12 Best Spots in Piazza del Popolo and Local Tips For Visiting

In this post, I want to talk to you about the most interesting spots in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. I walk through Piazza del Popolo every time I head to the city center. 

The square serves as an entrance to ancient Rome for those coming from the north (you know I actually live in the province north of Rome), but the splendor of this square always makes me forget that I’m in a kind of antechamber. 

One of my favorite sights in the city is the view of the Twin Churches, with the obelisk and the fountain at the center. This view unfolds right after I pass through the Bernini-crafted arches of the Porta del Popolo. 

Beautiful architecture reigns supreme in this square, but it’s not the only draw. There are also masterpieces by Caravaggio to admire for free, legends, and mysteries. 

Here’s what I think are the must-see things in Piazza del Popolo and the interesting facts to know.

12 Interesting Spots in Piazza del Popolo

1. Porta del Popolo Gate

Traveling by metro and getting off at the Flaminio stop, the first thing I do to enter Piazza del Popolo is to pass through its elegant travertine marble entrance.

The Porta del Popolo fits into the context of the Aurelian Walls (3rd century AD), but its current appearance dates from a more recent era.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the author of some of the most precious sculptures in Rome, renovated it in the mid-17th century for the visit of Queen Christina of Sweden. On the inner part of the gate, just above the central arch and below the Chigi family crest, there is also a message commemorating the event.

2. The Twin Churches

Impossible not to notice them! The two churches that stand before me as soon as I cross the gate completely absorb the gaze, even though they are at the end of the square.

They seem symmetrical, “twins”, but it’s an optical illusion: the attentive eye can spot the major differences in the domes. However, Pope Alexander VII, who commissioned their restoration in the 17th century, making them a magnificent example of Baroque art, would have wanted them to be identical.

The architect Rainaldi, who designed the churches, could not fulfill the request because the space to the left (with one’s back to the Porta del Popolo) was smaller.

On the left is the Basilica of Santa Maria in Montesanto, where every Sunday the so-called “Mass of the Artists” is held, famous for gathering figures from the world of entertainment.

On the right is the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, much older, dating back to the 14th century. The inhabitants requested its foundation to house an icon of the virgin to which they had attributed a miracle.

3. The Fountain of the Lions

The creation of the Fountain of Lions is part of the great redesign of the square by architect Giuseppe Valadier at the beginning of the 19th century. The fountain serves both as a base and a frame for the Obelisk.

The four lions placed at the corners of the base, majestic on pyramid-shaped thrones with steps, are in Egyptian style. From their mouths comes water in the shape of a fan, which pours into the four basins at the base.

In the 16th century, in place of this fountain, there was another one by the architect Giacomo della Porta, later moved to Piazza Nicosia.

4. Flaminio Obelisk

The “Flaminio” obelisk, adorned with Pharaoh Seti’s hieroglyphics from 1300 B.C., stands as a historic monument. Augustus, marking the conquest of Egypt, brought it from Heliopolis to Rome in 10 B.C., making it the first obelisk to make such a journey.

Initially, it graced the Circus Maximus, symbolizing the Sun. Then, by the order of Pope Sixtus V, it found its place in Piazza del Popolo in the 16th century.

5. Church of Santa Maria del Popolo

I neglected this church for many years, precisely because it is immediately to the left of the Porta del Popolo, I didn’t see it, focusing my gaze on the other two “more visible” churches.

Don’t do as I did: the interior is full of artistic treasures, although it’s a bit “gloomy” due to the peculiar way light filters through.

Legends say that in the Middle Ages, Emperor Nero’s ghost wandered the slopes of the Pincio hill, amidst the branches of a giant walnut tree. 

This tree, growing over Nero’s buried ashes, became the pope’s focus, who decided to cut down the tree and build a church at the site, funded by the Roman people. 

Thus, in 1099, Santa Maria del Popolo was born.

The church now features three naves with four chapels on each side. Sculptures of female saints and martyrs line the arches of the central column, leading visitors to the painting of the Virgin near the altar, believed to be miraculous. Renaissance architect Donato Bramante designed the choir located behind the altar.

You definitely don’t want to miss the art treasures in the Cerasi Chapel, adjacent to the altar. Here, you’ll find two of the six paintings by Caravaggio to admire for free in Rome.

6. Caravaggio paintings

The reason I visited the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is because I knew it contained two paintings by Caravaggio, one of the most important Italian painters:

  • the Crucifixion of St. Peter
  • the Conversion of St. Paul

The paintings are located in the Cerasi Chapel, which is to the left of the apse.

A tip to best admire them: Bring with you €1 and €2 coins, so you can turn on the light on the chapel’s vault, which allows you to see all the colors and details well. I always found someone who was already admiring the paintings after having inserted coins.

7. Pincio Terrace

When I visit Piazza del Popolo with someone who comes to Rome for the first time, I always take them to the Pincio Terrace. From the square, take some very worn steps that lead up, towards Villa Borghese.

At the end of the steps (I advise against it if you are tired or if you are not in good shape), there is a terrace that offers a unique view of Piazza del Popolo.

The terrace is a huge balcony in carved travertine marble, it’s also beautiful to admire it from Piazza del Popolo. The terrace is the result of the restoration and redesign of the square that took place at the beginning of the 19th century.

8. Other sculptures in Piazza del Popolo

The most important moment in the architectural history of Piazza del Popolo is the redesign of the late 18th-early 19th century by the Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier.

He changed the layout of the square from a trapezoid to a double semicircle, which allowed creating a “flattened” perspective that focused attention on the Twin Churches.

This is why for a long time I did not pay attention to the sculptures placed on the other sections of the circumference. There are eight marble sphinxes (returning to the Egyptian motif that accompanies the ancient Obelisk), each with a head representing one of the four seasons.

At the ends of the semicircles, there are two marble basins topped by sculptural groups:

  • The Goddess Roma between the Tiber and Aniene Rivers (just below the Pincio Terrace)
  • Neptune among the Fighting Tritons.

9. The Trident

When I come to Piazza del Popolo, after having savored its extraordinary architecture, I certainly don’t stop there.

The Twin Churches mark the passage from the square to the three streets that lead into the historical center of Rome:

  • Via del Corso, in the center, leads to Piazza Venezia
  • Via del Babuino, which leads to Piazza di Spagna
  • Via Ripetta, which comes near Piazza Navona.

Because of the structure of their course, which spreads from Piazza del Popolo, these three streets are known as “The Trident” and lead to a lively shopping area of Rome.

10. Restaurant Dal Bolognese

I have eaten at this elegant restaurant only once, invited by relatives, but it is impossible to forget it.

In the unique location of one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, this historic restaurant offers specialties of Italian cuisine (thus not only “Roman”) and especially from the Emilia Romagna region. In short, some of the dishes among the best in the world like tortellini and lasagna but much more.

The environment is refined, as are the prices… which is why I have not returned here. If you can afford it, I recommend it, but know that booking is imperative.

11. Restaurant Il Margutta Veggie Food & Art

A couple of minutes walk from the square is Via Margutta, where you find one of the city’s most beloved vegetarian restaurants, which also offers many vegan dishes.

Via Margutta St., which hosts the restaurant, is Rome’s Artists’ Street, with many workshops, and the restaurant is inspired by this artistic mood in the decor.

Sometimes on Sundays, I do a brunch here with a buffet with a wide choice of dishes with organic ingredients, while on other days you can choose from the menu.

12. Cheap eats near Piazza del Popolo

Exiting the square through Porta del Popolo, there are cheaper places to eat.

Pizza Rustica does an excellent pizza by the slice, while Caffé dei Pittori serves a lunch buffet that is very appreciated by students.

If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to head to Pizzeria Da Michele, which is located next to the Museum for Children Explora along the Via Flaminia St.


Together with Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo is one of my favorite squares in Rome. The characteristic elements of a fabulous Roman square are all there: the church (in this case, the three churches!), the fountain, the obelisk, the sculptures.

The atmosphere of this square is magical, in fact, here both locals and travelers stop for a while looking around or admiring the street artists. On New Year’s Eve, concerts are usually held here, and the square is crowded.

Even if you have to stray a bit from the itinerary you have planned, visit this square, which is well served by the metro, full of treasures and, if you don’t mind walking, in about half an hour you arrive at the Colosseum.