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 go on a cruise excursion.
While she only wanted to see the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel, you may have more in mind for your day in 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 seeing Rome on your own from Civitavecchia
We’ve got travel tips as well as organized and self guided Rome tour ideas and suggestions.
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!
My advice on how to tour Rome from cruise ship
I’m really glad you liked our story. Thanks for letting us know it was helpful. We love getting feedback.
First of all, the port is 40 miles out of town, so if you’re only docked one day in Rome cruise port, you won’t have time to do both. Forget about visiting Civitavecchia and spend all your precious time in Rome. Save the Rome cruise ship port for a cruise that begins or ends there, or come back a little early 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.
How to see the Roman Colosseum and Sistine Chapel in one day
Now to your question: Is it possible to see both the Sistine Chapel AND the Colosseum in one day?
Yes it is, as long as you only want to examine the intricacies of Michelangelo’s Creation and walk the upper levels of the Colosseum. However, ticket lines are super long. Avoid them by buying them before you arrive.
There is no way to avoid the time it takes getting from place to place or waiting on security lines.
ⓘ TIP: You’ll be on your feet a lot so make sure you have really good shoes. And bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
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, and once you’re in, you can go from place to place freely.
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)
If you don’t want to book a tour, walk from the metro station to the Roman Forum entrance (Foro Romano) at the end of Via Cavour. Clear the security line there, then head toward the Forum’s internal entrance to the Colosseum.
Added bonus: You get to see the Forum en route and it’s a lot of fun walking amid the excavations!
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, make a beeline for the chapel. You will need to walk through the entire museum to get to the Chapel; it’s the final room. Depending on the crowds, once you get inside it will take at least an hour to navigate from the front of the museums to the chapel.
ⓘ 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. I’m repeating myself here, but the only way to avoid the ticket line is to buy skip the line tickets to the Vatican Museums beforehand. You’ll still need to go through the security line.
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.
I hope this helps you finalize your plans. Please let me know how your cruise goes and what you end up doing.
Have a great trip and a happy anniversary!
How to see Rome in a day on a cruise
Let’s begin with options for visiting Rome from the cruise ship and how to see Rome on your own from Civitavecchia.
1. Take a cruise ship shore excursion
The obvious: Book Rome excursions from cruise ship choices. It’s plug-and-play convenient because they make all the arrangements and there’s one bill. Plus, if a cruise tour has a delay getting back to the ship, the ship will wait for you.
Disadvantages: This is the most expensive option, and you will be with a busload of other tourists.
2. Make your own arrangements
Book your own transportation and use a guidebook to decide what to see in Rome. It’s your responsibility to be back to the ship in time.
3. Book a guided tour of Rome
Many people choose to avoid cruise line excursions and book their own guided tours. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, it may be worth the added expense for the priceless memories and selfies.
Among the countless tour companies that offer Mediterranean cruise excursions, we can recommend Get Your Guide and Take Walks (Walks of Italy) from personal experience. You’re bound to find one or two Rome tour options that work for you.
Tours range in price. Some pick you up at the port, while others begin and end in Rome.
- The ones that depart from Civitavecchia are used to cruise schedules. They will make sure they get you back to the ship on time because their reputations depend on it!
- The tours in Rome are more varied and suited to a range of interests.
ⓘ TIP: If you’re traveling with a few people, some tours charge one flat fee for your group, not per person. HERE IS ONE WE LIKE. If not, go to cruisecritic.com and find your Roll Call to see if anybody wants to join you to form a group and split costs.
How do I get to Rome from cruise port?
We don’t recommend renting a car for a 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. However, if you want to do it, 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 this one from Civita Tours is far 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 ahead of time when to head back so you avoid the temptation to see just one more thing and lose track of time.
ⓘ TIP: Your daily planner will have a phone number of who to contact in an emergency. Take it with you every day. If you are delayed or something happens, you can let them know your status and find out what to do.
Thoughts about seeing Rome on your own from Civitavecchia
Should you decide to focus on one sight, the Cruise Port guidebook we recommended 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.
For both sightseeing and a tour, these from Take Walks will fit into your time in Rome:
- 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 visited the Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum on our own and regret not booking a guided tour. Yes, we’d read up on it beforehand, but a guide brings everything to life. We would have gotten more out of it had someone been there to 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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