Welcome to the passeggiata, the ultimate pre-prandial Roman ritual (and, might we add, a good way to build up an appetite). Here’s the must-do route:
Begin your prowl around 5 p.m. at the 1 Piazza Navona, where you can people-watch in front of the Bernini fountain. Stroll toward the 2 Pantheon and, after a few minutes of staring at the great domed roof, indulge in a granita di limone from Giolitti (Via Uffici del Vicario 40). Yes, it’s right before dinner, but we won’t tell.
It’s now about 6:30—time to head toward the Via del Corso. The 3 Piazza di Montecitorio is home to the Italian parliament’s Chamber of Deputies. The red-granite obelisk dates from the sixth century b.c. and was claimed by Augustus as a trophy of his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Just beyond is the
4 Piazza Colonna, named for the second-century-a.d. column commemorating Marcus Aurelius’s military victories.
Cruise north on the Via del Corso, taking in the shop windows and the festive atmosphere. Romans have converged all around you, chatting on cell phones, pushing strollers, and taking the evening air. On the Via Condotti, you’ll pass Italian icons of more recent vintage—Bulgari! Ferragamo! Gucci!—on your way to the 5 Spanish Steps. Every visitor to Rome ends up in the Piazza di Spagna at some point; it was once a favorite hangout of Keats and Byron, and it’s still popular with young romantics—though these days they’re most likely to be amorous teenagers.
While away some time window-shopping the many art galleries and antiques shops that line the charming cobblestoned Via Margutta, where Fellini once lived. Take a minute to pose in front of the 6 Fontana degli Artisti, a tribute to artists and their changeable outlooks.
Continue toward the monumental 7 Piazza del Popolo, which offered ancient travelers their first view of Rome. In the center of this vast traffic-free square, you will find another of Augustus’s Egyptian trophies—as well as a phenomenal Michael Jackson impersonator. The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo has paintings by Caravaggio and the Chigi chapel, designed by Raphael.
From here, who knows? You’ll be ready to eat, at any rate.