Rome wasn’t walked in a day but f**k it I’m gonna bloody try.
Ready. Set. Go. Start having a good breakfast. Have a cappuccino or an espresso and indulge in croissants and pastries without worrying too much about the sugars (you’ll burn plenty of them and anyway holidays are not made for fasting). Take the A Line tube and get off in Flaminio, which will be the starting point of our itinerary. Cross the arches and walk through the beautiful Piazza Del Popolo, absolutely at its best in the early morning. From there you’ll notice in the middle the big Via del Corso, main street for shopping, but I suggest you to walk instead on the parallel street on the left hand side, Via del Babuino: this will lead you straight to Piazza Di Spagna/Trinità Dei Monti (the Spanish Steps).
Once you took a lot of pictures in that lovely spot, walk along Via dei Condotti (if you already need another coffee pop into Caffè Greco, the oldest bar in Rome!) and admire all the posh shops that us poor mortal people could never afford, then turn left to re-enter Via del Corso. Soon on the right hand side you’ll find Palazzo Chigi and Piazza di Montecitorio, the headquarters of the creme de la creme of the current Italian political class… which makes them totally avoidable and unworth seeing. Cross the road instead and enjoy the fresh shade of Galleria Alberto Sordi. Exit at the back, keep on walking straight ahead in that narrow street and you will soon magically find yourself in front of the marvellous Fontana di Trevi, finally free from scaffoldings after its renovation and now whiter than white. It always takes my breath away.
Throw a coin backwards right into the water (tradition wants this is the ritual to assure yourself a comeback to the Eternal City) and walk back to Via Del Corso, turn left and follow the signs to reach the immortal Pantheon, colossal Roman temple lit by natural light coming from a circular opening on the ceiling. The area around the Pantheon is nice to have a lovely ice cream to refill your sugar levels after the walking. Three suggestions: the traditional and evergreen Caffè Giolitti, the exuberant Della Palma (150 different flavours of gelato!) and Venchi (specialised in sumptuous chocolate creations).
Now take the road on the right hand side of the Pantheon and walk all the way to Largo di Torre Argentina; after watching stray cats sunbathing on the ruins, walk towards Piazza Navona, where you can admire the wonderful works of Bernini and Borromini, and sit on a bench to give your legs some relief. Once you’re ready go back to the main street were you came from, cross the road and walk until you find yourself in the buzzing and coloured market of Campo De’ Fiori. Here you can find delicious Italian products (fruit and vegetables, but also cheese, cured meats, liquors, sauces and preserves… don’t be shy and ask to try some, they give free shots of Limoncello very often!). This can be a good area where to have a food pit-stop: enjoy some pizza by the slice, a focaccia with mozzarella and Parma ham or mortadella, or go for a mix of fried snacks as arancini, supplì, stuffed courgette flowers (I go crazy for them) or filetto di baccalà (battered cod fillet). Head back to Largo di Torre Argentina and enter inside the lovely area of the former Jewish Quarter.
Keep walking until you reach Portico D’Ottavia (it’s partially covered by scaffoldings but it’s always very suggestive). Dont forget to buy jewish biscuits or a cherry tart at the bakery near the restaurant before you head to Piazza Venezia. You are ready now to experience the core of Ancient Rome: from Piazza Venezia you can access Via dei Fori Imperiali, a long boardwalk that exhibits the ruins of temples and foras from the age of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc…, and ends right in front of the famous Colosseum! The next stop from the Colosseum is Circo Massimo (if you’re tired you might consider taking the B line tube for a stop. But you will lose points on my walking challenge :D).
Circo Massimo is a spectacular ancient stadium, once used for chariot racing and mass entertainment, with beautiful tall pine trees… On your way to the Lungotevere (the side bank of the river Tiber) don’t forget to pay a visit to the Bocca della Verità, location became famous for the movie Roman Holiday . Put a hand inside the mouth and be sure you say the truth or it will be brutally chopped off (no it won’t). Walk along the Lungotevere until you find Ponte Fabricio, cross that bridge and you’re on the Isola Tiberina, a real island right in the middle of the river, which lights up during summer nights with lively bars, restaurants and market stalls (and even an open air cinema arena). Once crossed the bridge on the other side (Ponte Cestio) it’s time for a very important stop: you are ready to be initiated to the Roman summer ritual of grattachecca. At this traditional kiosk called La Sora Mirella (which along with La Sora Maria in Prati represents the temple of Roman grattachecca) you can see these guys hand-scratch big blocks of ice in front of you, filling big cups with that ‘snow’ that will be topped with fruit syrups and chunks of fresh fruit as you desire (my favourite ones are the Preziosa and the SuperFrutta, I’m literally mouthwatering while I’m writing). Sit on the fence and enjoy this simple yet luxuriously refreshing thing, while you rest your legs a bit.
At this point the evening is probably approaching, but before the sun starts to go down you can enjoy a stroll along the narrow streets of Trastevere, heart of what is called the “Romanity” and one of my favourite areas in Rome… If you feel like you’ve seen enough and you’re ready to sit down for a well deserved dinner or an aperitivo (the ritual of having drink and nibbles with friends) you can find plenty of places here, otherwise I have two more suggestions, depending on your energy levels:
- “I still feel like Iron Man” – …then climb up the Passeggiata del Gianicolo until the top, where you can embrace an uphill view of the city, lovely at sunset;
- “I can still walk but I’d rather french-kiss Theresa May than walk uphill” – …then keep following the Lungotevere until you reach Ponte degli Angeli and Castel Sant’Angelo (splendid setting of Puccini’s opera Tosca), another beautiful place where to savour the light of the end of day.
You may have noticed that I haven’t included in this itinerary St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museums. Well, that part belongs to Vatican City, so it’s technically not Rome, and the visit to the Vatican Museums would take a considerable chunk of your day, so I suggest it if you have more time in your hands, not if if you want to grasp the spirit of Rome in one day. But sure, both from Castel Sant’Angelo and from Gianicolo it’s very easy to take Via Della Conciliazione and reach the magnificient St. Peter’s Square in the evening, when it’s not packed with tourists and you can enjoy its splendour.
An alternative lovely spot where to bathe in the Roman sunset is the Terrazza del Pincio of Villa Borghese. Take the tube back to Flaminio (which is were this tour has started, so it makes perfect sense!), climb the stairs and hug your beloved one watching the sun go down on Piazza Del Popolo.
This itinerary has been consciouscly made very extreme: it covers an insane amount of kilometers, so you might consider skipping something or take advantage of the tube service. And there is still so so much I’ve left out of this list of places… You never finish to see Rome, that’s the truth. Born and bred there, I still haven’t and my eyes still widen with marvel at every corner. My final suggestion, if you have more than one day of time: just wander and lose yourself. And when you see something that looks like an ordinary church or a normal building from the outside don’t trust the book by its cover, go inside instead: Rome is full to the brim of beautiful surprises that you don’t find on the guidebooks.
Have you ever been to Rome? What’s your most amazing memory?