I visited Rome for the first time and only had 48 hours to explore the city. Here are 8 reasons why that wasn't nearly enough time.

The author visits Rome for the first time
During the author's first trip to Italy, she visited Ancient Rome and Vatican City.Joey Hadden/Insider
  • I recently spent two days in Rome, Italy, during a train trip through Europe.

  • I explored Ancient Rome and stayed in a livable sculpture on the roof of a villa I found on Airbnb.

  • I loved the city's dramatic architecture, artistic vibe, and traditional Italian foods.

I recently visited Italy for the first time and had 48 hours to explore Rome. It impressed me so much, I already want to go back.

The author visits Rome for the first time
The author explores Rome for the first time.Joey Hadden/Insider

In October 2022, I visited Italy for the first time as part of a two-week European train trip through Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.

It was my first time visiting each country and I spent a week in Italy with one night on a sleeper train, two nights in Venice, two nights in Rome, and one night in Milan. I left thinking I wished I had more time in each place.

Rome, in particular, has been on my travel bucket list for years because of its deep history and romantic reputation. I thought the city would feel frozen in time, but I was surprised to find that it was much more modern than I expected. I saw a mix of old-world and contemporary architectural styles as well as trendy coffee shops galore.

Located in the middle of the Italian peninsula, the city drew me in with its layers of preserved history from 2,000-year-old ancient ruins to elegant 17th-century plazas, according to Culture Trip.

Two days of exploring the city's seemingly endless atmospheric streets, trying delectable Italian food, and soaking up inspiring, romantic vibes just wasn't enough and left me wanting much more. Here's why I'm already planning a return.

Located in the central portion of the country, Rome is the capital of Italy, and it's steeped in history.

A map of Italy shows were Rome is located.
A map of Italy shows were Rome is located.Joey Hadden/Insider

Rome was founded 2,774 years ago in 753 BCE, according to Britannica, but its history goes back even further than that, and I've long been intrigued by it. Leading up to my trip, I delved in further.

According to the same source, I learned that people occupied Rome as early as 1500 BC, but it wasn't until the 700s that people started settling in the area. During this time, Rome was an Empire ruled by kings, according to the same source. I was fascinated by the idea of seeing remnants of these civilizations from so long ago.

In 509 BCE, the Empire fell and Rome became a democratic society known as the Roman Republic, Britannica reported. In 1870 CE, Britannica reports that Rome became the capital of Italy, and over the next century, it grew into the cultural transportation hub it is today.

According to World Population Review, Rome is home to more than 4 million people in 2022, 90% of which are Italian.

I traveled to Rome by train and stayed in an Airbnb 20 minutes from the city center. In central Rome, I could stroll alongside ancient and historical sites from the Colosseum to Vatican City. But I needed more time to do it.

A map of where the author went in Rome
A map shows where in Rome the author went.Google Maps

I traveled to Rome by train and stayed about 20 minutes outside the city center in an Airbnb.

Apart from cab rides I took to and from my Airbnb to the city center, I spent my days in Rome exploring on foot. I found Rome to be very walkable and I felt like I saw pockets of history in every direction.

I even thought Vatican City, which is its own country and the smallest in the world, according to BBC, was easily accessible from Rome's top attractions on foot.

While I thought Rome's city center appeared quite crowded at first, as I explored, I found it felt very relaxed and romantic. Everyone seemed to be a tourist on vacation wandering around with no where specific to be, just marveling at the sights in front of them. It was an infectious feeling that I soon found myself mirroring, as well, and one I wished I could continue for much longer.

I stayed in an Airbnb described as a "livable sculpture" for $100 a night. I thought it showcased Rome's artistic side and could have easily spent a whole week living here.

The author's sculpture Airbnb in Rome
The outside (L) and inside (R) of the author's Airbnb in Rome.Joey Hadden/Insider

Located on the roof of a villa northwest of Rome's city center, I booked an Airbnb that was unlike any accommodation I've ever experienced.

Described by the host as a livable sculpture, I thought it was like sleeping inside a giant piece of art. I noticed design elements on display from every angle, inside and out. The Airbnb's organic shapes, all created by the host from recycled materials, made it feel to me like an above-ground cave with many free-flowing windows.

For $100 a night, I had a private entrance to the one bedroom, one bathroom home with a kitchen and dining area, as well as a large, partially-covered patio balcony overlooking the backyard of the host's home.

I also thought the Airbnb was a perfect example of Rome's artistic side. In my experience, Rome was filled with outdoor sculptures, and staying in one myself made me feel like I was immersed in the city's romantic feel with a relaxed vibe and sweeping views of the surrounding area.

In my opinion, the best part of the Airbnb was the patio where I enjoyed my coffee in the mornings and relaxed and dined in the evenings. I thought this home was so peaceful and artsy that I wished I could spend a whole week living in it. Next time I'm in Rome, I'll be booking this listing again.

Read more: I paid $1,000 to sleep in a hotel room facing Niagara Falls for 2 nights. It was totally worth it.

In Rome's city center, I found so many pockets of history that have been preserved for thousands of years. I barely scratched the surface.

Historical landmarks in Rome
The author visits ancient Roman sites.Joey Hadden/Insider

In the heart of Rome, I found the city's most popular historic attractions, from the Colosseum, which is the largest amphitheater in the world, to the Pantheon, the largest unsupported dome in the world, both of which were built nearly 2,000 years ago, according to Culture Trip.

I thought these structures appeared to be in relatively good shape after thousands of years, and I was impressed by the architectural skill of the early Romans.

Tucked between these two historical landmarks are even more pockets of the past, like the Roman Forum, which served as a political center and cultural hub during the Roman Republic in 500 BCE, according to Britannica and Culture Trip. I thought the Roman Forum felt much more like a land in decay than the Colosseum or the Pantheon with its broken columns and other structures sprouting up from the archaeological site.

Walking amongst so many ancient sites made me feel like I was in a public, outdoor museum. I thought it was surreal and overwhelming all at once because I was taking in so much history on the surface, but didn't have enough time to stop and explore each attraction as its own chapter in the story of Rome's past.

Next time, rather than explore solo, I'll book tours to see the insides of these incredible archives in greater detail.

Read more: I only had 24 hours in Canada's oldest city, but my visit impressed me so much, I'm already planning a trip back

I'm a fan of intricate architecture, and all around the city, I spotted historic Roman buildings in a mix of styles, from Renaissance to Gothic Revival. I longed to admire them from the inside, as well.

Stunning architecture in Rome
Rome's Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Prati (L) and Corte Supreme di Cassazione (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

I love seeing architecture in new cities I visit, and I thought Rome was full of awe-inspiring structures in every direction. To me, the buildings were massive with detailed facades displaying thousands of years of design.

I was fascinated to learn that Ancient Roman architects were inspired by Greek designs, National Geographic reported. The Romans adopted the Greek's use of columns, I learned, but used them in more decorative ways, such as curved roofs and massive arches, according to the same source.

Around the city, I spotted these characteristics in Renaissance-Baroque buildings, which World History Encyclopedia and Britannica report are symmetrical with intricately designed exteriors, like St Peter's Basilica, and Corte Supreme di Cassazione, according to Culture Trip. Seeing these buildings up close allowed me to appreciate the details in their facades, and I felt like I could stand in front of them for hours soaking it all in.

I also saw structures built in the Gothic Revival style, which is characterized by medieval design including spires and pointy arches, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Walking by the the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Prati stopped me in my tracks with its examples of these mesmerizing elements.

I thought passing these well-preserved architectural treasures were incredibly impressive from the outside. I only wished I had more time to see what they look like on the inside, which I imagined were even more marvelous.

During my strolls, I spotted artists working in the streets. I found it inspiring to stop and watch them for a moment. I could have spent an entire day just admiring art.

Artists on the streets of Rome (L) and the author's sketch (R).
Artists on the streets of Rome (L) and the author's sketch (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

While I knew Rome was home to famous art museums like MAXXI and Galleria Borghese, I was surprised to see so many artists sharing their work with people directly on the streets of Rome. I enjoyed seeing and interacting with all of the public as I explored on foot.

Under the shade of a tree near the Roman Forum, I saw a man painting the 15th-century catholic chapel in front of him — Santa Maria di Loreto. According to Rome's official tourism website, the church is essentially a big brick box with an octagon and a dome on top. Travertine limestone makes up the architectural detailing on the facade, according to the same source. I thought the structure's dome next to the blocky square buildings around it made the church stand out, and I could see why the painter selected it. I thought his rendition looked identical to the real thing.

Later that day, I was headed west of Santa Maria di Loreto towards River Tiber when I stumbled upon another artist sculpting dogs from sand. I thought this was such a unique form of art and found it fascinating to watch.

Seeing creators work in public spaces among so many wandering people was inspiring to me. Since drawing is one of my hobbies, it even led me to sketch some of the sights I saw in Rome later in my trip, like the striking villas I viewed from the balcony of my Airbnb.

I was surprised to find that I could walk from Rome into another historic country entirely — Vatican City. I could have spent days just exploring here, as well.

Vatican landmarks
Grand structures in Vatican City.Joey Hadden/Insider

Vatican City is its own country within the city limits of Rome that serves as the home of the Pope and the capital of Christianity, according to Culture Trip.

The city of about 800 people, according to World Population Review, is just over 100 acres, according to the History Channel. Vatican City is known for having one holiest sites and largest museums in the world, Culture Trip reports.

Since Vatican City is its own country, I was surprised to find that I could walk right in without a passport. I started in St. Peters Square, where I found crowds of people marveling at St Peter's Basilica, one of the largest Christian churches in the world built in the 1500s, according to Culture Trip.

Next to St. Peters Basilica, the Vatican Museums hold more than 70,000 pieces of art from ancient Egypt to modern religious works, according to the same source. I thought the massive building with dozens of columns was a piece of art in itself, and seeing it from the outside made me long for more time to go inside and see the paintings and sculptures it holds.

While St. Peters Square was loud and bustling during my visit, I thought the rest of the streets in Vatican City, filled with small shops and markets, felt calm and peaceful.

I cooked a pasta dish using fresh ingredients that made me want to learn more about cooking and local cuisine.

Pasteria in Rome
Pasteria di Ludovia Rossi in Vatican City.Joey Hadden/Insider

I knew I wanted to try cooking fresh pasta while in Italy, so when I stayed in the sculpture Airbnb with a kitchen, I thought it was the perfect time to make my own meal.

In Vatican City, I found a store selling freshly-made pasta, Pasteria di Ludovica Rossi. For about $10, I got a portion of tagliolini for two people. After heading to a nearby market for some marinara, parmesan, and basil, I went back to the Airbnb to cook it.

Directed by the seller, I boiled the pasta for only three minutes to get that perfect, al dente cook. I cut up some garlic provided by my Airbnb host and added it to the sauce before topping it off with ripped up basil chunks and a sprinkle of parmesan.

As I began dining, I couldn't believe this home-cooked meal cost me less that $20. To me, it looked and tasted like something I could get at a nice restaurant. I thought the fresh tagliolini was chewier and lighter than other pasta dishes I've had in the past. It's distinct texture and fresh taste made me want to go back to the Pasteria and try its other offerings, like ravioli and tortellini. I thought it was one of the best pasta dishes I've ever cooked.

Making food in Rome also made me aware of all the fresh produce and ingredients available in the city. I longed for more time to explore the city's farmer's markets and perhaps take a cooking class about actually making the fresh pasta itself rather than just buying and cooking it.

I've always been a fan of cannolis and Regoli Pasticceria sold me the best cannoli I've ever had. I'm already craving more.

Pasticceria in Rome
The author enjoys a cannoli from Regoli Pasticceria.Joey Hadden/Insider

I've been eating cannolis since I was a kid. Cannolis are an Italian staple dessert, and they're one of my favorite sweets of all time. In my experience, cannolis typically consist of a crispy shell filled with mascarpone cream.

When I visited Italy, I knew I had to try as many traditional Italian cannolis as possible, and ate one in each city I visited. When researching pastry shops in Rome, I came across Regoli Pasticceria. According to their website, Regoli Pasticceria has been a family-run operation since it opened in 1916, so I thought it would be the perfect place to get a traditionally-made cannoli. The store was filled with a variety of Italian pastries, so I ordered a few, but none were as good as the cannoli, in my opinion.

After taking one bite, I could already tell this cannoli was the best I've ever had. I thought the shell wasn't as crispy as its New York counterparts. Instead, it was light and soft, but not mushy. The cream had a subtle hint of pistachio and citrus with just the right amount of sweetness. I savored every last bite, knowing that I probably wouldn't have another cannoli this good for a long time.

I thought spending 48 hours in Rome felt like an introduction to the city, and I'll have to return for a more in-depth experience.

The author on the patio outside of the Airbnb
The author enjoys the views from her Airbnb in Rome.Joey Hadden/Insider

As I boarded the train from Rome to my next destination, I already knew I had to come back.

Two days of wandering Roman streets packed with history left me wanting to see and learn more about everything around me, and eating such delicious foods left me craving traditional Italian delights as I sit in my kitchen at home.

Next time I visit this rich city, it will be different. I'll spend more time engaging in its history by joining tours and going inside places rather than just admiring them from outside. I'll learn more about its exquisite food scene by visiting farmers markets or taking a cooking class.

But one thing won't change — I'll still stay at the amazing livable sculpture I found on Airbnb while eating as many cannolis as possible.

Read more: I spent 48 hours in Canada's largest province. Here are 9 highlights from my trip that made me want to go back.

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