FROM PIAZZA BARBERINI TO CASTEL SANT’ ANGELO
Piazza Barberini – Via Vittorio Veneto – St Patrick’s Church – Porta Pinciana – Villa Borghese Museum – Borghese Gardens – Globe Theatre – Scala di Piazza Spagna – Babingtons Tea Rooms – Keats and Shelley House – Optional Piazza del Popolo and Goethe House; or straight to Via Condotti – Ara Pacis Augustae – Castel Sant’ Angelo
It’s springtime in Rome and time for another WALK ROME trip. It doesn’t even matter if you are not in Rome – join ROME ALONE on this virtual walk from the comfort of your own sofa. The actual walk should take most of the day at a steady pace – or you can do it in stages over several days. There are plenty of eateries, benches and WCs along the way, so all your needs will be catered for.
First, make your way to Piazza Barberini either on foot – or use Rome’s Metro and emerge conveniently opposite Fontana Barberini in the sunshine, ready to start your ascent up Via Vittorio Veneto.
The Veneto is one of the most famous streets in Rome, mainly because of its reputation as the hub of glamorous night life in the 1960s, when film stars and royalty made their way to Harry’s Bar and the Café de Paris. The Café de Paris is now permanently closed, but Harry’s Bar is at the very summit of Via Vittorio Veneto, before you reach the old city wall Porta Pinciana and its impressive arches. You will also pass Rome’s Hard Rock Café on Via Vittorio Veneto.
You might like stop at Caffé Roma just before the bend and sit in the sunshine to enjoy a caffé macchiato or breakfast if you have set off early. On Sunday morning, flocks of cyclists of all ages cycle up the Veneto, with grandpas carrying their grandchildren in child seats. There is a WC at the rear of the café, also – and it is a good place for lunch, too.
Also just past halfway up the Veneto is the US Embassy on the left-hand side of the road – home of Rome’s FBI legat. You will also find St Patrick’s Church a little farther along, just off Via Vittorio Veneto along Via Boncompagni. Take care when taking selfies or pictures around the area of the embassy as security is understandably tight and you may find yourself in the company of an armed guard suddenly. Check when St Patrick’s is open if you want to visit – it is sometimes closed, so check the website to avoid disappointment.
Leaving behind the embassy, head up the steep incline of Via Vittorio Veneto on the right-hand side where you will find a variety of clothing shops and a useful stall selling newspapers and souvenirs, including my favourite mini fridge magnet calendars.
You will soon see the red awnings of Harry’s Bar at the top of the street – and the impressive arches of the Porta Pinciana. Take care crossing the busy junction, but once you are safely across, turn right and along the railing of the Borghese Gardens on Via Pinciana to Villa Medici and the Borghese Museum. You have to pre-book ticket to see the museum – if you go just before lunchtime, it is likely to start emptying out before closing at 1pm and you may have half-an-hour to yourself without the crowds if you are lucky.
There is a lovely garden at the rear with plaster versions of classical statues and a cooling fountain. In the basement of Villa Borghese is a lovely café, which gets quite busy, but the food is good and not too expensive. There are also WCs, but you usually have to show your ticket to the museum to use it. If desperate, ask nicely. There is also a bookshop where you can also buy small souvenirs.
By now you will be feeling the heat, so the next stage of our walk is a cooling, downhill wander along the main leafy thoroughfare from Villa Borghese. Along the way you will find artists and musicians, as well as horse riders, skateboarders, Tuk-Tuks, and a variety of other transport. The gardens are well mapped so if you veer off the main thoroughfare it is unlikely you will get very lost. There are three further museums within the park and another point of interest is the Globe Theatre – similar to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, but on a smaller scale. You can book seats at the box office if it is open.
There are also cafes and food stalls along the route, so buy a panini and a drink and sit on a bench beneath a shady tree and rest your feet if you need to. The buskers in Rome are excellent and you will hear a mixture or jazz, opera, soul and classical music and opera on the streets and in parks and public spaces like Borghese Gardens. Most of the musicians are professional or students and the standards are extremely high. If you like opera, you will hear some extraordinary singers busking in the public spaces in Rome.
At the far end of the Borghese Gardens, you will find yourself on a hilltop above the Spanish Steps on Viale della Trinità dei Monti, where there is a panoramic view of Rome with St Paul’s in the distance. Turn left and make you way to Trinità dei Monti, a huge renaissance church at the top of the Spanish Steps, in front of which stands one of Rome’s Egyptian pylons. If you are hungry, walk past the Spanish Steps and down Via Sistina – on the lefthand-side you will find La Botte Antica, which serves excellent lunches and suppers at very reasonable prices – and also offers a takeaway service. If you are vegetarian, you may find the charcuterie display at the front off-putting, but there are plenty of other eateries nearby.
If you feel like spending a little more, head down the Spanish Steps – Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti – to Piazza Spagna and Babingtons Tea Rooms, where poets like Byron and Shelley took tea and I take breakfast when in Rome. There is a simple lunch menu but the food is fresh, tasty and the surroundings atmospheric and seemingly unchanged since Byron ordered his morning coffee.
Opposite Babingtons at the foot of the Spanish Steps is the Keats and Shelley House, where the poet John Keats came to try and recover from tuberculosis, but sadly died there in 1821 at the age of 25.
In the centre of Piazza di Spagna you will see the fountain Keats gazed out on when confined to his room at the top of the house. Fontana Della Barcaccia is in the shape of a boat. Note it is no longer possible to sit on the Spanish Steps because of erosion and sometimes you will be moved along by the police if you sit there or sometimes on the edge of the fountains – take your cue from what others are doing, but there is a fine for sitting on the Spanish Steps and also if you enter one of the fountains, so keep children and dogs safely away from the water.
You now have two options for your walk – you can either walk towards Via del Babuino to the right of Babington’s and walk to Piazza del Populo, taking in the shopping along the way and perhaps visiting Casa di Goethe in Via del Corso, where the German poet Goethe lived, before walking back along Via del Corso to the junction of Via dei Condotti and Via della Fontanella di Borghese, where Fendi’s flagship store stands at the intersection, before carrying on the walk; or you can head along Via Condotti straight from the fountain in Piazza di Spagna and carry on straight towards Castel Sant Angelo, minus the shopping opportunity of Via dei Babuino and Piazza del Popolo’s cafes and bars.
There is frequently a red carpet stretched along Via dei Condotti if there is a special occasion in Rome. The street is full of designer shops and also Caffé Greco, another haunt of poets and artists. It is less relaxed than Babingtons but worth a visit for the atmosphere. You can exit through the rear door if you walk through and decide not to stay.
Farther along from Via Condotti on the righthand side of Via della Fontanella di Borghese is the VAT reclaim office, through an archway, an important stop if you like shopping. However, where the road forks at Largo Carlo Goldoni and Fendi’s flagship store, take Via Tomacelli on the right if you do not need the VAT office.
You are very near Ara Pacis Augustae now, so keep going. You can visit the museum without booking tickets usually – and just behind it is the Mausoleum of Augustus, recently re-opened during 2020 after refurbishment. Ara Pacis Augustae is a modern glass building and has WCs in the basement and a café. It is cool and peaceful on a hot day, with interactive displays as well as some stunning artefacts and a row of the busts of emperors and their families. Outside is another cooling fountain – this time, you can sit on the wall and have a break as it is a modern fountain.
But just across the River Tiber is your destination, Castel Sant’ Angelo. You can walk across any of the bridges but Ponte Sant’ Angelo leads directly to the castle. Book tickets in advance to make sure of entrance – but first I always stop for coffee and a sandwich at The Biblio Bar– an open-air coffee shop with a pretty garden where they sell reasonably priced coffee, sandwiches, cakes and alcoholic drinks. Watch out for hungry birds who perch on the tables looking hopeful, or you might lose a crumb or two of your sandwich or cake.
If you are not visiting Castel Sant’ Angelo, you can make your way to the Vatican along Via della Conciliazione – or sit back and enjoy some time in the sun with a drink.
Featured image Villa, Medici, Borghese Gardens
All images copyright A. Meredith except where stated