A Perfect Morning Running (Or Walking) Route Through Rome’s Ancient Sites
One of my favorite ways to experience a new place is to go for a run. I love getting out in the early morning in particular…the light is beautiful, there are no tourists, and you can have usually-crowded places like the Pantheon completely to yourself. Feels like being a local.
Now, Rome isn’t new to me. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and I return as often as possible. But it’s crowded, the famous ancient sites in particular. This amazing running route in Rome (or just walking route) will take you through many of the city’s most famous places as efficiently as possible, and in the morning it’s all yours!
There are many good answers to the question of “where to run in Rome?”, but this one is completely magical if you manage it without the crowds. A.k.a. drag your butt out of bed 30 minutes before sunrise, throw on some workout clothes (or at least comfy shoes), and claim these sites for your own.
This walking route in Rome is also perfect if you have a short time in the city (like maybe just a day), or even if you just want to get your bearings when you arrive. Think of it as a more up-close version of the Hop On, Hop Off bus!
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As a walking route, expect this to take at least 3 hours (assuming you’re a moderately-speeded walker and stop to take photos but not every two minutes). It could take more if you take a ton of photos. I’ve also got you covered on a couple coffee and pastry stops if that’s your jam.
Here was my (rough) route. You can view the live map here (and it’ll give you an option to send directions to your phone.
My route starts and ends at the Piazza Barberini because that’s where my hotel was located. The route is super flexible though, and can eliminate or include any of the individual stops. I didn’t bring a real camera with me, but my iPhone XS (which has my ID and credit card, and a couple euros) to take beautiful photos.
Get your running (or walking) shoes on and let’s go!!
Trevi Fountain & Pantheon
I was up around 6:30am (in October), started at the Piazza Barberini and headed toward the Trevi Fountain (only 5 minutes away). The first three stops on this are three of the most INSANELY crowded places in the city, and because it was super early they were entirely deserted.
I somehow didn’t get any pics of the Trevi Fountain, but here are a few of my faves from the Pantheon. That pearly early morning light and I am the only person in sight…
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Coffee & pastry at Caffé Sant’Eustachio
If you’re doing an early morning run like I was, this amazing little cafe might not be open (I think they typically open around 7:30)…so instead circle back here later. Caffé Sant’Eustachio is one of the most well-known coffee shops in Rome, and did not disappoint!
I hit it on my way back to my hotel at the end of this route. It’s tucked on a square between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Earlier is better, though, as it’s quite popular!
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Another crazily crowded (and in my opinion, slightly overrated) famous site is the Piazza Navona, and it is truly peaceful and lovely without all the crowds. I’ve always been in love with the Fountain of the Four Rivers though, and being able to take whatever pics I wanted with no one else around was a bonus.
Honestly I don’t think I’d come here during peak time, isn’t a ton to see and it is SO crowded. But it’s a perfect addition to an early morning running route in Rome.
Vittorio Emmanuel II / Altar of the Fatherland
From the Piazza Navona, head toward the famous “wedding cake” building, named after Vittorio Emmanuel II. On the way there you’ll pass the Largo di Argentina, a small sunken square of ruins that is home to a ton of kitties. Say hi to the kitties!
The building is somewhat polarizing for the locals (some love it, some think it’s ugly), but I’ve always been fond of it. But in the early morning light and specifically on the left side of the building I loved how it sparkled!
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If you’re facing Vittorio Emmanuel, go around the left side (where I took the pics above) and head down that long, straight boulevard. This will take you along the monuments and ruins of the Roman Forum.
I love how they’re just so casually…THERE. Like, turn the corner and run down a street and cool there are super ancient famous ruins on your right and left.
Time for a coffee break! I stopped in at Bar La Licata in the Monti neighborhood (between the Forum and Colosseum) for some coffee and an almond croissant. They’re known for their more American breakfasts and brunches as well, if you’re in the mood for that.
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But fueled by caffeine and sugar, onward!
Colosseum / Arches of Titus and Constantine
As you run down the Via dei Fori Imperiali past the Roman Forum, you’ll basically dead-end into the Colosseum. Enjoy being able to take pictures without thousands of people around.
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Then curve around to the right and enjoy the Arch of Titus…this has always been a favorite of mine. The crazy amount of detail in the carvings is so cool, depicting the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Keep heading straight down past the arch. Basically at this point you’re heading toward the river, so there’s no real “right” way.
You can also see Palatine Hill and the Circus Maximus in this area if you’re so inclined. You’ll also pass the Bocca della Verita, but it doesn’t open til late morning and the lines are crazy (and you can’t just walk up to it like you used to be able to.
Tiber Island / Isola Tiberina
Once you hit the river, you should be right at about the curve where the famous Tiber Island pops up out of the water. I chose at this point to take the stairs down to the running/walking path along the river. That path is one of the best choices for where to run in Rome, and part of it should definitely be on your Rome running route regardless of where you start and end.
The island has some fascinating origin legends and served as a place of isolation or quarantine for those with contagious diseases (and for criminals) in the past. Today it’s a lovely little connection point between Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto, with some truly delicious food and drink on the island itself.
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Run along the Tiber River
Whether down below or up above, the Tiber River views just keep on giving and any Rome running route needs to have a heavy dose of “river”. I’m in love with these little lamp post sculptures. It’s like…ram Viking ships?? Someone stuck a cute little ladybug sticker to this one.
Fun fact: You’ll see SPQR stamped on things all over the city. It’s an acronym for Senatus Populusque Romanus, which translates to “The People and Senate of Rome.” It was the emblem of the Roman empire two thousand years ago and is ubiquitous even today.
Ponte Vittorio Emmanuel II
As you come up on the next major bend in the river, you’ll hit the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuel II, which is cool in its own right but offers great views of the Castel and Ponte Sant’Angelo. Good place for a little breather, then continue on to the Castel itself.
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This has always been a secret favorite of mine in Rome, ever since i was a teenager. There’s just something so dramatic about this building. The bridge is also usually completely packed with people, so you can really enjoy a mosey with it mostly empty. Make sure to give the statues a close look, they’re super cool.
If you’re so inclined, you can hang a left at the Castel and make a quick stop at St. Peters…if you’re there really early it could be cool to see it without the crowds.
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Piazza del Popolo
From the Ponte Sant’Angelo, continue up along the river (on the right-hand side) past one more bridge, then at the next bridge veer off to the right a bit, up the Via di Ripetta. You’re headed toward the Piazza del Popolo, which often gets overlooked in a whirlwind Rome tour.
This piazza plays a key role in the Dan Brown book “Angels and Demons”, but also just has some super cool buildings and statues around. We’re actually going to climb the hill toward the Villa Borghese though, rather than linger.
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Villa Borghese (ish)
So if you see the advertisement in the photo below, just to the right of that there is a small staircase that starts to wind its way up and around to the right. There are several great stopping points for pics of the Piazza del Popolo below. Theoretically if you keep going and curve off at the right place, you’ll hit the Villa Borghese.
I think somehow I just barely missed it, took a wrong turn at the top of the hill and headed down rather than curving around and going up to the Villa (you can see it on the map). But either way it’s worth the climb.
Then make your way down the hill (Via del Babuino) toward the Spanish Steps if you’d like. These are possibly the most overrated sight in Rome in my opinion, with how insanely crowded they are. Maybe first thing in the morning with pretty sunrise light and no tourists they’re worth it??
Worth a quick photo if you’re so inclined though, or feel free to skip and go to the Villa Borghese instead (this is what I’d do next time).
So now I’ve shared my favorite early morning running route in Rome…whether you walk or run the route, you’ll get to have many of Rome’s most famous ancient sites all to yourself and capture the dreamy colors and lighting that typically belong to the locals.
And if you’ve only got a short time in Rome, this route will help you see the most well-known places efficiently, and soak up a ton of the city’s charm along the way!
Other efficient whirlwind city explorations:
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