Rome: Places to Explore

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Corso and Spagna

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In spirit, and in fact, this section of Rome is its most grandiose. The overblown Vittoriano monument, the labyrinthine treasure-chest palaces of Rome's surviving aristocracy, even the diamond-draped denizens of Via Condotti: all embody the exuberant ego of a city at the center of its own universe. Here's where you'll see ladies in furs, picking at pastries at caffè tables, and walk through a thousand snapshots as you climb the famous Spanish Steps, admired by generations from Byron to Versace. As if to keep up with the area's gilded palaces, the local monuments seem aware that they, too, are expected to put on a show.

Right at the top of everyone's sightseeing list is the great Baroque confection of the Trevi Fountain: the Elton John of hydrants tinkling tirelessly for its droves of fans. Legend has it that a coin in the water guarantees a return. Even the most rational of us may find it hard to resist throwing one in, just in case. Since pickpockets favor this tourist-heavy spot, be particularly aware as you withdraw that wallet to keep your throw from being very expensive indeed. The Trevi is Rome's most celebrated waterwork, and you can rest assured, you are not the only one who knows it. Once you've chucked in your change, follow the crowds and get ready to take some very serious time to explore this neighborhood, which extends along Via del Corso, the ruler-straight avenue that divides central Rome neatly in half.

If Rome has a Main Street, it's Via del Corso, which is often jammed with swarms of Roman teenagers, in from the city's outlying districts for a ritual stroll that resembles a strutting migration of lemmings in blue jeans. Corso begins at noisy, chaotic Piazza Venezia, the imperial-size hub of all this ostentation, presided over by the Vittoriano, also known as the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Nation), or, less piously, as the "typewriter," the "wedding cake," or the Eighth Hill of Rome. Sitting grandly off the avenue are the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj and the Palazzo Colonna—two of the city's great art collections housed in magnificent family palaces.

Extending just east of Via del Corso, but miles away in style, Piazza di Spagna and its surrounding streets are where the elite meet. Back when, 19th-century artists used to troll the area around the Spanish Steps for models; today, it remains a magnet all day and well into the night for smooching Romans and camera-toting tourists. The density of high-fashion boutiques and trendy little shops leaves little room for any but the richest of residents: the locals are the ladies loaded down with Prada bags and tottering on Gucci stilettos. Lest you think the neighborhood is all Johnny-come-lately frivolity, stop into the Antico Caffè Greco, the one-time haunt of Franz Lizst, Mark Twain, and Hans Christian Andersen. It's been operating since 1760, making it one of the oldest caffè in the world. Prepare to linger.

Corso and Spagna at a Glance

Experience Corso and Spagna

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