When I found out my French study abroad program in Orléans was going to have a four day weekend for Bastille day, I knew I had to find a way to see another country. So it made sense that “Rome in three days” wound up being a lovely addition to my time in France.

At the time I was struggling with a lot of worries that I might never get to see Europe again (Spoiler: I made it back a year later to Oxford University in England).

After all, so few people ever have the opportunity to travel abroad and I had already managed it twice. I felt like I had to see as much as I could. Rome in three days turned out to be the perfect option and it is probably one of my best memories <3

I teamed up with another girl in my class to save some money on everything, which was very nice. I also lucked out in finding in this temporary travelmate a good amount of independence so I didn’t feel trapped. If you are in a study abroad program I recommend looking around, there’s always at least one person who will want to go somewhere with you. If I hadn’t gone with her, there was a boy who wound up going to Dublin, Ireland, and I’m sure I could have tagged along with him.

How We Traveled

The furious search for flight tickets began. Really, I wish there was more competition for flights in the US because when we scored our tickets to Rome for $200 each, I thought that was perfectly reasonable. We were both told by other French people that this price is rather expensive. I am aware it is possible to purchase tickets regularly for as low as $50, but we were buying them about a week ahead of time. I don’t know the last time I’ve seen a flight for $200 from Wichita (We are now getting some budget airlines in so maybe in the future) and certainly not a mere week before the actual flight. The $200 was the most we spent on anything.

We took Swiss Air which is probably the best airline I have ever been on in terms of the actual in-flight component. The flight was very smooth and the food was actually delicious, Swiss sandwiches which are apparently baked fresh daily, with Swiss chocolate samples upon departure. Now, the layover….can’t recommend. Check out my post on why The Zurich Airport Shouldn’t be in the World’s Top 10, for more of the sordid details.

Where We Stayed

AirBnb is amazing, y’all. Like seriously. Just a week before we got there we were able to book a lovely private room in an apartment directly across from the Coliseum. While we didn’t have a view from our room, we had access to the roof and this was the literal view from the roof:

Clear blue sky and the colosseum from a rooftop two buildings away.

The view from our apartment rooftop of the colosseum. Notice how we have only two buildings inbetween us.

If you want this exact place it is here.  If you haven’t used Airbnb before this you can get $40 off your first booking with this link. You don’t have to use it, I will receive $20 towards a booking if you do, but if you want to help me keep on making posts I would really appreciate it! At the time the double room that we shared was $75 a night – for this kind of location, literally a five minute slow walk to one of the most famous monuments in the world….that’s insane. Now, I believe it costs about $89 a night which is still a ridiculous price for the location. I can only imagine the prices of the hotels nearby.

Not only that, the rooms are air-conditioned. This actually really helped with our stamina for the three days we were there. We would come back in the middle of the day for a little nap in the cold and then head back out! If I were to return to Rome (which along with South Korea, is currently at the absolute top of my list of places to return to as soon as possible) I would stay here again, no question. It also included nice snacks for breakfast and the owner was incredibly kind when I couldn’t figure out how to pay for the city tax as I didn’t have enough cash. For two people, two nights meant about $90 each total with the cleaning and service fees.

What We Did

Day 1: Colosseum, Palentine Hill, Roman Forum, and Drinking Tour

Now, people everywhere on the internet say you have to book your tickets for the Colosseum and everything else ahead of time. We didn’t do that and it was fine. Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing this, but I don’t think it’s really necessary at all. When we showed up at the Colosseum we thought about getting in the 2-hour long line but eventually gave into one of the vaguely sketchy salesmen rounding up people into group tours. We paid about 22 euros each for a combined ticket to the Colosseum, which includes going to the center of the Colosseum which not accessible outside of group tours. It also included tickets to Palentine Hill and the Roman Forum. Totally, completely worth it and we skipped the massive lines almost immediately.

Center of the Colosseum, sunny day with views of the ancient walls

The amazing center of the Colosseum we were able to wander around for a bit on the platform

The tour was a tad basic but there were children there so I suppose they couldn’t get too in-depth. However, they switched off to a different tour guide for Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum who seemed super awesome. I can’t recommend the Roman Forum enough as that was just…crazy to see. So many ancient artifacts dotted absolutely everywhere. We learned that Rome is so chock full of ancient artifacts that the subway line actually had to cease attempting to build a 3d line because they kept running into important things.

Speaking of which, there isn’t really a reason to take the subway, honestly…we walked absolutely everywhere and never even bothered. It’s all right there if you’re staying anywhere near the Colosseum.

The second tour guide had a lot more details to give and we’d lost most of our group who had children. At the end of the tour he mentioned he had a drinking tour of Rome happening that night for some crazy price like $8 euros. I think we had to buy our own beer/wine but as Italy allows for open container drinking until 10PM, it was very easy to buy on our quick stops. If you can manage to find this kind of tour I absolutely recommend it as we were able to see a lot of Rome as it became a bit darker, which was fun! He also ended the tour at a restaurant that I’ll list in the Where we Ate section.

The tour was given by an exchange student looking to make a little extra cash, something that is apparently popular. I recommend asking your guide if they know of any secret tours like this. If not, there’s always a bunch on Airbnb and the like. Try the Prosecco! I wound up liking it far better than Champagne. Must be my Italian roots.

Day 2: Pantheon and then Solo exploration of Aventine Hill and Altare della Patria

The second day was our only completely full day so we rose early to the beautiful Italian sun. I had already concluded that my genes were responding to the local, I had noticeably tanned 2-3 shades and I’d coated myself in sunscreen. I hadn’t tanned more than a shade since I was a child and my Irish heritage takes over normally (pale as pale can be). It felt great. Rome felt like home to me immediately.

We started off to the Pantheon, which is free (in fact, everything I did this day was for free), so I highly recommend! We actually spent a *ton* of time wandering around. I really got a feel for the place and reflected upon our tour guide’s comments from the night before. Apparently, the Catholic church didn’t want to tear down all the beautiful work so they either appropriated it by taking the marble off all the buildings for the Vatican’s floors (all those peg holes in the walls around Rome and in the Colosseum are where the marble used to be), or they splashed some holy water and put a cross on top. Essentially the same thing happened to the Pantheon although it got to keep most of its stuff because actual mass is held here. It’s semi-annoying. I think the church should have to give back its marble and buy their own 😛

We scouted out a place for dinner and then headed off to our own pursuits. My travelmate wanted to go to the Trevi Fountain and I wanted to find the mysterious keyhole on the top of Aventine Hill. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a keyhole in a door on top of a hill that when looked through frames St. Peter’s Basilica perfectly. The climb was gorgeous.

Stone pine trees in front of some ancient ruins on a street.

Some of the amazing Stone Pine Roman trees which can reach 80ft tall!

This isn’t really a huge tourist spot, I don’t think. When I arrived two smaller tour buses were just leaving, so if you can time it right there won’t be a soul around. You can also learn something about the Knights Templar on this spot as this used to be a crusader stronghold that eventually fell into their hands.

Keyhole view of St. Peter's Basilica

There are better pictures, of course, but I kinda like the old-times feel I managed to capture of the Keyhole on Aventine Hill of St. Peter’s Basilica

On the way back down I stopped in a park that looked like it was primarily utilized by locals as no one was really taking photos, most were reading or enjoying the idyllic scenery. This was probably my favorite place in all of Rome, and it’s called Parco Savello. I realized here that I hadn’t actually seen any clouds overhead in Rome, only in the distance. It’s as though they reach the outskirts and simply stop.

A large cloud bank behind famous buildings in Rome, Italy

Rome, where clouds come to a mysterious halt

I went home for a bit to relax in the cool air and then proceeded to the Alter of the Fatherland, also known as the Altare della Patria. Most people might think of this building as too ostentatious. It’s construction in the 1800s was the subject of much controversy as it required the destruction of several ancient artifacts. While I wish that had not been necessary, I loved this building. It impressed on me the might of Italy and its desire to been seen as its own strong nation. Besides, the views from the top are kinda ridiculous. I don’t have any good shots from the front but there are tons available online.

View from the top of Altare della Patria with clouds in the background.

View from the top of the Altare della Patria.

Third Day: Wandering

This was only a half-day so there wasn’t too much time to do anything and we instead wandered. I went to an art museum nearby for free and revisited some of the walks I had taken. I went through some market areas which were lovely and then headed to the airport.

What We Ate

Frankly, food in Rome is pretty reasonable. Water is completely free and flowing from Roman-era fountains everywhere. I have a lot of issues with water with very low tolerance for additives such as chlorine and fluoride and I found the water to be delicious. There is absolutely no reason to buy more than one water bottle while here and just keep using it.

For food we ate out both nights and went to the grocery store for smaller snacks during the day.

After our drinking tour, we went to Cleto la Porta del Colosso, home of the 7 Sins Pasta. This tiny restaurant is fantastic and everything was lovely. Give the 7 Sins Pasta a try! There are 7 ingredients each starting with a “p.” I plan on attempting to recreate this dish at home soon. It came to about 10 euroes for a huge portion.

On our second night we returned to the Pantheon and ate directly across from it at Napoletano’s Pantheon. I was assuming that this would make the meal very expensive, but it didn’t. We shared a meat board which had perhaps the best prosciutto I’ve ever had. I then had their tortellinis and we basically rolled ourselves home. Dear god it was good. All in all we spent about $15 each.

What to Pack

I tried out backpacking on this trip as my Paris adventure with 60lb baggage did not work out. I brought one backpack and packed the following:

  • Leather Jacket
  • Scarf (Incredibly useful! Can be used to tied around shoulders to go into religious sites, and as a block from the sun)
  • Pair of Shorts
  • Dress
  • Top
  • 3 pair socks
  • 3 pair underwear
  • Sunblock, makeup remover, powder foundation, 1 lipstick, and 1 eyeliner

It worked out great and I highly, highly recommend traveling light after this experience.

Total Costs for Rome in Three Days

  • Flight: $200
  • Housing: $90
  • Excursions: $30
  • Drink: $10
  • Food: $35
  • Transport to from Airport: $20 (We took a shuttle bus which seemed kinda sketchy but honestly everything in Rome does)

Total: $365

Final Thoughts

We did not make it to the Vatican. There are some people on the internet who claim Rome can be done in anywhere from 1-3 days. To me, the Vatican is at least an additional full day. To really enjoy yourself and take everything in I would suggest 5 days. I would love to go back and see the Vatican.

All-in-all Rome in three days was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I cannot recommend visiting Rome more. Living, albeit briefly, in a city which has been occupied by humans for over a 1,000 years was incredible. As you stay there you realize how the city was able to sustain the world’s largest population of a million people for so long in ancient history. The ingenuity of the Romans is around every corner, from the fact that they had retractable roofs for their arenas to the structures which still remain today in amazingly good condition. If you give Rome a try, please let me know of your experiences!

Check out my other posts: 

A Guide to Seoul, South Korea: The Real City That Never Sleeps

A Week in Paris

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