First, there are two ways to travel. The first is to see and do as many things as possible, without necessarily having the time to appreciate or enjoy all of them. The second is to see and do fewer things so as to be better able to appreciate and enjoy that which you see. As you can probably tell from my descriptions, I would encourage the later.
That being said, here are some recommendations for the big things to see while you’re in Rome while having plenty of time for coffee, wine, pasta, and gelato.
If you’re in Rome for 3-5 days, you need to see…
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- The Scavi Tour (underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, here you’ll be within feet of the bones of St. Peter) – click this link to get your tickets: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/uffscavi/documents/rc_ic_uffscavi_doc_gen-information_20090216_en.html
- The Vatican Museums (which includes the Sistine Chapel) – click this link to get your tickets: https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking&codiceTipoVisita=26&step=2
- The Colosseum and the Forum – one ticket gets you in both sites
- The other Papal Basilicas:
- Mary Major & St. John Lateran – these two can easily be done in conjunction as they are near to one another
- St. Paul Outside-the-Walls
- Downtown tour – including the Pantheon, and some of the remarkable downtown Churches where Sts. Agnes, Cecilia, Philip Neri, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, Robert Bellarmine, Aloysius Gonzaga, and others are buried.
Because the Basilicas are (almost) ALWAYS open, they’re easy to fit into the schedule as are the Colosseum and Forum. The hardest piece might be the Scavi tour. Thus, the first thing would be to email the Scavi office with a few dates and times. The Scavi tour goes into the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica and allows you to visit the original tomb of St. Peter the Apostle. Since they only admit 120 people each day, I would recommend emailing them as soon as possible.
Further, once that Scavi tour is in place, you can set aside times to visit the Forum, the Basilicas, and even go to Mass at some of these Churches if you’d like. The second major “ticket” to get is the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel…if possible, it pairs well with the Scavi Tour, so maybe you can arrange those two on the same day; buying reserved tickets (and audio guides … recommended!) can only be done starting 60 days out.