In Rome's monuments and buildings you will find remnants of ancient history, imperial grandeur and opulence. But it is in its squares where you can feel the true essence of the Eternal City, as you watch life go by and Roman customs come alive. These are my favorites:
1. Piazza Navona
We cannot begin this list any other way than by introducing Rome's great Baroque square, Piazza Navona, one of the city's most prominent piazzas since Antiquity. Built on the ruins of Diocletian's Stadium, most guides will tell you that its trio of Baroque fountains, Bernini's Fontana dei Fiumi, the Fontana di Nettuno and the Fontana del Moro, are the great attraction of Piazza Navona.
And although they are not wrong, I particularly like this square because of a tradition told in the history books. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the square was flooded with water and parades were held with boats and nautical costumes, which only makes sense once you realize that the floor of the square is concave in shape. What better way to understand the theatrical spectacle of the Baroque than admiring the square while imagining it full of boats simulating a naval battle?
Piazza Navona is one of the most emblematic places to visit on city tours of Rome, which I recommend you do to explore every corner and not miss anything.
How to get to Piazza Navona
Walking is the best way to get there. I recommend the walk that starts at the Spanish Steps and ends at Piazza Navona, amply signposted, as on the way you can visit the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.
2. Piazza del Popolo
This emblematic square of Rome, crowned by the Flaminian Obelisk that was originally located in the Circus Maximus, is an important agora of Roman public life even today.
The square is home to three churches, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, two apparently identical temples but each with its own secrets and peculiarities, and the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, one of the most visited in Rome for keeping in its interior no less than two paintings by the Baroque artist Caravaggio.
How to get to Piazza del Popolo
The closest metro station to Piazza Del Popolo is Flaminio, from whose exit you can reach the square in one or two minutes walk.
3. Piazza di Spagna
This square is the place where the famous staircase rises, built in 1723 to connect the church of Trinità dei Monti with Via dei Condotti. Many nineteenth-century romantics admired the beauty of this square and some took up residence here, such as John Keats and Goethe. In fact, Keats' house is on the left of the staircase and is today a museum dedicated to the literature of this author and Percy Shelley.
In spring and summer, the steps are filled with flowers and the Fontana della Barcaccia, the fountain at the foot of the steps, refreshes the square which, day or night, is always crowded.
How to get to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
Piazza di Spagna is easily accessible via the metro stop of the same name. From the square, you can access the famous Via Condotti, with its boutiques and luxury stores, which in turn connects to Via del Corso.
4. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
This square is located in the heart of Trastevere, in the middle of a maze of narrow alleys and cobblestone floors. The most interesting feature of the square is the church of Santa Maria and its 12th century mosaics on the façade, as well as its impressive frescoed interior apse.
Both the atmosphere and the lighting make the square especially beautiful at night, and the fountain in the center is a favorite meeting place for locals. On Sunday mornings, the square smells of the abundant incense placed in the church of Santa Maria, and the atmosphere is very peaceful and welcoming.
Once here, I recommend you to discover the other corners of Trastevere and fall in love with all that this neighborhood of Rome has to offer.
How to get to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
You can reach Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere by streetcar, getting off at the Trastevere - Mastai stop (8), and by bus with lines 115, 125, 780, N8.
5. Piazza della Bocca della Verità
The Piazza della Bocca della Verità is right in front of the Tiber Island, where the Church of Santa Maria di Cosmedin is located. Its inner portico houses the Bocca della Verità, the famous marble mask to which so many visitors flock to see if the legend, which says that the mouth closes over the hand of liars, is true.
In the same square, in front of the church, you can also see a temple dedicated to Hercules and the Fountain of the Tritons.
How to find us
If you are in Trastevere or you plan to spend the afternoon around the Tiber Island or the Circus Maximus, it will be very easy to walk to this square from there. If you want to go directly, you have a number of buses to take you there: 44, 44F, 83, 160, 160F, 170, 175, 716, 781, C3, N9, and N19.
6. Piazza Venezia
Piazza Venezia is to Rome what the Trocadéro is to Paris. It is considered the center of the city and is the connecting point of two main streets: Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via del Corso. Presiding over the square stands the Vittoriano building, the national monument dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II.
The name of the square comes from what is known as Palazzo Venezia or Palazzo Barbo, a Renaissance-era building that was built as the seat of the embassy of the Republic of Venice. In 1929 and during the years of fascism this building became the center of Mussolini's government, and from the balcony of the building the leader himself proclaimed his speeches to the people of Rome.
How to get to Piazza Venezia
By subway, taking line B and getting off at the Colosseo stop, or by bus on lines 170, 70 and 716.
7. Piazza di Trevi
It is hardly necessary to introduce this square, perhaps the most famous in Rome, where the wonderful Trevi Fountain is located. Always remembered for being the site of one of the most iconic movie scenes in 'La dolce vita', it is one of the busiest attractions in Rome and a visit that is a must on any tourist itinerary in the city.
Something that is easy to miss on a first visit to Rome is that much of the majesty of the Trevi Fountain is in its backdrop, which is actually the facade of PalazzoPoli located just behind it. The great theme of the fountain is the taming of the waters, with sculptures of tritons and seahorses under the gaze of Neptune.
The famous tradition of the Trevi Fountain is to throw coins into the water. According to legend, throwing one coin will ensure you will return to Rome, two coins augur a new love and three coins are the spell for a marriage or divorce. Another custom is to throw three coins with the right hand over the left shoulder into the fountain, which is synonymous with good luck.
To avoid the crowds, it is best to visit the Piazza di Trevi at dawn or early morning, two times when the fountain is also particularly beautiful.
How to get to Piazza di Trevi
You can reach the Trevi Fountain by subway, getting off at the Barberini stop (line A) or by bus. Some of the buses that will drop you off nearby are 52, 53, 62, 63, 71, 83, 85, or 116. You can also easily walk from Piazza Navona or from the Pantheon.
8. Piazza della Rotonda
The Pantheon, one of the most important monuments of antiquity in the city, dominates this emblematic square. During the day, it is a lure for large crowds of tourists, but in the evening it is still a place frequented by many locals for a coffee on one of the terraces surrounding the Piazza della Rotonda.
The name of the square comes from the current use as a temple of the Pantheon, whose name is Santa Maria Rotonda or Santa Maria dei Martiri. Entrance to the Pantheon is free, and if the majesty of the exterior has not managed to leave you with your mouth open I recommend exploring the interior and marvel at what is undoubtedly the best preserved building of ancient Rome.
Inside the Pantheon you can see the tombs of several Italian kings, frescoes, mosaics and sculptures, in the unique atmosphere created by the large oculus in the ceiling, which allows natural light to enter.
How to get to the Pantheon
Either walking from Piazza Navona, or by bus. Lines 40, 60 and 64 will take you quite close, and most of Rome's Hop-on Hop-off buses have stops in adjacent streets and squares.
9. Piazza Campo de' Fiori
The Campo de' Fiori square is included in this list not so much for its beauty, but for its rich history and importance in the public life of Rome. During the day, an open-air flower market is held here, and you can also find stalls selling all kinds of products and handicrafts.
For centuries, this square was the place where public executions were carried out, and in memory of this a statue was erected in honor of Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive in the square for his theories of astronomy.
The medieval atmosphere of this square, besides being one of the few in Rome without a church, is what distinguishes it from all the others. Around it you will find taverns and inns, and at night it becomes a very popular area for dinner or a drink.
How to get to Campo de' Fiori
Campo dei Fiori is located in the historic center of Rome, so you don't have a metro stop in the square itself. It can be easily reached by bus or from the center on foot, or by taking a walk from some nearby metro stops such as: Piazza di Spagna (line A), Colosseo (line B) and Termini (lines A and B).
10. Piazza San Pietro
Without a doubt, I would dare to say that this is the most beautiful square in the world. The maximum exponent of Italian baroque and an architectural masterpiece, presided over by St. Peter's Basilica.
The best way to get to St. Peter's Square is to cross Via della Conciliazione, a road where the spectacle of the basilica is presented in front of your eyes and invites you to enter the embrace formed by the ellipse of colonnades of the square.
Bernini, in charge of designing this very important square, gave it a strong symbolic sense to guide the faithful inside the basilica, and thought of a theatrical spectacle that would come as a surprise to the eyes.
That is why, if you want to access St. Peter's Square as it was originally designed, it is best to enter through one of the two side entrances to the square, either by Borgo Santo Spirito or Via dei Corridori, so you will find the Basilica in front of you in all its grandeur.
The size of the square is designed to accommodate a mass of people, which you can see every Wednesday morning when the Pope himself leads the prayer. Until 1 p.m., St. Peter's Basilica is closed for what is known as the papal audience.
Taking advantage of your visit to the square, I recommend rounding off your experience with a tour of the Vatican Museums, where you will discover the breathtaking beauty of the Sistine Chapel.
How to get to Piazza San Pietro
If you want to get to Piazza San Pietro easily, the best way is to take metro line A towards Battistini, get off at the Ottaviano-San Pietro station and walk until you reach the square. Depending on how you want to make the entrance, this option may not be the best to enter through Via della Conciliazione, but you can walk through the streets surrounding the square to make the route you like the most.