For those that have been following along with us, you know that Italy is our first love. This was the first foreign country we visited together and the location of our unforgettable honeymoon. So far, we have posted blogs about our day trips that took us from our home base, but we only touched on our favorite city, Rome. Let’s start to scratch the surface with the Heart of Rome Walk.
We arrived at the Fiumicino Airport around 4:00pm, Italy time. We had a driver waiting for us, which we arranged with our hotel. What a wonderful thing to see our last name on a sign, ready to whisk us away to our dream vacation! Most hotels offer this service at a much cheaper price than you will pay for a taxi or from another service found online.
The airport is a 45-minute drive to reach the heart of Rome. This is where we booked a suite at the boutique hotel, Residenza Argentina. This is the time for an Italian driver. If we had rented a car it probably would have taken us much more than an hour. More on that later.
At the Residenza Argentina, the rooms are very modern, the location could not be more ideal and the breakfast each morning was a colorful variety to fit every taste. Ask them to make you a cappuccino; you will not be disappointed. The relaxing atmosphere, the primo location and the feeling of being home away from home made up our minds to stay here again on future trips. If available, get a room with a jacuzzi. After spending so much time walking around the city each day, the jacuzzi was a great way to sooth your tired muscles.
Everyone knows jetlag is a very real, tangible thing. Everyone also knows you cannot give in to the sleep or else your inner clock will be off the entire trip. Luckily, we arrived at the perfect time, in our opinion. If you can arrange your flight to land late in the afternoon, do it. You will only have a few hours to kill before you can give in to the exhaustion.
The Heart of Rome Walk was our plan. Rome has the perfect layout to walk a comfortable distance and see not only historic landmarks, but the essence and soul of Italy. With this being one of the top tourist destinations year after year, you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Someone else has already laid out the map for you. Take advantage of this popular walk and follow along.
Campo de’ Fiori is the starting point of the walk, and what a point it is. This piazza is as versatile as it gets. In the morning it is a fruit and vegetable market and by late afternoon it is crawling with vibrant night life. As is everything in Italy, history mixes with current times. In the center is the statue of Giordano Bruno, an intellectual heretic who was burned in that very spot. Many people sit at the base, while others take pictures to remember what happened here hundreds of years ago.
Walking down the cobblestone street towards Campo you can hear the crowd and music filtering through. We burst across the opening to find an instrumental band playing in the center. The surrounding cafes were overflowing with tourists and locals alike. Elderly couples were dancing hand in hand while the younger crowd twirled alone. It was the perfect “Welcome to Italy” moment. There was also a side of “If I am dreaming, I am going to slap whoever wakes me up.”
From there we headed back towards the busy Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. While waiting to cross this intersection, and after witnessing our airport driver’s skills, Jen decided it best to NOT rent a Vespa for a day. Driving in Italy is for the brave and arguably brilliant or crazy people of the world. No rules, no signals. You find a way through, take it, and take it fast. So, Jen was not able to play Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday….
Once you pass the intersection it is a straight path of street peddlers and a few small eateries until you reach, what became, our favorite spot. Piazza Navona was originally a racetrack in 80 A.D. and maintains the massive oblong shape today. Bernini’s famous Four Rivers Fountain is in the center. The Church of St. Agness sits to your left. Restaurants, gelato shops as far as the eye can see. Performers dance with fire, singers do their best impersonations of iconic legends and local artists sell their latest creations. Your eyes, your heart, your soul are being pulled everywhere at once.
Take your time and allow yourself to stop and enjoy your surroundings when a place calls to you like this. For us, this became our place. We circled the Piazza again and again only to discover something new with each turn. The waiters called out with promises to try and capture our attention long enough to take a seat. Painters quietly displayed stimulating, unique work, allowing their artistry to do the selling. (It worked. Jen gave ‘the eyes’ to Craig, the painter wrapped it up, took his money, and we have the bold, textured one-of-a-king souvenir hanging proudly in our dining room.)
With slow feet we knew we had to go on to the next destination in our Heart of Rome Walk, the Pantheon. Leaving the Piazza on Corsia Agonale you pass original boutiques and street peddlers. Jen had to be dragged past like a dog passing a butcher shop. Pay no attention to the uzi-carrying soldiers as you pass the capital building.
Here’s a little tip; stop and buy a block for your phone chargers at your foreign destination, we found ours at one of the many street peddler’s tables. We highly recommend this versus purchasing an international adapter from home. This was 5 Euros and worked perfectly for our entire trip!
The Pantheon is another piece of architecture that cannot be accurately imagined in your mind. The 40 foot granite columns are massive. You are dwarfed by the size when you stand next to them. What was once a Roman Temple is now a Catholic church rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian around 126 AD.
The royal connection continues. Two of Italy’s kings are buried here, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, along with many Renaissance painters and artists. History of this magnitude pulls us in like a child discovering chocolate for the first time. We just want to be a part of it and join the millions of people that walked this same path for over a thousand years.
Enter and stand in the center under the oculus and admire the dome structure that has been imitated repeatedly. We circled to admire the art frescoes, paintings and sculptures before exiting our walk back in time. The vibrant life directly outside the walls of this ancient structure is something you should immerse yourself in, even if only for a few minutes. Take as many selfies as you want and enjoy the moment. You are in Italy! Finally!
Leaving the Pantheon, head up the hill towards Piazza Capranica. This is not an extraordinary, heart-stopping piazza, but just an area to pass through. Pause to check out what a wealthy family built to show off, but it is honestly a bit plain compared to piazzas you’ve already seen in Italy.
From here you take Via in Aquiro to Craig’s favorite Italian piece, the Egyptian obelisk, which is one of eight in Rome. It’s another incredible mark of history right in your path. This obelisk, used as a sundial, was taken as a trophy when Augustus defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt. This is probably the closest we will ever get to Egypt and Jen’s Cleopatra roots.
If you want to stop for a quick gelato in the heart of Rome, which obviously you do, swing over a block to Giolitii’s, the most famous gelateria in Rome. The selection is a bit overwhelming, so either go with your favorite flavors to start or try something brand new! We opted to sit outside in their patio area and marvel at the bustling Italian atmosphere.
After some refreshment, time to move on to see more amazing-ness. A sure sign that you are about to see something that will take your breath away is the growing noise of a roaring crowd as you near. Follow the throng of people and the Trevi Fountain will shortly appear. Built into the side of a building, this fountain is truly something to behold.
This is one of those places that is a bit difficult to take in due to the number of tourists here at all times of day. All times. Do your best to make your way to the base of the fountain, throw your coin over your left shoulder to promise yourself a return trip to Rome, get your selfies, take it in and get out of there. If you do not mind a lively crowd, then you can allow yourself extra time to look at this in more detail than we allowed ourselves to. On the upper edge you may find better luck finding a spot to admire the brilliance of Nicola Salvi.
The final stop on the Heart of Rome Walk is a ten minute leisurely walk away, the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, when we were there they were closed for renovations and we were not allowed to go up and take a seat. It did not stop us from heading down there to take a look anyway. We were able to wander around the Piazza di Spagna and look at the Sinking Boat Fountain at the base of the steps and do some people watching, one of our favorite past-times.
It is hard to believe that this walk is only a mile and a half. In what other place can you experience so much history, life, and iconic landmarks in such a short distance? The Heart of Rome Walk was the perfect introduction to the city and a way to get familiar with the layout. It was an opportunity to get a little lost at a few points and quickly right ourselves. Be sure to always have a few maps on hand. Our hotel gave us one that we used more than the one we purchased ahead of time. No one knows that city better than the ones that call it home and they know how to best guide you.
At the end of your walk, depending on where you choose to book your stay, you can take the metro or taxi back. Interesting fact, we never once stepped on the metro in Rome. We found it so easy to get everywhere by foot that it never crossed our minds. Choosing to walk back the way we came, we took in a dinner at Campo di Fiori.
We will warn you, just as we were warned; in the tourist hot spots, like the bustling piazzas and centers of life, the food is not the greatest. We knew this and still chose to go there because we wanted the experience of dining surrounded by the warmth of Italian life. If the food was suitable for human consumption, that was all that mattered that evening. We sat with our wine and edible pasta dishes, slowly soaking up our experience.
The wait staff quickly and efficiently attached rain awnings to the overhang we were under, just in time for the heavens to open up. The storm lasted five minutes and life resumed as soon as the clouds disappeared, as if nothing had happened at all. We slowly walked back to our hotel knowing we were in the first few hours of the best trip of our lives.
Have you ever been on the Heart of Rome Walk? What was the best area to walk around on your vacations? Tell us in the comment section below!
Thank you for reading, and #NeverStopPlanning.
Craig & Jen