Themed Tours in Rome
Giving every city neighbourhood its own alfresco salon, with news stands, cafés, and room to breathe, the piazza is one of the great Italian urban inventions. In Rome, some are grandiose gifts to the city from politically minded popes; others are the incidental result of streets meeting at odd angles; but the best piazzas are those where Romans act out their daily pageants, fully aware of their dramatic backdrops.
Start: Take bus 40, 62, 64, 70, 87, 116 or 492 to Corso Vittorio Emanuele or Corso Rinascimento.
This theatrical baroque platter retains the shape of the ancient stadium over which it was built. Vying for attention at the centre of the oval are Bernini's dynamic Fountain of the Four Rivers and Borromini's haughty Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. Cafés and restaurants abound on the square, but locals never dine here. Piazza Navona is at its best before 10am, when the tourist hordes and trinket sellers start to descend, so a morning cappuccino is best to enjoy an unspoiled view.
Bus: 40, 62, 64, 70, 87, 116 or 492.
Piazza della Rotonda
Despite a 30ft (9m) rise from the surrounding ground level, the 2nd-century AD Pantheon still stands, awesomely imposing, at the southern end of this square; the fountain is 18th century. Late-evening drinks are best, when the atmosphere is more intimate and tourist free.
Bus: 40, 62, 64, 70, 85, 87, 95, 116 or 175.
Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina
Tourists have taken over Piazza di Spagna, but well-heeled locals in the Tridente shopping district still have this wedge-shaped square when they want to sit down for Campari and sandwiches. The two cafés here — Ciampini and Teichner — are almost identical, and great for watching big-spending Romans on parade.
Bus: 62, 85, 95, 175 or 492.
Piazza del Popolo
A 4000-year-old pink granite obelisk with wonderful hieroglyphics presides over this grand, newly pedestrianized expanse at the top of the Tridente. On the north side of the piazza, Santa Maria del Popolo is a trove of art treasures.
A bit touristy, but what the hell — it still feels fabulous to soak up the Art Nouveau decor and view at this haunt of Roman glitterati.
Where: Piazza del Popolo 4.
Telephone: +39 06 3225859
The other Piazza del Popolo café, preferred by Fellini for its morning shade.
Where: Piazza del Popolo 16.
Telephone: +39 06 3612231
A scrappy little square in the old Jewish ghetto charms all with its endearing Fontana delle Tartarughe (Fountain of the Tortoises), begun in 1588 by Giacomo della Porta and Taddeo Landini and given its namesake amphibians by Bernini in 1638.
Bus: 23, 30, 40, 62, 64, 70, 87, 170, 280 or 492.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
The crossroads of daily life in village-y Trastevere meets all criteria: a sprinkling of cafés and restaurants, children with nonna in tow, a graceful fountain and a big church.
Bus: H, 23, 280 or 780.
Just steps away from the buzz of the Campo, Piazza Farnese is elegant, sedate and open, graced on its west side by the stately Palazzo Farnese, designed in part by Michelangelo and now the French embassy. The fountains here are granite bathtubs filched from the Baths of Caracalla in the 1500s and topped by the Farnese family emblem, the iris.
Bus: 30, 40, 62, 64, 70, 87, 116, 280 or 492.
Campo de' Fiori
With a produce market in the morning and a booming social scene at its many bars in the evening, this former ‘field of flowers' is the liveliest square in the centro storico. The Campo may lack the architectural refinement of other Roman piazzas, but its round-the-clock utility and heavy traffic of locals are tough to beat.
Bus: 30, 40, 62, 64, 70, 87, 116 or 492.