Beyond Roman Holiday

by Danilo Brunetti

Follow Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck around the city on a Vespa, taking in the sites made famous in Roman Holiday, and so much more. Tiffany Parks leads the way.

It’s hard to overstate the influence that the film Roman Holiday has had—and still has today—on what people consider to be the icons of the Eternal City, those must-see sights that you simply can’t go home without visiting. Indeed, the film’s cultural resonance has not lessened in the nearly seven decades since its release. But Rome offers so much more than just its most iconic sights. To celebrate the timeless film’s 66th birthday this month, we offer an itinerary that, although inspired by Roman Holiday, digs a little deeper than just the superficial beauty of the city. Go beyond the clichés, and you’ll be enchanted by what you find. If you’ve spent any time visiting Rome, you’ll know that the route Joe Bradley and Princess Ann took from monument to monument was made possible only by the magic of movies. Our itinerary will follow a more practical path, but one thing remains a constant: your mode of transportation—a Vespa, of course! (Rent one at myvespa.it.)

Spanish Steps

Visiting this world-famous staircase is a must on any trip to Rome, but once you’ve posed for your photo in front of this dramatic backdrop, gelato in hand à la Audrey of course, you’ve pretty much seen it all. There’s not much else to do in this area beyond spending inordinate sums of money on Via Condotti. We have a better idea: climb the stairs to visit the Convent of Trinità dei Monti church. One of Rome’s true hidden gems, this convent houses glorious works of art, including two peaceful cloisters, a mesmerizing astrolabe that you physically walk through, frescoes by Andrea Pozzo, the Mater Admirabilis chapel, and, most intriguing of all, two anamorphoses, wall paintings that appear to change entirely, depending on your point of view. Saturday, 11am. Advance booking required (trinitadeimonti.it). Piazza della Trinità dei Monti, 3.

Trevi Fountain

Roman Holiday or no, virtually no one who visits the Eternal City skips the Trevi Fountain. But its heaving crowds at any time of day can leave you craving a bit of personal space. So, after throwing in your requisite coin (to ensure a trip back), take a short walk to Galleria Sciarra, where a covered open walkway offers blessed respite. Few people know that this jewel of Art Nouveau even exists, much less that it is open to the public all day. Rose-colored frescoes decorate the walls of the perfectly symmetrical space, naturally illuminated by light from a glassed-in ceiling, while the open entrances on either side allow a welcome breeze to keep it relatively cool, even in the height of summer. Via di Santa Maria in Via, 30/31.

Caffè Rocca

This coffee bar where Hepburn and Peck enjoy an espresso with a backdrop of the Pantheon sadly no longer exists. But if you simply can’t bear to visit the Pantheon without recreating this iconic moment, just a few steps out of Piazza della Rotonda you’ll find Tazza d’Oro, considered one of the best espresso roasters in the city. You can even purchase their distinctive lilac and white espresso cups as a souvenir. Via degli Orfani, 84.

Palazzo Colonna

Your next stop is not a Roman icon in the least, but nevertheless it provided the location for an important scene, that of our lovers’ goodbye. Princess Ann’s show-ending press conference takes place in the sumptuous gallery of Palazzo Colonna, a palace that has belonged to the noble family of the same name since it was built in the 14th century, one of the few to remain in private hands. Lucky for us, they open their doors once a week, every Saturday morning. The Grand Hall, full of gilded mirrors and mesmerizing frescoes, easily recognizable from the film, is just the beginning. Continue your visit by exploring the other glorious rooms in the gallery, the recently opened Apartment of Princess Isabelle, and the historic manicured gardens. Via della Pilotta, 16. galleriacolonna.it

Piazza Venezia

This busy area is the scene of the Princess’ clumsy first-time Vespa ride. But even in August, the vast piazza is full of speeding vehicles, di cult and stressful to navigate if you’re not accustomed to it. Escape its frenetic pace with a trip up the glass elevator of the Victor Emmanuel Monument and its 360° view of the entire city. One of the best look-out spots in town thanks to its central position, the Vittoriano Terrace allows sweeping vistas from the very tip-top of the monument, as well as a rare close-up view of the towering bronze quadrigas that are visible from nearly every corner of the city.

Ancient Rome

Hop back on your Vespa and zoom down Via dei Fori Imperiali. On either side of this majestic street you’ll see a plethora of monuments from Imperial Rome. Easily the most impressive ruin is the massive columned Temple of Saturn (towering in white marble on your right as you head toward the Colosseum). This is where our two protagonists meet for the first time. The street Joe drives up no longer exists however, so you’ll have to admire it from the viewing points along Via dei Fori Imperiali (or buy a ticket to the Forum to see it up close). At the end of the street you’ll be met by the Colosseum, so do as our stars do, and circle it before heading around the Palatine Hill and past the Circus Maximus until you arrive at…

The Mouth of Truth

One of Rome’s most overrated tourist attractions, the Bocca della Verità draws long lines that can stretch around the block, all for the chance to cough up some cash and snap a photo with your hand in an (albeit ancient) drain cover. If you simply must relive the classic film moment, go ahead, but don’t miss the best part: the inside of Santa Maria in Cosmedin church. Most tourists have no clue that the church just beyond the ubiquitous Mouth of Truth is a marvel of medieval art and architecture. Ogle the 9th-century floors in Opus Sectile, gaze up at original wooden ceiling beams, admire the 12th-century frescoes, and pay a couple of extra Euros to step underground and see the Ara Maxima, an altar to Hercules that dates back to the 5th century BC. One last tip: pop into the gift shop to see one of the few surviving mosaics from the original St. Peter’s Basilica, transferred here before the former was torn down. Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18.

Castel Sant’Angelo

It’s time to hop back on your Vespa and speed down the Lungotevere, the street that flanks the Tiber River. Don’t stop until you reach the imposing structure of this ancient mausoleum-turned-medieval fortress. You’ll recognize it as the backdrop of the rowdy “ fight scene” along the banks of the river. While the outside view is impressive, the real treasures are on the inside, including the mausoleum of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty, spectacularly frescoed rooms, and ancient weaponry. Early evening is the perfect time to enjoy this site, as small tables are set up on the upper terrace, where you can watch the sun go down. It also hosts live concerts in summer. Book online and you can even take a walk down the Passetto, the covered walkway that served as an escape route from the Vatican.

Via Margutta

No Roman Holiday-inspired day would be complete without a stop on enchanting Via Margutta, the street where Joe had his apartment (at number 51, in case you’re interested). After a long day of recreating one of the best-loved films of all time, reward yourself with a meal at one of the street’s excellent restaurants. Lovers of old-world glam should book a table at Osteria Margutta (no. 82), a historic eatery serving exquisite Roman cuisine while doing double duty as an art gallery. Fancy something a bit less traditional? Babette (no. 1d) offers eclectic Italian and international dishes in a divine inner courtyard. Vegetarians should opt for Il Margutta (no. 118), where the chef whips up tempting culinary creations in a modern and artistic ambience.