That is the million-euro question.
The Eternal City is vast and has many faces. As with many other destinations, how many days you need in Rome will depend on your interests and pace of travel.
I have spent the best part of thirty years unearthing its treasures and have not yet peeled back its many layers of history. But these multiple visits have given me a good sense of how many days in Rome will allow you to meet your travel expectations without feeling frazzled in the process.
Whether you spend one, two, three, four or five days in Rome, there’s an itinerary for you.
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How Many Days in Rome are Enough for a First-time Visit?
Let’s cut to the chase. In my view, for the average first-time visitor to Rome, the sweet spot is between three and four days.
Whilst you won’t be able to do it all in this timespan, you will be able to hit Rome’s highlights with ease. Opt for three days in Rome if you want to squeeze as much into your city break as possible; four days if you prefer a more relaxed itinerary.
What you can see in 3 days in Rome
With three full days in Rome, you will be able to give the city’s most famous attractions the attention that they deserve.
An icon of Rome itself, this world-famous UNESCO-listed site witnessed over 500 years of what passed for entertainment in Ancient Rome.
Roman Forum (Foro Romano)
This powerfully evocative site was the heart of civic and political life in the Roman Empire.
This is my favourite building in Rome. Formerly a temple built by Marcus Agrippa, it became the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres in 609 AD and is the burial spot of the artist Raphael and kings Vittorio Emmanuele II and Umberto I.
St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)
Said to be built on the site where St. Peter was buried, the instantly recognisable St. Peter’s Basilica is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
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Ensure your return visit to Rome by throwing a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. Yes; it is super-touristy but it has to be done.
These monumental steps, linking Piazza di Spagna with the church of Trinità dei Monti, are another of Rome’s most famous sights. The surrounding streets are flush with high-end shops.
Perhaps Rome’s finest Baroque square – and there are a number from which to choose – Piazza Navona is a scenic spot for an expensive cup of coffee.
What you can see in 4 days in Rome
Spending an additional day in Rome will allow you to visit its must-see sights with time left for soaking up the city’s culture, relaxing in its restaurants – I recommend heading to the Ghetto area for fried artichoke – or taking part in a few fun activities.
If you prefer, you can squeeze in a few more sights.
If you are an art history buff, make a beeline for the Galleria Borghese (this is one place in Rome where it is obligatory to buy your ticket in advance) or the Capitoline Museums. For a taste of Rome’s magnificent Baroque churches, visit Santa Maria Maggiore or Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Are 5 Days Too Long in Rome?
Well. That depends.
Thanks to the sheer business of the city, some people may find that five days in Rome is pushing it. But if you are an average visitor who wants to explore the city at a slower pace or take a day trip from Rome, then 5 days will be perfect.
If you are a history fangirl or fanboy who is happy spending hours brick-counting on an archaeological site, then five days will not be enough time in Rome.
It’s horses for courses, as they say.
Are 2 Days in Rome Enough for a First-Time Visit?
With forward planning, you can hit Rome’s must-see sights in two full days. However, this will be a fast-paced visit you will have to content yourself with scratching the surface of its historic and cultural attractions.
Tips for Deciding How Many Days You Need in Rome
To judge how many days in Rome will be enough and to make the most of your time there, you’ll need to consider what you would like to see, how you will arrange your sightseeing and your preferred pace.
Determine the actual number of days in Rome
Unless you are on a silly-o’clock outbound flight, day one in a city is rarely a full day. If your flight arrives at midday, for example, your first day in Rome is half a day at best.
If you are on a red-eye to Rome, check that your accommodation will be able to store your luggage. Most, but not all, hotels offer this service and it may be more challenging if you are renting an apartment.
The same applies on the day of your departure.
Create a Rome wish list
This is not a city to wing it on a first visit. Your bucket list will focus the mind and give you a feel for how many days it will take to see Rome.
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Book tickets in advance
Don’t risk disappointment. For hugely popular sights like the Colosseum and Vatican Museums, advance booking is essential.
Cluster sightseeing into areas
Be smart in how you arrange your Rome itinerary by clustering sightseeing into a geographical area. For example; day one could be the Ancient Roman sites; day two, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, Castel Sant’Angelo and perhaps Trastevere; day three, Rome’s historic centre.
Consider transport time
Grouping your sightseeing into neighbourhoods that you can navigate on foot makes the time toing and froing between Rome’s attractions less of an issue. Rome is surprisingly walkable but you are likely to need to hop on public transport to reach Vatican City, which is served by the city’s Metro system.
Rome can overwhelm you and not always in a positive way. This is a very busy city, the most visited in Italy. In 2019, Rome recorded over ten million overnight stays.
Take it from me. You quickly tire of swerving around tour groups, and of bumping elbows with others craning their necks to look at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Build in time for rest and reflection.
Base yourself in a central location
It’s hard to beat walking from your hotel or apartment to the must-see sights on a city break. Although it’s unlikely that you will be able to visit all of Rome’s major landmarks on foot from your accommodation, by choosing a centrally located place to stay you can cut down on travel time.
Where to Stay in Rome
Make it easy on yourself by staying in a central location.
For your first visit to Rome, you can’t go far wrong staying in the historic centre or Centro Storico (on my first visit over 30 years ago I stayed in a pensione on Campo de Fiori).
This neighbourhood is super central and has a wonderful ambience. But as this is tourist central, it can be very busy and noisy at all times of the day.
>>> SEARCH FOR HOTELS IN CENTRO STORICO HERE
If you are looking for a budget to mid-range accommodation, take a look at the streets around Rome Termini station. As well as being a relatively affordable area in which to stay, it is also Rome’s main transport hub.
It’s safe to say that this isn’t the nicest area late at night but I have stayed near Termini a few times with zero problems.
Hotel Canada, BW Premier Collection | MORE INFORMATION HERE
I stayed in this 3-star hotel when on my most recent trip to Rome. It offers comfortable rooms and an elegant lounge, and Termini station is a ten-minute walk.
iQ Hotel Roma | MORE INFORMATION HERE
The 1Q Hotel Roma was my base on an earlier solo trip to Rome. This trendy 4-star hotel has a lovely rooftop terrace and there’s a shared laundry.
>>> SEARCH FOR OTHER HOTELS NEAR ROME TERMINI HERE
AROUND VILLA BORGHESE
I’m a big fan of this district. Although it’s away from the tourist hubbub, you are within walking distance of Rome’s Centro Storico.
River Palace Hotel | MORE INFORMATION HERE
This elegant 4-star hotel is often my base when I am visiting Rome. It is a five-minute walk from Piazza del Popolo and Flaminio Metro Station.
>>> SEARCH FOR OTHER HOTELS AROUND VILLA BORGHESE HERE
How Many Days to Spend in Rome on a First Visit?
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Scratch the surface of this city’s remarkable historical and cultural heritage by spending two days in Rome. Visit Rome for three or four days for a slower-paced itinerary that includes its famous landmarks.
With five days or more in Rome, you can start to get under the skin of the city and take a day trip to Florence, Ostia Antica or Naples, or a few hidden gems like Bracciano and Farfa (to name but a few worthy candidates).
Ultimately, regardless of how many days you see Rome, you can’t go far wrong. Whether you are walking in the steps of Ancient Romans or sipping an Aperol Spritz on a sun-drenched piazza, Rome will reveal itself to you through its three millennia of architecture, history and culture.