I loved hopping around Rome, if only for a day. My friend and I were both really happy with how the day unfolded and how much we packed into 24 hrs. Here's a rundown of our itinerary and some advice.
Hotel: Antica Dimora De Michael
This hotel was tricky to find. Many hotels look like a general Roman street, so look for addresses and make sure to have the phone number saved in case you have trouble finding it. It was in a good location but other than that I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but check out some options close by or near the Vatican. Although the accommodations were fine, my personal experience with them wasn't great. They overcharged me. Long story short, I was unable to get my money back.
GET EURO CASH (some places don't take card, I planned on around 100euro cash for 2 people for a day).
WALK EVERYWHERE. It's crazy driving around and you'll see so many lovely things by foot. Wear comfortable shoes that are broken in (your feet will hate you if you wear new shoes). I think it would've taken us just as long to go by car as by foot.
BRING A WATER BOTTLE. People were drinking from spigots in the street so looked like the tap water was safe. We had filters in our water bottles (brought from home) but don't think we needed them.
DON'T CARRY A BACKPACK OR LARGE BAG. Some places don't allow them.
EAT EAT EAT. Especially gelato. Don't wait to get hungry, just eat anything that looks good! You'll be burning calories walking all day. Look for house-made pasta. Also a good place for seafood (next to the ocean).
ITALIANS ARE FRIENDLY. They may be direct, but if you try a couple words in Italian and are apologetic they will try and help bridge the language barrier. Smiles and hand gestures go a far way.
GRATUITY IS INCLUDED for meals. There's a service fee added.
While other tourists are snoozing you'll be first in line for the Vatican.
Buy tickets ahead of time. Make sure it's the early access ticket. You'll enter 30 mins before any other tour groups and 1.5hrs before it opens to the public.
The early access was key to getting a head start to the day. Show up a little early so you have time to check in. We met our group on the stairs across the street from the Vatican entrance.
Your tour will end in the Sistine Chapel. You'll have the option of continuing to the Vatican Museums but take the exit at the back of the Sistine Chapel that leads to St. Peter's Basilica. Ask your guide if you're not sure which way. It'll save you lots of time. When we left St. Peter's there were hundreds of people lined up waiting (like 3hrs long), we waited maybe 3 mins.
Saint Peter's Basilica
There probably wont be a line for St. Peter's Basilica if you go right after the Sistine Chapel. Pay to take the elevator up to the dome (you'll be walking a lot today). I think it was 8-10 euro each to take the elevator (cash only).
This was one of our favorite places of the trip. When you're done upstairs checking out the dome, make your way down, check out the gift shop run by the nuns. Then as you start your way out, there's a side door where you can walk straight into the inside of the church. Check out the inside! The scale and amount of gold is stunning.
Leave the Vatican area. You'll probably be hungry by now. Most places right by the Vatican don't have good reviews. Venture away about 15 mins walk and you'll have better options.
We walked to the Spanish Steps. There are some cafes near there and along the way saw a lot of designer shops. Nice window shopping :)
Here's the order of our other stops. Some are quick passings by, others we chilled at:
It was under construction but we had delicious gelato within a block of here. Eat it all!
Once you check out the inside of the Pantheon, grab an Aperol Spritz or a refreshment at the cute restaurant in the plaza.
Then we made our way towards the Colosseum. It may look like a bit of a walk on the map, but it was a nice walk and there are a lot of impressive buildings along the way. Also love all the cobblestone alleys.
We booked an English tour ahead of time for 4pm. The place I reserved through worked out ok, but was hard to follow at first (no ticket and everything was in Italian). I'm sure there's another tour group you can book through online (Viator, the company I used for the Vatican also sells tickets). Tour was worth it, I learned a lot!
When you get there (get there 30min-1hr before your ticket time) ask one of the many workers where the online ticket pickup is. It's not right next to the Colosseum building. Close, just have to know where to look. There will be a line to pickup your tickets.
After that we stuffed ourselves with delicious pasta!
Cacio de pepe is a roman pasta dish– simple and delicious. Just noodles, cheese and pepper. We randomly chose a restaurant that looked good on our way back to the hotel (where we left our luggage during the day with the front desk).
There are many cute plazas throughout the city. Follow your nose and stomach. Best way to explore off the beaten path. We drove to Tuscany that night, so I don't have nightlife recommendations, but I'm sure just wandering around you'll find fun little bars and people watching.
DON’T RELY ON YELP. The best places we found were from randomly finding places that looked good. Yelp places felt overall very touristy and not the local favs.