When in Rome – How to spend 48 hours in the Eternal City
Updated: Jun 3, 2021
(This post was first published on 1/11/2016, and was last updated on 5/26/2021)
Let me start by saying this: most guidebooks say that you should give Rome at least 4-5 full days. I’m here to tell you differently. While I would have loved to have more time in this wonderful city, I also feel that I was able to see the highlights of Rome in the 48 hours I was there. As I like to say, a little bit of time somewhere is better than no time! During my time studying in England, I had a good friend who was studying in Rome. Thanks to a cheap flight deal, I decided to hop over to Italy for a weekend to visit her.
Day one - Friday night
I took an afternoon flight from London Gatwick that arrived in Rome at Fiumicino Airport around 7 pm. The easiest way to get to the city center is by the Leonardo express train, which costs €18 each way and takes around 30 minutes. For those looking to save a few euros, there is also a slower regional train or a bus.
After checking in to my hostel, which was located near the Termini train station, I headed out to meet my friends Bridget and Lisa. I'll never forget my first walk through Rome. It was so surreal walking past all kinds of old ruins and past the Colosseum. My 20-year-old self was trying to wrap my head around the fact that it was real life. After meeting up with the girls, we decided on a bar near the highly impressive Il Vittoriano and grabbed an aperitivo (or after-dinner drink) while soaking up the Roman atmosphere.
Day two - Saturday
The day's mission was to conquer the Vatican with Lisa, who was also on her first trip to Rome from her study abroad in France. We took the metro from Termini station to get to the Vatican. This was actually the only time I used public transport while I was in Rome. I really enjoy walking around and soaking in the atmosphere, plus I was on a student budget!
Our morning at the Vatican involved a lot of waiting in lines, but it was definitely worth it. It's free to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica, so I would definitely recommend checking it out. The inside is both stunning and beautiful. Plus Vatican City is technically another county, so it's an easy one to add to the list! After looking around the basilica, it was time to move on to the Vatican Museums.
Rome travel tip: if you're visiting Rome in the warmer months, make sure you're appropriately dressed for your day at the Vatican. Knees and shoulders must be covered and hats are not allowed.
Entrance to the Vatican Museums is €17 for adults, and €8 for ages 6-18 and for students with an international student card. Unless you're willing to pay the extra money, ignore all the tour guides hanging around the queue for the museums. They will help you get in faster, but this doesn't come without a price. We spent several hours there and could have spent even longer. We even managed to sneak in a Sistine Chapel selfie.
If you're planning on seeing the basilica and the museums, I would definitely plan on spending at least half a day at the Vatican in order to be able to see everything. There are also some gardens there (with a separate entrance ticket) that would probably be lovely in the warmer months!
It wouldn't be a trip to Italy without some pizza and gelato, so that's what we found for lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around the city discovering some incredible buildings and piazzas. I definitely think that everyone should take the time to put away the map and wander through a city, no matter what the city is or how many times they’ve visited. This is my fool-proof way to stumble across some of the best hidden (and not so hidden) gems.
We also paid a visit to the Trevi Fountain, and made our wishes – legend has it that throwing a coin in the fountain means that you will return to Rome again. I'm really hoping that this comes true someday! Even though the area is packed with tourists, don't miss out on seeing the Trevi Fountain. It is hands down one of the most impressive tourist attractions I’ve visited in Europe – just coming around the corner and seeing it for the first time definitely took my breath away!
In the evening, Lisa and I met up with Bridget for dinner, and she took us to this very charming restaurant in the neighborhood of Trastevere. If you only eat one meal in Rome, please, please make it be here. It doesn’t matter what restaurant you go to, they’re all good. Just pick the one that you like the looks of, and enjoy your meal. Along with being delicious (let’s be real, I would come to Italy just to eat), it was only around €60 in total for appetizers and a bottle of wine to share, and an entree and a dessert each.
Rome travel tip: Make sure to try spaghetti carbonara, a creamy pasta dish with egg and cured pork. The dish orginated in Lazio, the region that Rome is located in.
.It also deserves a passing mention that we may or may not have consumed a little too much wine with dinner, followed by a few drinks out at a cool bar on Piazza Campo dei Fiori. This resulted in a detour on the way home to sing the song from Lizzie McGuire in front of the Colosseum, and I’m not ashamed in the least. (also, how cool is it that you can casually say you took a detour past the Colosseum?!)
Day three - Sunday
Since Lisa had an early morning flight back to France, I was off to sightsee on my own. The only thing left on my Roman to-do list was to properly see the Colosseum - I was not going to count the night before! Here I encountered another line with tour guides offering to get you in faster (at a higher charge of course!) I decided to save the money, and enjoy the November sunshine. Adult tickets to the Colosseum (+ Roman Forum) are €16.
Let me just start by saying that the Colosseum is even bigger than I expected it to be. It was also packed with tour groups, but hey, I guess you can’t win them all! With the price of admission to the Colosseum, you also get admission to the Roman Forum, which was much more extensive and much less crowded. The Forum is the ruins of the center of ancient Rome, and walking around gives you a real feel for what daily Roman life was like. Don’t miss out on this if you’ve gone to the Colosseum, because you've already paid for it! Even if you're not a huge fan of Roman history, it's a really nice place to just walk around on a nice day.
I finished up my time in Rome wandering around and visiting some of the other tourist attractions. The Italian Immigration Museum - which sadly is permanently closed now; the Pantheon, and the Mouth of Truth were the main highlights, and were even better because they are all free! I also indulged in some more Italian treats – cannoli and more gelato, of course! On my next trip to Rome, I would love to do a cooking class or a food tour - educational and delicious!
Fun fact: there are ruins in the center of Rome that are now a cat sanctuary!
Overall, I loved Rome, and the weekend there just made me want to visit more places in Italian. Please visit Rome, whether you have a week, a weekend, or even just a day. There is something for everyone there, and some of the best food I’ve ever had. It also has the bonus of being cheaper than other popular European destinations. 48 hours in Rome was just right for my first trip there, but I’m already looking forward to my next trip back!
Accommodation: You can find hotel rooms near the city for around €100 per night, and apartments on Airbnb average around €75 per night. You can also book a private room in a hostel for about €50-75 per night.
Public transport: You can buy a BIT ticket that covers you for multiple trips within a 100 minute period for only €1.50. Day tickets (BIG) are €6, and 3-day BTI tickets are €16.50. Unless you're traveling with small kids that can't walk far, or you don't like to walk much yourself, sticking to the single tickets and only buying when you need to use public transit is probably the most affordable option.
- Make sure to watch your bags and valuables. I felt very safe while I was in Rome, but as with all touristy areas, make sure to keep an eye out for pickpockets.
- There are drinking fountains with cold and fresh water all over Rome. Bring a water bottle from home and refill as you go! This eliminates plastic waste AND saves you money.
- Book tickets to the Colosseum and Vatican ahead of time. This will lock you into visiting these attractions on a specific day, it will also cut down on your waiting time.
- Colosseum & Roman Forum tickets are valid for 24 hours. This is especially handy if you're traveling with children, as you could visit the Colosseum the first day and the Roman Forum the second day. Under 18s are free, but do still need a minors ticket - make sure to add this to your order if you're buying tickets online! Additionally, tickets booked online are subject to a €2 booking fee.
Hopefully, this post was helpful for planning your trip to Rome, or if you weren't planning on visiting, maybe I've inspired you to do so!