I’ve been asked about things to do in Rome if you are there for just one day. First of all, you must realize that the center of Rome is just like a little village. It reminds me of those paintings done in the 17th and 18th centuries depicting villagers with a horse-drawn cart in the countryside surrounded by vineyards and fields. They’re all dressed in colorful country-style casual clothing.
Of course, Rome is far grander than this. It’s just that this image always comes to mind when I am in Trastevere and around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon walking down the narrow twisting cobblestone streets that remain virtually unchanged by modern times.
The thing I love most about Rome is its history: from pre-Roman times through the ages of the Vatican, up to the Dolce Vita of the 1960s, and finally to the sleek, modern design of today. It has layers and layers of history. In fact, it has been impossible to construct a modern subway system because they keep running into subterranean ruins.
Out of all the things to do in Rome, how would I spend my one day there? I would get up early and go on a long walk, stopping for a cappuccino along the way, most likely at one or both of my favorites – Café Greco on the Via Condotti or San’Eustacchio. The route I would take would include The Spanish Steps, Via Condotti, down to Tiber, and past Ara Pacis, Richard Meier’s starkly modern building on the Lungotevere that houses the Tomb of the Emperor Augustus.
From there, I would walk through Piazza Navona admiring Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain, and then walk over to Campo dei Fiori to visit the food markets and shops—not to mention the flower stalls—then to the Pantheon. Next, I would travel past the Trevi Fountain and finally back up to Piazza Barberini and the Via Veneto to the Borghese Gardens and back down to Piazza del Popolo.
If you go early enough in the day, many of the streets will be devoid of traffic and the city will begin to awaken during your walk. A walk like this could take two plus hours, depending on how fast you walk and whether or not you stop to window-shop or admire your surroundings. It might be nice to visit the Borghese Museum along the way to see Canova’s voluptuous sculpture of Paolina Borghese.
Where should you have lunch? Eat at a café in the area surrounding Piazza Navona or in Trastevere. Then, in the afternoon, I would walk to the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Roman Forum up on the Palatine Hill above the Coliseum, and the Arch of Constantine. Next, I would hop in a taxi and go across the Tiber to the Vatican and buy a ticket to Cupola of St Peters and ride the elevator up to the admire the Cupola and walk outside on to the rooftop of St Peter’s. From behind the huge statues, look out at St Peter’s Piazza, with its colonnades reaching out like the arms of the church to embrace mankind and gaze over towards Castel San Angelo and the Eternal City.
For cocktails, a rooftop terrace is a must! Many hotels—like the Hassler at the Top of the Spanish Steps or the Hotel Rafael near Piazza Navona—have them and it is so peaceful and relaxing to look out across the city to its hills, dotted with the Pines of Rome, as sunset falls.
At dinner, nothing can beat the outdoor restaurants near Piazza Navona, such as PierLuigi or Santa Lucia, across from the Rafael. La Gensola is a charming restaurant in Trastevere. My all-time favorite is La Campana, a classic Roman trattoria. Finally, head back to Piazza Navona or the Pantheon for a gelato. Afterwards, wander through the narrow back streets, listening to music wafting out of doorways, the chatter of friends at sidewalk cafes and bars, the hawkers in the piazzas pitching their lights high in to the sky, the delicious smells coming from the restaurants, the bubbling of the fountains, the yellow glow of the street lights, and the sound of your footsteps as you walk through the narrow cobblestoned streets that have not changed in 500 years.
You will be tired by the end of the evening, but you will remember this day forever and you’ll have plenty to add to your list of things to do in Rome on your next visit.
Now that you’re in the mood, give my recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara a try!