On your bicicletta! Three of Rome’s most stunning cycling routes

This article is part of a guide to Rome from FT Globetrotter, as well as a new cycling series running all summer

I won’t lie. Rome is not a cyclist-friendly city. With more cars and impatient drivers than any other European capital I have lived in or visited, it would certainly be naive to suggest that traveling around by bike is a feasible option if you don’t live in the city centre.

Outside of central neighborhoods such as Monti or Trastevere, driving continues to be the preferred means of transport in Rome, despite some limited anti-pollution measures introduced by the local authorities, such as forbidding certain cars to circulate on given days depending on their number plate , and the addition of new bicycle lanes. (If you prefer commuting on two wheels, your best bet is a scooter.)

This is why, when I moved from London to Rome a few years ago, I left my fixed-gear bicycle behind.

Soon after arriving in Rome, the author bought a yellow 1980s racing bike at a street market © Roberta Perrone

But soon after arriving in the Italian capital, I stumbled upon a street market on the outskirts of the city, where I found a yellow 1980s racing bike in near-perfect condition. I figured I could use it for sport, recreation and touring, as I had done some years ago on the Italian Riviera, in my native Liguria.

I replaced the wheels and made some small changes to transform the bike into a more versatile vehicle suitable for various types of pathways.

Jumping back in the saddle led me to discover the variety of cycling routes in and around Rome. Some are central and easy to reach; others are a bit further out but are worth the drive or train ride. But to begin with, here is a selection of my favorite leisurely rides.

Lago Albano

  • Good for: Peace and quiet

  • Not so good for: Access — it’s not as easy to reach without a car.

  • FYI: This 10k loop winds around the crater of a former volcano. Most people visit by car (it’s around an hour’s drive from the city centre) but it’s also possible to get here by train from Roma Termini central station (it takes around 40 minutes to Castel Gandolfo station). Although it is not particularly packed at weekends, go during the week to enjoy the sounds of nature — and more easily find a parking spot by the lake (Directions)

Globetrotter cycling map showing routes around Lago Albano

My favorite route is the circuit around Lago Albano, a volcanic-crater lake in the Alban hills of the Lazio region, about 20km south-east of Rome. It’s near Castel Gandolfo, a hilltop village that is home to the papal summer residence and offers breathtaking views over the lake (and was seen in Netflix’s The Two Popes).

The Lago Albano loop is about 20km south-east of Rome, in the Alban hills.

The Lago Albano loop is about 20km south-east of Rome, in the Alban hills.

The 10k route circumnavigates a lake in a volcanic crater

The 10k route circumnavigates a lake in a volcanic crater © Roberta Perrone (2)

Not only is Lago Albano a paradise for canoeists, rowers and paddleboarders, it is also a blissful spot for walkers and cyclists. The ride around the former volcano, just a few meters from the water, is both peaceful and exciting at the same time. The tranquil atmosphere exemplifies how humans can interact with nature respectfully.

Dotted with a few small houses and restaurants along the beach, the lake is an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city — and for those seeking outdoor exercise.

The route passes the historic hilltop village of Castel Gandolfo, where you'll find the papal summer residence.

The route passes the historic hilltop village of Castel Gandolfo, where you’ll find the papal summer residence © Valerio Mei/Alamy.

The round trip takes around a couple of hours – including rest stops

The round trip takes around a couple of hours — including rest stops © Roberta Perrone.

I usually begin my route from outside Da Agnese, a Roman restaurant that overlooks one of the main beaches. A large part of the trail is through woods, so a mountain bike is your best bet for managing safely through the occasional muddy stretch on the unpaved road. The round trip normally doesn’t take more than a couple of hours, including stopping to take photos.

Set off from Da Agnese in the morning so that you finish back at the restaurant in time for lunch. The salumi e formaggi (cured meat and various types of cheese) platter is a must, as well as the truffle carbonara and porchetta d’Ariccia (pork roast). If you are vegetarian, the ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach is delicious. Booking in advance is recommended.

The Appian Way

Porta San Sebastiano, Via di Porta San Sebastiano 18, 00179 Rome

  • Good for: History and ancient ruins

  • Not so good for: Uneven road

  • FYI: From the Colosseum metro station, it is about a 10-minute bus ride (118 Appia/Villa dei Quintili for seven stops, get off at Porta San Sebastiano). You can cycle for about two hours, but the pace can be flexible. And to go back, simply retrace the same route in reverse (Website; Directions)

Globetrotter cycling map showing the The Appian Way, Rome

All roads lead to Rome . . . but there is one that came before all others: the Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica, built in 312BC — the first and most important road from the republic and a gateway to the east. Considered by ancient Romans as the regina viarumor queen of the roads, today it is one of the best places in south Rome for a bike ride that doesn’t take too much effort.

Paved with cobblestones — some of them original — the Appian Way is a dive into the past. On some sections you can still see the original cart and chariot ruts, firmly set in place by thousands of years of wheels and feet. You are cycling in the footsteps of ancient Romans, merchants and even saints. Originally built for military purposes, the road was also trodden by Roman emperors and their legions.

The cobblestones of the Appian Way, where you can still see the original cart and chariot ruts © Valerio Mei/Alamy

The route takes in the 9th-century Domine Quo Vadis church.

The route takes in the 9th-century Domine Quo Vadis church © Paolo Romiti/Alamy

Start your ride from the gate of San Sebastiano, where the road begins today (it used to be much longer in ancient times). After a narrow tunnel, and across the Almone river, you will find the Appia Antica Park visitor information center on your right (around 600m into the ride). A quick stop here is definitely recommended, especially to stock up on the excellent free brochures. If you want to rent a bicycle, you can do so just a few meters from here. Mountain bikes are best for this terrain.

As you head down the road, you’ll pass the 9th-century Domine Quo Vadis church, which marks the spot where (according to the apocryphal Acts of Peter), St Peter is said to have met Jesus, asking him, “Where are you going?” (Quo vadis?).

Continuing up a gentle slope, on the left you’ll see the Villa and Circus of Maxentius, which could hold up to 10,000 spectators. At the top of the climb is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella (at 3km), dating back to the first century BC.

The Circus of Maxentius dates from the early third century AD.

The Circus of Maxentius dates from the early third century AD © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Near the Circus stands the tomb of Cecilia Metella.

Near the Circus stands the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, one of Rome’s best-preserved funerary monuments © Alamy

After a short stretch of cobblestones, the road continues on the flat and, at around 5.5km from your starting point, you will be completely immersed in antiquity, pedalling past Roman funerary monuments, flanked by tall pines and cypresses.

The paths are generally well maintained and easy to follow; only occasionally are there parts where the ground is uneven, but with a bit of caution these can be fun rather than difficult.

This first section of the Appian Way is interrupted by two modern roads that cross it: Via di Tor Carbone, at 5.5km, and Via del Casale Rotondo, after 7.7km — these, however, have little traffic. Beyond this the road continues slightly uphill.

After 12km, near Ciampino airport, the road gets less interesting from an archaeological point of view, and also less wide, becoming a simple path in some places. So here, if you wish, you can turn around and retrace your route backwards.

Villa Doria Pamphili

Via di San Pancrazio, 00152 Rome

  • Good for: Beautiful Mediterranean pine trees and landscape diversity

  • Not so good for: The only bistro in the park is busy at weekends.

  • FYI: The park is open from 8am to 8pm. From central Rome, catch the 44 bus from Piazza Venezia (Ara Coeli stop), which runs every 15 minutes (Website; Directions)

Globetrotter cycling map showing routes around Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome

Villa Doria Pamphili is arguably the park most loved by Romans. When I wrote about the best running routes in the Eternal City and did not include it, several readers and fellow journalists asked me why I had forgotten it. Some were truly astonished.

The reason I left it off my list in favor of more central locations is that if you don’t live in the Monteverde or Trastevere areas, it’s not that easy to reach. Here I’ll make up for my oversight, because as soon as I took my bicycle there I rediscovered why it deserves its reputation.

Villa Doria Pamphili: arguably the most beloved of Rome's parks

Villa Doria Pamphili: arguably the most beloved of Rome’s parks © Claudio Ciabochi/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Baroque Casino del Bel Respiro sits in its center

The Baroque Casino del Bel Respiro sits within the park © Giuseppe Fucile/Alamy

Villa Pamphili has it all: hills, majestic boulevards lined with pine trees, fountains, lakes, an outdoor gym, wooded areas and parts that feel like open countryside. There is also a small (slightly overpriced) bistro where you can enjoy a coffee or snack after the ride.

This park offers a 12.6km loop that is accessible year round. There are many entrances, but a good place to start is Via di San Pancrazio at the junction with Via Aurelia Antica.

Within the park is a 17th-century Baroque villa, Casino del Bel Respiro, surrounded by statues and overlooking a geometric garden, embellished by fountains and Roman ruins. You will be surprised by the variety of the landscape as you cycle by ponds and small waterfalls, which, along with the typical Mediterranean flora and some of the tallest maritime pine trees in town, all contribute to this park’s special atmosphere.

Maps by Liz Faunce

Where are your favorite places to go cycling in or near the Italian capital? Tell us in the comments

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