Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck is one of my all-time favorite movies, so obviously when I was planning a weekend in Rome, I had to visit all the iconic sites from the movie!
I visited Rome as part of my summer 2018 study abroad program in Orvieto, Italy. Our entire group visited The Eternal city on a Friday to tour the Capitoline Museums and visit the Roman Forum, and we had the option to return to Orvieto on the bus or to stay for the weekend and take a train back. I spent a full weekend in Rome with a friend and wrote about that in detail here, but one of my favorite parts of the trip that I want to talk more about was my pilgrimage to the Roman Holiday sites. (The pictures, of course, are in black-and-white like the movie itself.)
I started researching and planning my route before I even left for Italy. I had no idea when I was going to do this, but I was going to do it. While there are several guides to visiting places from the movie (including a GetYourGuide private tour), I made my own list that left out some places that are included on walking guides like this one. I left out places that were out of the way and didn’t have much appeal for me like the Palazzo Brancaccio and the Palazzo Barberini that were used to film Princess Ann’s Embassy. I also skipped trying to find Joe Bradley’s apartment at Via Marguta 51 which is an actual residential area with apartments where people live.
The only place I left out that I would include on a do-over is the Palazzo Colonna, which in the movie is where Princess Ann does her press interview at the end of the movie. Admission to the Palazzo Colonna is a little steep since it’s a beautiful building that a lot of people want to visit. If I were to do this again, I would absolutely pay the admission fee and take some time to explore the art gallery and garden, and, because the palazzo has a café, it might be a good stop for lunch as well!
Ultimately my list was as follows
- The Spanish Steps (Princess Ann eats ice cream, and Joe convinces her to spend the day with him)
- The Trevi Fountain (Princess Ann goes to a barbershop near here)
- The Pantheon (Ann and Joe eat lunch near here)
- Castel Sant’Angelo (Dancing on a barge in the Tiber)
- The Roman Forum (Where Joe finds the princess at the beginning of the movie; they also ride past the Colosseum on a Vespa)
- Basilica di Santa Maria/Bocca della Verita (The “Mouth of Truth” that Joe and Ann visit on their day in the city)
Because our Airbnb was only a few streets away from the Colosseum and Roman Forum, I didn’t include that on the big walking tour for Sunday morning when we visited the other sites. Similarly, since we spent all of Saturday at the Vatican, it was most convenient to stop by the Castel Sant’Angelo after that rather than adding it to Sunday’s itinerary. This was a good spur-of-the-moment change of plans because it gave us all the time we wanted to hang out on the side of the river and watch artists painting the scenery. If we’d gone while on the longer walking trip, we wouldn’t have had as much time there, which I really enjoyed.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is currently a museum, but not one that I was especially interested in visiting. What I really enjoyed was just spending a peaceful afternoon on the banks of the Tiber and seeing the beautiful Baroque statues on the bridge and atop the museum. The Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built by the Emperor Hadrian to be his mausoleum, but it received its current name due to the angels that allegedly appeared there. One legend says that the Archangel Michael appeared on top of the mausoleum at the end of the plague in 590, while another version says that Pope Gregory I had a vision of an angel appearing on top of the mausoleum. The pope had learned in a previous vision that people were worshipping a pagan statue in another church, and when he went there, there was a thunderclap and the idol miraculously fell apart. On the return trip, Pope Gregory I saw an angel on the mausoleum sheathing his sword.
To commemorate the angels, statues were made. The most obvious, of course, is the Archangel Michael on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo. This is actually a copy of the original marble statue, which was made by Raffaello da Montelupo and now stands in a courtyard inside the castle. The bronze angel currently on the building was made by Peter Anton van Verschaffelt. The angels on the bridge are shown holding various items, which represent the tools used to crucify Jesus. The angel project (used to replace stucco statues of the evangelists and patriarchs) was one of Bernini’s last big projects. Bernini is one of the artists of the Baroque period and also famously made the Chair of Saint Peter and the Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica. Bernini himself only made two of the ten angels meant for the Ponte Sant’Angelo and both of these are actually displayed in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte. The ten angels you will see today were made by a variety of sculptors.
To put together a route for Sunday’s walk to the rest of the Roman Holiday sites, I basically just dropped pins on a map on Google and found the fastest way to walk between them. We started by taking the metro to the Spanish Steps since that was farthest from the Airbnb, and we basically circled around the city until we were back at the Forum and close to where we were staying. I talk more about the route and unexpected detours in my long post on Rome (linked at the start of this post), so I won’t go into detail on that here.
I do recommend getting to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain as early as possible, since these are big tourist spots. Also, because of the tourism, you’re no longer allowed to eat on the Spanish Steps like Audrey does in the movie, but it’s still a beautiful place to visit and pose for a few pictures! We also saw a commercial being filmed there, and you can actually spot the two actors and the boom mic up and a little to the right of where my head is in that picture.
The Trevi Fountain is, of course, beautiful, but it was swarmed with tourists. While I did manage to do the touristy thing and through a penny over my shoulder into the water (thus guaranteeing that I’ll one day return to Rome), I would in the future try to get to the Trevi Fountain at least before 9 am and possibly even earlier. Between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, I preferred the steps, though I don’t really have a good reason for that.
By the time we got to the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), we were hot and sweaty, and I was almost ready to be done with Rome – or at least done with walking through it. We also really didn’t know where to find the mouth and spent a while wandering aimlessly in the general area before finally spotting a sign. The Basilica that houses the mouth was the only spot on my Roman Holiday itinerary that really acknowledged the movie (which makes sense given that it’s an American film and that the other sites are extremely famous even without Audrey Hepburn’s appearance). The Basilica had a cute little shop though with some Roman Holiday memorabilia, and I bought some bookmarks there. We had to stand in a line to take the actual picture with the mouth, and it’s a super touristy thing to do, but, for me, it was completely worth it because I really love this movie and enjoyed finding places where it was filmed.
As mentioned in my other Italy posts, the most incredible of visiting this whole country was its age and the history built into everything. While I had the first and biggest realization of walking through history in Pompeii, visiting these Roman Holiday sites was a similar version of that. It’s one thing to stand in a palace and realize that emperors once walked here and that history was made here, but even that is more in my imagination than going to a place I saw in a movie and standing where one of my favorite celebrities stood because I “know” Audrey Hepburn in a way I can’t know any of the Roman emperors or the people in that time. And, having said that, I could probably go on a long tangent now about how people connect to and idolize celebrities and create imagined identities and kinships with famous people…but that’s a whole other essay that’s not especially relevant except to say that the movie gave me a particular connection to Rome that is different from the one I had from history books.
Roman Holiday continues to be one of my favorite movies, but watching it now, I also have my own memories of being in these places and spending a “holiday” in Rome. I even attempted to dress similarly to Audrey Hepburn in the movie by wearing a knee-length skirt and collared blouse – though hers doesn’t have the pink stripes mine did. Rome is an amazing city to visit, even if you aren’t obsessed with Roman Holiday, but if you love this movie like I do, then it’s not something you can miss! As Audrey Hepburn says in the movie, “Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”