Rome breathes romance from almost every stone, even the word ‘romance’ has its origins here, but it’s also a buzzing, hectic metropolis. With so much to see, you’ll want to take some time to slow down too, to linger and truly get swept up in the romantic mood.
Take a stroll away from the traffic, find some shade to cool down, enjoy the fabulous gelato, or simply stop, stare and wonder about all the layers of history, all the people who’ve gone before and who’ve seen what you’re seeing.
I’m sharing my Top 5 Spots in Romantic Rome to take in if you’re planning a trip to the eternal city, and of course, they all feature in my upcoming romcom novel The Art Trip, published May 28th and available to pre-order for Kindle now, so you can enjoy them there too!
The area named ‘beyond the Tiber’, Trastevere is a wonderfully atmospheric part of Rome to the west of the river. A maze of narrow, cobbled streets lined with shuttered houses, mysterious doorways and small piazzas, you’ll love losing yourself here. Don’t worry about the map too much, take one turn then the next, and sooner or later you’ll find yourself back where you began. With streets too narrow for most traffic, you can walk to just the occasional buzz of a Vespa, the sounds of cooking and conversation.
The area is full of small, characterful restaurants and bars, making it the perfect destination for the evening passegiata stroll and a meal, simply follow your nose to hunt out delicious, authentic food down the most unexpected alleyways. By day, enjoy a freshly squeezed orange juice at a piazza cafe and take in one of the areas churches, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, with its beautiful mosaic facade.
2. Piazza Navona
Although it lies on the site of a former Roman sports stadium, Piazza Navona offers a magical glimpse of baroque Rome, with its ornate churches and theatrical monuments. Home to several spectacular fountains, including Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the piazza was flooded on certain days in August, in a grand and rather cooling spectacle for leisured citizens.
The piazza is a large, pedestrianized area, so even though it attracts plenty of visitors, it still has an enchantingly light and relaxed atmosphere, lined as it is with pavement cafes and street artists at their easels. It’s home, too, to some particularly good gelateria. Take your time choosing from the spectrum of delicious flavours, then perch on a wall to enjoy the sun on your skin and watch the rainbows sparkling in the fountains’ spray.
3. The Protestant Cemetery
Just outside the old walls of Rome, near the southern gate of Porta San Paolo, lies the Protest or Non-Catholic Cemetery, the historic burial ground for some of Rome’s overseas grand tour visitors who unfortunately never returned home. Among them, you’ll find the resting place of two towering figures of the romantic movement, the poets Shelley and Keats, making the cemetery a site of pilgrimage for many lovers of literature. There’s also the curiosity of the huge marble-clad Roman pyramid of Cestius to look up in wonder at.
Far from being a morbid place, it’s as much a peaceful garden as it is a cemetery, full of sculpted monuments, beautiful cypress and pomegranate trees, all lovingly tended. Cared for with as much love are a thriving community of street cats who’ve made their home here, who slink and lounge around as only cats can, adding to the peace of the place. Linger with them for a while, then, refreshed, catch a bus down the famous Via Appia Antica, to experience the sights, lumps and bumps of a true Roman road.
4. The Roof of St Peter’s
The basilica of St Peter’s can be overwhelming in the best way. Visitors are often struck by its sheer scale, its beauty and of course its religious and historical significance. One visit not everyone makes, though, is to the roof. For those who do, a spectacular and uplifting experience awaits. You can wonder at the genius of Michelangelo, Bramante, and others who realized this amazing building, gaze out over the city in all directions, fill your lungs with cooler air and gain an unforgettable perspective on life going on below.
Take a lift to the roof of the basilica, which already offers panoramic views, and even enjoy a drink from the small coffee bar up here, which is extremely civilized. There’s a high balustrade on all sides so it’s a pleasant place to spend some time, even for those who don’t like heights. To reach the top of the dome is a challenging climb, with a walk around the gallery inside, then spiral steps in narrow spaces, but perfectly safe and well worth it if you have a head for heights. On reaching the lantern, as you regain your breath, you might just find yourself filled with euphoria, as the faint sounds of the city float up to you, and you marvel at the pigeon-scale people in the piazza below.
5. The Forum
At the heart of ancient Rome lay the Forum, and here it is today, still at the heart of Rome. Surrounded by the ruined temples and triumphal arches, it’s not too difficult to imagine the politics, business and everyday life of the ancient city going on around you. It’s much harder to imagine the centuries the Forum spent abandoned, partially built over, stones being re-used, with cattle grazing the ground above the buried remains.
An oasis of calm away from Rome’s frenetic traffic, once you’re through the turnstiles, the Forum has something of the feel of a public park. You can wander at your own pace, in whatever direction you choose, spending as long as you like absorbing the significance of what you’re seeing. That may be quite a while, as the Forum is endlessly thought-provoking. Whether you’re a lover of history or just have a passing interest, your imagination can’t fail to be captured, and, after all, isn’t that the essence of romance?