Are you planning a trip to Rome or are you currently in the city and want to know what to see and do at the Spanish Steps?
You’ve come to the right place. This article details 15 things you should check out while in Piazza di Spagna!
Pro Planning Tip: Consider bookmarking this article into a “Rome” folder in your browser. This way you can circle back to it while planning. Also, check out our Best Rome Tours so you can see the Eternal City right.
14 Things to See at the Spanish Steps
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1. The Spanish Steps
Just like the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps are not actually named the Spanish Steps which appears to be a theme in Rome. They are originally named La Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti which translates roughly to, “The Steps of the Holy Trinity of the Hill.” So why are they so famous?
Architect & Construction
The steps were built with funds left to the city/area by Étienne Gueffier who was a French diplomat. He left 20,000 scudi, the traded coin of the time, to improve the area which went to great use. The goal was to link the church at the top of the stairs, which was also a French church, to Palazzo Manaldeschi below in Piazza di Spagna.
The 135 stairs were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and were completed in 1725 after two years of hard work. The structure was an immediate hit with the local community which made Piazza di Spagna a very attractive place to take up residence. The steps are dedicated to the holy trinity which is represented by their three tiers; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The name of the steps eventually took the name “The Spanish Steps” but only really in English. In Italian, they simply refer to them as la Scalinata which derives from their proper name, “La Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti.” French and Spanish would follow similarly.
The Spanish Embassy, which is in the Monaldeschi Palace, had been there for hundreds of years prior to the steps being built. Also, the square that eventually housed the steps was named “Piazza di Spagna” which most likely took its name prior or after the Monaldeschi Palace was purchased by the Spanish Crown.
The name Spanish Steps most likely was coined by John Keats or Shelley who lived adjacent to the right of the steps when facing them.
Can you sit on the steps?
The answer is maybe but probably not. As of July 8th of 2019, you are no longer allowed to sit on the Spanish Steps which is a Roman ordinance. If anyone is caught sitting, eating, or drinking on the steps will pay a 400€ fine which plenty to ruin a vacation.
Italians are pretty proper in many ways and don’t camp out on their monuments like other Europeans so you won’t hear stories of outrage from Romans. It’s part of the bella figura to act proper which is something you can’t understand until you witness it first hand.
2. La Fontana della Barcaccia
This festive little fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps is both beautiful and strange at the same time. It is a baroque fountain of a boat built directly at the foot of the steps that add greatly the “magic” of the area. The fountain was designed and constructed by Pietro Bernini with the help of his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini and has an interesting story.
Even today, there are many floods in Rome but back in the 16th century, it was even worse. In 1598 a massive flood caused the Tiber to overflow which caused a boat from the river to be carried into Piazza di Spagna. When the waters retreated, the boat remained there in the square. When Pietro Bernini received the commission Pope Urban VIII he used the boat as inspiration.
Why a fountain? Today, fountains are mostly decorative features in cities but in the 16th century, they were a must. How else are you to survive without running water near your house?
The water that powers this fountain comes from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct which was built in 19 BC and runs near the area. Yep, still going strong 2000 years later! You can drink the water and many people do, just make sure you drink it from the spouts and not the pools of water since birds bathe in it.
Poet John Keats, who took up residence and died footsteps away from the fountain, said he could hear the water from his deathbed and wrote about it in his last words.
3. Sallustiano Obelisk
This 45.6-foot obelisk, featured in the picture below, is not an original taken from Egypt but a copy made by Emperor Aurelian in the late 3rd century. He was apparently inspired by the Flaminio obelisk (Piazza del Popolo) that he ordered a duplicate made.
While it sits perched high above Rome on top of the Spanish Steps, this was not it’s original home. The steps came some 1500 years after the obelisk. It was moved to its current home in the late 18th century from the Horti Sallustiani which is an ancient garden whos ruins are close to Termini Station. It is a cool off-the-beaten-path thing to do in Rome. If you are into things like that, check out our article with tons of similar recommendations.
4. Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti
The French church of the Santissima Trinita dei Monti is the crowning jewel of the Spanish Steps. The church and nearby Villa Medici, listed below, actually belong to the French State which is a cool fact and more common than you think in Rome.
The church was originally constructed by Louis the XII after invading Naples but he did not complete the project. Pope Sixtus V would end up completing the church which opened its doors in 1585.
The church features two bell towers with windows on all four sides each that create a beautiful open effect. The left-hand bell tower has a clock and the right-hand tower features a meridian.
5.Chapel Borghese of the Pietà
Arguably, the most important feature of the interior of the church is the Chapel Borghese which features a Pietà. Many only know the Pietà which has sort of been converted from a scene in the bible to a noun. Originally, a Pietà was an artistic representation of the moment in which Mary cradles the body of her dead son, Jesus.
Religious or not, it is a very powerful moment. It shows Mary’s incredible strength and understanding of the sacrifice her son took. This particular version featured in the Borghese Chapel is a plaster casting of the original, both done by Wilhelm Theodor Achtermann. This is the only surviving copy as the original was destroyed during WWII.
The sculptor started as a farmhand and turned into a cabinet maker. He made such exquisite things out of wood he went on to study art and sculpting. He would eventually move to Rome and live there until his death.
6. Villa Medici
As you walk up Viale della Trinità dei Monti you’ll see a rather awkward-looking building on your right-hand side just a few hundred meters from the Spanish Steps. It looks like it doesn’t belong in Rome and that is because it does not. This is Villa Medici of the famous dynasty of Florence.
Villa Medici has a facade that would fit in much better in Florence which makes sense since the Medici were from there. The rear of the palace is more likely to be placed somewhere in France due to the glorious gardens and architecture. The estate is owned by the French State and is amazing. You can visit easily and take a tour or even sleep the night there.
Yes, you read correctly. You can spend the night at Villa Medici which is easily the most exclusive B&B in Rome unless the Vatican starts to open up their doors and allow visitors. This is a super cool experience that connects you directly to the famed Medici dynasty. Check out more cool places to rest your head in Rome with our article “Where to Stayin in Rome.”
Reservations are taken only directly through Villa Medici. Follow the link for more details.
7. Il Pincio
This has long been one of my favorite spots to visit in Rome. I am a sucker for viewpoints and they don’t get much better than this one.
Situated on top of Piazza del Popolo at the edge of Villa Borghese, Il Pincio is named after the very hill it was carved out of; the Pincian Hill. It technically lies outside the ancient boundaries of Rome so it is not included in the original 7 hills of Rome but for me, it will always be #1.
The view here not only overlooks the whole of Rome but the city’s largest square, Piazza del Popolo. You can see the twin churches below along with the Flaminian Gate of Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica off in the distance. It is a wonderful place to take what will likely be your favorite photo of the trip!
8. Via Condotti
Via Condotti gets its name from water conduits that carried water to the nearby Baths of Agrippa. Today you will know it as the richest commercial street in Rome and possibly the world. The street is lined left and right with the whos who of Italian designers. If you won’t be taken seriously as a fashion house you will need an address on Via Condotti.
It is a great road to stroll down if you are shopping or not. Traffic is restricted so you will only see taxis and deliveries happening here. The only shop on this street that has little to do with fashion is the Antico Caffè Greco which is the oldest bar in Rome.
9. Antico Caffè Greco
Antico Caffé Greco is the oldest running bar/cafe in Rome, opened in 1760, which is why it something to experience while in the Eternal City. It is the second oldest bar in Italy behind the famed Caffè Florian in Venice which puts it in great company. There are few ways to make an official statement but it is considered the 3rd oldest coffee bar on Earth with the oldest being Café Le Procope in Paris.
The bar, named after its Greek-Italian owner, is famous for its list of patrons such as John Keats, Percy Shelly, Lord Byron, and the list goes on. Today you will find it as a high-end bar that serves high-end food & beverage. It mostly lives off its legacy and address. That said, I have sat down for an expensive coffee there and you should too!
10. Keats Shelly House (Museum)
The Keats-Shelly house is a must for literary buffs as it is much more than Keats’ final resting place. It is a beautifully decorated home that contains paintings, manuscripts, literary works, and more which makes it a living museum. You’ll find not only portraits & works from Keats and Shelley but their extensive list of friends such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and Elizabeth & Robert Browning.
Keats did not spend his life there, but simply his final months. A doctor recommended he live out his last days with tuberculosis in a warmer setting and he picked Rome. He is a quite successful young man who accomplished himself as a house-hold name yet died at age 25.
Address: Piazza di Spagna 26
11. Pastificio Guerra
Attractions come in all forms and are sometimes edible which I am sure we can all agree on. Pastificio Guerra is probably the best meal in Rome you can get for the price since it is high quality and cheap! A container of pasta costs around 4€ for an abundant portion that will surely fill you up. You will find one of two kinds of pasta they decided to make that day so options are limited but I have never heard complaints.
Pasta comes in a plastic container with a fork, napkin, and plastic cup to take water out of a jug. They sell a glass of table wine for a euro or so extra. If you are in the area and its lunchtime I recommend trying it. Especially if you are on the go. It is an experience.
Address: Via della Croce, 8 | Hours: Daily 1 pm – 9 pm
12. Bonci Tiramisù
€ | Take Away Dessert & Cafe
Pompi is widely recognized as the best Tiramisù in Rome which very few Romans will argue. If you are dining near the Spanish Steps we recommend you skip desert, take a passaggiata, and try the tiramisù at Pompi since it is the best. Make sure you get there before close so you don’t miss out!.
Address: Via della Croce, 82 | Hours: Daily 11 am – 9:30 pm
13. Column of the Immaculate Conception
In Italy, the people love the virgin Mary and this column is another sign of just that. The column is in Piazza Mignanelli which feels like it is part of P. Spagna but is actually its own square.
What better of a monument to commemorate the virgin mother herself other than a massive symbol of victory? Mary stands atop and at the base you’ll find four important old-testament biblical figures; Moses, the Prophet Isaiah, King David, and Seer Ezekiel.
The Virgin Mary holds a wreath which plays part in an annual festival each year on December 8th for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The column was raised by firefighters and still holds a strong association with them. Each year there is a big ceremony where Roman firefighters place a flower wreath on top of the column with the Pope in attendance which is obviously a big deal.
14. The House of Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini is arguably Rome’s greatest artist (Michelangelo was from Florence) and definitely Rome’s greatest sculptor. His home and domicile are just down the street from the Spanish Steps. It is not a glorious palace from the outside but I think seeing the homes of the artists creates a connection to their lives and makes them more “real”.
The home is easy to identify since it has a plaque on its front. The plaque reads, “HERE LIVED AND DIED GIAN LORENZO BERNINI SOVEREIGN OF THE ARTS TO WHOM POPES, PRINCES AND PEOPLE KNEELED,” another testament to how Bernini was loved.
If you’re doing a walking tour of Rome, your next stop should be The Trevi Fountain since it is so close to the Spanish Steps.