One of Rome’s best-loved squares, Piazza Navona began life as a stadium for 30,000 spectators who enjoyed watching athletics and mock naval battles. It was paved over in the 15th century and became home to the city’s primary market for 300 years. In the 19th century, the drains of the three fountains were blocked up during the summer to create Lake Navona, which the locals loved.
You won’t see the piazza being turned into a lake these days, but you’ll see chic cafés and street performers. If you’re a Bond fan, you’ll recognise the narrow streets around the piazza from the car chase in ‘Spectre’, and eagle-eyed visitors will spot the place where Julia Roberts enjoyed a gelato in the rom-com ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.
Piazza Navona’s a perfect place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere, before heading to other big-name sights nearby like Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. It’s especially pretty at the start or end of the day when you can watch the colours change as the sun moves over the city.
The three fountains in Piazza Navona are literally unmissable. Each has its own story and it’s tough to try and pick a favourite, as they each have their own unique attractions. Centre stage goes to Fontana delle Quattro Fumi, which is known as Fountain of Four Rivers. It represents the Ganges, Nile, Danube, and Rio del Plato, and shows a mass of sea serpents and muscular bodies battling with the waters. At the southern end of the piazza you’ll find Fontana del Moro, which shows a Moor wrestling with a dolphin, and to the north is Fontana di Nettuno.
While you’re at the northern end of the piazza you can visit the remains of the stadium. They’re on Piazza di Tor Sanguigna and you can either just wander by and have a look, or pay a small entry fee to visit. Inside, you’ll find lots of information about Roman monuments.
If you fancy a break from the heat of summer or you’re dodging autumn showers, then the Museum of Rome is at the southern end of the piazza in Palazzo Altemps. This part of the museum has one of the world’s biggest collections of ancient Roman mosaics and sculptures. It’s open from 9am to 7. 45pm, and you can book your ticket online. The price includes entry to the other three branches of the museum, so it’s pretty good value.
Sant’ Agnese in Agone (church of St. Agnes) marks the martyrdom of St. Agnes in the 3rd century. Today you’ll find baroque architecture and well-preserved frescoes, and if you time your visit right, you could catch a free concert. The church is open from 9.00am until 1pm and again from 3pm until 7pm. Plus, it doesn’t close its doors until 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. Like many museums and churches in Rome, it’s closed on Mondays.
Preparing for your visit
You’ll be doing a lot of walking in this part of Rome, so make sure you wear comfy shoes. Take a water bottle too, and fill up at the nasoni (water fountains) which are dotted across the streets of Rome.
A classic Rome walk starts at the Spanish Steps, and ends at Piazza Navona, taking in the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon along the way. It’s well signposted and easy to do. If you’d rather have some in-depth local knowledge there are guided walking tours, or you could take a hop-on-hop-off bus to give your feet a break.
How to get there
There isn’t a Metro station nearby, but you can get here by bus. The nearest stop is Piazza Argentini, which is about six minutes’ walk away. This square is on many bus routes, including 40,60 and 64, which go past most of the main sights.
If you’re planning to use public transport a lot while you’re here, it’s worth getting a travel pass. These are valid for between 24 hours and seven days, and give you unlimited travel on buses, the metro, or trains in the Rome urban area. You can buy them at a Metro station.