The Spanish Steps is where friends, locals and tourists alike, meet up with one another – either by design or by happy coincidence. The area feels like the heart of Rome. The name Spanish Steps seems to collide with the Italian location until you realize that the staircase connected the Spanish Embassy in the Piazza di Spagna below with the church in the Piazza Triniti del Monti above. The staircase, designed in an unusual fan shape that widens as it proceeds down the hill. To explore the area in style, take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the area.
When you visit the Spanish Steps you will find a fountain, piazza and architecture that characterize the city. You may get a feeling of recognition, since the landmark area has been featured in numerous paintings and movies. The “Ugly Boat” fountain dominating the scene at the foot of the staircase was fashioned by the famed sculptor and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and his father. The fountain commemorates the Tiber River flood in 1598 that deposited a fishing boat in the piazza.
Climbing the Stairs
A daily flower market is located at the foot of the stairs, and in the spring the steps are decorated with colorful azaleas and other flowering shrubs. A climb up the 138 stone stairs is rewarded with views of the city and the five-star Hassler, a five-star luxury boutique hotel. You may want to stop in for a drink at one of the hotel bars to get a taste of its opulent décor and possibly run into some famous people who just might be staying there.
Shopping and Eating Near the Spanish Steps
The famed Via Condotti begins at the bottom of the Spanish Steps and is still home to high-end shops featuring Italian designers like Valentino, Gucci, Armani and Fendi. If you want a taste of American fast food, Italy’s first McDonald’s can be found on the street. For those with more elegant tastes, Babington’s Tea Room is located on the left of the Spanish Steps. This historical English eatery has been around for over 100 years and offers such delicacies as home-made scones, English muffins and tea cakes in addition to gift items like umbrellas and teapots. You can also stop in to a café for salad and sandwiches or grab a gelato, Italian ice cream. But be warned – people are no longer allowed to enjoy their snacks while sitting on the Spanish Steps.
Meeting Up at the American Express Office
The American Express office is still situated a few doors south of the piazza, redesigned and personalized with attractive hostesses who great you at the door and assist with your needs. It is a far cry from the days when I visited as a student. Back when American Express was a required stop when you arrived at the next city on your itinerary, Americans flooded the office and waited on the floor to pick up mail and cash traveler’s checks after traveling around Europe. But some things never change. On a recent trip, I bumped into neighbors there from back home.
Keats got it right when he decided to make the Spanish Steps area his home at the end of his short life in 1821. The Keats-Shelley house at 26 Piazza di Spagna is now a museum. Stop in to see paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and an awesome collection of first editions. Artifacts highlight the life of Keats as well as others like Shelley, Lord Byron, John Milton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Oscar Wilde and Wordsworth.