Piazza della Repubblica – Via Nazionale – Quirinal Palace – Trevi Fountain – Piazza Venezia – Forum – Area Sacra – Campo de’ Fiori – Piazza Navona – Castel Sant’ Angelo – Vatican
Rome is a great city for walking round, but because it is built on hills, it can be an unexpected hard slog. However, set off from Piazza della Repubblica to the Vatican and it is downhill all the way – unless you fancy paying a visit to the Quirinal Palace, in which case, you can get your daily cardiovascular exercise up one of the steep hills that veer off Via Nazionale to the Quirinal. But first, let’s get started on our journey…
Piazza della Repubblica is a handy place to set off from for a walk around Rome if you are staying in the Termini district. You can visit the Diocletian Baths and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli before setting off. The architecture of the piazza is also stunning, with a curved facade dominating one side of the busy square – and a famous fountain, Fontana delle Naiadi, in the centre, forming a roundabout for the Roman traffic to rush around. The fountain is famous for its nude statuary – beware of the traffic as you cross to the fountain and the spray from the fountain on a windy day, especially if you are munching on sandwiches sitting on the wall round the fountain as you could be left with a soggy panini. There is also a colonnaded shopping mall with an indoor shopping centre, where you will find a lovely cafe which sells beautiful chocolates and patisserie – perfect to stock up on calories before setting off down Via Nazionale.
Via Nazionale will give you the chance to do some window shopping or make a purchase or two, but as you approach the Forum in the distance, it is time to consider whether you wish to nip up Via Parma, a short, steep climb up a street lined with orange trees, so you might find refreshment literally at your feet. Via Parma leads directly to the Quirinal Palace and from the palace, you can nip back down the steep incline of Via della Dataria to visit the Trevi Fountain, throw in your coin and make a wish.
From the Trevi Fountain, take Via delle Muratte to Via del Corso and head left for Piazza Venezia – the grand piazza where the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument rears up before you, commanding the skyline.
Behind this monument lies the Forum – which is also reachable via Via Nazionale if you prefer to save the Quirinal Palace and Trevi Fountain for another day. You can pre-book tickets for the Forum and around two hours is recommended to see it properly. But it is also pleasant to walk along Via dei Fori Imperiali and gaze over the Forum from the sidewalk if you do not have time to pay a visit.
From the Forum, walk back to Piazza Venezia and pass in front of the the VEII monument, curving round the piazza until you reach Via dei Plebiscito, which leads onto Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. This broad, busy thoroughfare leads to Area Sacra – and from here, you can make your way to Campo dei Fiori for a spot of lunch or shopping.
Area Sacra was once a vast complex of temples and the site also contained the theatre where Julius Caesar was murdered. The site is now home to the stray cats of Rome, who laze in the sunshine. Walk round Area Sacra and head to Via Arenula – off this street you will find Via dei Giubonnari. There is a lovely coffee shop, patisserie/chocolatier on Via Arenula, though, just near the turning for Via de Santa Maria del Planto. Buy chocolates to take home or treat yourself to a coffee break. It is a small cafe but is modern and bright and well worth visiting for the cakes and pastries alone.
Once refreshed, walk along Via dei Giubonnari, a long street of excellent shopping opportunities and one of my favourite places to shop. You will soon arrive at Campo de’ Fiori and its vibrant market, where you can take another pitstop or buy souvenirs such as herbs and spices, pasta and leather goods. Here you will see tourists, locals, students and nuns and priests all enjoying coffee or vino in the sunshine.
From Campo de’ Fiori, take Via del Bauliari at the far end of the piazza and make your way back to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, crossing the road and heading towards Piazza Navona along Via della Caucagna. En route you will find leather, lingerie and jewellery shops and stalls selling reasonably priced scarves and hats. There is also a lovely restaurant en route just before you enter Piazza Navona. In autumn, on the corner of the street, you will also find chestnut sellers, so you may smell Piazza Navona before you actually see it!
Piazza Navona is another excellent location for lunch and people watching – human statues, artists, and tourists galore will keep you entertained while you enjoy a gelato on a bench before setting off again. The Museum of Rome is also situated in one corner of Piazza Navona if you fancy a culture stop – and the piazza is bordered by lovely restaurants and shops to explore. There are three fountains with stunning statuary in the piazza, so it is perfect for photo opportunities.
Head out of Piazza Navona along Via Giuseppe Zanardelli at the far end of the piazza. At this point, you might feel as though you are completely lost in the Eternal City, but you are heading towards the River Tiber, so keep going till you spot water or hear the roar of traffic along the Lungotevere.
On the other side of the Tiber across Ponte Umberto I or Ponte Sant’ Angelo is a favourite cafe of mine which looks like a bookshop and has a small terraced garden, perfect for collapsing in to enjoy an excellent coffee and panini or patisserie. This open air cafe is situated between the impressive Law Courts and Castel Sant’ Angelo and is a nice place to relax and take in the sights.
By now it will be quite obvious that the Vatican is just a shortish hop and a skip once you have finished your coffee. You can visit Castel Sant’ Angelo beforehand if you have time, otherwise head up Via della Conciliazione towards the impressive beacon of the dome of St Peter’s.
Tours of the Vatican take at least two hours and are exhausting and taken at breakneck speed, as there is so much to see – you can pre-book, but may also find that just before each timed tour is due to set off from Piazza San Pietro, tour operators will sell off any remaining tickets cheaply.
If your feet cannot take another step, relax in the centre of the piazza and breathe in the atmosphere – most people gather round the central obelisk originating from Heliopolis 4,000 years ago and brought to Rome in AD37.
The current Pope Francis does not live at the Vatican but in a humble hotel for Vatican staff nearby. The former Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his retirement in 2013, lives in a house in the grounds of the Vatican and can sometimes be seen in the gardens near his home with his assistants. The Papal apartments are situated on the top two floors at the end of the building above the right-hand colonnade as you face St Peter’s. When Il Papa used to be in residence, it was possible to watch the lights being extinguished at 11pm at night, when presumably his Holiness retired to bed.
Once you have enjoyed the atmosphere of St Peter’s, or perhaps taken the Vatican tour, getting back to your hotel will be first and foremost for your feet.
There are plenty of taxis by the Vatican to take you back home to your accommodation if your feet have truly given up – always use white cabs, which are the official city taxis and which are metered. You should have no trouble finding one, as well as one of the many refreshment vans selling food and drinks which are always strategically placed around Rome.
There are also lavatories at St Peter’s to the right-hand side of the square behind the colonnaded walkway. These are manned by nuns and usually cost a euro, for which you will receive a hand towel. The Vatican Post Office is also near the public lavatories, so you can buy a postcard and have it sent to yourself or a friend, complete with Vatican City frank on the stamp. The Italian word for a postage stamp is francobollo – one of my very favourite words in the whole world.
At the end of your walk, you will realise that Rome is not only a city of ancient sites, architecture, fountains, shops, food and busy traffic, it is also a city of people – people watching is one of the greatest pastimes you can enjoy in Rome, so don’t stint on it.
Have a wonderful walk – e buon viaggio!
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Set off to the Eternal City for a long weekend in ROME ALONE, as unhappy housewife Bee and newly-divorced Alzheimer’s expert Dr Neil McCarthy leave from opposite ends of the country for a mini-break full of the unexpected that will change their lives forever as they make their way round the sites. Return to Rome with them three years later in ROME AGAIN and discover the forces at work which they never suspected on their first trip.
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