Once the powerful centre of an ancient empire, Rome has plenty of historical monuments and over 900 churches for visitors to explore. The Eternal City – a nickname given to this bustling capital over 2000 years ago – is equally world-renowned for the quality of its food and wines, which are best tasted al fresco in the true style of the Roman locals.
However, when you only have an hour or two to spend in Rome, it helps to have a few key trattorie (restaurants), boutiques and ancient palazzi in mind so you can make the most of your stay. Here are a couple of our top things to do in three hours or less.
1 hour: Check out the fountains at Piazza Navona
This central square is one of Rome’s most recognisable piazzas and has long been a gathering place for artists and street performers. Even the Ancient Romans came here to watch both games and religious ceremonies, before the square was paved over and turned into the city’s main market during the 15th century.
Today, visitors come to the Piazza Navona to take in the baroque architecture of the Torres and Pamphili palaces and to see Bernini’s expertly sculpted Fountain of the Four Rivers, which represents the Danube, Nile, Ganges and Rio de la Plata. For a small snack or coffee, head to the northern end of the square and sit outside at the Bernini Ristorante. Or if you’re pushed for time, pick up an ice cream at the Gelateria Tre Fontane and perch on the edge of one of the three fountains that the shop is named after.
1 hour: Window shop in Rome’s trendiest designer stores
For a taste of both classic 18th-century Italian architecture and modern haut couture on your short trip to Rome, head to the Piazza di Spagna. Situated at the foot of the Spanish Steps and below the Trinità dei Monti church, this square is lined with high-end boutiques including the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Versace and Valentino.
Once you’ve picked out next season’s wardrobe, take a stroll to the Barcaccia fountain in the piazza’s centre, which was designed to look like a sinking boat. The Spanish Steps are also a prime spot for both tourists and locals alike to do a bit of people-watching – simply take a seat on one of the 135 steps to while away the time.
2 hours: Sip glasses of wine at Del Frate
Dating from the 1920s, Del Frate on the Via degli Scipioni offers both a contemporary food menu and a wide selection of wines. Pick from 22 different drinks by the glass, or order a whole bottle to split with a friend. You can also ask for some nibbles to go with your vino – but don’t expect typical pub snacks. As well as more substantial tender steaks and fish dishes, they offer a wide range of fine Italian cheeses and prosciuttos. The enoteca’s knowledgeable staff will be happy to help pair each drink with cheeses to match, made in regional areas like Lombardy or Sicily.
2 hours: Stroll the banks of the Tiber River
Rome is one of the oldest continuous settlements in the world, and has held its spot along the banks of the River Tiber for thousands of years. Following this watercourse’s meandering path through the city’s centre is a perfect way to view many of the capital’s key sites – head to the Rione V Ponte area to see the dome of St Peter’s Basilica and the ancient Castel Sant’Angelo. Or, walk south along the edge of the Trastevere quarter to see the Ponte Rotto, the oldest Roman stone bridge in the city.
3 hours: Wander around Villa Borghese – both inside and out
To take in some art on your short trip, head to the Galleria Borghese. Started by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and housed in his 400-year-old grand villa, this collection contains many Bernini sculptures as well as paintings by Titian, Rubens and Raphael. A highlight is Caravaggio’s ‘Boy with a Basket of Fruit’, which was painted when the maestro had only just started out on his career in the Eternal City.
Once you’ve perused the art, make sure that you also allow for at least one hour in the villa’s serene gardens. With around 80 hectares of space, this is one of the largest parks in Rome and also contains the likes of the Cavalli Marini fountain and the Piazza di Siena, which offers a stunning view of the city’s rooftops.
3 hours: Dine on culinary alchemy at Metamorfosi
You can’t visit Rome without sitting down for a delicious meal of inventive fusions, even on a whirlwind pit-stop. If you have an evening free on a business trip or have planned for a long layover, book a table at Metamorfosi, a Michelin-starred restaurant hidden away on Via Giovanni Antonelli near Euclide Station.
Every dish tells a tale here; the lamb tartare sings of spring, while the seafood is so fresh it could almost up and leave. Don’t miss the experimental options like Wagyu beef with aubergines and peanut purée.