10 Miles a Day: Rome, Italy

Between its architecture and its art, Rome is one of the most-visited cities on the planet. In fact, it’s the third-most visited city in Europe after London and Paris. And it’s been a destination for travelers for centuries.

If you’re willing to get an early start to beat some of the crowds, it’s possible to hit Rome’s highlights in a single day on a 10-mile walking tour.

We began at our Airbnb on Viale Giulio Cesare and took the short 20-minute walk to Vatican City. It’s been an independent city-state since 1929, and it’s the smallest in the world by both population and area. Headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, Vatican City is home to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s famous painted ceiling and his giant fresco The Last Judgment, located on the wall behind the chapel’s altar.

After a visit in 1787, Goethe remarked, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.”

Not everyone is impressed by Vatican City.

Since Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel are open to the public beginning at 9 a.m. every Monday through Saturday (as well as the last Sunday of the month), it’s a good idea to make Vatican City your first stop after breakfast. It will allow you to beat the rush and still purchase the least expensive ticket.

Another time to beat the crowds is during or immediately following a rain, since the line is outdoors and most people aren’t prepared with an umbrella or raincoat. (As a savvy traveler, however, you are of course prepared for this.)

You’ll find the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers with its Egyptian obelisk at your next stop, Piazza Navona. It’s been featured in literature, films, and paintings since the 1600s, when Pope Innocent X had it transformed into its current example of Baroque architecture. He had a personal interest in this since his family palace faced the piazza.

View of Piazza Navona by Hendrik Frans van Lint, c. 1730 (image via Wikicommons)

The next stop on your 10-mile walking tour of Rome is the Pantheon, a former Roman temple commissioned during the reign of Augustus and completed by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. It’s been used continuously since its completion, and it’s one of the best preserved ancient buildings in the city.

While it may not look terribly impressive from the outside, the Pantheon’s dome is a feat of engineering: nearly two thousand years after its construction, it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. And the interior of the Pantheon has impressed visitors for centuries.

The interior of the Pantheon in the 18th century by Giovanni Paolo Panini (image: Wikicommons)

Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday. Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Disney’s The Lizzie McGuire Movie. What do they all have in common? Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain.

It’s the largest Baroque fountain in the city, and you’ll find it surrounded by tourists day and night, when it’s illuminated by more than 100 LED lights that were part of a €2.2 million restoration financed by Italian fashion company Fendi.

What you imagine when you think of Rome’s Trevi Fountain
What it’s like when you visit Rome’s Trevi Fountain

Follow tradition and throw your coin in the fountain before you pause for refreshments and then make your way to the Embassy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

A flight of beers brewed by Doppio Malto, a brew pub just around the corner from Rome’s Trevi Fountain

An XL destination on Nomad Mania, Rome’s Palazzo Malta is the headquarters of an international chivalric order established in 1099 as the Knights Hospitaller. Malta’s 13,500 knights, dames, and auxiliary members employ 42,000 doctors and work with more than 80,000 to provide medical services to people in need in more than 120 countries around the world. Like Vatican City, Malta has observer status with the United Nations as an independent city-state.

Check out Mike’s 360-degree photosphere of the entrance to the Embassy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta on Google

Nearby you’ll find two more of Rome’s top tourist attractions: the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. With more than four million visitors annually, the Colosseum is one of the 50 most-visited sites in the world. Nowadays the area looks much different than it did when Giovanni Paolo Panini painted this view in 1747; instead of lush grass and large trees, you’ll find fencing, scaffolding, and souvenir stands surrounding the largest amphitheater ever built.

In addition to Vatican City, the Roman Catholic Church owns two properties outside the Holy See that are part of its official UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. One of those is the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore. If you have a need for “the immunity granted by International Law to the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign States,” you can hide out here.

If walking 10 miles through Rome isn’t enough of a workout for you, you can end your day with a hike up the 174 risers of the city’s famous Spanish Steps for a lovely view of the Piazza di Spagna. On your way up, you’ll pass the former home of poet John Keats and the 126-year-old Babington’s Tea Room.

Despite the ever-present crowds of tourists, Rome manages to be a city of both romance and history that’s worth visiting at least once as you travel the world. And the food. Oh, the food! The food and wine alone are worth the visit.

What’s on your sightseeing agenda for 10 miles a day in Rome, Italy?