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Rome The Roman Holiday Tour

Movie: Roman Holiday, 1953
Starring: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn
Director: William Wyler
Rent the movie and watch this charming classic film!

Setting the Stage
On a visit to Rome a few years ago, my husband Bryan and I spent a day strolling around the city finding the scenes used for the filming of the movie, Roman Holiday; that classic film starring smooth-voiced and handsome Gregory Peck as he cons, entertains and then falls for the beautiful and lively Audrey Hepburn, all amid the beautiful backdrop of Rome. This has long been one of my favorite films, so tracking down the scenes proved to be a fun way to take in some of the sights of Rome in a focused and romantic way.

We did complete our tour rather exhausted and with sore feet, however! In the movie, the scenes move seamlessly from one part of the city to another as if the locales were just around the corner from each other. In reality, trying to see the sights in order as they appear in the film will result in a lot of extra walking and backtracking. This tour sets out a plan to see the sights in a (hopefully!) better order and with a couple of mass-transit options, and breaks along the way. As you tour, don't forget to soak in the ambiance that is Rome, seeing her in all her grit and glory.

You'll find ample opportunities for refreshment breaks, either at one of the numerous fountains throughout the city where you will find fresh drinking water from the nearby hills, or at the ubiquitous bars. Two musts for this tour: you must sit at a sidewalk cafe, and you must enjoy a gelato!

If you're ready to step into a timeless classic and set off on your own Roman Holiday, the tour begins at Piazza di Spagna.

Via Margutta
Begin the tour at the Spanish Steps which is easily accessed by Metro. Walking to the left (as you face the steps) you'll find via Margutta, the narrow street where Gregory Peck, aka Joe Bradley, resided in a studio apartment, at number 51. The street is now largely occupied by artists' galleries and antique shops.

If the gate over the carriage entrance is open, roam around to see the internal courtyard. Go up the steep stone steps to the left and at the top you'll find the arbor under which our emulated couple, Gregory and Audrey, stood as she was departing after spending the night in his apartment ("I've never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it's most unusual," stated the Princess). Above the stone steps is the little stone balcony from which the landlord watched the couple as Hepburn, as Princess Anne, was forced to borrow cab fare from Peck. Through the arbor and up more steps you can see the terrace of Gregory Peck's apartment.

Back on via Margutta, there is a fountain in the wall about half-way down the street where you can have a drink of fresh spring water.

Spanish Steps
Return to the Spanish Steps. Walk up the steps and stop about half-way up in the middle to sit and pose at the approximate spot where Audrey sat enjoying a gelato. Go all the way to the top to enjoy the views of the city laid out before you. Enjoy watching the crowd of people in the piazza below. There are always large crowds on and around the steps, making it a great place to people-watch. Down in the Piazza there is usually a flower-seller, as in the movie, so if you're so inclined, buy a flower or two to carry with you.

Via Condotti
"I'd like to sit at a sidewalk cafe, look in shop windows ..."

Stroll down the famed via Condotti to fulfill the window shopping role and enjoy the extravagant displays, both in the windows and on the people who are shopping. As you walk down the Spanish Steps, via Condotti is the street right in front of you. If you would like to continue to window-shop, go left on the via del Corso, turning when you get to via della Muratte to approach the Trevi Fountain. There are also signs directing you from Piazza di Spagna to the Fontana di Trevi.

Trevi Fountain
Entering the piazza you'll be greeted again by a mix of humanity crowding around the famous structure, all tossing in their coins for a return trip to Rome as another movie has it. Recall the memorable scene where Gregory Peck tries to steal a child's camera while the Princess is getting her hair cut across from the fountain, at via della Stampiera 85. The barber says, "Your friends, I don't think they will recognize you," to which Princess Anne happily responds, "No, I don't think they will," thus allowing her a day of freedom. Toss in your coins, mindful of the desire to revisit the Eternal City.

Take a Break: You can find what is arguably the best gelato in Rome at San Crispino at via della Panetteria 42, located a couple streets to the right of the Trevi, heading toward the Quirinale Palace.

Continue along to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon
This two thousand year old structure should amaze and delight you, no matter how many times you have seen it. It is two thousand years old! As you face the giant-looking rotund structure, move to the right side where the sidewalk cafe scene was filmed at a bar called Rocca's. It is no longer there, but you'll find plenty of other cafes in the area for a drink. Our hero Joe Bradley ordered "Champagne per la signorina, and cold coffee for me". If you need a little octane, you can visit one of Rome's two best coffee bars.

Take a Break: Two of Rome's noted coffee bars are near the Pantheon. Caffe Sant'Eustachio is at Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82, famous for their gran caffe and gran cappuccino, made according to a secret, highly guarded recipe. Tazza d'Oro, at via degli Orfani 84, is often said to be Rome's best espresso, and is also noted for granita di caffe. Another great gelateria is nearby, too: Gelateria della Palma is located at via della Maddalena 20 and has at least 100 flavors of gelato and semifreddo.

Proceed in the direction of the river. If you stroll over toward Piazza Navona and turn right onto Corso del Rinascimento, you'll find a great little pasticceria, along with a couple good pizzerias on the Corso.

Ponte Sant' Angelo (The barge dance scene)
Reaching the river, the Lungotevere road stretches along the Tiber (Tevere) River, with beautiful pastel sun-dappled buildings fronting it. At the Ponte Sant'Angelo you'll see the great round fortress Castel Sant'Angelo across the river, which served as a backdrop for the scene where they dance on the barges on the river, the Princess rounding out her evening with the music and dancing she'd seen from her palace window in the beginning of the film. (Word to the wise: don't descend too far down the steps toward the river if you don't like rather foul odors!)

If you would like to visit the former tomb and fortress, it is open; there is an admission charge, but the views from the top are striking in all directions. There is a little caffe at the top where you can sit outside and rest for a few moments with a pretty framed view of the Dome of St. Peter's.

The next stop is the Mouth of Truth. We walked all the way along the Lungotevere, which proved to be a rather long walk. By the time I reached Trastevere I was wishing for the advantage Audrey enjoyed of scootering around on a vespa! You can walk through the centro instead, finding a lunch spot (perhaps around Campo dei Fiori) along the way. If you do walk along the Lungotevere, you may want to explore Trastevere for lunch. The atmosphere of this neighborhood is charming, with flower boxes, stone buildings crowding in on the narrow streets, little water fountains, and loads of eateries.

Feet Saving Tip: Instead of walking the entire Lungotevere, you can hop on the bus near Sant'Angelo. Numbers 23 and 280 skirt the Lungotevere road, and can be picked up in front of the Ospedale di Santo Spirito, to the south of Sant'Angelo. Get off when you see Tiber Island, and walk across the river back to the centro side.

Mouth of Truth
"The legend is that if you're given to lying, you put your hand in there and it will be bitten off."

This stone face with an open mouth is a widely popular attraction, even fifty years after the movie, due to that famous scene where Gregory Peck pulls his hand out of the mouth, with his arm up his sleeve, completely astonishing the young Audrey Hepburn. It is located in the portico of the sixth-century church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in the Piazza Bocca della Verita. Get in line with the school groups and other visitors to test your honesty by sticking your hand inside the mouth. This is one of those great, hokey photo-ops all vacations need!

The Roman Forum
This is the location of the meeting place of our heroes, Joe Bradley and Princess Anne, where she lays on the stone, seemingly drunk, quoting poetry. If you've not already visited the historic sight, you may want to plan to return, to be able to devote more time to it, along with the Colosseum. For a romantic view, return one evening while you're in Rome to enjoy the vista from the Campidoglio, looking down into the flood-lit Forum. Bellissima!

The Colosseum
The architectural symbol of Rome. Enjoy the views of its immensity, and ponder its sheer presence after 2000 years. Joe Bradley brought Princess Anne on a tour during their day-long holiday. Be sure to tour this amazing structure, though you may want to return and combine it with an in-depth foray into Roman history, along with the Forum.

Take a Break: If you detour over to via dei Serpenti, you'll find another fabulous gelateria, (is there any other kind of gelateria?!) Il Gelatone offers nigh 100 flavors, including some made with soy milk.

Continue northward past Trajan's Market and the gleaming white memorial to Vittorio Emanuele to the Palazzo Colonna (in Piazza SS Apostoli). This palace was used for interior scenes at the end of the movie, where Audrey Hepburn's character is holding a press conference and discovers the true identities of Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert. The immense great hall looks fascinating and grand, but to see it you must arrive on Saturday morning as it is now a museum, open only 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. that one day weekly. If you're in Rome over a weekend, you may want to tour all the sights except the Palazzo Colonna on Friday; then return on Saturday during the palazzo's open hours. You can walk into the great hall "the morning after", as Gregory Peck did when on assignment for the princess's press conference.

Feet Saving Tip: If the overall tour above involves more walking than you're able to do, there is another possible variation. Begin at the Spanish Steps as noted, and then take the metro from Piazza di Spagna to the Colosseo stop. View the Colosseum, the Forum and the Mouth of Truth as noted. Bus numbers 23 and 280 cruise both sides of the Tiber, so catch the bus up to Castel Sant'Angelo. To continue and see the scenes in the centro, you can pick up bus #116 near Sant'Angelo, at Piazza della Rovere (which is to the south along the river, with the bus stop in front of the Ospedale Santo Spirito). This cute little blue bus meanders its way through the centro with stops in the Piazza Navona area, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain.

By this time you'll be steeped in movie lore, have tired feet, and hopefully feel as charmed by Rome as we were; charmed by the beauty and piazzas and little artisan shops and gelaterias and noise and bustle and graffiti and grime and water fountains and flowers. And at the end of your trip, when you're asked about your favorite part of your Italian vacation, may you also echo the words of the fair heroine princess and say, "Rome. By all means Rome."

Movie Facts
  • Filmed in 1953, entirely on location in Rome
  • Audrey Hepburn won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Princess Anne. The film won 3 Oscars, and was nominated for 10.
  • The movie ranks #4 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Love Stories
  • Audrey Hepburn ranks third on AFI's 50 Greatest Screen Legends (female). Gregory Peck ranks twelfth on the same list for male Legends
  • The film was originally to be directed by Frank Capra. When he backed out, William Wyler was chosen for the project
  • Writer Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted and could not submit the screenplay under his name. Friend Ian McLellan Hunter took the story, and the Oscar acceptance, for him. Trumbo was awarded an Oscar posthumously in 1993.
  • Peck met his wife Veronique, a French journalist, during a stop in Paris after filming was completed, while promoting Roman Holiday. They were married for 48 years.
  • This movie revealed Peck's graciousness, as he insisted Audrey Hepburn should have equal billing; he predicted this film would make her a star, which it did.
  • Hepburn was chosen for her famous screen-test, where she played the scene and then looked at the camera and winked, revealing a regal dignity and a school-girl-like innocence that Wyler was seeking.

Read my trip report The "Roman Holiday" Holiday, on which this tour is based.

Movie photos from Wikipedia. By Trailer screenshot - Roman Holiday trailer, Public Domain.
About the Author
Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She was a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Basilicata where they do geneology research and help people discover their Italian roots at My Bella Basilicata.
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