Seeing a city during a layover – worth it?
I decided to try my hand at rapid tourism during a month-long jaunt around Scandinavia last year.
Instead of heading home directly from Stockholm, I re-routed myself through a bucket list city – Rome. Since this was just a layover, I had to do everything in a 24 hour period.
This begs the question
“Is it possible to see Rome in 24 hours?”
Yes, I know. 24 hours is not even close to being enough time to truly experience a city.
But… is it enough for a whirlwind tour to take in the major sites?
Last July we finally had our answer to this question. In fact, to add some pressure, I only had 12 hours to experience Rome.
How To See Rome In 24 Hours
Rome arguably would require a week to do more than scratch the surface, and a month to fully experience it.
I; however, arrived in FCO at 1040 and was back 12 hours later. So how did I do it and was it worth it?
Arrival: My flight arrived from Stockholm, Sweden at 1020 a.m. I was coming from the TBEX travel bloggers expo, knee deep in the savviest of savvy world travelers and digital nomads.
The clock started as I hit the ground, first searching for the ‘left luggage’ and then making my way to the airport train into the city. Left luggage was surprisingly difficult to find and not extremely efficient. I spent (read: wasted) about 45 minutes in line just to drop my gear with them. Afterward, things got smoother – it was a 15-minute walk to the airport shuttle into town, the train was on time and super comfy.
One word: Gelato
This is where the fun starts. Have you ever had gelato in Italy? This alone would’ve been enough to say the trip was worth it. I also tried spaghetti at a random restaurant, and it was homemade! At this point, we’re two-for-two.
Let’s not forget the sights; I had mapped out what I wanted to see with some help from Italian/German digital nomad Barbara Riedel. I hit the Colosseum (no time to go in, though), Trevi Fountain, The Vatican (Sistine Chapel was closed – womp womp), Roman Forum, Pantheon, etc. It was unbelievable! Additionally, since I was doing most of the trek on foot, I felt like I had an honest feel of what life is like in Rome.
– Did you know? There are fountains placed randomly throughout the city that you can drink from! You wouldn’t know that if you spent the whole time on a bus, now would you?
The how (Logistics and getting around)
- Hop on hop off buses: On a quick trip, this could be your best solution. It’s basically a guided tour that gives you control over what you want to see in more detail. For the price, this is probably the best way to see a city in a short window. **BUT NOT IN HIGH SEASON** July in Rome – every bus was PACKED to the gills. Awful. Once I saw this, it was off to the metro!
- Running tours: Great way to see a city on foot – probably my favorite thing to do overseas. See my review of Running Copenhagen for more.
- Metro, trams, and buses are great if you already know what to see. Prioritize and work the metro stops as efficiently as possible. I plan a stop and see how many things I can hit on the way to the next stop. Plus, the cost of a metro day pass is a fraction of what you would pay for the hop on, hop off buses.
Before you plan your next long layover
I have a full article on acing the layover in RoamRight’s blog, but here’s a quick summary and the factors that applied in Rome.
- Time of arrival: What good is it if you show up when everything is closed?
- Proximity to town and availability of transport. How easy is it to get into town?
- Hours of Transportation: The airport shuttle only runs during certain hours – double check this before you leave.
- Lockers: This was my limiting factor – the left luggage facility closed at 11 pm, which meant I had to be back on the train by at least 10 pm or I would have to miss my flight the next morning while waiting for the luggage guards to show up and give me back my bags. For more on how to maximize Left Luggage, check out this article on 1000TravelTips.
- Length of layover: – obviously you have to be back on the plane to go home. However, you’d be surprised to find what the airlines will allow regarding open-jaw and extended layovers. Visit Travel Is Free to get the full breakdown in incredibly detailed fashion. It’s great stuff if you geek out on travel like I do.
The big question – Was it worth it?
Oh, abso-LUTELY! Rome was fantastic and way safer than I had anticipated. I was wandering the streets after dark and had no issues at all. Not even a hint of pickpockets or shady business. Was I exhausted at the end? 100%. This was a lot of walking and time spent in crowds, but the payout was phenomenal, and I feel like I really gave Rome a run for the money.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend using the layover for more than just a way to get home – work the system and turn it into an experience. You’re not at the mercy of the airlines – you, my friend are a seasoned traveler. Enjoy!