My second day in Rome led me across the Tiber River for the first time, once again exploring a mix of famous sites and lesser-known photo spots.
Trevi Fountain at Sunrise
Throughout most of this article, I’ve tried to add a slight local twist to even the more touristy activities. However, when it came to the Trevi Fountain, all I knew is that I wanted to get there early to beat the crowds and get those iconic shots.
Fortunately, it was just a 7-minute walk from Hotel Gregoriana, so I could hop out of bed, throw on a nice breezy dress, and be there in moments. I believe I got to the Trevi Fountain just after 6:30 a.m. Much to my satisfaction, there were very few other people.
I was able to walk right up to the railing and set my tripod up, with plenty of space and time to get satisfactory shots.
Like at all of Rome’s monuments, there were several police officers watching over the scene. At one point, the officers instructed all those present to vacate the fountain’s immediate vicinity as it was time for a quick cleaning. So if you happen to arrive when the fountain is closed, don’t freak out – it is likely just for a short cleanup!
Rome State Archives
This one took me completely by surprise. In fact, I only discovered Rome’s State Archives because I couldn’t cross the street where I wanted to and had an extra block on the “wrong” side.
I soon found myself walking into a courtyard flanked by double-arched open hallways leading to a stately temple.
The State Archives are located within the 17th-century Chiesa di Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, a catholic church considered to be a perfect example of Baroque architecture. The symmetry of the courtyard makes for a great photo op!
One of the only monuments in Rome that can be visited free of charge, the Pantheon is always crowded. This is one of the top Roman attractions that I just stopped by to tick it off my list, but it might of course be of more interest to others.
Expect a queue to get in, even first thing in the morning. If time at the Pantheon is a top priority for you, you can easily fit a tour in during your 3 days in Rome. But if you don’t absolutely want to check it out (I didn’t), you can just wander around outside and continue on with your day.
As much as I was impressed by the Roman Forum, I was even more charmed and intrigued by its little sister, Teatro Marcello.
This is a much quieter spot to see 2000-year-old Roman ruins. Approved to be built by Julius Caesar, Teatro Marcello was the largest theatre in the Eternal City, with the capacity to host over 20,000 spectators.
Today, you can see the very well-preserved remains of a 30-metre high “Colosseum”, the ruins of several temples, and parts of a stone road paved over 2 millennia ago.
Walk Along the Tiber River
Looking for a bit of nature while in this major metropolis? Go for a stroll along the Tiber River, the banks of which are often considered the birthplace of Ancient Rome. There’s a lovely, shady path that you can continue on for kilometres.
The waterfront trail becomes especially scenic facing Isola Tiberina, the river’s only island within the city limits.
I ended up crossing the Tiber via Ponte Fabricio, the oldest remaining bridge in Rome (built around 60 BC) and Isola Tiberina. I was now on the west bank of the Tiber, otherwise known as the bohemian Trastevere district.
Trastevere will immediately take you out of monumental Rome. You’ll discover narrow, cobblestone lanes flanked by ivy-clad stone buildings, housing cafes, restaurants and specialty shops.
Early in the day, the picturesque streets of Trastevere are perfect for photoshoots. In the evening, this neighbourhood is a hub for nightlife, where expats and locals mingle.
Pyramid of Cestius
After a short stroll through Trastevere (which, if you have more than 3 days in Rome, deserves a lengthier visit), I made my way to the next sight on my list.
Rome might not be traditionally associated with pyramids, but rest assured that the Eternal City can hold its own in this regard, too! Built in roughly 15 BC, the Pyramid of Cestius has watched over the intersection of two important Roman roads for over 2 millennia.
The Pyramid looks thoroughly modern, though. Walking by, you wouldn’t expect it to be much older than a century or two. Indeed, protected by the city’s fortifications, the Pyramid of Cestius remains one of the few, perfectly preserved ancient buildings in Rome.
Originally built as a tomb for one of the great religious leaders of the time, the Pyramid of Cestius is now a lesser-known but very interesting attraction in Rome.
With the major sights ticked off, I finally purchased my first Rome metro ticket on Day 3 and ventured further afield.
How to Buy Metro Tickets in Rome
It is very easy to purchase public transport cards in Rome, by the way. You can do so at the counter at major metro stations or at the machines you’ll find at the entrance.
It costs 1.50 € one-way, and tickets are valid on both buses and subways for 100 minutes, giving you plenty of time to get where you need to go.
Option 1: Park of the Aqueducts
In my first 3 days in Rome, the spot that impressed me the most was a total insider tip: the Park of the Aqueducts.
The name reveals it all. This is a massive green space, favoured by local joggers and dog walkers, that happens to be crossed by several ancient Roman aqueduct routes.
Here, you’ll find large chunks of aqueducts still in perfect condition in spite of their advanced age. And a really cool thing? You can actually get close to the ancient structures, as there are no fences!
When I visited the park, it was almost completed deserted. Looking out at the expansive fields, with the aqueducts in the background, I thought to myself that this landscape transcended time – it was easy to imagine myself here some 2000 years ago, the only anachronism most likely being my Birkenstocks!
To reach the Park of the Aqueducts, simply hop aboard Metro Line A. It takes about 20 minutes to reach your destination from central stations like Spagna.
Option 2: Quartiere Coppedè
If you’ve had enough of ruins and are looking for a change of scenery on your third day in Rome, I’d recommend checking out Quartiere Coppedè.
The Coppedè Neighbourhood is a collection of Art Nouveau buildings located in upscale Trieste, not far from the Borghese Gardens.
Although more of a housing development than an official neighbourhood, it was so named by the architect who designed it, Gino Coppedè. The complex consists of 18 palaces and 27 other residential buildings, clustered around Mincio Square.
If you like fantastical 20th-century architecture, you should definitely add Quartiere Coppedè to your itinerary.
Vintage Shopping in Monti
After a morning of admiring ancient aqueducts or Art Nouveau gems, you might like to indulge in some retail therapy!
Like any major city, Rome has popular shopping streets with every international brand under the sun. But what fascinated me the most was the wide range of vintage options in the city.
In search of unique finds, I headed to the gentrified Monti district (relatively close to the Roman Forum and Colosseum), a mecca for vintage shopping and independent labels. Every boutique seemed to have its own theme, from 90s American fashion to recycled pieces by local designers.
If you happen to be in Rome on Saturday or Sunday, you can add Mercato Monti to your vintage shopping route. This colourful indoor market showcases the work of Roman designers and artisans and is generally a fun place to hang out and mingle with locals.
For a list of vintage and artisan shops in Monti, take a look at this Romeing Magazine article.
La Rinascente’s Underground Aqueduct
If you don’t want to choose between fashion and history on your 3rd day in Rome, why not check out a spot that combines the two?
Rinascente is an upscale department store with a very unique feature: an ancient aqueduct running through the basement.
During construction of the original palazzo, builders found a 60 m section of the ancient Acqua Virgo, one of 9 aqueducts providing water to central Rome 2000 years ago. Instead of removing it, the owners restored it.
And most interestingly: the aqueduct is still operational, supplying water to the Trevi Fountain!
Today’s visitors can seamlessly combine luxury shopping and a quick trip downstairs to see the aqueduct.
Where to Eat & Drink in Rome: My Top Spots
For me – as I’m sure it is the case for many people – food is half the fun of travel! In this spirit, here is a little list of cafes, restaurants and rooftops that I discovered in Rome.
All of these spots are conveniently set near the attractions mentioned in the top half of this post, so you won’t have to go out of your way to find them on your 3 days in Rome.
Coffee in Rome
The first thing that I learned in Italy is that cafes are usually referred to as “bars”! So when people say they are going to the bar at 9 am, there is no alcohol involved. With 3 days in Rome, you’ll definitely have time to check out a few bars.
Barnum is a popular cafe in Trastevere, which seems to cater both to the expat and local crowds. I ordered a flavourful cold brew and a little pain au chocolat, but you can also get a variety of more elaborate breakfast and lunch dishes, too.
On top of the delicious coffee, what I appreciated the most about Barnum was the relaxed, international atmosphere. And perhaps, that it resembled some of my favourite third-wave cafes in Berlin. I’ll be returning the next chance I get.
If you happen to be in Rome for longer, Barnum also is a great place to do some remote work or catch up on emails. The staff won’t frown at you if you pull out your laptop – at least until noon, where the tables need to be computer-free.
If you like latte art, stylish decor and single-origin beans, you’ll love Faro. This little coffee shop is considered to be Rome’s third-wave cafe par excellence and it does not disappoint.
As my first 3 days in Rome were very hot, I ended up ordering a cold brew here too, but can’t wait to return and sample some of the other drinks.
If you like your coffee with a side of ruins, you’ll also be able to sit on Faro’s sidewalk terrace and admire Porta Salaria in the background. This walled entrance to the city was built around 270 AD.
Faro might be slightly out of the way (a 20-minute walk from the Spanish Steps, for example), but it is a lovely stroll along Via Boncompagni, past some of Rome’s most beautiful government buildings and banks.
If you spend time in Quartiere Coppedè, make sure to stop at Caffe Marziali, set on a lovely, tree-lined avenue. This bar has been roasting its own coffee since 1922. The same family that opened the cafe almost 100 years ago still runs it today.
On top of enjoying a latte or freshly pressed juice, patrons can purchase all kinds of beans and coffee-related products to bring a taste of Rome home.
Lunch in Rome
You’re likely to be out and about at lunchtime during your 3 days in Rome, so it helps to have an idea of where you might like to eat in advance.
My biggest struggle during my first 3 days in Rome was that most non-touristy restaurants didn’t open until 12:30 or 1:00 pm and I’m quite used to eating right at 12. So just be mindful of the fact that the places where locals eat open a bit later!
For a health fix close to the Roman Forum, make sure to stop by Avocado Bar. As the name clearly indicates, this is an eatery where every dish contains avocado.
Since hearing about a similar concept in Amsterdam, which I have not yet had the chance to try, I wanted to eat at a place like this.
Okay, I didn’t go for the healthiest dish on the menu, opting for nachos, but they were worth it! Other options include avocado burgers, avocado tapas and avo caesar salad.
During your 3 days in Rome, you’ll most likely want to eat all the pizza and pasta that you can stomach! But if you’re ready for a break from these classics, I recommend a lunch stop at El Maìz, a Venezuelan eatery within walking distance of the Vatican.
Fresh and tasty dishes await, like arepas filled with vegetables, meat and cheese. Decent-sized portions also mean that you won’t go hungry for a while after visiting this street food-style joint.
While in Monti, you can’t go wrong at Pasta Chef. This little restaurant has just a few tables and a short menu, focusing on 6 or so classic Italian pasta dishes. But even before opening time, there was a line-up outside – always a good sign.
I managed to snag a seat at the wooden bar and ordered some Carbonara, which I can still taste to this day!
Another thing I learned quite quickly in my 3 days in Rome is that poke is a big deal! You’ll find quite a few poke and sushi restaurants scattered around the city center.
My favourite is undoubtedly Poke House. I went there 4 times on my longer trip to the Eternal City. In fact, it sort of became my go-to when I was craving something a bit more filling close to the hotel.
While Poke House is a chain, their funky decor, delicious dishes and commitment to supporting emerging photographers (by exhibiting their works on the walls), immediately convinced me.
Dinner in Rome
3 days in Rome should give you at least 3 chances to be swept away by Italian cuisine! Tired from exploring on my first day, I just had takeaway pizza, though. But if you’re looking for something a bit fancier, below you’ll find two restaurants I would 100% go back to.
Nestled on a bustling Trastevere side street, Ditta Trinchetti is a great spot to try some simple yet delicious pasta. The venue is casual and cozy, the perfect spot to unwind after being on your feet all day.
If you’d like to sample a traditional dish, order the cacio et pepe (fresh pasta with cheese and pepper), which is the “base pasta” for preparing many other popular dishes like Carbonara. The Linguine al pomodoro del Piennolo (linguine with Piennolo tomato) was a simple yet very satisfying meal, too.
By the way, this restaurant was chosen and highly rated by a native Roman friend of mine, so you can consider it the ultimate, local-approved insider tip!
For more inventive pasta dishes, head to Piccolo Arancia, a historic restaurant close to the Trevi Fountain. Piccolo Arancia means “little orange”, so I had to try their signature orange ravioli while I was there. I most certainly was not disappointed.
The waitress also recommended the Fiori di Zucca appetizer – fried zucchini with melted cheese – which was another great choice!
Rooftops in Rome
No visit to Rome – no matter how short or long – is complete without visiting a rooftop or two! In my first 3 days in Rome, I managed to check out two stellar terraces.
Les Etoiles stood out to me on Google Maps as I was looking for somewhere to take a break close to Castel Sant’Angelo. I went there at a very quiet hour – I believe it was around 11 am – so I had the entire floor to myself.
What is truly special about Les Etoiles is that you get 360-degree views over Rome and the Vatican.
Please note that between meals, Les Etoiles only serves coffee and simple drinks (orange juice, coke, etc), but this is the perfect opportunity to admire Rome’s stunning skyline on a virtually empty rooftop terrace.
If you’d like to go for the full experience, I’d recommend booking a lunch or dinner reservation. They had a very tempting sushi menu, for instance!
Much closer to my hotel was the Rinascente rooftop. As you might remember from a few paragraphs up, the luxury department store has an aqueduct running through the basement. Well, it also has Madeiterraneo on the roof – a trendy yet relaxed bar affording prime views over Rome’s historic core.
The only downside to Madeiterraneo is that, being inside a department store, it closes at 9 pm. However, this rooftop is perfect for aperitivo – aka, in my case, Aperol Spritz at sunset!
What Is It Like to Visit Rome in 2021?
If you’re planning to spend 3 days in Rome – or any amount of time, really – you might be wondering what it’s like to visit the Eternal City in 2021. My experience was very positive.
I understood that Rome was much quieter than usual, which has a terrible impact on the hospitality industry. On the flip side, now is an ideal time to see the sights without (pre-Covid-sized) crowds. Most cruise ship traffic has ceased, too, so you won’t get caught in throngs of day-trippers.
In Italy, the Green Pass (proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative Covid test result) is mandatory for stepping through virtually any door – as is mask-wearing.
Outside, however, you do not need to wear a mask. In general, Romans are relatively relaxed, so if you forget to put on a mask, for example, employees will just politely tell you to do so.
Of course, given the current situation, rules and restrictions change at a moment’s notice, so make sure you stay informed as you travel.
Conclusion: 3 Days In Rome Are Fabulous But Insufficient!
Rome is a city of beauty, artistry, and culture. Whether you’d like to amble amidst ancient ruins, dine in style overlooking world-famous monuments, or simply wander the streets and imagine what life was like 2000 years ago, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to snap some great photos – and make fantastic memories.
No matter your interests, these 27 local-approved tips should point you in the right direction and help you make the most of your 3 days in Rome.
However, it is not unlikely that you will fall head over heels in love with the ancient city, even in such a short time, and will want to come back again and again. You’ve been duly warned!
P.S. If you enjoyed my itinerary for 3 days in Rome, you might also like these posts:
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