Unruffled in Rome: Making the most of it when you have only 24 hours in the city
It wasn't built in a day, but Rome can be done in 24 hours. In his guidebook, European travel expert Rick Steves calls Rome, "one of the most exciting days Europe has to offer." Get an early start – up and at 'em by 8 a.m. – to experience the best of the Eternal City on a quickie version of the Grand Tour.
The Roma Pass – most bang for your buck and time
To save money, speed things up and make your day easier overall, purchase the Roma Pass. It provides free and discounted admissions to many of the city's top museums and archaeological sites, including the Colosseum. The pass is good for two or three days, but it works well for those in town for just one day because public transportation is included. Purchase the pass online at www.romapass.it or in the city at one of the many tourist information offices.
Three things you must do
1. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are on one combination ticket. It gets you into all three sites, which sit side-by-side in the ancient section of the city. Save time by purchasing the ticket online at www.coopculture.it rather than waiting in ticket lines at the sites. If you do buy tickets at the site, the lines are usually shorter at the lesser-visited Palatine Hill's ticket office.
2. The Pantheon is one of Rome's best-preserved ancient structures inside and out, and is free to enter. The large dome with its central opening to the sky inspired Michelangelo and still makes jaws drop centuries later.
3. St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican displays Michelangelo's inspiration at work in the largest church building in the world. Climb to the top of the dome for the most spectacular view of Rome from on high. Note that climbing the dome will take a larger chunk of time and energy out of your day since the line is long and there are lots of steps to climb, even if you pay the small fee for the elevator that skips 320 of the 551 steps.
Don't do these two things
1. Don't arrive on an Italian public holiday because most everything will be closed. For example, May 1, International Workers' Day, or May Day, is a bad day to show up in Rome. The same goes for Nov. 1, All Saint's Day. All of Italy seems to take a day-long siesta on certain public holidays not normally celebrated in the U.S.
2. Don't try to do the Vatican Museum in the morning. The line takes up too much time – as long as two hours. The mid-to-late afternoon slot when the crowds die down is the best time to go.
Major ticketed attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican Museum have separate lines for ticket buyers, ticket holders and group tours. Make sure you're standing in the right line.
Walking from the main entrance of the Vatican Museum to St. Peter's Basilica can take as long as 15 minutes even though they are right next to each other because you have to walk along the outside of the Vatican wall to get back around to St. Peter's. There's an exit-only door at the Sistine Chapel inside the Vatican Museum that leads you right to St. Peter's.