The Perfect Weekend in Rome

A mere three days in Rome may feel overwhelming, but with some strategic planning, you can visit many of the Eternal City’s iconic sites. Take gelato breaks between cultural destinations and rent a bike to get outside the center and enjoy the city’s public parks. The best people watching is in cafes or in squares like Piazza Navona or around Trevi Fountain. The best shopping is on the avenues leading to the Spanish Steps, a great way to get in two Rome-perfect activities in one afternoon. Art and history fans should make time for the Vatican Museums.

00186 Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
The Roman Forum is where ancient Rome began. The sprawling archaeological park gives us just a hint of what the Roman Empire once was—a dominant and diverse society. The Forum itself was the political, social, religious, and commercial focal point for the Roman Republic and eventually the whole Empire—for the most elite members of society as well as the common plebs. Walking through the Forum is a walk through history, from its beginning as a valley with small hilltop communities (8th century B.C.E.) to its rise as the capital of an empire. The ruins of basilicas, temples, public forum spaces, and shops can be explored, and the adventure leads to Palatine Hill, an area of high-society patrician homes including the house of Caesar Augustus.
Via Lago di Lesina, 9/11, 00199 Roma RM, Italy
A few blocks from Villa Ada and the Via Salaria, Gelateria Fatamorgana sells Maria Agnese Spagnuolo’s edible works of art. Each flavor is made from all natural ingredients, without chemical additives or artificial flavors, and many are lactose free. Spagnuolo’s whimsical creations are often seasonal and always draw on quality produce, spices and herbs. In the summer, try panacea (ginseng, almond milk, and mint) with ananas e zenzero (pineapple and ginger). There are a number of chocolate variations ideal for winter, including Kentucky (dark chocolate and tobacco). Fatamorgana also offers gluten free gelato, a rarity in Rome where so many shops use additives containing gluten. There are three other branches.
Piazza del Colosseo, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
No matter how many postcards you’ve seen of Rome’s iconic Colosseum, you just don’t get it until you pass beneath its crumbling arches. Built by Emperor Vespasian in 72 C.E., the huge amphitheater held 50,000 spectators and marked its opening with 100 days of brutal spectacles like gladiator combat and animal fights. The Colosseum was in use for four centuries, and now you can tour the ruins. Walk through the Hypogeum, an intricate series of tunnels and elevators originally used to transport animals, slaves, and gladiators, to the performance above, or take a moonlit tour to have one of the world’s most storied structures all to yourself.
Via Labicana, 95, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
In 1857, the prior of the Basilica di San Clemente thought there might be something underneath his 12th-century church, already renowned for its relics and striking mosaic of the Crucifixion. When he excavated, he found not only the original, 4th-century basilica—with numerous frescoes—but a 2nd-century Mithraic cult temple and a 1st-century Roman home. Visit the church and descend through these layers of the city’s history.
Piazzale Napoleone I, 00197 Roma RM, Italy
Encompassing early 200 acres of rolling parkland, Villa Borghese is Rome’s verdant heart and everyone’s favorite place for an afternoon walk. The vast gardens are criss-crossed with picturesque paths, where visitors can meander past ancient statues and fountains, sit by a lake or caffè, and take in a film at one of two cinemas. For culture vultures, there is a Shakespearean Globe Theatre with a robust summer schedule, a historic puppet theater, and several world-renowned museums including Galleria Borghese with its enviable collection of Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings. Younger kids enjoy playgrounds, electric train rides, and a kids museum, while children of all ages can get active with skate, bike, and paddleboat rentals.
Via Beniamino Franklin, 00118 Roma RM, Italy
The “new” Testaccio Market opened in a modern building next to the Ex-Mattatoio (former slaughterhouse) in the summer of 2012. The space was much larger than the original market, which meant there was plenty of room to grow new businesses, especially “fast food” stalls. While dining at the market is prevalent in many cities, Rome never had such a thing before Testaccio opened stalls like Mordi e Vai (meatball sandwiches).
Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5, 00197 Roma RM, Italy
The Galleria Borghese, which is set in the large public Villa Borghese park, was born in the 16th century as the collection of Scipione Borghese, a powerful Cardinal and nephew to Pope Paul V. The Cardinal amassed an enormous number of ancient sculptures, many of which are displayed on the ground floor where several Bernini statues and Caravaggio canvases also appear. The upper story, on the other hand, is home to Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Seek out Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, Raphael’s Deposition, and Cranach’s Venus and Cupid. Unlike other collections of the era, which were kept in private palaces, the Borghese collection was intended to be open to the public, much like the surrounding grounds known as the Villa Borghese. The family collection is now property of the Italian state. Due to its dimensions and popularity, visits are limited to a fixed number of visitors every two hours and for a maximum of two hours. Be sure to book tickets well in advance and don’t bothering going to the museum without a booking.
Via Garibaldi, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
The ancient Romans used aqueducts to carry water from distant springs into central Rome. As the empire decayed, so too did these ambitious public works. When Rome experienced a renaissance—not to mention a population boom—in the modern age, popes took cues from the emperors before them and repaired these ancient water channels. To celebrate their grand projects, they built massive public fountains like the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on Janiculum Hill. Dubbed er fontanone (“the big fountain”), this 17th-century structure was commissioned by Pope Paul V to commemorate the repair of the Traiana aqueduct that tapped a spring near Lake Bracciano north of Rome.
22-30 Piazza di Spagna
Often called the Spanish Steps, Rome‘s famous scalinata (monumental staircase) is the centerpiece of Piazza di Spagna. Built in the early 1700s, the steps connect the piazza (now a busy shopping area) with the Trinità dei Monti church on the hill above. The area became a hangout for models and artists and one of Rome‘s most photographed sites. Head to the top to see the sunset, or make like Hepburn and Peck in the film Roman Holiday and stroll around the piazza.
Viale Vaticano, 00165 Roma RM
There is a staggering amount of artwork on display here. It is said that if you stood at each piece for just one minute, it would take you four years to see everything. Created by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the museums have expanded over the past 500 years to their current size of more than 12 acres! Highlights include the Borgia Apartments, the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and of course, the sublime Sistine Chapel.
Piazza di Pasquino, 69, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
The newest addition to Rome’s growing number of boutique luxury accommodations opened in central Rome in March 2015 on a square just off the exuberantly Baroque Piazza Navona. The suites-only hotel is the work of hoteliers Emanuele Garosci and Gabriele Salini, who blend mirrored and distressed surfaces with modern design elements and Venetian artwork—a nod to G-Rough’s sister, PalazzinaG in Venice. The only things remotely “rough” about the place are the walls, which have been artfully stripped down to reveal textured strata of centuries-old paper and paint.

The G-Rough is composed of 10 suites spread over all five floors of a 16th-century palace. Half of the rooms in this former noble residence offer views of the pretty and intermittently noisy square, while the others face a quiet internal courtyard. Each floor is inspired by the work of a different Italian designer, including Giò Ponti and Ico Parisi, and rooms feature design pieces by contemporary artists.
59 Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli
Casually chic, L’Arcangelo is a small bistro styled like a yesteryear living room: Think credenzas, leather banquettes, and framed photos. The gorgeous wooden bar serves up chef Arcangelo Dandini’s creations in a friendly, accommodating, and just a tiny bit cluttered atmosphere—exactly the kind of place your nonno would love. Chef Dandini is the patron saint of la cucina romana, and his menu shows off his flair for traditional recipes, like gnocchi all’Amatriciana, the restaurant’s Thursday specialty.
Via Rialto, 39, 00136 Roma RM, Italy
An out-of-the-way bistro pretty much worth the flight to Italy on its own, Secondo Tradizione flips the traditional osteria on its capo. Experience paper tablecloths and chalkboard menus with gallery lighting, an exposed kitchen, and a Michelin star–worthy menu. The menu riffs off a yesteryear vibe, which is a tag team of classics (like carbonara and saltimbocca) and locavore products via haute cuisine recipes. The Dal Banco (counter) showcases specialty cured meats and cheeses, while Dalla Cucina listings are the daily creations of chefs Piero Drago and Jacopo Ricci.
Viale di Trastevere, 53, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
A Trastevere institution since 1933, Ai Marmi (the official name is Panattoni, but no one calls it that) is exactly what you’d expect in an Italian neighborhood pizzeria—zero frills, lots of character, and authentic, thin-crust Roman pizza. This is the kind of place to hit for a quintessential Roman vibe, thanks to the requisite lineup of city favorites like fritti, fried cod, fried zucchini flowers, and supplì—mozzarella-filled fried rice balls. The shop gets its nickname from the long marble slabs that top the family-style tables (ai marmi means “marble” in Italian).
Via di S. Teodoro, 74, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Every Saturday and Sunday on Via S. Teodoro, tucked just off Circus Maximus, Rome‘s best farmer’s market takes place. It’s run by Campagna Amica, an Italy-wide organization that promotes local, sustainable agriculture—so all of the products sold here, from jam to olive oil, bread to cheese, beer to wine, come from the Lazio region only, and are sold directly by the producers themselves. Tastings are a-plenty and the producers are more than happy to chitchat about their foodstuffs. If you come around lunchtime, you can buy a cheap lunch—maybe even including porchetta sliced right off the pig, like here—to eat on the picnic tables outside.
30 Vicolo Cellini
At this speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar near Chiesa Nuova, hipster bartenders pour and shake American classics like Manhattans, Sazeracs and Old-Fashioneds in a smoky lounge. To gain admittance, make a booking and come armed with the secret password, a clue to which can be found on the venue’s website. Once you enter, you’ll be shown to a table or barstool, handed a menu, and asked to fill out a membership card. Service can be slow and snarky, but drinks are worth the wait. Cash only.
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Quietly inhabiting the lovely Via dei Banchi Vecchi, Il Goccetto (not to be confused with the Italian pro-marijuana organization by the same name) is a secret hidden in plain sight: a cozy, wood-paneled wine bar with 18th-century ceiling frescoes, more than 300 bottles of Italian and French wine, and a chilled-out atmosphere. Come in the early evening to sit alongside locals reading newspapers or playing checkers, or waltz in late to experience the buzz of young, professional Romans who frequent this local favorite after dinner. No matter when you arrive, order the cheese plate.
Chef Daniela del Balzo is full-immersion Roman, and she shares everything she knows at this intimate cooking school on the Aventine hill. For travelers who love Roman or even Neopolitan cooking, nothing beats a personal lesson from a local, and del Balzo will customize each recipe for your palate. A morning lesson includes appraising produce at her market, then preparing and savoring lunch in her nearby home. Learn how to make dishes like fried zucchini blossom, Roman lamb cacciatora, and maritozzi (Roman buns with whipped cream). Reservations required.
Piazza Navona, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Even with Segway tours rolling through and street performers loudly competing for audiences, the 15th-century Piazza Navona somehow retains a shred of grace and elegance in modern Rome. Calm Renaissance palazzi face the piazza’s centerpiece, the famous and complicated Bernini work, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (“Are these colossal male depictions of the four great rivers of the world writhing on top of a boulder not fancy enough? Let’s top it with an obelisk for a little visual interest.”). The piazza itself was created when a 1st-century arena was paved over to create a market square—you can still sense the oval track of the arena in the shape of the opening. Come for a gelato and some excellent people-watching, especially in the evening.
Piazza di Trevi, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
Fontana di Trevi is, as it should be, one of the most visited landmarks in Rome. Seeing it is worth the blind stumble through narrow stone streets and alleyways. But do so at night (and in the rain, if possible) to be rewarded with the stunning sight of the immense baroque fountain lit before a dark and shining background, like a scene from a Fellini movie. This is when the Trevi Fountain is at her most beautiful and most magical self.
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