It’s hard to find the words to describe the beauty, chaos and magic of Rome.
It’s where Western philosophy, art theory and much of modern science were born. It’s home to winding cobblestone streets, classical architecture and famous landmarks that beckon you to get lost. It’s where the pace of life seems to slow, allowing you to savor every minute of every day. And the food – the food! OK, enough gushing.
When we visited the Eternal City for our second time in May 2018, we wanted to knock out the most popular tourist sites quickly. That way, we could spend the rest of our days sipping cappuccino, enjoying apertivo and taking leisurely strolls through the city’s many markets, parks and neighborhoods.
We also wanted to “get our steps in” so that we could overindulge in the cheese, gelato and wine, as any visitor to Italy is obliged to do. So, we filled our water bottles, put on our walking shoes and headed out. Here is the route we took, which totaled around 4 miles.
[Disclaimer: This post doesn’t include the Vatican, which we suggest you do on another day.]
Stop 1: The Colosseum
The Colosseum – ever heard of it? The world’s largest colosseum, completed in AD 80, is where gladiators battled, classical mythologies were enacted and executions took place. Show up early in the day to snap pictures of its beautifully ruined exterior – from both the ground and the surrounding elevated sidewalks – or pay to tour the inside. If you do opt to go inside, consider booking “skip the line” tickets online ahead of time – many reputable tourism companies offer them. If you choose to buy tickets on the spot, buy them at the official box office, and if you pay to skip the line on the spot, make sure you’re dealing with an official rep from the colosseum – unfortunately, scams abound. (Tip: Combined tickets to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine are just 12 euros, about $14 USD. Kids under 17 and adults over 65 are free.)
- Next destination: The Roman Forum
- Distance: 0.6 miles (1 kilometer), about 12 minutes on foot
Stop 2: The Roman Forum
As you leave the Colosseum, it’s pretty much impossible to miss this plaza of ruins that was the heart of the city for centuries. The Forum was once the site of criminal trials, public speeches and religious events, and was home to much of the city’s oldest and most important structures, including the first-ever Senate House. Today, visitors can walk among what’s left of the same temples and buildings Julius Caesar once did – as well as visit the neighboring Palatine Hill where the original Romans were said to have lived – for the small fee described above (see: Colosseum).
- Next destination: Piazza Venezia
- Distance: 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers), about 17 minutes on foot
Stop 3: Piazza Venezia
This plaza is where several of Rome’s main drags meet. It once served as the embassy for the Republic of Venice; it’s also where Mussolini famously spoke to supporters during his rule in 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Visitors flock here naturally, as the Altare della Patria, built to honor the first king of a unified Italy, is gorgeous and massive. The many stairs leading up to the monument, as well as its always-lit torches, make for great photo ops.
- Next destination: Campo de’ Fiori
- Distance: 0.5 miles (850 meters), about 11 minutes on foot
Stop 4: Campo de’ Fiori
Why not break up a day of sightseeing with a stroll through the market? Campo de’ Fiori is a vibrant square that’s home to a daily farmers’ market, as well as several restaurants and cafes. The vendors and businesses tend to cater to tourists, but it’s still nice to sit down and enjoy a beverage while watching the hustle and bustle. In the market, you’ll find fruits and vegetables, spices, olive oil, novelty pastas, and everything from authentic leather products to tourist wares made in China. (Tip: Some of our favorite pizza in Rome, at Antico Forno Roscioli, is just a 3 minutes’ walk away from the plaza. Fuel up!)
- Next destination: The Pantheon
- Distance: 0.5 miles (800 meters), about 10 minutes on foot
Stop 5: The Pantheon
After tripping through cobblestone streets and ruins for a couple of hours, the Pantheon – one of Rome’s best-preserved ancient buildings – is a welcome retreat. Once a temple, now a church, this magnificent structure located in the Piazza della Rotonda has been used continuously since the 7th century. Famous for its granite Corinthian columns and concrete dome (the worlds largest unreinforced concrete dome, in fact!), the Pantheon has been copied many times throughout architectural history and therefore feels about as “Roman” as it gets. Today, visitors can enter the church for free but are advised to stay silent. Most tourists don’t heed the signs, but a resonant voice comes over the loud speaker every few minutes to remind them. Shhh.
- Next destination: Piazza Navona
- Distance: 0.2 miles (350 meters), about 5 minutes on foot
Stop 6: Piazza Navona
Just around the corner from the Pantheon is this long, baroque square that stands on the site of the ancient stadium first built by Julius Caesar. Along with its beautiful buildings and many restaurants, three fountains make this a popular spot for tourists. The main fountain, Fontana die Quattro Fiumi (“Fountain of the Four Rivers”), is designed to represent the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia and the Rio del la Plata in South America. At the southern end of the square is the Fontana del Moro (“Fountain of the Moor”), which represents a Moor wrestling with a dolphin. The third fountain, on the northern end, Fontana del Nettuno (“Fountain of Neptune”), features Neptune fighting an Octopus. Pretty intense!
- Next destination: Trevi Fountain
- Distance: 0.6 miles (1 kilometer), about 12 minutes on foot
Stop 7: Trevi Foundation
After fountain-hopping at Piazza Navona, why not visit one of the world’s most famous? Reopened in 2015 after thorough restoration work, the stunning Trevi Fountain is said to be one of the oldest water resources in Rome. At 86 feet (26.3 meters) high and more than 161 feet (49.15 meters) wide, it remains the largest Baroque fountain in the city. Today, visitors throw more than $3,500 USD (3,000 euros) into it everyday, hoping it will ensure them a return trip to Rome. The coins are collected every night and given to Caritas, an Italian charity that runs a grocery program for Rome’s needy. We’re not superstitious, but that’s reason enough to toss a few in over our shoulders.
- Next destination: The Spanish Steps
- Distance: 0.4 miles (650 meters), about 8 minutes on foot
Stop 8: The Spanish Steps
After a long day of walking, enjoying the view from the Spanish Steps is beyond satisfying. The staircase’s butterfly design includes 138 steps and several vistas and terraces, leaving plenty of room to pause and even take a seat. Originally completed in 1725 to connect the Trinità dei Monti church with the Spanish square (Piazza di Spagna) below, the steps have a long history with artists and poets, as well beautiful women and rich Romans. Today, Rome’s largest staircase is a gathering place for everyone.