Rome City Guide
Romulus and Remus tussled over an impressive piece of land when they got into a scrap about how to build Rome. As they pulled at each other’s hair and scratched each other’s skin, they must have also been keeping an eye on the coveted terrain that is now home to one of the most iconic cities in the world. Near year-round warmth and streets punctuated with water fountains, make Italy’s capital a brilliant place to train. Not forgetting the bottomless tub of world-class pasta dishes. Here’s an overview of where to cycle, run, swim and climb in Rome, as well as some recommendations for fuelling and accommodation.
To make the most of this guide, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming a focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Rome. All facilities allow for drop-in visits during “open” hours, so you don’t need to joining an organised session to gain access. Exact hours aren’t indicated, these being too dynamic. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in the Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the place name to generate directions. Sections describing the important features of facilities do so by working venue-by-venue clockwise from the city’s north-eastern frontier to its north-western, or else north to south when they fall in a plumb line. All section outlines a good way to play your accommodation and eating during your time in Rome.
The remains of Rome fall across slab of earth that is famous for its seven hills and dissecting waterway, with most of the ancient city and bulk of the city’s tourism found on the east side of the Tiber. Some landmarks to keep in mind include the Colosseum and Vatican, which act as the east and west points of the popular tourist area. Navigating beyond the crowds to calmer locations for runs, cycles and swims isn’t an issue, either on-foot, by bus or via the pair of metro lines that form a perfect cross beneath the city’s foundations. The seven hills of Rome are spread equally around town, essentially cradling the lower land that is virtually flat on both sides of the Tiber. Rome’s climate bring hot summer seasons with warm and damp weather in Spring. December to February can be considered cool (10°C) while June, July and August regularly exceed 30°C. The 2017 Winter Solstice (December 21st has the sun rising just at 7:30am, setting just over nine hours later at 4:39 pm.
The easiest thing to calibrate your running legs on arrival is to head out from your accommodation and top-out at one of the city’s hills and get a panoramic view. The best route is to head up to Terrazza del Gianicolo from where you can look East over the Tiber with the Vatican to your left and the Colosseum to your right. You’ll have to wind through tourists to get to this spot, but you’ll then be able to return to your hotel after 4-6km of running or continue further.
From Terrazza del Gianicolo, the best route is to wind through Villa Pamphili Gardens, a parkland with enough trails to piece together a 10km run. The trails are gravel, but you can get away with road shoes since none of the undulating paths requires a serious grip. Look out for (drinking) water fountains within the park if you’re looking to hydrate or simply indulge in this wonderful infrastructure.
If you were to take on a flatter, more conservative route, running along the banks of the Tiber isn’t a bad shout. The West side has recently been revamped to create a tarmac strip. Though officially marked as a bike path, this two-way bike path is also used by runners. However, the real secret is to run on the East side of the river along the dusty often dirty surfaces that are part of Rome’s neglected infrastructure. The surface isn’t as smooth and you may be surprised by the amount of human waste, but you’ll get in a quieter run with fewer interruptions.
There are three athletics tracks to recommend in Rome, two adjacent facilities in the north and the other in the south. Before you go to Italy, be sure to have a medical form completed by a doctor. You may be able to get onto tracks without having one, but Italians are strict when it comes to public facilities and liabilities.
In the north of the city, the Stadio del Marmi has been standing since 1928 complete with 56 figures harking back to Benito Mussolini’s fascist era before World War Two. The fact that the stadium complex still forms a central part of Rome’s architectural landscape remains a matter of controversy, but the track is at least open throughout the day with no entrance fee. The only limitation is to find out when the track is hosting sports events – even the world archery championships have found a home at Stadio del Marmi.
Next door to Stadio del Marmi is Stadio della Farnesina, a 6-lane track that was updated in 2002. The track receives a healthy amount of traffic from Roman athletes, which partly explains its slightly dilapidated state. Phone the track ahead of time to find out if it is being used by a club during the time you plan to train.
Further to the south is Stadio Nando Martellini (also Stadio delle Terme di Caracalla on Google Maps). The track is embedded into a backdrop of the crumbling Caracalla bathhouses and is also a hotspot for Roman athletes.
For hill intervals or stairs, the Spanish Steps must be tempting, even if the crowds are throbbing from the mid-morning. Quieter stairs are in Trastevere, and you can sneak hill intervals on a quiet lane on the opposite side of the river. Clivi di Rocca Savella that ramps up over 100m over cobbled to Giardino degli Aranci.
Europe’s best urban cycleway is also its most lacking in pedalling traffic. When urban designers squabble over developing square feet, there’s a pathway literally miles long waiting for attention or at the least a boost in positive publicity. Rome authorities have at least paved the west side of the Tiber, indicating its use for cyclists. Given the dilapidation of the alternative bank of the Tiber, it’s not surprising that runners have also started making tracks on the billiard table smooth tarmac.
As for finding cycling groups to join in Rome, Roma Sud is one club to connect with. Send them an email (email@example.com) to indicate your interest in finding group rides or head to their Facebook page to see any details of upcoming rides.
Local bike rental is one excuse to contact Cicli Lazzaretti who rent their carbon frames for €70 per day. Send owner Simone (firstname.lastname@example.org) an email well in advance to signpost your interest and figure out what group or guiding options are going on during your visit. Bikes come with more Italian wares – Campagnolo Athena group set and Campagnolo Bullet carbon wheels.
Now that swimming in the fountains is now banned – or rather now that the fountains are often empty – the Rome’s pools occupy premium space for cooling. There’s a culture of offering drop-in rates, usually in the order of €12 for day access. Here are the best pools for lap swimming in Rome. Just make sure to check schedules on websites before you go, and bring your swim cap – Italians are sticklers for pool hygiene.
Nuoto Belle Arti is in the north, a 25m outdoor swimming pool that is open air in the summer, and covered from mid-September. “NBA” is embossed on a number swim caps, exuding collegiate-level style. More central than Nuoto Belle Arti, is Centro Sportivo Santa Maria, 6-minute walk south-east of the Collesium. Further to the south near to Metro Palasport is the mighty 50m pool, Piscina delle Rose, open from mid-May to late-September. Centro Sportivo Santa Maria also has a gym area that is part of the day pass, so you’re best off opting for this less glamorous pool if getting a good workout is a priority over a summer tan.
If you’re looking to train with barbells, CrossFit Trastevere is the place to check into. They’re open gym hours are broad and your day access is covered for €20. See the full class schedule via this PDF.
Sleeping & Eating
Located in Piazza Navona, the 10-suite G-ROUGH is one of Rome’s ultimate hybrids, linking a frame and facade from the 1600s with the modern touches of mid-century Italian designers. There are six simpler, smaller rooms starting at $250, with larger suites occupying the rest of the hotel. While you are within a touristy part of town, the hotel is very central and near to the Tiber and plenty of good eating options.
A self-catered to opt into the dynamic concept of Urbana 47, a restaurant offering that has recently broadened their hospitality offering with a pair of properties in Rome, each with their own kitchens. One is next to the restaurant in Monti, and the other is at Borgo Pio 40 next to the Vatican.
If you’re aiming for a bed and breakfast stay, look to Casa Fabbrini which is a stone’s throw from the entrance to Villa Borghese.
When it comes to eating, make sure you leave reservations in advance. Roscioli is a small cluster of eateries in the centre of town, including a fantastic restaurant, a more casual deli an adjacent coffee bar. In another part of Rome, Roscioli also has a pizzeria, Emma.
Near to Roscioli is Pianostrada which is well worth getting a booking at. Their website is awful, so just call them to make a reservation and let the venue do the talking. Other good fuelling venues include Buff, a restaurant, Travestere, Pergamino Caffè near the Vatican and 20MQ which is a cute cafe-eatery in the Flaminio neighbourhood, well away from any tourists.
Tap the venue name to generate Google Maps directions, and hit number from your smartphone to make the call.
Clivi di Rocca Savella: no number
CrossFit Firestorm: +39 06 6935 4843
Villa Doria Pamphili: no number
Header image: Andrea Cenni