We have returned to Rome a number of times usually staying a few days with each visit. On a Mediterranean cruise a few years ago it was our sons first trip to Europe. The cruise originated and ended in Barcelona and the ship docked for one day in Civitavecchia the port servicing Rome. With the trip to Rome by bus takes an hour plus each way* that left about seven hours to actually see the city.
Rome is one of the world’s great cities. It is packed full of thousands of years of historic sites. It is home to one of the world’s major religions (yes, I know the Vatican is actually a different city/country). In addition Rome has some of the best food and shopping in Europe and then there are the concerts and opera…
So the challenge is what to do with eight hours in Rome? Since this day is focused on a first timer who probably isn’t real keen on shopping and the symphony and opera, that leaves historical highlights. Our eight hours in Rome started and finished at Vatican City where the cruise bus dropped us off.
The first time hurdle you will have to deal with in visiting the major sites in Rome, particularly in the summer, are the crowds. As hard as it is to believe, even the outdoor Fountain of Trevi in the summer, has huge crowds you need to navigate. Many other sites need tickets or hours waiting in line or both.
The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – direct purchase tickets through the Vatican are 17 Euros and it will still require a fair amount of time in line to get in. You can get Skip-the-Line Tickets to the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel thru an agency for about 30 Euros but it requires doing this in advance. Without being aware of this the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel will use up too much time.
Getting into St. Peters is free but the lines usually will take up to an hour or more. Since the lines were already long we decided to try later when we returned to the Vatican.
From Vatican City we took a taxi over to the Pantheon, which is the oldest intact domed structure in the world and really deserves a look. Unfortunately even the Pantheon now requires admission tickets, instituted primarily to better control the crowds.
For the next stop it is important to have a really good sense of direction and a map or the use of the GPS on your smart phone because the next stop is only a modest walk away. Everyone has to put in an appearance at the Fountain of Trevi. Remember Anita Ekberg’s famous Trevi Fountain bathing scene from “La Dolce Vita,” and the tradition of throwing coins into the Trevi from “Three Coins in the Fountain”? Stand with your back to the fountain and throw a coin over your right shoulder and you will always return to Rome.
From Trevi still walking, head for the Spanish Steps another must do iconic site. While I’ve been there dozens of times I’ve never been sure what you’re supposed to do. Walk up and down? Sit and play an instrument (many do)? At least take a selfie that proves you were there.
From the Steps another fifteen or twenty minutes walking will get you to the Via Veneto where, if you’re not into shopping at least sit at a café, have lunch or drink an espresso and watch the people passing by.
Another option from the Steps is to head off in the opposite direction thru the Piazza Spagna, probably Rome’s favorite piazza. This is a great area for strolling and lunch or perhaps at least a cappuccino as you people watch and take in the sights around the piazza.
If you are on the Via Veneto and enjoy walking you can walk the dozen blocks over to the Piazza Republica and head down the Via Nazionale toward the Roman Forum. You can also catch the Metro at the nearby Barberini Metro Station and exit at the Piazza Republica.
If you are at the Piazza Spanga you can walk to the Roman Forum in about a half hour or catch a metro at the Spanga/Trevi station and take the A line and get off at the Piazza Republica station. From there you can walk or take a bus down the Via Nazionale to the area of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum.
Of course you can take taxis between the various locations. You should expect to pay 15 to 20 Euros per ride between these locations. A better option is rapid transit but in Rome it is somewhat fragmented between Metro and buses. With a little practice it is, by far, the best way of getting around Rome. The fare system is totally integrated, so you can pay and use the Metro trains and buses on the same ticket. A minimum fare is a BIT Standard ticket for one ride and costs about $2 per person. Our recommendation is a 24 hour pass for about $9. There are ticket machines at all Metro stations and they offer instructions in a number of languages and accept most major credit cards.
Once in the area of the Roman Forum you can walk thru the Forum, visit the Colisseum and Palitine Hill. The Colisseum requires admission tickets and you can expect the line to take up to an hour in Summer.
Getting from the area of the Forum back to Vatican City by walking or by bus will take about an hour. A faster option is to pick up the Metro B Line at the Colosseo station, change to the A Line at the Termini stop and get off at Ottaviano – San Pietro station. The Metro trip should take 30 to 40 minutes so because of the time limit you might want to take a taxi (about 15 to 20 minutes for about $25).
Vatican Museum– A collection amassed by Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art.
Sistine Chapel – A large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV, for whom the chapel is named. The ceiling along with a large fresco The Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall were painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.
St. Peters Basilica – Is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome. It was designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest Christian church in the world.
Pantheon – meaning “[temple] of every god”) is a former Roman temple, now a church, on a site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). The present building was completed by the emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and one of the worlds oldest complete structures.
Fountain of Trevi – Is a fountain in the Trevi district. Commisioned in 1629 by Pope Urban VIII. Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. It is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.
Spanish Steps – This monumental staircase of 135 steps was built with 20,000 scudi bequeathed by French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi.
Piazza Spanga – Is one of the most famous squares in Rome. It owes its name to the Palazzo di Spagna, seat of the Embassy of Spain to the Holy See. Nearby is the famed Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Via Veneto – Is one of the most famous, elegant, and expensive shopping streets in Rome.
The Roman Forum – A rectangular plaza containing the ruins of several important ancient Roman government buildings. Originally a marketplace, the Forum became the center of the Roman Republics government and was the heart of ancient Rome.
Colosseum – Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater it is an oval amphitheater in the centre of the city. Built of travertine and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheater ever built. commissioned in A.D. 71 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people. In A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus officially opened the Colosseum
*If you have come to Rome on a cruise you’ll be docked in Civitavecchia and almost all cruise tours use tour buses to get into the city. St. Peters is usually the primary Rome drop-off point. That’s a minimum ride of an hour and a quarter. Our recommendation is to take the free shuttle bus from the port to the Civitavecchia train station and catch a train. Trains run every 20 to 40 minutes, cost only 9€, and the express trains take just 50 mins. Recently Civitavecchia Port has added an express train specifically for cruise passengers going to Rome (MORE HERE). The main train lines and stations are diagramed :