One of the unmissable places to visit in Rome if it’s your first trip, the Spanish Steps are often mistaken for benches to sit, relax, eat, drink and enjoy the view of the square at the bottom.
What’s known as the Spanish Steps is the monumental staircase that connects the church of Trinità dei Monti at the top of the hill to the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom.
An important historical landmark in Rome’s city center, I welcomed the decision of the local municipality to ban sitting on the stairs as good news so we can all finally see this impressive stairwell in all its beauty and majesty. And this is why it’s also important to know some Spanish Steps facts that will help us appreciate the place even more.
In this easy guide, I want to give you some historical and cultural background as well as insider’s tips on how to best enjoy your visit to the Spanish Steps, unmissable landmarks of central Rome.
Where are the Spanish Steps?
The Spanish Steps are located in the Rione Campo Marzio neighborhood, one of the most ancient in Rome that since ancient times has been consecrated to the god Mars and used for military drills. The famous staircase stands tall between Piazza di Spagna and the church of Trinità dei Monti on top, not far from the left bank of the river Tiber, north of the Quirinale and the Capitoline Hills.
For the sake of sightseeing, the Spanish Steps lie 800 meters (2600 feet) and 10 minutes from Piazza del Popolo, 500 meters (1640 feet) and 5 minutes from Via del Corso, 650 meters (2132 feet) and 8 to 10 minutes from the Trevi Fountain, 1 km (3280 feet/0.62 miles) and 15 minutes from Palazzo del Quirinale, 1.5 km (1 mile) and 20 minutes from Castel Sant’Angelo.
How to reach the Spanish Steps
- By metro: line A, Spagna station.
- By bus: 52, 53, 62, 63, 83, 85, 100, 119, 160, 492.
- On foot: 700 meters (2300 feet) from Piazza del Popolo, 1.5 km (1 mile) from Piazza Venezia.
Spanish Steps Facts: History and Trivia
It’s a large staircase
The steps of the Trinità dei Monti staircase (Spanish Steps) are 136. The staircase was built in travertine marble and is made up of 11 ramps, each made up of 12 steps that divide, wind, and merge again in a constant change of direction.
A series of beautiful parapets complete the ramps which interrupt the steep difference in height, functioning as a point of break to enjoy the landscape and as the connection between an area with a strong French presence and the Spanish colony at the bottom.
The optical effect given by the monumental staircase is one of continuous winding easing down on the hill.
It was built in the 18th century
Commissioned by the Cardinal de Tencin to Italian architect Francesco De Sanctis, they were inaugurated by Pope Benedict XIII during the Jubilee Year 1725.
The idea of building a staircase to overcome the difference in height between the Pincio Mount and underlying Piazza di Spagna dates back to as far as 1559, but several events prevented the construction to kick off, last but not least a quarrel between the Church and France over the ownership of the land.
The Spanish Steps were paid with French funds and its purpose was to connect the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Trinità dei Monti church. Even though the Spanish Steps were initially funded with a donation from the French Etienne Gueffier in 1660, the construction ended only in 1726.
On top is a francophone church
Trinità dei Monti is one of the five francophone churches in Rome. The others are the famous Saint Louis of the French, where you can see three Caravaggio paintings, San Nicola dei Lorenesi, Sant’Ivo dei Bretoni and Santi Claudio e Andrea dei Borgognoni.
Spanish Steps is not its real name
Its original name in Italian is “Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti”, translating into the staircase of Trinità dei Monti, after the church on top of it.
On the other hand, the title of Piazza di Spagna was given after the presence of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See since 1647 on the southern side. The northern side was called Piazza di Francia because of the French lands in the area.
It’s on the site of an ancient garden
Where today is the Trinità dei Monti church, in imperial times was the wonderful villa of the Horti Luculliani, one of the most beautiful in ancient Rome. In 60 BC, the property of Roman general Lucius Licinius Lucullus occupied both the land where is Trinità dei Monti and also where is modern-day Piazza di Spagna.
This was one of the most spectacular ancient Roman villas and its location was right where the Aqua Virgo aqueduct came out of the underground pipe to cross the Campo Marzio area. Also the ancient building featured a monumental staircase connecting the several points of difference in height finally reaching a semicircular water lily.
Archaeological discoveries made in 2007 revealed several findings belonging to different ages and different owners such as parts of a containment wall, mosaics, and decorative sculptures.
John Keats died here
English poet John Keats died at 25 years old in a house in the palace on the right corner of the Spanish Steps where he spent the last months of his life.
There’s an exclusive English tea house
On the left corner of the Spanish Steps is the famous Babingtons Tea Rooms founded by two English women.
The young Isabel Cargill, the daughter of captain Cargill, founder of the city of Dunedin in New Zealand, and Anna Maria Babington, descending from Antony Babington sentenced to death with the charge of conspiring against Elizabeth I, reached Rome in 1893 with the idea of introducing the English tea tradition to the eternal city.
It has been a risky investment since the beginning because their target was mainly the English community, since Italians were not much of tea drinkers and tea was still mainly sold in the pharmacies.
Babingtons tea house was immediately successful but throughout the decades, life wasn’t always easy. World wars, occasional declines, the death of the founders, and following owners have been crucial events in Babingtons’ history.
Today, at Babingtons you can experience the original Victorian vibe and sample both the famous scones the queen loved, modern cakes and cookies, and also full dishes made with fish, meat, or eggs.
It’s been the set of many movies
Like many other places in Rome, also the Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna have been the gorgeous set of many movies both Italian and international.
Some of the Italian movies shot in Piazza di Spagna include Il Sorpasso directed by Dino Risi and starring Vittorio Gassman and Catherine Spaak, and Romanzo Criminale directed by Michele Placido and starring Kim Rossi Stuart, Anna Mouglalis, Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudio Santamaria, Stefano Accorsi, Gian Marco Tognazzi, and Riccardo Scamarcio.
Some of the international films shot with the Spanish Steps on the background are The Talented Mr. Ripley directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cate Blanchette, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, and Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts, and To Rome With Love directed by Woody Allen and starring Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Riccardo Scamarcio, Alec Baldwin, Lina Sastri, Ornella Muti, Isabella Ferrari, and Massimo Ghini.
Sitting on the stairs is no longer allowed
In 2019, the local municipality ruled that it’s no longer allowed to sit on the stairs. This has a few reasons. First of all, the Spanish Steps is a cultural and historical monument, so it needs to be preserved. On top of that, most people sitting there would also eat and drink, inevitably making it dirty every day and night.
The fine ranges between 160 to 250€ for those who sit and can reach 400€ for those who make dirty and cause damages to the 18th-century masterpiece.
Must-see Landmarks Around the Spanish Steps
La Barcaccia Fountain
This is probably the first thing you will see when you get to Piazza di Spagna, one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, especially if you arrive from the bottom, so streets like Via dei Condotti, Via del Babuino, or Via Borgognona. A beautiful travertine sculpture, it was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1627 to Pietro Bernini, father of the more famous Italian architect and artist Gian Lorenzo, who also took part in designing and building one of the most famous fountains in Rome.
Completed in 1629, La Barcaccia Fountain in Piazza di Spagna required fine work of engineering due to the low pressure of the aqueduct feeding the fountain, the one of the Aqua Virgo, the same as the Trevi Fountain. This is why Bernini realized a half-submerged oval-shaped tub slightly below street level with the two edges raising higher and several points from where the water gushes out.
The fountain is beautifully decorated with sculptures and coats of arms of popes and the Barberini noble family, the dynasty of Pope Urban VIII who commissioned it.
Are you an art lover? Check out our guide to the best and most famous masterpieces of Bernini in Rome.
Trinità dei Monti Church
Dominating the view of Piazza di Spagna is Trinità dei Monti, one of the most beautiful and famous churches in Rome. When in 1494 French King Charles VIII bought the land on the Pincio Hill, what he wanted was to build a Roman church for the French kings. With its two bell towers, a rare sight in Rome, this beautiful building fills the skyline.
For as scenic as it is, however, the church is not the only sight to visit in the complex. Before going, book a visit to the fantastic cloister to see masterpieces such as the anamorphic frescoes, the astrolabe, and Mater Admirabilis chapel.
John Keats’ House
One of the historical Spanish Steps facts, not many know that English poet John Keats spent his last months right here in a house on the right side of the staircase, where he died on February 23rd, 1821.
He arrived in Rome with the hope to recover from his diagnosed tuberculosis but even despite the help of his friend Joseph Severn and the cures of his doctor James Clark, he died at only 25 years old. He’s buried in Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery in the Testaccio area.
Today the house has been turned into the Keats-Shelley Museum and displays a rich collection of sculptures, paintings, objects, and first editions of the works of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Check out their website for more info.
Antico Caffè Greco
This is not your average coffee shop, but a historical place where artists, writers, and important figures liked to meet and enjoy their relaxing time since 1760, 100 years before Rome became the capital of unified Italy.
Antico Caffè Greco (Via dei Condotti 86) is now a coffeeshop-museum where its interior, including the couches, chairs, and relics on display, is protected by the Culture Ministry. The owner recently evicted the historical manager because he wasn’t ready to pay the much higher rent imposed in the new contract, and since now they can’t find new tenants to manage this historical coffee shop, I suggest you visit before they shut it down and replace it with a dull fast-food.
Babington’s Tea Rooms
Babington’s (Piazza di Spagna 23) is a lovely historical tea house founded in 1893 by two young English women, Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington, a descendant of Anthony Babington, one of the conspirators together with John Ballard, of the Babington Plot in 1586 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I.
Isabel and Anna Maria decided to move to Rome and make a decent living in a city they both loved. What better idea than founding a typical British tea house in the historic center where many English intellectuals and artists loved to spend their time?
Today you can sit in the tea room for some tea and also a casual light lunch or by some of their unique tea blends from their shop.
One of Rome’s largest and most famous parks, Villa Borghese is a fantastic place for relaxing as well as sightseeing. A green oasis in the very city center, here you can relax on a bench, on the grass, have a walk, go jogging or visit the famous Galleria Borghese museum.
Villa Borghese has several other buildings and areas to visit. You can visit the small museum of contemporary art Carlo Bilotti in the park’s orangery, the Temple of Aesculapius in the lovely Lake Garden (Giardino del Lago), and obviously enjoy the beautiful view of Piazza del Popolo from the Pincio terrace.
Tips on How To Enjoy Your Visit to Rome Spanish Steps
- Go early morning. Before the crowds arrive you can enjoy the Spanish Steps in all their beauty. Typical Baroque-style architecture, you will love admiring the interplay of perspectives and bends that make it unique.
- Go in the evening. If you can’t make it in the morning, try in the evening. It’s a different experience and it will be busier than the first hours of the day but for sure less busy than mid-day and with a fantastic night light that will make it incredibly fascinating.
- Climb it to the top. This way you can have a fantastic view of the Piazza di Spagna square, the buildings flanking it, its Baroque-style Barcaccia fountain and the exclusive shopping streets unraveling from there.
- Visit its landmarks. All around the Spanish Steps are several landmarks so the best way to enjoy your visit is to make the most out of it. Why not visit John Keats’ memorial museum? Why not have tea in the historical Babington’s or a gourmet coffee at the Antico Caffè Greco? And why not visit the fantastic Trinità dei Monti church and cloister?
- Avoid the summer months. I get it, for many of you, July and August are the only months you can have a holiday and travel. But still, it’s good to know that if you can avoid these months, you will definitely enjoy the Spanish Steps more deeply without the usual summer brigades.
Where To Eat Around The Spanish Steps
- Ginger Sapori e Salute (Via Borgognona 43/46). Large restaurant relatively new but immediately successful, this is a perfect stop during your sightseeing for a healthy and tasty lunch. You can order anything from a smoothie to a gourmet panini, to full dishes made with organic ingredients.
- Il Margutta (Via Margutta 118). Delicious and historic vegetarian restaurant in Rome’s city center where you can have buffet-style brunch/lunch, aperitif and dinner.
- Retrobottega (Via della Stelletta 4). Typical Italian dishes are prepared and served with a modern twist.
- Da Gino al Parlamento (Vicolo Rosini 4). Traditional Roman cuisine a stone’s throw from the Parliament. Here you can try local dishes such as spaghetti all’amatriciana, spaghetti carbonara, saltimbocca alla romana, and coda alla vaccinara.
Where to Stay Near the Spanish Steps
Even though probably more expensive than similar accommodations in a less central area, there are many great hotels near the Spanish Steps so you are likely to find also something that can suit your budget. Here are some examples:
- Rhea Silvia Luxury Spagna
- Maison Evelina
- Dopodomani Suite
- Condotti Boutique Hotel
- Hotel Mozart
- Tree Charme Spagna Boutique Hotel
- Infinity Hotel
- Rome Style Hotel
READ MORE: Check out our guide to the top hotels in Rome’s city center.
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