Free Rome

“Set your expectations low.”

That’s what A. has learnt from living with me for 14 years. It is also the advice she offers when we travel away with the kids. When I plan an itinerary which will invariably involve putting one foot in front of the other.

She is always right. As the boy theatrically falls to the floor, no more than 100 meters away from the apartment we are staying in, it was clear that a simple day of exploring the “free” parts of Rome was going to require levels of bribery not used back at home.

So we manage the workload: a bus here, a tram there – the metro is our friend. Well, it would have been had the ticket machine taken cards and not swallowed our money. We asked for help. The person at the station offered that shrugged shoulders/palms extended pose of “nothing to do with me, mate” – whilst pointing at a telephone number on the machine.

By which point the boy had found a vending machine, or food dispenser as he was taken to call it. We hadn’t even left the first station before the bribery was expect to start.


There are a number of great museums, housing some of the finest artworks in the world in Rome; from paintings, statues and funerary – housed in the grandest of collections.

On the other hand, there is Rome itself. The city is arguably the greatest collection of monuments and relics to the past; of one of the greatest Empires, let alone cities, the world has ever seen.

Which is why I wanted to walk. To take in my favourite walk in the world. You all have a favourite walk, right?

Let me try and take you on that walk with a little help from some of the pictures we took along the way.

The walk

The best place to start is the Colosseum, which luckily was 10 minutes walk from where we were staying. Luckily in the sense that we only had two meltdowns and a biblical storm to contend with over those 10 minutes.

The Colosseum when approached from Manzoni

The next stretch of the walk used to be more impressive when the Forum, where the business of the Ancient Romans took place, was free to get in. That, and before they started trying to build Linea C. Rome always seems to be trying to build Linea C.

There are parts where you can still make out the buildings and the structure of the Forum from the roadside.

Looking across the Imperial Forum towards the Temple of Saturn and the Capitoline Hill

On the other side of the road is Trajan’s Forum and Column. An impressive structure dedicated to his victory in the Dacian wars. We didn’t make it over to see it. Our expectations were very low at that point.

Next up is a more modern take on glorifying the past. The Altar of the Fatherland or National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II dominates the always busy Piazza Venezia. I watched a programme recently where it was suggested the locals hated it and referred to it as The Typewriter because of its shape. It looks impressive, especially when the sun glistens off the white marble.

The Typewriter – good or gaudy?

Via Corso is your guide for the next section of the walk, as you zig zag your way along this road to commercialism. Start at the bottom, at the northern tip of Piazza Venezia and walk towards the end – collecting monuments to history as you go.

Start by heading west towards the Pantheon. If this is my favourite walk in the world, then the Pantheon is up there as being my favourite building – unless I am stood outside the Natural History or British Museums. Not just because of the links to Marcus Vipsanius Aggripa, arguably the greatest Number Two in the world (I have been both a Deputy Chief Information Officer and a Right Back in my time), but it also houses the tomb of Raphael, my namesake. The skylight in the dome lifts you up to the heavens as you stand here on earth.

The Pantheon – my favourite building in the world on a Tuesday in Rome

The skylight in the dome – lifting your up in the heavens

The tomb of Raphael

Now double back on yourself and walk towards Via Corso once more. There you will see the facade of a Roman temple with its Corinthian Columns – that now, as with a fair amount of Rome – houses a conference centre.

A temple or a conference centre?

As you cross the Via Corso you will also see another column, this time to Marcus Aurelius. We didn’t stop for a photo as we were so close to the Trevi Fountain that we didn’t want another child related melodrama before we got there.

In recent years there has been a run of companies sponsoring the restoration of Rome’s monuments. Fendi were the company behind the work carried out on the Trevi Fountain. I think you can forgive a year or so of “free” advertising in exchange for how impressive it now looks.

Always toss a coin over your shoulder so you know you will return one day

Rather than walk back towards the main road, follow its path through one of the many side streets and you come out on to Pizza di Spagna. The Spanish Steps, as they are called in English, aren’t that much to look at in peak season/hours when they are covered in resting tourists, but the sun always manages to catch Trinità dei Monti, the church at the top, perfectly.

The sun shines on the righteous

The Bernini Fountain at the foot of the steps is also a great place to stop and coax the kids to walk just a little bit further. Which is what we did, as we saw the end in sight.

The Piazza del Popolo is an amazing open space, with an Egyptian obelisk in the middle, flanked by two equally impressive fountains on each side.

Piazza del Popolo

That’s pretty much all we could get out of the kids before energy and frustration levels went in opposite directions. If you were feeling energetic, or even if you wanted to split the walk up in to two days, the next stretch will take you round full loop.

Cross the River Tiber and you are in the Vatican City. I urge anyone, religious or not, to go to the Vatican Museum and to see in St Peter’s Basilica. The artwork alone – The Sistine Chapel, Raphael Stanzas and Michelangelo’s Pieta are worth the entry fee alone. Do make sure you book a ticket to bypass the queues. The outside is equally as impressive.

The real home of #loveagoodchurch

Walk from the Vatican in to the heart of Trastevere. It’s usually here where you stop for Gelato or an Aperitivo – something alcoholic between lunch and dinner. The Piazza di Santa Maria with the impressive Basilica is as good a location as any.

Another good church to stare at as you build your energy levels back up.

Now you are approaching the final stage of your walk. Cross back over the Tiber – why not use the location of the island hospital as you do, and walk down the bank along to the area of the Temple of Hercules Victor and the Bocca del Verita (Mouth of truth). Legend has it that if you put your hand in the mouth of the monument and tell an untruth, the mouth removes your hand as punishment. Now all it does is remove a few Euros in order for you to take a photo with it (though you can do so, for free, from behind the railings).

Liars beware

Next up is the Circus Maximus where the charioteers of the ancient world would race, often to the death – rarely ever glory. It’s not a very photogenic location – but it is impressive to walk where hundreds or thousands would have cheered on another grizzly crash of horses and machines.

You are now, almost back where you started. A quick walk around the side of the colosseum, past the Arch of Constantine and you will have covered a great deal of what Rome has to offer – without spending any money to enjoy such riches.

The end of your walk – The Arch of Constantine towards the Forum

So there you have it. Arguably the finest walk in the world – covering the ages of a world where Rome not only dominated, it gave so much back in terms of art and historical monuments to the past.

But don’t just rely on some words and images from me. Do, I urge you, book the next available flight and follow the path Kings, Emperors, Gladiators, Charioteers, Freemen, Slaves and four people from Leeds took, albeit over two days and with a few minor tantrums along the way.

Chris Written by:

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