Rome on a stopover
When we travel, we sometimes pass by a number of interesting places before reaching our final destination. Sadly, not everyone knows how to get the most out of these places. Taking advantage of a stopover requires studying the location, knowing the fastest routes and transportation schedules, meticulously managing time, and prioritizing what you want to see.
If you are in Rome on a stopover, you must have all this figured out before embarking on a tight-schedule adventure in the city. Buses are frequently not on time, touristic sites can be very crowded at certain hours, and Rome has so many amazing things to be seen that you might lose a lot of time just deciding what to do.
In this article, you will find a list of the most important sites to visit in Rome on a stopover and tips to help you adjust your itinerary to the time you have in town. No matter how short this time is, visiting Rome is always worth it!
Know which transportation to take
When you are running against the clock, avoiding long distances and slow means of transport is crucial to have a good time. The less time you spend in transportation, the more time you’ll spend enjoying the city. The main touristic sites in Rome are, luckily for us, close to each other around the city center. So before you worry about how to go from one site to another, you should first verify the best way to reach downtown Rome.
From Fiumicino Airport
Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO) is the largest airport in Italy. Differently from what most people think, the airport is not in Rome. It is located in the city of Fiumicino, 20 miles away from central Rome.
Fiumicino Airport is the sixth busiest airport in Europe and many people have flight connections there. If that is your case, the fastest way to go from the airport to the capital is by taking the Leonardo Express train that goes directly to Roma Termini, Rome’s main station.
The Leonardo Express costs 14 US dollars each way and takes around 32 minutes to go from the airport to Termini, and vice-versa. You can buy your ticket straight from the airport (or the station on your way back) or book it online at Trainitalia’s official website. The train leaves Fiumicino Airport every 30 minutes or every 15 minutes on peak hours.
From Ciampino Airport
Ciampino Airport (CIA) is a smaller airport for Ryanair flights located in the neighboring city of Ciampino. To leave the airport, you can take a shuttle bus that goes to the city’s train station for 1.20 euros, and then buy a ticket from Ciampino’s train station to Roma Termini for 1.50 euros (the railway ticket can be booked in advanced at Trainitalia’s official website).
The train heads to Termini every 30 minutes. The airport is 7.5 miles away from Rome’s city center and it takes between 30 and 40 minutes to reach Termini, and vice-versa.
From Tiburtina or Termini stations
If you are heading to Rome by train or bus, you will certainly stop at either Tiburtina or Roma Termini stations. In that case, you can use the metro, bus or tram lines to go straight to the touristic sites you want to visit.
Although you can go to different locations from Tiburtina station, you will find more lines going to the main touristic sites at Roma Termini. From Termini, you can also walk to a lot of sites, since the station is near the city center. For this reason, I will be measuring time having Roma Termini as starting point.
Hop-on hop-off buses
Hop-on hop-off buses are very handy for those who want to see Rome’s most iconic monuments in a comfortable and fast way. There are offices selling tickets right in front of Termini station and in many other locations in the city. Prices vary from one company to another and depending on the extra activities that you might include to your itinerary. Reservations to hop-on hop-off buses can be made online.
The entire bus route takes approximately two hours.
If you are stopping at Fiumicino Airport or Ciampino Airport and have only five hours to go around the city, taking the train to Roma Termini and hopping on one of the buses for sightseeing is the best option. All buses have stops at the most famous sites in the city (Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Vatican City) and others, and include a free audio tour.
I recommend booking your hop-on hop-off tour in advance as there are usually long ticket lines. If by the time you get the ticket the next bus is already full, you will also have to wait for an empty bus to arrive, so it’s better to get in Rome with your ticket already booked.
It is important to keep in mind that buses and unauthorized cars are forbidden to enter narrow streets in downtown Rome, so hop-on hop-off buses will have their stops in nearby streets, and you will have to walk for around two minutes to reach monuments like the Trevi Fountain.
Colosseum and its neighbors
If you have time to visit only one place in Rome, this place has to be the Colosseum. Originally called Flavium Amphitheater, the Colosseum is the biggest Roman amphitheater ever built. Throughout its nearly 2000 years of history (it was built on 72 BC), the Colosseum held more than just popular gladiator battles and is a must-see attraction in the city.
On a very tight schedule, you can head to the Colosseum and see it from the outside. It takes only ten minutes to go from Termini metro station (located in the same place as Termini train station) to Colosseo metro station (Metro B), which is right in front of the Colosseum.
If you want to stretch your legs after your trip to Rome, you can also walk your way there. It’s a 30-minute walk from Roma Termini, mostly downhill. Just remember to keep the pace so you don’t spend more time than the necessary to get there!
If you want to see the city on your way to the Colosseum instead of staying underground on the metro car, but are too tired to walk, another alternative is taking the bus.
The 75 bus goes straight to the Colosseum. The line usually leaves Termini station every 15 minutes and takes around ten minutes to get to the amphitheater. Taking the bus can be a little risky, though. On peak hours, traffic might keep you stuck for a little while.
Colosseum from the outside
If the idea of seeing only one monument upsets you, you don’t need to be upset at all. The Colosseum is surrounded by other sites not more than two minutes away from it. The most evident one is the Arch of Constantine, the largest and best preserved Roman triumphal arch.
Next to the entrance, you can also see the base where once stood the Colosso of Nero, a giant statue that Emperor Nero built for himself and that was used centuries after by other leaders who changed the statue’s head to represent Gods. The statue disappeared, but the base where it once stood remains.
Between via Labicana and via di S. Giovanni in Laterano, on the east side of the Colosseum, you can also see the ruins of Ludu Magnus, the largest training center for gladiators in Ancient Rome.
A visit to the exterior of the Colosseum and to its neighbors should not take you more than 35-40 minutes.
Colosseum from the inside
Visiting the Colosseum from the inside is a priority for a lot of people. If you are one of them, keep in mind that you will need at least three free hours for this visit. The Colosseum is usually very crowded and the ticket line can take up to three hours in the most crowded days. One alternative to avoid the line is booking a guided tour with a tour agency. This way you will only be required to go through the security line when your tour starts.
Guided tours usually include a visit to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The whole tour takes around two hours. Make sure you have your tour booked in advance to avoid spending time reaching out to tour agencies.
If you are not interested in a guided tour or don’t have two hours to spare but want to enter the Colosseum anyways, you can buy a Roma Pass, which, among other advantages, gives you access to an archeological site of your choice. If you are entering the Colosseum with a Roma Pass, you must have at least one hour just for this activity.
Trevi Fountain and others
The Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona are part of the long list of outdoor monuments that make Rome an open-air museum. Free of charge and free of lines, these monuments form the urban scene. Located at Rome’s city center, they are all very close to each other and can be quickly visited.
The best and fastest way to go across the four monuments is on foot. First, take the metro at Termini station and get off at Spagna station (Metro A). The exit is literally by the Spanish Steps, which were built in 1725 to connect Piazza di Spagna, on the bottom, to Piazza Trinita dei Monti, on the top. It will take you four minutes to reach the Spanish Steps by metro. If you prefer, you can also take the 85 bus or walk, which will both take you around 25 minutes.
After the Spanish Steps, your next stop should be the Trevi Fountain, the largest baroque fountain in Rome, built in 1762. It will take you around ten minutes to walk from one monument to the other.
After the Trevi Fountain, you should head to the Pantheon, a former Roman temple built by Emperor Hadrian around 126 AD on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa. The monument was turned into a church in the 7th century.
It will take you around seven minutes to go from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon.
Your final destination is the Piazza Navona, one of the most famous squares in the world, where you can see the beautiful baroque fountains made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Giacomo della Porta. The square is a four-minute walk away from the Pantheon.
From Piazza Navona, you can take the 492 or 70 bus to go back to Roma Termini. It will take you approximately 20 minutes to reach the station by bus – or you can walk for 35 minutes.
Going to the Spanish Steps by metro, walking through the monuments and going back to Roma Termini by bus will take you around one hour considering few stops.
Every year, the Vatican City, the smallest state in the world and the home of the Roman Catholic Church, welcomes millions of tourists and Catholics who wish to celebrate their faith. St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica can be visited for free, differently from the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican’s Museums and gardens, which require purchasing a ticket.
If you want to squeeze a visit to the Vatican into your stopover itinerary, you should first consider the time it takes to reach the Pope’s home.
There are several ways to go to the Vatican City from Roma Termini. The first one is to take a regional train that goes to the Roma S. Pietro station. It will take you 18 minutes to go from one station to the other. Once you get off S. Pietro, you should walk for around 16 minutes, totalizing 34 minutes to reach St. Peter’s Square.
Another way of going to the Vatican is by bus. If you take the 64 bus, you should get off at Cavalleggeri/S.Pietro stop (15 stops, 29-minute ride) and then walk for around 10 minutes towards St. Peter’s Square. If you take the 40 bus, you should get off at Traspontina/Conciliazione stop (seven stops, 24-minute ride) and then walk for around 16 minutes also towards St. Peter’s Square. Both options take around 40 minutes.
When you arrive, you will have no trouble walking around St. Peter’s Square and admiring St. Peter’s Basilica from the outside, which shouldn’t take you longer than 30 minutes. If you want to enter the basilica, though, you should know you might be stuck in line for hours. On crowded days, the line can take up to four hours! To avoid the line, you can buy a skip-the-line ticket online, which will take you straight to the security check.
But, please, remember: entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free and does not require a ticket, so you will NOT be able to buy any skip-the-line tickets from any office in the Vatican City. You MUST buy it online before your arrival! Unauthorized people sell skip-the-line tickets on the street, but those turn out to be more expensive and sometimes risky.
St. Peter’s Basilica is very big and has a burial ground underneath that can be visited for free. Make sure you stay in the basilica for at least one hour. If you stay less than that, you will not be able to truly see all the treasures inside.
Attention: if your stopover is on Wednesday, Saint Peter’s Basilica will be closed in the morning during the Pope’s speech.
Don’t forget the Vatican City’s dress code if you are planning to enter the basilica and museums.
If you have around three free hours to spend inside the Vatican, then the best option for you is to book a guided tour for the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. It is absolutely worth it for long stopovers.
If you have a 12-hour stopover, you can include the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain area and the Vatican City to your itinerary.
Eat before you leave
You cannot leave Rome without trying at least one of the city’s traditional dishes. If you have time to stop at a restaurant, I recommend ordering spaghetti alla carbonara and carciofi alla Romana.
If you are short in time and need to run back to the airport or train/bus station, grab a supplì, a croquette filled with mozzarella, pecorino cheese, rice, and meat sauce.
I’m sure that will make your stopover in Rome even more special!