Rome is a key Mediterranean cruise port and a destination that passengers are eagerly waiting to explore. The city is one of the most historic in the world, promising ancient buildings and monuments on every corner and some of the best pizza, pasta and coffee that Italy has to offer. Being a huge capital city with countless sights, you could explore it for a week and still not see everything!
As cruise ships are only usually docked at the port for the day, the question on everyone’s mind is, what are the best things to do in a one-day visit? You may also wonder whether you should book a tour or make your own way around the city. We’ve assembled a complete Rome cruise port guide to an action-packed one day of sightseeing in the city, giving you different options and plenty of advice for seeing the city in this short space of time.
Should you book a tour or make your own way to Rome?
Whilst tours are excellent for getting to sights that are outside of the main tourist areas that may not be well connected, that isn’t the case in Rome and we recommend making your own way around the city. It’s cheaper and you won’t be waiting of other passengers, so will see more in a shorter amount of time. Rome is well connected and you’ll have plenty of freedom to explore yourself if you don’t go down the tour route.
If you do want to take a tour to avoid public transport and have less to worry about during your trip, we recommend the following excellent tour options on Viator.
How to get from Civitavecchia Port to Rome city centre
Civitavecchia Port is 50 miles north of Rome city centre. It’s a small town that can be a pleasure to explore in itself; with a market, historic buildings and other attractions you’ll like, however; it’s nowhere near as good as Rome and you should skip the town altogether if you haven’t been to Rome before. There are multiple ways to get to Rome from Civitavecchia Port.
- By train *our recommended option* – Trains operate 3-4 times per hour from Civitavecchia train station to Rome Termini Station. Most standard trains take 60-80 minutes and cost €5 per person, however there’s an express Frecciabianca train once per hour that takes only 45 directly into Rome. This costs €9 – 15 per person. The walk to the train station from Civitavecchia cruise port takes around 15 minutes so remember to factor this into your journey.
- By Cruise ship shuttle bus transfer – can be quite expensive and booked directly through your cruise ship. Takes 60 – 80 minutes.
- By Private car transfer / taxi – Can be bought via your cruise ship or a local company on arrival at the port. This is the most expensive option and can cost upwards of 100 euros. A much cheaper alternative is to book through Viator here for only roughly ~€30 per person *insert link**
- By tour – If you’ve booked a tour, your bus will pick you up at the port and take you onwards to Rome. Refer to your tour information for details.
We highly recommend the train option for getting to Rome. If you time it right, you can leave the ship and catch the express train to Rome, taking only 45 minutes. It’s a quicker, cheaper and a more pleasant journey over driving. You’ll arrive at Termini Central train station in Rome, where you can then catch a Metro to the area of Rome you’d like to see.
Use TheTrainLine app on your phone to browse train times and book tickets. View Civitavecchia train station on a map here.
How to get around in Rome
Metro – The Metro is in our opinion the quickest and easiest way to get around Rome. It costs only €1.50 for a one-way journey and it’ll dash you across to the other side of the city within minutes. You’ll probably arrive into Rome at Termini Train Station. This station is also a Metro stop and you can use it to travel onward to the attractions of your choice. It’s a great time saver for your short day-trip in the city. Simply buy a ticket at the machine and scan it at the barrier. Download a Metro map here. Not all journeys are commutable by Metro so be sure to check Google Maps Directions first. You may need to catch a bus depending on where you’re going.
Public bus / tram – For when your legs are tired or the journey to your next attraction is too far to walk, jump on the well-connected public bus or tram. You’ll need to buy a one-way journey ticket at a tourist office, larger bus station or off-licence/supermarket before getting on the bus. A €1.50 ticket permits bus journeys of up to 1 hour. We recommend using your Google Maps app directions feature to check what bus you need get.
Open-top sightseeing bus – Whilst the hop-on-hop-off bus is a nice way to see the sights, we don’t think it’s worth it for your short day-trip. Once you’re in the city centre, many of the attractions are within a short walk of each other and you’ll spend a lot of your time at each location. Public transport can be quicker and easier! If you do wish to use the open-top bus, you can buy a day-pass for €24 for an adult or €14 for a child. Buy tickets in advance on their website here.
Rome in a day itinerary options – What to see and do
On to the exciting part – our itinerary’s! As your time is limited in Rome and you’ll want to see the top sights of Rome in a day, we’ve put together three sample itineraries, designed to see and do as much as possible without dashing around to different areas. You’ll still have plenty of time for fine Italian food and ice cream!
Choose a Rome one day itinerary that you like the sound of the most and customise it to suit you. Each itinerary takes around 8 hours from start to finish. For 4-hour trips, simply go with our ‘morning’ part of the plan. It’ll take 3-4 hours from arrival.
Option 1: The Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and city centre sights
This Rome itinerary option includes some of the top-rated sights in the city, with the exception of the Vatican (which would be a rush to include alongside these other sights). You’ll get an action-packed but brief visit of the must-see’s and everything is planned within walking distance of each other.
Catch the Metro from the train station or bus station to the stop ‘Colosseum’. It’ll take you around 10 minutes from Termini central station.
Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – The mighty Colosseum and surrounding area are most people’s favourite attraction in Rome; ours included! It’s located in the ancient Roman old city and is the largest standing gladiator arena on earth! It could also once host 50,000 people at full capacity, roaring and cheering whilst they watched gladiators fight to the death or exhilarating animal and chariot competitions. Right next to the Colosseum is the ancient ruins site of the Roman Forum, featuring temples, living quarters, bath houses and other remnants of the old city.
There’s also Palatine Hill, the hilltop palace grounds of past Roman emperors including Julius Caesar. The entire area is packed with impressive ruins, hilltop views, beautiful garden scenery and a viewpoint for the Circus Maximus chariot racing arena. All three attractions are included in one ticket that you can buy at the entrance or by reserving tickets with a timeslot online, which we highly recommend doing as queues can mean waiting over an hour! Expect to spend around 3 hours exploring this impressive heart of the city
Book your combination Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ticket on the official attraction website for €12 here.
All of the below attractions are within walking distance of each other and the Colosseum (in order). There’s no need for public transport or taxi’s 😊
Campidoglio square – Campidoglio square has a lot of historical significance in Rome as it was designed by Michelangelo after being commissioned by Pope Paul III. It’s a key area you’ll pass on the way to the heart of the city centre and is one of the most beautiful squares’ in Rome, attracting millions of visitors every year.
Altar of the Fatherland and Piazza Venezia – The Altar of the Fatherland dominates the Rome skyline and we were stunned by how big and impressive the structure is! The monument was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy and it stands today as a key tourist attraction. Take pictures at the bottom of the structure and then climb the steps and turn around for an excellent view of Piazza Venezia square below, which will no doubt be swarmed by busy Roman traffic. It’s a nice area to take pictures and marvel at the buildings.
Lunch – Pizza E Mozzarella – The ideal place for a lunch-on-the-go and some of the best pizza you’ll get in Rome, Pizza E Mozzarella is a no-frills counter-takeaway in an alleyway, that serves up fresh pizza by the slice, cannoli’s and drinks. For only a few euros you can get a big slice of pizza in a flavour of your choice. It’s delicious, cheap and you’ll want to come back for more!
Pantheon – Beaten only by the Colosseum, the Pantheon is one of the most impressive and oldest buildings in Rome. Built in a distant 126 AD and once a temple, it’s now a church for tourists to marvel at. Stand back from the mighty Pantheon to appreciate it in all its beauty before entering through the tall stone pillars. Inside you’ll find an echoing chamber of ancient architecture with a perfectly spherical dome ceiling.
Trevi Fountain – A visit to Rome is not complete without visiting the magnificent Trevi fountain. Everyone’s seen pictures of this beautiful monument but nothing is quite like seeing it in person. The curved fountain has turquoise water and intricate marbled statues as its background. Tourists will crowd around to see this Boroque masterpiece so be sure to squeeze in and find a good spot for a photo-op! The streets around the Trevi Fountain have some excellent corner Gelato stores and it would be crazy not to try some!
Piazza di Spagna & Spanish Steps – You’ve had an action-packed day and will no doubt be tired, however do try to make a final stop at the Spanish Steps if you have time. This must-see staircase sits in the foreground of a Renaissance church, with a Piazza di Spagna square fountain at the bottom. You’ll find locals taking a break from work, sitting on the steps having lunch, and tourists taking selfies. Take pictures from the bottom of the staircase and climb to the top and turn left for some excellent views of the city! It’s also a nice area to sit down for a break whilst people watching.
Shopping – Your day of sightseeing has come to an end! If you still have a little more time before heading back to the ship, why not hit the shops? The area near Piazza di Spagna has streets upon streets of stores, from designer Italian fashion to more affordable chain-stores and boutique gift shops. Browse to your heart’s desire and stop for a coffee. The area is upmarket and has some great photo spots.
Option 2: Colosseum and Trastevere
For this itinerary, please follow the morning of our ‘option 1’ itinerary above. You’ll get to see the same iconic sights in the morning, with a slightly different and more relaxed afternoon.
Same as Rome in a day itinerary option 1.
Trastevere – If you’ve been to Rome before and have seen the main city centre sights or you fancy sampling a different side of the city, an afternoon detour to the Trastevere district just across the river is exactly what you need. This quaint collection of narrow streets, corner cafes and top restaurants is the place of choice for the trendier crowd looking to get a taste of traditional Rome. It’s also a romantic place for couples and has a vibrant nightlife! Take the short walk to Trastevere across the western bridges and spend your afternoon getting lost down narrow streets, listening to live-music performers or stopping by a café to relax after your busy morning. Trastevere promises excellent food, gelato, drinks and a quiet atmosphere during the day. It’s one of the prettiest places in the city and we’re sure you’ll love it! For lunch in the Trastevere district, we recommend Pasta e Vino Osteria. Their pasta will be one of the best you’ve ever tasted!
Option 3: Vatican City, bridges and Trastavere
This itinerary has Vatican City at its core, exploring the historic home of the Pope, Vatican Museums, St Peter’s Basicilia and the world-famous Sistine Chapel. There’s also time for another few key sites in the surrounding area. It’s excellent if you’ve been to Rome before and have already seen the Colosseum or are really intrigued by the Vatican.
Catch a Metro to the stop ‘Ottaviano’ and then walk a further 8 minutes to the gate of Vatican City. The journey will take around 20-minutes from Roma Termini train station.
The Vatican is the smallest country in the world and sits to the north-west corner of Rome city centre. Being a whole (but tiny) country, there’s a lot to see here and you’ll no doubt be impressed by the historic buildings, ancient statues and decorated ceilings, so expect to spend around 3 hours exploring.
Tour or no tour?
When visiting the Vatican you can choose to pay entry only, which will allow you to visit the main sites separately at your own leisure. Tickets cost €17 on the gate; however, you’ll definitely encounter huge queues that can take over an hour. Reserve tickets online in advance and you’ll pay a small €4 fee to skip the queue.
Alternatively, join an official guided tour for around €35 per person. This group tour includes 30 – 40 people and will take you around each of the Vatican sights, one-by-one, giving you a full explanation of the history of the Vatican through a set of headphones and taking the shortcuts between the buildings. The full tour takes around 3 hours and is highly recommended if you’re not short for time. You’ll get a much more immersive experience of the city than you would wandering around by yourself.
You can book your tickets for the Vatican sights on their official website here. As time is tight for your day in Rome, we recommend booking your tickets online at least 3 weeks in advance and selecting your ideal timeslot for arrival. Places can sell-out fast!
Note: Entry is free to children under the age of 6 and to everyone on the last Sunday of the month. The Vatican also has a strict and enforced dress code where everyone must cover up shoulders and knees. Be sure to wear long trousers and a t-shirt/jacket.
Here’s what you’ll see at the Vatican:
Vatican Museums – Not one museum but multiple museums with collections of ancient Greek and Roman statues, ceiling painting masterpieces from Italy’s famous painters of the Renaissance, Catholic Church gifts from countries across the globe and ancient Egyptian relics and statues. The high-ceiling stone hallways, winding staircases and vast gardens all make it an intriguing place to wander.
Sistine Chapel – The Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous churches on earth. It’s the chamber of congregation for the Pope and his clergy and the decision room when electing a new Pope. What’s most recognisable about the chapel is its hand-painted ceiling that was created by Michelangelo and other talented artists of the Renaissance era, surrounding the walls and ceilings in a true work of art. You’ll walk through the chapel, look up and will be in awe for your full visit here.
St Peter’s Basilica – Considered one of the holiest churches in all of Catholicism, St Peter’s Basilica is a giant and intricately decorated church that you can explore as part of a tour or at your own leisure. The grand hallways and alter are marbled in gold and intricate stone workings, and it’s a masterpiece throughout. See the different ground-level sections of the church as part of your tour or pay an additional fee to climb to the top of the Basilica dome for the best views in the city. We highly recommend doing this!
Pro-tip: You may find that you’re only able to book specific time slots for your Vatican tour if an event is running or you book last minute. If this is the case, try to switch the sights on our itinerary around and see Castel Sant’Angelo first.
Lunch: Borghiciana Pastificio Artigianale – Being a heavily touristic area, the restaurants near the Vatican can be overpriced and a poor representation of hearty Italian food, however there are some great hidden gems. Borghiciana Pastificio Artigianale is a small, family-run restaurant that’ll serve you the best pasta you’ve ever tasted! Dishes are simple yet delicious and the prices are cheap compared to nearby alternatives. It’s a 5-minute walk from the Vatican.
Castel Sant’Angelo and St Angelo Bridge – This old and remarkable castle is a must-see attraction a short walk from the Vatican, so it makes complete sense to head straight here after lunch. Outside you can see the tall re-enforced walls and turrets, capturing some excellent pictures of it from the adjoining St Angelo Bridge. Inside, the Castel Sant’Angelo is home to a museum of artefacts and you can explore the old weapons or armour or see the city from the top of the castle walls. If you want to head onwards to Trastevere, you may not have time for the museum and entering the castle, however it’s still a great place to see the sights and stroll across the iconic bridge.
Trastevere – Depending on when you have to be back at your cruise ship, you may not have time for the Trastevere, however if you do, it’s an excellent area of the city that feels more ‘traditional’ and low-key. The streets are cobblestone, narrow and filled with coloured buildings, cafes and corner bars. You have an eclectic mix of locals, international students and tourist couples that have chosen to stay in one of the most romantic areas, and you’ll find street performers and painters on every corner.
Visit Trastevere for a taste of traditional Rome, amongst quiet streets away from the core city centre. Grab some ice cream and people watch on a park bench, sit back with a cappuccino and cake or join the Romans with their early evening ‘Apertivo’ drink if time is getting on.
Alternative afternoon route:
An alternative to visiting Trastevere in the afternoon is to head back into the centre of Rome. You can walk to the Piazza Navona area from Castel Sant’Angelo within 10-15 minutes. From here you can go gift shopping, wander the squares and impressive buildings or check out the ancient Pantheon (as recommended in our first itinerary). See a map on this alternate itinerary below.
Top tips for visiting Rome on a cruise
- Start your day early and travel to Rome as fast as you can. There’s a lot to see in one day and the journey to the city takes over an hour!
- Eat your lunch on the go to save time. There are plenty of corner cafes, deli’s and pizza takeaways that have just as good food as many ‘touristy’ restaurants, just with quicker service and a cheaper price. We’ve recommended some of them in our itinerary above.
- Buy your attraction tickets online in advance, however don’t book too many! You want to leave enough time to see sights properly.
- Depending on your cruise itinerary, the amount of time you have in the port varies. Customise our Rome in a day itineraries based on the number of hours you have.
- Watch out for scams and pickpockets in the city. Keep your belongings close and nothing in your back pocket.
- Leave Rome with plenty of time to get back to the ship. Trains take over an hour and you want to account for any delays.
- Don’t tire yourself out and try to see too much in one day. You’ll find that Rome is a city you’ll definitely want to come back to for longer!
- Download Google Maps Rome maps and do as much research as you can before arriving so you’re confident where to go. It’s also interesting reading up on the historic sights so you have a background story behind them already.
- Some of the main attractions are closed on Mondays. Check opening hours in advance before visiting if you’re arriving on a Monday
For more tips on seeing the city, check out our 67 Rome Travel Tips for First Time Visitors guide here. That concludes our one day in Rome itinerary for a cruise trip to the city! Whilst it may be tempting to explore the local town of Civitavecchia where you’ll dock, we highly recommend skipping the port and heading straight to Rome as early as you can. Use our Rome cruise port guide and suggested itineraries to plan your trip to the Italian capital and customise it based on how much time you have. If you have any more questions about visiting or the cruise port, be sure to get in touch! Rome is one of our favourite European cities and we’re confident you’ll love it!