Free Rome Self-Guided Walking Tour: Explore The Eternal City On Foot

river with ornate bridge and domed church in the background

Rome is an exciting city, with a wealth of world-famous attractions dating from nearly 3 millennia of history. Use this free self-guided walking tour of Rome to experience the best of the city on foot, including ancient ruins, icons of the Renaissance and charming vine-draped lanes.

One of the great things about exploring Rome using a self-guided walking route is that you don’t have to pay for a guide – it is free! And the other is that you don’t have to stick with a group – you have total freedom to go at your own pace.

Follow this two-day walking tour to explore the best of the Eternal City. There’s a lot in here, so feel free to use the Table of Contents if helpful.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.

About This Rome Self-Guided Walking Tour

If you follow this walking tour, you can experience the following and more:

  • All the main attractions of Rome, including the Vatican, Castel Sant’Angelo, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, The Pantheon and Piazza Navona
  • Relics of Ancient Rome, including the Colosseum, The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
  • Renaissance masterpieces, at St Peter’s Basilica and Palazzo Farnese
  • The charming old streets of Trastevere and Via dei Coronari
  • Stunning viewpoints across the city, including from Pincio Hill, Aventine Hill and Janiculan Hill
two images: one of ancient Roman ruins and the other of a renaissance-style fountain
Ancient ruins and renaissance icons in Rome

Rome is not as big a city as London or Paris, but it is big enough with a lot to see and do, so this walking tour is spread out over two days. This is based on a walking tour I did myself – I tried to do it all in one day, but it was too much!  So I have suggested two walking tour routes which cover most of the main attractions in Rome. However, you could do this tour in less time if you cut some stops out at the beginning or end.

The walking distances are as follows:

  • Day 1: 8km (5 miles), which would be 1 hour & 40 minutes of walking, if you did it all at a brisk pace with no stops
  • Day 2: 7km (4.4 miles), which would be 1 hour & 25 minutes of walking, if you did it all at a brisk pace with no stops.

However, of course, there are a lot of things to see and experience along the way, plus you’ll want to stop for coffee etc – which is why you should allow much more time than the walking times suggest.

In this post I have described the main stops in the order I recommend you do them, and I’ve also put an annotated map at the end, so you can follow the route for each day.

Tips For Walking Around Rome

Having walked this entire route myself, here are some tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’re covering a lot of ground in this walking tour, so wear something cushioned and comfy to prevent blisters
  • Bring a water bottle – but don’t worry if you run out of water. Rome has a system of fresh drinking water fountains called Nasoni. The name relates to the nose-like curved spout on the fountains. The water from these is free and clean – it’s the same drinking water piped into Roman homes.
  • Manage your expectations of the cafes around the main sites – cafes and eateries on the main squares and around landmarks may have the best views. However, they may not be the best quality and might have high prices. I’m not saying you should avoid them – it can be nice to sit in a prime spot overlooking a beautiful landmark, but it’s worth knowing the score. I had a great view of the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotunda, but my cappuccino cost €4.50, service was slow and there were cockroaches in the toilet.
  • Electric scooters & bikes are popular in Rome. You might consider hiring one of these to explore Rome easily. I am not sure exactly how the system works, but it seems like you pick them up wherever you find them and drop them off whenever you run out of money – they seem to be discarded all over the place!  You will see them everywhere, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for them on pedestrian roads – I nearly got hit by a scooter twice!
  • Keep your eyes open – there are lots of world-famous sights in Rome, which this walking route will show you. But if you go slowly and take the time to look around, you’ll find all sorts of delightful corners and alleys that help make Rome a pleasure to walk around.
cream fiat car outside a cream-coloured church with a green door and circular window
How perfect is this cute old Fiat I spotted in Rome?

Rome Self-Guided Walking Tour – Day One

I suggest you start day 1 really early in the morning to see as much as possible in the morning light and without crowds – start at 7 or 7:30 is you can.

The Vatican & St. Peter’s Basilica

This self-guided walking tour of Rome actually doesn’t start in Rome. The Vatican is a sovereign nation, a city-state within Italy, meaning it is not technically in Rome – although it is located within Rome.

The Vatican City State is a micro-state, comprised of St Peter’s Basilica, the Papal residence, the Vatican Museum some other Vatican buildings & gardens. You can’t stay here overnight in a hotel or Airbnb here and I don’t think there are any restaurants (although there are food trucks just outside the boundary of the Vatican).

However, it draws a huge number of visitors because of its religious significance and its wealth of renaissance art and architecture. The main Vatican attractions are:

  • St. Peter’s Basilica the large renaissance-style church of St Peters, where the Pope conducts mass, was completed in 1626. The basilica’s interior is as grand and opulent as the exterior and there are many works of art including Michelangelo’s Pietà. At 136.57m tall, St Peter’s dome is the largest in the world and if you climb up into it, you will be rewarded with stunning views of Rome.
  • The Sistine Chapel, whose walls and ceiling are covered in vivid frescos, most famously the ceiling, painted by Michelangelo.
  • Vatican Museum – this is an extensive museum showcasing a huge collection of classical Roman sculptures and Renaissance art. If you have a ticket for the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel is included (and if you’re only interested in the Sistine Chapel, you will have to buy a ticket and go through the main museum to get there – I was a bit gutted about that when I went!)
  • St. Peter’s Piazza – the circular piazza outside the basilica has an obelisk in the centre, is ringed by columns and porticoes and is overlooked by what looks like dancing statues. I saw Pope John Paul II here on my first visit to Rome – there was some kind of papal audience and he was driven in and out in his Popemobile.
renaissance-style church with pillars and a domed roof
St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Timing For The Vatican

Now, here’s the thing: if you want to explore all of these things in the Vatican, you will need at least half a day, which will reduce the time you have to explore Rome on this walking tour.

My suggestion is not to do both on the same day. When doing the walking tour, admire the basilica from St Peter’s Piazza and then move on. If you are there really early in the morning, like I suggest, you’ll have the special experience of seeing the place empty or almost empty.

Come back another day for the full Vatican experience – perhaps timing it so that you climb the dome just before sunset to see the city bathed in warm light.

Castel Sant’Angelo & Ponte Sant’Angelo

Ten minutes walk eastwards from St Peter’s is the Mausoleum of Hadrian, also known as Castel Sant’Angelo. It was built in the 2nd century as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and was later used by the popes as a fortress and prison. It is now a museum displaying artwork, frescoes and sculptures from Roman history and you can climb to the top to see the sculpture of Archangel Michael and also for views of Rome.

Ponte Sant’Angelo has 10 angels on either side of the bridge and it crosses the Tiber to link the castle with the city. Again, if you’re here early, you will be able to experience the bridge with no tourists on it.

2 images - one of a circular old castle and the other of a cobbled bridge with statues on either side
Castel Sant’Angelo & Ponte Sant’Angelo

Ponte Umberto I

Heading east, the next bridge from Ponte Sant’Angelo is Ponte Umberto I, which is an attractive bridge opposite the Supreme Court of Cassation. However, the main reason for stopping here is that you get a great view of St Peter’s and Ponte Sant’Angelo from here. Looking westwards in the morning, with the sun behind you, the view should be lit beautifully.

domed church and ornate bridge seen across the river tiber in rome
St Peter’s, seen from Ponte Umberto I

Piazza del Popolo

To get to Piazza del Popolo, follow the river Tiber until you get to Ponte Regina Margherita – you can walk either side of the river. The left/west side is a quiet stretch of the walking route – with no major sites, there are not likely to be many tourists around here. If you walk on the right/east side, you could stop by the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Piazza del Popolo is an oval-shaped square with an Egyptian obelisk in the centre (another obelisk – there are 13 obelisks in Rome!). It was built in the early 1800s and features the twin churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. On the opposite side is Porta del Popolo, a gate in the Aurelian Walls of Rome.

square with two domed churches and an obelisk
Piazza del Popolo and the twin churches

Piazza del Popolo is also the start of Via del Corso, one of the main streets through the centre of Rome. There are some marble benches around the square if you need a breather by this point in your walking tour of Rome.

Pincio Viewpoint & Terrazza Viale Del Belvedere

Take the steps on the northeast corner of the square (looking back to take a picture if you want), and head up Pincio (Pincian Hill). The path goes up through some trees and you’ll pass a pay toilet if you need one.

At the top, there’s a large terrace with statues and a view over Piazza del Popolo and across the city – it’s a lovely scene. From here, head southeast down Viale del Belvedere, enjoying the leafy walkway and the glimpses of the city through the fruit trees. 

2 images - one looking doen on an oval square with an obelisk and the other a city view with a domed church
Views from Pincio

There’s another terrace with a view at Terrazza Viale del Belvedere. And a little further still, there’s a café called Caffè Ciampini di Marco Ciampini – you might appreciate a rest stop by this point!

Spanish Steps

A little further along this route and you’ll come to another obelisk outside a renaissance-style church, Trinità dei Monti. You’re now at the top of the Spanish Steps,

It was built in the 1720s to connect the church to Piazza di Spagna, which has a baroque fountain and is not far from the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The grand stairway has 135 steps and there are fines for loitering on or damaging them.

large stairway with a two-towered church and an obelisk at the top
The Spanish Steps

There’s a scene in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) where two of the main characters meet on a café terrace at the base of the Spanish steps – so I was really disappointed to learn there are none there in real life!

From Piazza di Spagna, you could wander westwards down Via dei Condotti, which is a major shopping street in Rome and where you’ll find high-end brands. However, our walking tour of Rome takes us in a different direction: southwards past the Column of the Immaculate Conception.

Trevi Fountain

The route to the Trevi Fountain goes down some cute cobbled streets – but there are also a lot of tacky souvenirs on sale on some of these streets.

The Trevi Fountain is spectacular: large and elaborate; the graceful baroque design and turquoise pool are gorgeous. It is a world-famous landmark and has featured in many movies, most memorably, La Dolce Vita (1960), in which Anita Ekberg’s character wades into the pool at night.

tall ornate monument with statues of gods and a fountain
Trevi Fountain

It is also, naturally, popular!  There’s no point expecting to have the place to yourself – you will be disappointed. It’s best to expect a crowd, and you might have to wait for a spot on the edge of the pool to be free. It’s also a good idea to keep a careful eye on your belongings here: thieves can take advantage of the opportunities crowds bring. The fountain faces south/south-east so it is well-lit in the mornings.

The fountain was finished in 1762 and features a central statue of Oceanus, an ancient Greek Titan and father of the river gods. There’s a tradition of throwing money into the fountain if you wish to return to the city one day – and I’m told the way to do it is to throw using your right hand over your left shoulder. The money gets collected and used for charity.

The Pantheon

The next stop on this self-guided walking tour of Rome is one of my favourites: The ancient and geometric Pantheon.

To get there, pass by the Marcus Aurelius Column, a column in honour of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius from the year 193, featuring a spiral relief telling the story of his victories in war. Just beyond that is Piazza di Monte Citorio, a piazza in front of Palazzo Montecitorio featuring another Egyptian obelisk.

The Pantheon itself sits in a small piazza named for the round shape of the Pantheon: Piazza della Rotunda. Guess what’s in the middle of Piazza della Rotunda fountain? You guessed it: an obelisk! There’s also a Nasoni right by the fountain.

2 images: the dark columns of the front of the pantheon and a detail of the join between the portico and the brick rotunda
Pantheon exterior

The Pantheon is really remarkable – it is huge and ancient.  Originally a Roman Temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27BC-14AD), it was converted to a catholic church in 609AD. The building is cylindrical with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns. I remember the second time I was in Rome, I was wandering around aimlessly, turned a corner and there was the Pantheon in front of me, dark and mysterious!

What’s most impressive to me, though, is the domed ceiling. It is perfectly circular and features a central opening to the sky, surrounded by geometric reliefs. It looks too crisp and perfect to be almost 2,000 years old, but it is – and what’s more, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.  It’s far smaller and less glamourous than St Peters, but if there’s one church interior to see in Rome, personally, I think it’s this one.

2 images: circular patterns in the concrete ceiling of the pantheon and the marble columns of one of the altars
Pantheon interior

Entry To The Pantheon

Entry to the Pantheon is free Monday to Friday, but it is popular, so there can be a queue around the piazza. However, the queue moves quickly because there is only one space inside that you can explore in a loop. It’s a quick but memorable visit.

If you want to go on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, you’ll need to reserve a place on a paid guided tour or buy an audio guide.

Lunch

By this point, you might want a bite to eat for lunch, and there are two tasty and affordable options near the Pantheon:

  • All’Antico Vinaio is a chain that specialises in sandwiches including mortadella, prosciutto, salami and pancetta. They also have a few options with truffles, which I could smell from outside the shop!  There was also a massive queue here, so I went to the next place instead of waiting.
  • Lost Food Factory is a smaller place that does freshly made panini – I really enjoyed my Magdalena panini, with aubergine, mozzarella, tomato and pesto. My panini was €7

Both of these places are take-way, but there are walls around the Pantheon where many people sat to eat their sandwiches – I saw a lot of All’Antico Vinaio wrappers there!

If you’re not hungry yet, there’s another great place to eat a bit further along the walking tour route:

  • La Salumeria is a small sandwich shop near Ponte Sant’Angelo that has some eat-in space. I had a delicious prosciutto, brie and fig sandwich and drink here for €7.50.
cut sandwich with meat and brie cheese in it
Good value lunch at La Salumeria

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is one of the most prominent squares in Rome. It’s a long oblong shape and if you’re thinking it reminds you of a stadium shape, that’s because it was on built the site of the ancient Roman Stadium of Domitian, which was built in 80AD.

It’s a pleasant space, with three fountains – one at each end and one in the middle, near the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. This one is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers and you already know what’s at the centre of the fountain (an obelisk, of course).

2 images - a street sign saying Piazza Navona and a close up of one of the white marble statues in the central fountain
Piazza Navona

There are stone benches around the edges of the piazza and artists offering portraits. The last time I was here, a huge group of people with earphones took over one end and did a silent workout!

There are two hotels that have rooftop restaurants/bars where you can have a drink with a view in the evening, so Piazza Navona could be somewhere to come back to in the evening (though you will need to reserve a spot):

Via dei Coronari

From Piazza Navona, head past the Bio Hotel Raphaël and through the narrow alleys onto Via dei Coronari. This long, straight Roman road runs through the Ponte district and it’s one of my favourite places in Rome.

Most of the buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries and the street is narrow and quaint, with a lovely charm.  Take your time here – there are some craft and jewellery shops along here and plenty of pretty doorways and side streets to distract you. There’s also a Nasoni if you need a top-up of water.

2 images - a cobbled street with old buildings and a side alley with a water fountain and plants
Via dei Coronar

Campo de’ Fiori & Palazzo Farnese

At the end of Via dei Coronari, head south until you find Via dei Banchi Vecchi and continue in a southeast direction (follow the map below for specific streets if you want them or just wander in that general direction). The smaller streets in this area are quite charming.

Your next stop is Campo de’ Fiori, a square once used for executions and now known for its market. It’s a busy spot with stalls selling flowers, food and clothes, plus there could be buskers playing. There are also café terraces and a fountain at the northern end. It’s a good spot for some shopping and/or people-watching.

grand building with a false facade as if the building has been ripped into
Palazzo Farnese

A short walk down Via dei Baullari is Palazzo Farnese, a 16th-century palace that is considered to be a renaissance masterpiece and is now the French Embassy in Italy. You can have guided tours, but I haven’t done that and can’t speak to it. At the least, I suggest you pop your head into Piazza Farnese to see the dramatic façade.

Largo di Torre Argentina

The final stop on day 1 of this Rome self-guided walking tour is a taste of what is to come tomorrow morning: ancient Roman ruins.

Largo di Torre Argentina is a square containing the ruins of four Roman temples and Pompey’s Theatre. Julius Caesar was assassinated in a meeting space near the theatre. There is access to get into the ruins, where there’s also a cat sanctuary, which is a little random, but kind of cool. Alternatively, you can admire the site from the pavement surrounding it.

columns and other ancient ruins surrounded  y stone pine trees and buildings in the middle of Rome
Largo di Torre Argentina

I have to say, when I did this walking route, by the time I made it here, I was feeling rather weary and I spent some time sitting and recuperating in a small leafy square called Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, before heading back to my hotel for a nap!

Rome Self-Guided Walking Tour – Day Two

I suggest you start early on day 2 also, especially because the route begins in one of the most touristy areas of Rome. If you plan to go inside monuments like the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, it is best to book them in advance.

Victor Emmanuel II Monument (Altar of the Fatherland)

Built on the slopes of Capitoline Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Ancient Rome and rising high above most other buildings, the Victor Emmanuel II Monument is a prominent and recognisable landmark in Rome.

large white stone structure with columns and black statues of chariots on top
Victor Emmanuel II Monument

It was built to honour Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. Work started in the 1880s and it was fully completed in 1935. I understand that during Mussolini’s fascist regime, it was a favourite place for military parades. The monument is neoclassical in style and contains a number of points of interest, including:

  • A museum of Italian unification
  • The Alter of the Fatherland (a name which some use to refer to the entire monument) celebrates united Italy
  • The Tomb of the Unknown soldier
  • Large portico with Corinthian columns and various fountains and statues throughout – including a statue of Victor Emmanuel II, of course
  • An observation deck with views of Rome

In addition, tucked behind are some other landmarks:

  • Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli, a church from the 13the century
  • Campidoglio, an attractive square designed by Michaelangelo

On my first visit to Rome, I remember hearing the Victor Emmanuel II Monument was nicknamed ‘the typewriter’ or ‘the wedding cake’ – and the latter stuck in my mind because its tall white structure topped with statues does remind me of a wedding cake!  For me, it’s not the most attractive monument in Rome, but it is undoubtedly a spectacle and part of the story of the city.

You can explore the monument itself, or if you simply want to look at it, there’s a good vantage point in the middle of Piazza Venezia.

Roman Forum & Via dei Fori Imperioli

Via dei Fori Imperiali is a straight road lined with iconic stone pine trees, from the Victor Emmanuel II Monument to the Colosseum. The road was built under fascism and named Via dell’Impero by Mussolini, who opened it in 1932.  It was renamed after World war II. It’s an impressive boulevard but quite touristy – expect there to be people selling souvenirs or phone chargers etc.

On either side of the road, you will see a large number of ancient ruins, collectively comprising the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the central hub of ancient Rome, millennia ago. Among the ruins are various temples and landmarks.

2 images: stone ruins and a long wide street with trees on either side
Roman Forum & Via dei Fori Imperioli

If you would like to explore these ruins in more detail, you can buy a ticket, and you can combine entry to the Forum with Palatine Hill and also the Colosseum. If you have only a passing interest, you might be satisfied with seeing the ruins from the road.

decorative art and ancient ruins that look like they were a temple
The Roman Forum: Arch of Titus (left) and Temple of Venus and Rome (right)

Colosseum

You’ll see the Colosseum from Via dei Fori Imperiali – it really is an incredible sight. No wonder it is included as one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World.

The oval amphitheatre is the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built and was built in 80AD and could hold 50-80k spectators. It is perhaps most famous for its gladiatorial contests, but it was used for all sorts of entertainment, including animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles and dramas.

oval-shaped stone structure with rows of arched windows
The Colosseum

The Colosseum is one of my favourite Rome attractions. I remember the first time I visited Rome, my friends and I decided to have a look around, so we wandered the streets near our hostel, not really with an agenda in mind. We turned a corner and there was the Colosseum, its oval shape and arched windows were unmistakable.  I couldn’t believe there was a road all around it – it seemed too precious to have traffic so near it!

In my opinion, the exterior is more impressive than the interior.  I found it rather crowded on my visit and hard to get a good view due to the number of people at every viewpoint. That said, I did not have a ticket to tour the basement level, so it might be better if you have that included (these tickets cost extra). I did enjoy some of the details within the amphitheatre, and also the way the huge windows from the view from it.

2 inages - one the exterior of the tall, round colosseum and the other a view out from it through one of the arched windows
Colosseum exterior and interior

I suggest you do a full circumference around the exterior. If you want a good photo, there’s a good viewpoint on the pavement alongside Via Nicola Salvi on the north side of the colosseum, where there are some plants including palm trees.

Be sure to check out the Arch of Constantine to the southwest of the Colosseum. It is a triumphal arch dedicated to the emperor Constantine the Great and dates from the 4th century AD.  

decorated stone archway next to a row of stone pine trees in Rome
Arch of Constantine

Palatine Hill & Circus Maximus

From the Colosseum, head south on Via di San Gregorio, leaving the Colosseum crowds behind. It’s an attractive road: wide and straight; lined with stone pine trees. I love these trees – and if I see them anywhere else in the world, they always evoke memories of Rome.

There’s an entrance to Palatine Hill (or Palatino), another archaeological site with ancient roman remains, and another of the seven hills of Rome.

At the end of Via di San Gregorio, you’ll come to Circus Maximus, or Circo Massimo. This was originally an Ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium that could hold 150,000 spectators. Today looks simply like a grassy bowled depression, but you can make out the shape of what was the stadium. There’s a small museum at the south end and a viewing platform at Belvedere Romolo e Remo, which overlooks the circus and also the remains of the Palatino that lie behind it.

grassy area with sloped sides and the ruins of buildings behind it
Palatine Hill & Circus Maximus

Rose Garden

From Belvedere Romolo e Remo, take Via di’Valle Murcia, which takes you up Aventine Hill. This is the southernmost of the Seven Hills of Rome and an elegant, well-to-do area which was once home to the aristocracy during the imperial era of ancient Rome.

It also has some lovely gardens and viewpoints. The first of these is the Municipal Rose Garden (or Roseto Comunale), a gorgeous rose garden with some shady seats and glimpses of the city between trees. The Roseto is home to around 1,100 species of roses from all over the world. It’s a great place to sit and rest if your legs are tired.

garden with rose bushes and trees, with a glimpse of the city between the trees
Rome’s Rose Garden

However, its opening dates are unclear – I have read it is only open in May-June, and also that it is only open in October (which is when I visited it) and April. Sorry not to have a more definitive answer – but according to the Comune.Roma website, you can also arrange guided tours.

If it is closed when you do this walking tour, don’t worry, because there is another lovely spot coming up next.

Giardino degli Aranci

Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Garden in English) is a park and viewing terrace on top of Aventine Hill. It was built in 1932 and has an attractive symmetrical layout. There’s plenty of shade from the gorgeous trees and also places to sit.

The star attraction though is the viewing terrace, Terrazza Belvedere Aventino, which overlooks Rome, including great views of St Peter’s and the Victor Emmanuel II Monument. It’s one of the loveliest viewpoints in Rome.

2 images - one a shady terrace with tall trees on either side ansd the other a view of rome including the Victor Emmanuel II monument
Giardino degli Aranci and the view from Terrazza Belvedere Aventino

Keyhole of the Order of Malta

A little further on from Giardino degli Aranci, past two churches (Basilica di Santa Sabina all’Aventino and Basilica of Saints Bonifatius of Tarsus and Alexis of Rome), you’ll come to a small square named Piazza of the Knights of Malta.

Here is one of the most unique things to do in Rome: Keyhole of the Order of Malta.

The Order of Malta (or, Sovereign Military Order of Malta in full) is a Catholic lay religious order related to the Knights Hospitaller, a chivalric order that was founded about 1099 during the Crusades in Jerusalem. I’ve read their focus is on humanitarian efforts and they have had permanent observer status at the United Nations General Assembly since 1994.

They have an embassy in Rome which has gardens, including two rows of trees lined up to create a tunnel view of the dome of St Peters. While you can’t visit the gardens, you can peek at through a keyhole (yes, a literal keyhole!) in a locked door – and the keyhole lets you look down that tree tunnel towards St Peters.

view through a tunnel of bushes to a view of the dome of St Peters in Rome
The view through the Keyhole of the Order of Malta

While it’s not as well-known as many of the other attractions in Rome, there’s likely to be a queue here (you can even see one on the satellite view of Rome on GoogleMaps!). I waited approximately 20 minutes for my look through the keyhole – and I would say it was worth it. Even though the experience is very brief, the view is lovely and I’ve certainly never experienced anything quite like it before!

Pyramid of Cestius & Porta San Paolo

Did you know there’s a pyramid in Rome? Well, there is and that’s the next stop on this walking tour of Rome.

Head down the hill into the residential area of Testaccio for the last stop before lunch. The white marble Pyramid of Cestius was built around 18-12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius Epulo, who was some kind of magistrate. At 36.5 meters tall, it is smaller and also younger than the pyramids of Egypt and looks very well maintained. Its sharply pointed shape is apparently more like the pyramids of Nubia, which was attacked by Rome in 23 BC, suggesting they took inspiration from those pyramids for this tomb. At one time, it was not the only pyramid in Rome: a larger one, the Pyramid of Romulus, once stood between the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo but was dismantled in the 16th century and its marble was used for St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pyramid was not open for visitors when I went – I could only look at it from the street. I believe if you want to tour the Pyramid of Cestius, you need to arrange a guided tour.

tall pointy stone pyramid and old fortified gate with turrets
Pyramid of Cestius & Porta San Paolo

Next to the Pyramid of Cestius is Porta San Paolo, a gate in the 3rd-century Aurelian Walls (the same walls that Porta del Popolo, which is on the Day 1 route, is part of). If they were anywhere else, I think these gates would be revered as a major landmark, but in Rome, they’re just on the side of a busy street, traffic whizzing by all day.

Lunch: Felice a Testaccio

You’re probably hungry by this point, so grab lunch at Felice a Testaccio, which is a very nice restaurant in the grid streets of Testaccio. I read about this place on a list of the best restaurants in Rome. Although I have not been to enough Rome restaurants to confirm this, it is one of the best that I have eaten in in Rome.

It’s quite fancy inside, but there’s a terrace outside that feels more relaxed. I really enjoyed the Ravioli alla Felice, which somehow felt fresh & light but also filling.

plate of ravioli pasta with tomato and ricotta
Ravioli alla Felice

Trastevere

After lunch, head north through the grid streets, past Piazza Testaccio and Giardino Familglio di Consiglio, then across the River Tiber into Trastevere.

Trastevere means ‘beyond the Tiber’ and is an area of Rome on the west side of the river, south of the Vatican. Historically, it has been home variously to Etruscans, sailors and fishermen, the Jewish community and wealthy aristocrats. Compared to the east side of the Tiber, Trastevere has a small-town charm: with old buildings and narrow cobbled streets, sometimes draped with vines.

There aren’t really major sights to see here. There are a bunch of churches and even more pretty alleyways, so I suggest you just meander around and soak it up.

quaint cobbled street with a fountain and a tree on the side
Trastevere street

When I first visited Rome 20 years ago, Trastevere felt kind of sleepy, like you were getting away from the hubbub of Rome. However, its quaint charm has led to it becoming very popular – and in the evenings, the central streets can be heaving with people and there are queues for many restaurants.

Belvedere Niccolò Scatoli and/or Belvedere del Gianicolo

If you still have energy, I suggest you finish day 2 of this self-guided walking tour of Rome with a final viewpoint.

There are two on the Janiculum Hill above Trastevere, looking eastwards. Both are lovely at sunset, when, with the sun behind you on a clear day, the city will be bathed in the warm light of the setting sun:

  • Belvedere Niccolò Scatoli is a relatively short walk and is an attractive terrace with a view across the rooftops. It is next to an ornate fountain, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola.
  • Belvedere del Gianicolo is higher up the hillside overlooking some parkland and the city. It is next to a monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general who contributed to the unification of Italy.
view of city with several domes churches
View from Belvedere Niccolò Scatoli

Map: Rome Self-Guided Walking Tour Route

Here’s a Rome walking tour map showing the attractions and walking routes for this two-part walking tour:

How To Use This Map: click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the title of the map, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

FAQs: Rome Self-Guided Walking Tour

How To Get To Rome?

Rome has two airports: Leonardo da Vinci International Airport at Fiumicino, west of the city, which is the main one; and also Ciampino Airport, to the southeast of the city.

I tend to use Skyscanner to find flight deals.

Italy has a great train network, so if you’re travelling to Rome by train, the main station is Roma Termini, just east of the city centre. It is connected to the Rome metro network and is also served by buses.

How To Get From Rome Airport To City Center?

From Fiumicino, there’s an express train to Roma Termini, called the Leonardo Express. It runs every 30 minutes. There’s also a number of bus services and you can also take taxis, which have a fixed price of €50. Uber operates in Rome.

From Ciampino, taxis have the same fixed price of €50. There’s a train connection called Ciampino Airlink, but you must take a bus from the airport to the train station first. There is a shuttle bus option directly from the airport.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Rome?

My favourite time to visit Rome (and Italy in general) is in the shoulder seasons: March-May and September–November. The weather is mild enough to be out and about all day – even in November, and the crowds are reduced. It can be unpleasantly hot in the summer months of June – August, so I have avoided the summer for years now.

Where To Stay In Rome?

I really liked my most recent hotel in Rome, the Hotel Bloom. It was a little way from the city centre: a 10-15 minute walk from St Peters, up the hill above Trastevere (but without an easy route to Trastevere).

However, it made up for the distance with a really big, comfortable room and a great view of St Peters.

view of rooftops and the dome of St Peter's in Rome through a window
The view from my room at the Hotel Bloom

Can You Walk Around Rome In A Day?

Unless you have amazing stamina and you’re willing to rush from place to place without dwelling on them, I don’t think you can see all the main sights in a day. That’s why I have created this two-day Rome self-guided walking tour.

However, if you only have one day to explore Rome on foot, then you could use a cut-down version of this route. For example, you could start at the Spanish Steps, and follow the route all the way to the Colosseum. This way, you’ll see all the major sights in central Rome in one day. And if you wanted to at least see the Vatican during that day, you could detour from the route after Via dei Coronari and go onto Ponte Sant’Angelo, to have a look at it.

Do I Need To Book Vatican Tour In Advance?

Yes, it can get booked up, so it is wise to book your tickets in advance. In fact, I would advise this for any major Rome attraction that requires a ticket, including the Colosseum and the Pantheon (if you’re going there on a weekend).

Can You Do A Self-Guided Tour Of The Colosseum?

Yes, there are several ticket options that allow you to explore at your own pace, without a guide. At the beginning of the route through the colosseum, there’s an exhibition where you can learn about the construction and use of the structure.

The Final Word

I hope you find this Rome self-guided walking tour helpful!  The only other piece of advice I can give you is don’t hold back from taking detours from the route – I really enjoy a bit of aimless wandering and Rome is a great city in which to do that.  

Finally, do check out my other posts on Italy, including Venice and Bologna.

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