Experience Rome on foot
Start: Piazza del Popolo
“Put on a pair of comfortable shoes,” says Swede Kristina Nilsson, who is a city guide in Rome. It’s good advice. The cobblestones here, known locally as sanpietrini, are both uneven and everywhere.
Our walk begins in Piazza del Popolo, which is home to one of Rome’s city gates. This was probably the first thing that Martin Luther, Sweden’s Queen Christina and other historical figures saw when they reached Rome, having journeyed from the north. Piazza del Popolo is a similar shape to Saint Peter’s Square, but without the Vatican and the Pope. They’re on the other side of the River Tiber. Rome’s second-largest and second-tallest obelisk stands proudly in the middle of the square. “They brought it here from Egypt, which was part of the Roman Empire,” Nilsson says. “The tallest and largest is at San Giovanni al Laterano.”
Behind the square, you can take the steps up to Rome’s large, green and peaceful park, Villa Borghese. Nearby is the Galleria Borghese, one of the world’s most famous museums and home to works by artists such as Bernini, Raphael and Caravaggio. The Il Pincio viewpoint, which looks out across the Piazza del Popolo, is the place to go for that perfect Instagram shot. The view across the domes and rooftops is even more spectacular if you manage to arrive early enough in the day to catch the sunrise. Follow the path with the beautiful view alongside the park and you’ll eventually arrive at the Piazza di Spagna.
You’ve now walked 1.8km
Next stop: Piazza di Spagna – one of the most famous squares in the world
You’ll arrive at the Piazza di Spagna using what are commonly known as the Spanish Steps. These steps were built in 1725 to connect the Trinitá dei Monti church with the square.
Piazza di Spagna is an unusually shaped square. It’s neither square nor round, but is shaped like a butterfly with its wings outstretched. You’ll find luxury fashion boutiques here, along with a fountain designed by Bernini in the middle and a diverse crowd of people. Don’t expect to find the steps dressed in flowers, as they appear on the numerous postcards that are sold practically everywhere. That only happens for one week a year during the celebrations for Rome’s birthday on 21 April.
The Piazza di Spagna has been popular ever since the 18th and 19th centuries. Hans Christian Andersen, Ibsen and the English poets Keats and Shelley all came here. It’s no wonder then that so many literary cafés opened around that time. Some of them are still in business on the square.
“You won’t find the best coffee here, though, but at the Pantheon,” our guide Nilsson says. “Before that, we’ll pass the Fontana di Trevi.”
A top tip is to make a stop on the way at the newly opened Rinascente, a huge, eight-story department store. During the renovation work, they found a Roman aqueduct, which you can now admire on the lower floor, among all the beautiful bags, shoes and stylish Italian fashion. Rome in a nutshell. Rinascente also has restrooms, which is not something you can take for granted in the city, so make the most of the opportunity.
You’ve now walked 2.5km
Next stop: Fontana di Trevi – A fountain that’s not for splashing in
Don’t climb into or even touch the water that ripples around the god Oceanus as he sits in splendid majesty at the Fontana di Trevi fountain, because then the police will blow their whistles and you’ll be fined. So don’t try and pretend you’re Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita. Better to just watch the film again instead. The fountain was built in 1762 by Nicola Salvi. Legend has it that to ensure you will return to Rome, you should use your right hand to throw a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain. If you see someone throwing two coins in, that means they want to get married. Three coins, though, means divorce.
“The Romans often joke that there’s always so much money in the fountain,” our guide Nilsson says with a laugh. She tells us that over €3,000 are thrown into the fountain every day.
“Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, the fountain is drained of water and all the coins are removed,” she says. “They’re donated to the charitable organization Caritas.” A good tip then is to avoid the mornings if you want to see the fountain filled with water.
When it’s warm, Rome can really swelter in the heat. So it’s good to know that there’s an impressive range of ice cream available here. If you haven’t thrown all your coins into the Fontana di Trevi, you should make your way to Gelateria di San Crispino, where you’ll find authentic ice cream in seasonal flavors. Located just behind the Fontana di Trevi.
Gelateria di San Crispino
Here you'll find Romes perhaps best ice cream. Located right next to Fontana di Trevi. The season decides the flavor, Årstidebut the quality is always exquisite.
Gelateria di San Crispino
Via della Panetteria, 42, Rom
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You’ve now walked 3.2km
Next stop: The Pantheon – the best-preserved ancient Roman building
We now move on to the Pantheon. The temple was built in Roman times and was dedicated to all the gods. In the 7th century, it was turned into a Christian church.
“The temples that were converted into churches are the best-preserved today,” Nilsson says.
Inside the circular building, there’s a round hole in the roof. If you manage to be here at noon (1pm in summer), you’ll see the light flow in through the opening in the roof and out through the entrance. Impressive! The floor becomes wet when it rains, of course, but the water runs away through 22 drainage holes. The Romans knew their stuff.
Now you’ve been walking for a while, it may well be time for a coffee. La Casa del Caffè Tazza d’Oro is located so close to the Pantheon that it may feel like a tourist trap. In fact, though, this is where you’ll find what many consider to be the best coffee in Rome. Don’t be put off by the often long lines; this is a fast-paced operation. Enjoy an espresso in the bar – you’ve earned a little rest.
A fantastic coffe break
At La Casa del Caffè Tazza di Oro you can grab a coffee standing in the bar, before you continue your walk. This is where you’ll find what many consider to be the best coffee in Rome
La Casa del Caffè Tazza di Oro
Via degli Orfani, 84, Rom
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You’ve now walked 4km
Last stop: Piazza Navona – the four continents are represented here
Take the Via Giustiniani to the Piazza Navona and don’t forget to look to the left as you do, where you’ll see the Palazzo Madama, the Italian Senate. You’ll also pass the Palazzo Pietra, a Roman temple with imposing pillars that reach up to the sky.
Piazza Navona is a lively square with lots of nice outdoor cafés and bars where you can sit and people-watch for hours. Before you sit down for an aperitif at one of the many tables, though, you should take a walk around the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Built in 1651, it was designed to represent the four continents of the world: Africa, Europe, Asia and America. That was all that had been discovered at the time. The artist Bernini chose a river and an animal to symbolize each continent. Bernini doesn’t seem to have had much idea of what a crocodile looks like though. The animal representing America seems to have had a lip enhancement using too much silicone. Anything goes in Rome, though. Even crocodiles with silicone lips.
At Piazza Navona, you can take a seat at one of the many outdoor bars, rest your feet and call it a day. Or you can carry on walking through the city. The best way to get to know it properly is to lose yourself a little among the crowded streets and stunning buildings.
Published: October 30, 2019