There are so many places to visit in Rome that spending time in a piazza may seem like a luxury you can’t afford, but I encourage you to visit at least one on your next trip. Rome has some of the grandest public squares in the world. Many boast fabulous fountains (by artists such as Bernini!), while others showcase striking statues or impressive architectural features. Cafes and restaurants surround the edges of many of Rome’s piazzas. Whiling away an hour or two in one of Rome’s piazzas can provide respite from bustling around from the Colosseum to the Vatican Museums. Many piazzas provide views of some of Rome’s famous sites, so you can combine sightseeing and relaxing. I never get over the fact that I can sip a glass of wine while gazing upon an ancient structure!
I love sitting in a piazza playing cribbage with my hubby (Piazza Navona is perfect for this), or just relaxing in the Roman sun watching the world go by. My favorite Roman piazzas have benches or some other seating, so those are the ones I’ve focused on here, but Rome has many smaller squares—like charming Piazza Mattei with its Turtle Fountain—which I haven’t described in this blog.
You may not be able to visit all of my favorite Roman piazzas (I have a lot!), so I’ve provided highlights of each to help you curate a visit that will be perfect for you. My list of piazzas in Rome is roughly ranked with my favorite on top, but none of them deserves “bottom billing” so take the ranking with a grain of salt. Buon viaggio!
Piazza della Rotonda
- Location: in front of the majestic Pantheon
- Highlights: in the middle of the square there is a fountain with “seating” (steps) around its base that gives you cheap seats to gaze upon the Pantheon. An Egyptian obelisk sits atop the fountain. Plenty of places to eat and have a drink surround the piazza; I recommend visiting the Pantheon in the evening hours before it closes and then enjoying an aperitivo in Piazza della Rotonda while the sun sets over the ancient structure.
- Claim to fame: the main attraction is the millennia-old Pantheon and its famous dome.
Piazza del Campidoglio
- Location: looking down on the Roman Forum next to Piazza Venezia & il Vittoriano (the huge wedding cake-looking building)
- Highlights: three palaces surround the square, which house the captivating Capitoline museums and city hall. A reproduction of a bronze Marcus Aurelius statue punctuates the middle of the Campidoglio and a copy of another famous bronze, the She-Wolf, adorns its side. Other statues and a massive fountain are eclipsed by the grandeur of the square with its glimpses of ancient Rome and gorgeous sloping stairs—cordonata.
- Claim to fame: designed by Michelangelo with a stunning view of the Roman Forum—what more can one want?!
- Location: a few minutes walk from the Pantheon near Corso del Rinascimento
- Highlights: a big oval piazza atop a former stadium, Piazza Navona offers lots of room to move around. There are usually artists selling prints, musicians making music, street vendors hawking goods, and lots of fun to be had. An Egyptian obelisk is encircled by Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. There are two other fountains—one at each end of Piazza Navona. Restaurants and shops encircle the piazza and there are plenty of benches to sit on.
- Claim to fame: Bernini’s fountain is a masterpiece, but make sure to stop into the church behind the fountain, Sant’Agnese in Agone, to see Borromini’s architectural design at work.
Piazza del Popolo
- Location: near the Borghese Gardens and just down the street from the Spanish Steps
- Highlights: a spacious area that boasts an Egyptian obelisk in the middle with a delightful fountain circling it. A trident of streets leading away from Piazza del Popolo offer great shopping. Twin churches grace the entry toward the trident. To the side of the square, one can climb up the hill to the Borghese Gardens.
- Claim to fame: You can see the Porta del Popolo (the old city gate) and imagine how stately Rome must have looked to those coming into its walls. This is a fairly lively Rome piazza—I’ve seen MTV events, carnival stands, and other festivities throughout my travels there. Beware: there is always someone trying to sell you a rose; although they may act like it is a gift, it is not.
Campo de’ Fiori
- Location: near the Tiber River & Largo Argentina, not far from Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
- Highlights: during the day there is a food and flower market in the square. Go to Forno Campo de’ Fiori for the best pizza bianca in town. There is also a nice salumeria on the square. At night, the market vendors leave and Campo de’ Fiori becomes a lively square for drinking and dining.
- Claim to fame: a statue of Giordano Bruno graces the middle of the square. Poor Giordano was burned at the stake for his heretical scientific views.
Piazza di Spagna
- Location: at the base of the Spanish Steps
- Highlights: gorgeous view of the Spanish Steps, this large square is surrounded by swanky shops. You can sip tea at Babington’s, visit the house where poet John Keats lived, or watch kids trying to get into the boat fountain by Pietro Bernini (Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s dad). Bordering the edge of the square is the nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen—so if you’re in the mood for a Mc-Macaron (yes, they have those glorious, delicate meringue confections), stop by.
- Claim to fame: the Spanish Steps are the big draw at this piazza.
Piazza di Pietra
- Location: a short walk from the Pantheon towards the Trevi Fountain
- Highlights: this little square is a gem in my book. The remains of an ancient temple are built into a modern building and have the “old meets new” vibe that epitomizes Rome. A local bar, Salotto 42, offers tasty cocktails. Patrons can spill out onto the piazza with their drinks and take in the ruins while watching whichever street performer is “on” for that evening. There is also a nice café, if you’re in the mood for a non-alcoholic beverage or a sweet treat.
- Claim to fame: a perfect place to watch tourists traipse from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon while avoiding the crowded atmosphere at either of those locations.
Piazza San Pietro
- Location: Vatican City right in front of St. Peter’s Basilica
- Highlights: your chance to see another country without leaving the confines of Rome since St. Peter’s Square is in Vatican City. An Egyptian obelisk punctuates the middle of this former racing track. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the plaza, which boasts colonnades around the perimeter stemming out from St. Peter’s Basilica. Statues top the church and the colonnades. The piazza is designed in the shape of a key. Piazza San Pietro is reportedly built atop of St. Peter’s remains who was given the “keys to the kingdom” and crucified upside down on Vatican Hill.
- Claim to fame: St. Peter’s Square is the piazza where you’re most likely to see the pope!
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Location: on the other side of the Tiber River from the ancient center between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Garibaldi (bridges)
- Highlights: a church of the same name provides a view of gorgeous gilded mosaics—stop inside. In the square, you can sit around the steps of the fountain and watch the liveliness of Trastevere. There are plenty of good restaurants in the vicinity; for cheap drinks, go to Bar San Calisto slightly down the road.
- Claim to fame: this square feels like the Trastevere’s living room. People sit around the fountain in the middle enjoying a beer while listening to musicians perform or chatting.
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