We love it when readers send us questions. One of our favorites was about how to spend one day in Rome from a cruise ship. She wanted our “Rome on your own” advice so she could avoid the huge crowds that come with a cruise excursion.
While she only wanted to see the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel, you may have more in mind for your day touring Rome. Scroll down for:
- How to see Rome in a day on a cruise
- How do I get to Rome from cruise port?
- How much time to spend in Rome from cruise ship?
- Thoughts about touring Rome on your own from Civitavecchia
We’ve got travel tips as well as organized and self-guided Rome tour ideas and suggestions.
ⓘ TIP: If you’ll be visiting Rome for a few days, be sure to check out the helpful travel planning links at the end of this article.
I’m so happy I found your post on the beautiful port city of Civitavecchia. I thoroughly enjoyed the lovely photos and learned so much.
My husband and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary with a Mediterranean Cruise this summer. We’ve cruised three times to the Bahamas and have never seen the need to book a shore excursion through the cruise line. However, we have some some questions this time around and I wonder if you’d be willing to help?
While the port city of Civitavecchia looks beautiful, I would love to see the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum in Rome as well. My question…is it possible to do both? What is the port like as far as … could we not book a tour through the cruise line and just get a rental car or something similar and take ourselves into Rome? We’re only 39 and just cannot imagine doing a huge tour where we’re waiting on others all day….we’d love to do our own thing but just don’t know if that’s even possible. Is it possible to spend the morning in Rome and enjoy a late lunch and early evening in Civitavecchia?
Thanks in advance for your help and again, I enjoyed your post!
How to tour Rome from cruise ship
It’s important to know that the cruise port is 40 miles out of town, so getting into the city takes time. If your ship will be docked at Rome cruise port for one day, forget about visiting Civitavecchia and spend all your precious time in Rome. Save exploring Civitavecchia for a cruise that begins or ends there, and stay overnight and walk around.
Let me start by recommending Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports guidebook, which is perfect for independent cruisers. It covers how to spend one day in various ports: itineraries, must-see spots, places to eat, local currency, how to get into town, even self-guided walks and tours.
Can you see the Roman Colosseum and Sistine Chapel in one day?
Yes. It is possible to see both the Sistine Chapel AND the Colosseum in one day. However, you must purchase both entry tickets online before you arrive. Not only does the Colosseum not sell tickets onsite, but it can take hours to get through the super-long ticket lines at the Vatican Museums.
A major issue is that the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum are located on opposite sides of the city. As they are on different metro lines, it will take a while to get from one to the other.
Another challenge is that all Colosseum tickets have a reserved entry time. So you must plan your day around that. Book as soon as possible, so you can get your preferred time!
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How to see Rome in a day on a cruise
Let’s begin with how to see Rome on your own from Civitavecchia. What are your options for visiting Rome from the cruise ship?
1. Take a cruise ship shore excursion
- Pros: The official cruise ship Rome excursions are plug-and-play convenient, because they make all the arrangements and it’s added to your bill. Plus, if a cruise tour has a delay getting back to the ship, the ship will wait for you.
- Cons: This is the most expensive option, and you will be sightseeing with a busload of other tourists.
2. Buy your tickets yourself
- Pros: The cheapest option. You book your own transportation, buy your own tickets, and use a guidebook to decide what to see in Rome.
- Cons: It’s your responsibility to be back on the ship in time.
3. Book your own guided tour of Rome
Many cruisers book their own guided tours, saying it’s worth the added expense for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. A guide will take you on a well-planned route that will cover top attractions and maximize your valuable sightseeing time.
Among the countless operators that offer tours in Rome, we can recommend Get Your Guide, Viator, and Take Walks (Walks of Italy) from personal experience. You’re bound to find a few Rome tour options that you’ll enjoy.
Check the itinerary carefully to ensure it’s what you want. If you don’t care to go inside the Colosseum, some tours have that option.
Things to know:
- Tours range in price and often cost the same as cruise excursions.
- Some tours pick you up at the port, while other tours begin and end in Rome.
- Tours that depart from Civitavecchia cater to cruise schedules. They will make sure they get you back to the ship on time because their reputations depend on it!
- Tours that start in Rome are more varied and suited to a wider range of interests.
Here are two tours that begin in Rome:
ⓘ BUDGET TIP: If you’re traveling with others, book a tour that charges one flat fee for your group, not per person. Here is one we like. If traveling solo, check your Roll Call on cruisecritic.com. People often want to form a group and split the cost of a group tour.
How do I get to Rome from cruise port?
Don’t waste your time renting a car if you plan to spend your entire day in Rome. Driving in Rome is a nightmare, parking is expensive, and you’ll waste precious sightseeing time if you don’t know the streets. If you need a car for other reasons, you can check prices here.
If you opt for the train, purchase your train tickets in advance so that you can bypass the crowds and be on your way. Take the high speed train to Rome and back; the regular one takes much longer. You don’t want to spend your precious sightseeing hours traveling to and fro!
3. Coach transfer from Civitavecchia Port
These offer round-trip transfer between Rome and the Civitavecchia cruise terminal, with 6-8 hours to explore the “Eternal City” as you please. The trip will take 60-80 minutes each way and can be cheaper than the cruise’s line transfer service.
How much time to spend in Rome from cruise ship?
As you select your activities, plan for an hour and a half to get to Rome from the cruise ship. Plan 2 hours on the way back, factoring in the typical Roman delays and strikes plus the security line at the port. You’ll end up with 6-8 hours for sightseeing.
Regardless of when your ship docks, you likely won’t get on a train in Civitavecchia till 8:30 or later (factoring in time to catch the port shuttle and walking to the train station. We’d anticipate that you’ll be sightseeing by around 10:00.
The primary concern is getting back to the ship in time – you don’t want the ship to leave without you! Assuming your “Back on Board” time is 6:00, we recommend heading back no later than 4:00 pm. Agree with your travel partners when to head back ahead of time, to avoid the temptation to see just one more thing and lose track of time.
ⓘ TIP: Your Daily Newsletter will have a phone number of who to contact in an emergency. Take it with you every day and save the number to your phone. If you are delayed or something happens, you can let them know your status and find out what to do.
How much time to visit the Colosseum?
It will take 1 hour to the Colosseum on your own, another 1.5 to 2 hours to visit the Roman Forum, and an extra hour for the Palatine Hill. (All are included in one ticket.)
Book a guided tour if you want to see everything in the least amount of time. Most tours last 2½ – 3 hours.
How much time to visit the Vatican Museums?
The Vatican Museums are extensive. It will take at least 3-4 hours to walk through the most important rooms and visit the Sistine Chapel. Most guided tours last for 3 hours and include the highlights.
Here are the top-selling tours on Get Your Guide:
ⓘ TIP: You’ll be on your feet all day, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Also remember to bring a hat, sunglasses, water, and sunscreen, and wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees if you plan to enter St. Peter’s.
How to see the Colosseum
Go to the Colosseum first, while it’s cooler. Take the express, high speed train from Civitavecchia to Rome Termini station (60-90 minutes), then the metro to the Colosseum (7 minutes).
The most important thing to know is that the Colosseum ticket also includes admission to the Forum and the Palatine Hill, and vice versa. They are adjacent to each other.
How to skip the line at the Colosseum: To save time, one shortcut is to book a guided tour. They will always have pre-booked tickets and will take you directly to the Group Entrance (short line). These would work well:
- Colosseum: 1-Hour Skip-the-Line Guided Tour
- Colosseum, Palatine & Forum with Skip-The-Ticket-Line & Host (3 hours)
How to see the Sistine chapel
The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums. You can’t get a separate ticket for the Sistine Chapel alone.
If you ONLY want to see the Sistine Chapel, you will need to walk through the entire museum to get there. It’s the final room. If you don’t stop to see anything else on the way, it will take 1-2 hours to navigate from the entrance to the chapel, depending on the crowds.
ⓘ TIP: This world class museum complex is full of famous works of art. It’s so massive that it would take days to see it all. You can take virtual tours of many rooms online.
Also, as you exit the Sistine Chapel, you’ll be at St. Peter’s Basilica. You can avoid going through security again if you enter the Basilica directly from the Chapel. This is where Michelangelo’s famous Pieta statue is located.
How to skip the line at the Sistine Chapel. The only way to avoid the ticket line is to buy skip the line tickets to the Vatican Museums beforehand. You’ll save time getting in, although there’s no shortcut straight to the Chapel.
How to get to the Vatican from the Colosseum. Take Line B towards Rebibbia. At Termini station, switch to Line A towards Battistini and get off at Ottaviano. The trip takes 15-20 minutes. Then stop for lunch before entering the museums.
ⓘ TIP: Depending on the time, you can either use our article 7 Things to See at the Vatican to look around, or head back to the ship early and check out Civitavecchia.
Thoughts about seeing Rome on your own from Civitavecchia
Should you decide to focus on one sight, this Cruise Port Guidebook will be super helpful. It has maps of the major tourist attractions in Rome so you can plan your route.
Free sights near both the Colosseum and Vatican City include the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Plaza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, as well as many wonderful churches. What’s best of all, they have no lines.
Take Walks offers experiences that will fit into your time in Rome. Here is a sampling:
- Premium Colosseum – multiple run times per day, 3 hrs duration
- Crypts, Bones & Catacombs – recommend a 12:30pm departure, 3.5 hrs duration
- Pasta-Making Class – lunchtime class at 11am, 3.5 hrs duration
No matter what you decide to do, don’t forget to grab some gelato along the way!
ⓘ TIP: For what it’s worth, we regret not booking a guided tour when we visited the Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum. We had read up on it beforehand, but a guide brings everything to life…and can save a lot of wandering around. We would have gotten so much more out of it if there had been someone who could point out the significant stuff and answer our questions.
Priorities vary. Some people are happy with visiting just one sight, while others squeeze as much as possible into one day. In, out, back to the ship happy.
You might want to check Rome off your Bucket List or look at a one-day visit as a sampler and immediately begin planning a return trip.
Romans think Rome is meant to be savored, and spend hours eating a simple meal. And no wonder… With 28 centuries of history, there’s no end to the things to see in Rome. No matter how much you manage to see and do, you’ll leave wanting more.
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|✔ Travel Guide: This Italy travel guide is a top seller on Amazon. If you’re only visiting Rome, Rick Steves Rome is better.|
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✔ Accommodation: Find Rome lodging on Agoda ● Vrbo ● HostelWorld. Find the closest hotels to Vatican City here.
✔ Getting around: Fastest by metro or on foot. Outside of the city, take the train, use Flixbus, or rent a car.
✔ City Card: Rome has a variety of city discount cards. The 3-day OMNIA Vatican Card and Roma Pass is the most comprehensive + includes free transportation.
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20 thoughts on “How to See Rome on Your Own from Civitavecchia Cruise Port”
Hi Linda! We are scheduled to cruise at the end of May and will be stopping in Civitavecchia. I’ve done a one day tour of Rome before and visited St. Peter’s, the ruins, and the Coloseum. They were definitely not to be missed when visiting Rome. Having said that, I, however, missed seeing the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel then so this time I would really like to see them, as well as the Pantheon. You said that we can take the train from the port and should only take 45 mins, that’s great! Is there a way to get from the Vatican to where the Pantheon is located?
Sure. You can take Bus 64 (12 minutes) or walk (29 minutes). (I’ll let you in on a secret: I used Rome2Rio to get the routes and travel times. The website calculates all the ways you can get from one place to another, free.)
You might want to check our Guide to the Best Things to See in Vatican City beforehand, just to ensure you don’t miss anything else while you’re there, lol. Have fun!
My wife and I attempted to do a walking tour during a stop in Rome. We were able to see a lot but I bet we would have seen even more if we used a car service. This being said it was one fantastic trip.
We’ll agree with you, Johnny. Rome is enjoyable, even if you don’t see a lot. Was there a highlight for you?
Great advice! In our experience, the best time-saving (and sanity-saving) advice is to book ahead and skip the lines, especially when time is short. I do think seeing just the Sistine Chapel is a mistake. The Vatican Museum and St. Peters are amazing, and worth every minute you can spend there, so a tour can easily fill more than a few hours. We did both by starting a cruise in Rome, but if I had to choose and time was limited, I’d go for the Colosseum – even with the Forum and Palatine Hill, we felt satisfied with our three hour tour.
The problem with Rome is that there are so many wonderful things to see! How much time did you spend in Rome before you began your cruise? Do you think that was enough?
It would be nice to have an unlimited time in any travel stop we make but this is just not realistic and what we do with the time we do have depends on our personalities. Thank you for giving the tips how to enjoy both the slow and busy travel days in Rome:)
You’re welcome; I’m glad you enjoyed it. It sure would be nice to hear how she ended up spending her day.
This is great advice! Especially about booking tickets online in advance. There was nothing more satisfying during our time in Rome than to skip right past the looooooong queues with our pre-booked tickets. 🙂
You’re right, Fairlie. I’ve often thought that the time savings more than offsets the few extra dollars it might cost to buy a ticket beforehand — especially when you’re only in the area for a short time. Every moment is valuable! An added bonus: You won’t have to endure any possible bad weather.
This is such a wonderful, comprehensive answer to her question. We were fortunate to have a few days to explore Rome on on our own, and I still feel like there’s so much we didn’t see. I also wondered if it was doable as a one day port excursion. I’ve always been a little bit worried about a DIY port excursion for fear that the ship would sail without me. Do they ever depart before everyone is on board?
We usually do tours on our own, just plan to be back in plenty of time. They cynic in me can’t help but wonder if they might threaten to leave passengers behind so they will be more inclined to take a cruise-run tour. 😉 We don’t like big crowds so those tours aren’t for us. There are plenty of private guides and tours available, both online and at the ports, and they promise to get you back in plenty of time to sail. We had an especially great experience with our first private tour, a cave tubing tour in Belize.
Common sense says to arrive back early just in case, but it’s reassuring to know that cruise lines have check-in systems to ensure all their passengers are on board and will wait for quite a while to make sure everyone makes it back. That said, at some point they will have to set sail if it gets too late.
Great advice and options! I haven’t been to Rome yet, but you gave me some great things to remember when I do go. I definitely want to see both places. I was trying to decide which traveler I am. haha I’m a see as many as possible, check it off, but leave an option to return in the future. Thanks for the insightful look into visiting Rome!
Well, take it from us, three days in Rome is definitely NOT enough. We kept seeing more and more things we wanted to see, and that’s without all the day trips to places like Pompeii!
I hate to hurry through things, but sometimes it is definitely a necessity. Nowadays, you can buy almost all museum tickets online before you go and you will not regret it. It’s worth taking a few minutes when planning, to decide which museums you want to go to!
You’re so right, Corinne. Hurrying through things is definitely a necessity on occasion — for instance, if you want to spend layover time in the city.
As for buying museum tickets online, spending a few extra dollars is a worthwhile investment if you want to ensure you don’t waste precious vacation time. Planning ahead is absolutely essential, as you said. We were especially glad we had the Paris Pass when we saw the ticket line snaking all the way around the Louvre. Being able to enter right away saved us enough time to see the Rodin museum as well! Worth every penny, that.
Excellent advice when time is limited. I am an advocate of the hop on hop off buses when time is short particularly. All very helpful information.
We are as well, Paula. Glad you agree. We’ve found that HOHO buses are vastly underrated because they are “touristy.” Crazy, that. Their itineraries not only include most “must-see” sites but the narration in between offers a lot of insight into the city and culture.
Fabulous tips for a fun-filled day in Rome Linda. There’s so much to see, it can be difficult to decide which sites are your priorities 🙂
You’re so right, Lyndall. Luckily for our reader, she knew which two sites she really wanted to see. On the other hand, Dan and I spent 3 days there and the more we saw, the more we realized we were missing! 🙂
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