Rome’s best piazzas and palazzos

The summertime is when Rome really comes alive and showcases everything it has to offer.

From open-air concerts to simple strolls, time spent in the city’s squares will certainly make your summer a memorable one.

And for those seeking shade from the heat, Rome’s stunning palazzos offer exquisite elegance, opulence and history.

We’ve cobbled (see what we did there) together the following list of our favourite piazzas and palazzos across the Eternal City.

Piazza Navona

Home to Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, this Baroque piazza is always teaming with street performers and artists. Although beautiful during the day, it is best visited at night to appreciate the full magnificence of the sculptures, the three fountains – the Fontana die Quattro Fiumi, the Fontana del Moro and the Fontana del Nettuno – and surrounding architecture.

The rounder shape of the piazza comes from its foundations on top of an old stadium dating back to the first century, the Stadium of Domitian. 

Its name Navona, meaning ‘big ship’, refers to the flooding of the area and the mock naval battles once held there.

Campo de’ Fiori

By day a bustling market, this cosmopolitan piazza transforms into one of the top spots to enjoy Rome on a night out. 

But the stunning square has a dark past. It used to be a site for public executions, marked by an eerie reminder in the form of a huge bronze statue of philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was accused of heresy and burnt alive in the square in the 17th century.

Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere 

In the shadow of the Medieval mosaics and frescoes of the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, locals and visitors gather around one of the oldest fountains in Rome to chat with a beer. More serene and less hipster/studenty than nearby Piazza Trilussa, this is one of the loveliest piazzas to spend balmy summer evenings with friends after dinner. 

Piazza della Rotonda 

This piazza takes some beating, given that it houses the incredible Pantheon and a splendid Renaissance fountain and obelisk. 

There are also plenty of restaurants, pubs and bars, so you can enjoy dinner, aperitivo or gelato with your loved ones in front of one of Rome’s most important monuments. But choose carefully as its proximity to the Pantheon makes it a prime site for tourist traps. However, there are also restaurants of real quality to be discovered nearby.

While Piazza San Pietro and Piazza di Spagna are just as breath-taking, in our humble opinion these are best enjoyed during a tour of the city and less so as a place to socialise at night and feel part of the real Rome.

Palazzo Doria-Pamphili 

Located on the popular shopping street of Via del Corso, this is home to heirs of the noble Doria-Pamphili family, which included Pope Innocent X, born Giovanni Battista Pamphilj.

A gateway into 17th century Rome and papal power, it includes a fabulous gallery with a spectacular collection of works by Titian, Raphael, Parmigianino, Beccafumi, Bronzino, Filippo Lippi, Sebastiano Del Piombo, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Bernini, Brueghel the Elder among many others.

Palazzo Farnese

Currently serving as the French Embassy in Italy, this 16th century palazzo was built involving Italy’s most prominent architects: Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta. 

Although arguably its best treasures are now housed in museums in Naples, tours of the palace cover the Sangallo atrium, the courtyard, the garden, the Hercules salon - with its tapestries inspired to Raffaello’s frescos - and the Carracci Gallery. 

Palazzo Venezia 

A Renaissance mansion just off Piazza Venezia, this palazzo was home to Cardinal Pietro Barbo and later a papal residence and Embassy of the Republic of Venice.

During the dark days of the Fascist era, it served as Mussolini’s headquarters. This makes it an intriguing place to visit, given its role in one of the most troubling times in Italy’s history.

The museum housed in the palazzo displays the collections of Pope Paul II and includes

Renaissance paintings, wood sculptures, tapestries, weapons, armour and terracotta sculptures. 

Palazzo Borghese 

Palace to the last heirs of the influential Borghese family and nicknamed il Cembalo (the harpsichord), this odd-shaped building near the Tiber houses the guarded offices of the Spanish Embassy, the Galleria del Cembalo and a picturesque courtyard. 

Although this rather quirky palazzo is certainly worth a visit, take care not to confuse it with Villa Borghese, housed in the magnificent eponymous park in north Rome. It is there that the Borghese family's art collection can be found, within the Galleria Borghese.

by Catherine Evans