Rome at Dawn 19

Experience Rome without the Crowds

Imagine the Trevi Fountain turning on its famous electric charm just for you alone. Or the sky turning all shades of gorgeous over the Vatican while you watched from a secluded bridge over the Tiber. Imagine if you had the entire city of Rome to yourself.

On a recent trip to Rome I did. And it was magical…

Over the last couple of years Europe’s most beautiful cities have been besieged by an overcrowding of tourists jumping into fountains, polluting the skyline with selfie-sticks and generally trashing otherwise beautiful cities. Dubrovnik has had to limit the number of visitors into its old town. Rome has introduced fines for fountain-frolickers. Anti-tourist campaigners in Barcelona vandalised a tourist bus. Even during the quieter seasons, you will find yourself vying for a position to catch a vaguely photo-worthy glimpse of Europe’s most famous sites.

So how can you experience the essence of a city without the crowds? Without feeling like just another one of the masses of fanny-pack toting, matching-tracksuit tourists?

The answer is to set your alarm for 5:00am, drag your hungover bones out of bed and hit the streets on foot, camera at the ready. While the rest of the city sleeps, its cobbles, piazzas, fountains and vistas are all yours for the taking.

On my last trip to Rome, I did just this and have documented it by way of inspiration for your next Roman adventure:

5:00am – Alarm

In answer to your question, no it was not easy to get up at this un-Godly hour. With a mild hangover lurking from the festivities of the night before, it was not easy at all. But I resisted the lure of a warm bed, I bit the bullet and I got out there.

5:15am – Piazza Venezia

The temperature was a very pleasant 22 degrees Celsius and the city was cloaked in that heavy, palpable silence that only exists while everyone else is tucked up in bed.

I started at the Piazza Venezia. Usually host to Rome’s most chaotic kamikaze traffic, the intersection and its imposing Palazzo Venezia transformed into a tranquil oasis of calm and majesty at 5:15am.

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5:30am – Fontana di Trevi

My next stop was the nearby Trevi Fountain, by far my favourite place in Rome. Ever since Marcello Mastroianni waded in to save Anita Ekberg in the classic film “La Dolce Vita”, the Trevi Fountain has had a special mystique. I always find the atmosphere here to be electric – like nowhere else I’ve been.

The fountain is, however, a victim of its own beauty. If you visit it during the day or evening you will be one of thousands of tourists crowded into the small square, jostling for position to capture that an social media-worthy snap. Before dawn, on the other hand, it’s just you and a couple of policemen, poised to prevent any revellers from going full-Ekberg.

It truly was one of the most magical moments to be the only person tossing a coin, making a wish (which just has to come true), taking a picture and feeling like the fountain was mine, all mine.

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Crowds at the Trevi Fountain by day

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6:00am – the Spanish Steps

From the Trevi Fountain, I skipped through the deserted streets to the Piazza di Spagna where the Spanish Steps and Fontana della Barcaccia revealed a charm I had never appreciated about them before. The unobstructed view was revelatory.

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6:30am – Vatican Vistas

As the sun was starting to rise, I hot-footed it over to the Ponte Umberto I, which offers one of the most divine views of the Vatican. It was magical to watch the sky change colour, the clouds make mountain-like formations over the dome, while the lights of the Vatican faded into the morning light. The only sound was the river beneath and the birds above. Pure magic.

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7:00am – Piazza Navona

With a few slivers of daylight breaking through the clouds, I legged it to the Piazza Navona. When the city started to come to life it was interesting to see who was about at such an early hour – check out my “Rome at Dawn Bingo” card below, for a taste of the kind of weirdos who choose to get up early on a Saturday morning.

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By day
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At dawn

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7:30am – Pantheon

I ended my dawn ramble at the Pantheon. The main draw card at this stage was the availability of some quality coffee at the nearby Tazza d’Oro. Don’t you just love the sound of the coffee being ground, the machine coming to life, the “psshhh” of the milk being steamed and the clink of coffee cups and saucers early in the morning? There’s nothing quite so life-affirming as that first cup, watching the city starting its day. And there’s nothing as sweet as knowing you can head back to bed for a little early morning nap having had the beauty of the city all to yourself, just for a little while.

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Rome at Dawn Bingo

For your next visit to the Eternal City, get up and get out there early with a game of Roman-Dawn-Bingo:


Walk of shame

(the trashier the better)

Dog walkers



(preferably still revelling)



(if only I was that dedicated)


Baby-boomer tourists

(double points if they’re wearing matching tracksuits)


Priests and nuns (no, I don’t know why there were so many walking around before dawn, but for the avoidance of doubt this category is in no way linked to the “walk of shame” category)


Fluffy pink clouds reflecting an out-of-this-world sunrise


Photography nerds with expensive camera equipment and tripods (I can get on board with this one)


Magic moments that will stay with you forever

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5 thoughts on “Experience Rome without the Crowds

  1. I think this is brilliant! I normally get up at 4am for work, so the early hour isn’t an issue for me. My husband and I were in Barcelona in May for his daughter’s wedding. We had a very early tour for Montserrat and were up and out of the hotel at 5:30am. To see the city streets, and the Plaza Catalunia nearly empty was breathtaking. It’s such a shame that people have to disrespect history, much less each other, is baffling to me. I spent a lot of time in Italy growing up but never made it to Rome. The thought of all the terrible crowds haven’t put it at the top of my list anymore, however, your article and advice has changed my mind. What do you advise for Venice? I can’t believe there are cruise ships there now too. My favorite visit to Venice was when I was about 19. I wine on a spur of the moment trip over Easter to visit friends nearby and hopped over to Venice for the day. The weather was cool and dreary, but there weren’t as many tourists. It was the best! Now that Dad is gone, that remains one of my favorite memories.
    Thanks for sharing your adventures and experiences. It’s inspirational and motivational! L, Carrol

    1. Isn’t it magical to get out and explore at dawn? Everything seems so much more beautiful when it’s undisturbed by all the crowds. I have really special memories of Venice too. It is difficult to avoid the crowds there though unless you get out an about early, and never during the high tourist season!

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