Exploring Fellini’s Rome: A City Guide to the Director’s Favourite Film Locations

Federico Fellini co-wrote and directed ‘La Dolce Vita’
Federico Fellini co-wrote and directed ‘La Dolce Vita’ | © Riama-Pathe/Kobal / Shutterstock
Celebrated film director Federico Fellini captured the true essence of the Italian capital. Rome’s beauty, raw energy and surrealist side are still visible in some of the director’s favourite haunts and spots in the Eternal City.
Fellini captured the post-war vibe of Rome in his films © John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis / Getty Images

Federico Fellini was never really part of the post-war Neorealist crowd, but there is something deeply authentic about his depictions of the Italian capital. Beauty and brutality, the sound of urgent, gossipy chat bouncing off the centro storico walls and the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern suddenly appearing in heat-infused dreamscapes – these are all constant threads in everyday Roman life.

The majority of his most celebrated backdrops, such as the Trevi Fountain and even the Rome Metro, were recreated at the city’s fabled Cinecittà Studios. While you can visit the studios’ nearby museum and go on a guided tour with a set visit, Fellini’s Rome is still very much with us – enchanting and bedazzling as ever.

Via Veneto

Historical Landmark
Rome, Italy - October 14, 2016: Cozy street in Via Vittorio Veneto, Rome in Italy
Fellini used the bright street of Via Veneto to explore the dark side of celebrity obsession | © Roman Babakin / Alamy Stock Photo

Hollywood stars from the ’50s established a boozy playground along this stretch, handily positioned near the US Embassy. Away from home and with no studio agents or PRs to watch over them, big-screen names were left to kick back and carouse as much as they wanted. Before too long, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman and the rest were being bothered by squads of freelance photographers, hopping between bars and hanging around nightclub doorways and hotel lobbies. Fellini famously used the scene as a starting point for La Dolce Vita’s (1960) exploration of the dark side of our celebrity obsessions. Strolling around today may prove something of a disappointment, but it’s enjoyed a mini-revival of late, and after a couple of sips of a Negroni, you can soon feel the ghosts of glam air-kissing and flitting around you. Appears in: La Dolce Vita

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Trevi Fountain

Historical Landmark
Italy, Rome, View of Fontana di trevi
The Trevi Fountain draws as many tourists today as it did in Fellini’s time | ©RilindH / Getty Images

A frantic tourist-selfie trap by day, this still-magical spot is best experienced in the wee small hours when the coach parties are long gone, and the piazza falls quiet – or quieter, at any rate. Since the Trevi Fountain is smack dab in the middle of the city, you’re highly unlikely to have it all to yourself, but you might find a moment to coo “Marceeeello…”. The Baroque backdrop dates back to the 1700s – it was constructed from travertine stone, quarried just outside the city. When Fellini’s leading man Marcello Mastroianni died in 1996, the fountain was turned off and draped in black in tribute; when his co-star Anita Ekberg followed him in 2015, the Rome authorities unfurled a huge canvas image of her looking down on the piazza, with the words “Ciao Anita”. Appears in: La Dolce Vita

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Colosseum

Archaeological site

The Colosseum is another Roman landmark best experienced at night when it’s all lit up, and gangs of stray cats step out from the ancient limestone in search of food and a chin rub, blocking the way of unsuspecting evening strollers. Fellini, ever the cat lover, would feed them while filming Lo Sceicco Bianco (The White Sheik, 1952), with the Colosseum’s darkened corners providing the perfect cover for a variety of vices. These days you just need to watch out for those cats. Appears in: Lo Sceicco Bianco

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Piazza del Popolo

Historical Landmark
Bar Canova at Piazza del Popolo Square, Rome, Italy
Fellini fanatics should head to Canova for a glimpse of the director’s work | © Martin Thomas Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
The director lived in a house on nearby Via Margutta (look out for the little plaque at number 110) and would often stroll over to this city landmark to sip coffee and people-watch at the Canova café. If you visit Canova today, you can enjoy the Fellini Gallery, with some wonderful black-and-white shots covering the director’s career, along with some of his sketches and paintings. If you sit overlooking the piazza, you’ll invariably pay a small fortune; however, if you take your coffee al bar (standing at the bar counter), you’ll be able to treat yourself to a cake or two.
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Fregene

Natural Feature, Historical Landmark
Panoramic View Of Beach Against Sky
The beaches of Fregene were an inspiration to Fellini | © DeP / EyeEm / Getty Images

Fellini loved this small seaside town, which is just outside Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast, and chose it as the setting for La Dolce Vita’s celebrated final scene. When he bought a villa here in the late 1950s, the sleepy gem became something of an arty retreat with actors, writers and musicians, many within the director’s circle, setting up summer homes here. Now massively popular with a new crowd of TV celebrities and sports stars, it lacks the glamour and slightly boho air of its post-war heyday, but it still has plenty of charm. Appears in: Lo Sceicco Bianco, La Dolce Vita, Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965)

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EUR

Building, Historical Landmark
Neoclassical architecture in EUR district, Rome, Italy
Fellini filmed among the stern architecture in the EUR district to create a spooky atmosphere | © bwzenith / Getty Images
The idea of Fascist architecture can be a troubling one. However, there’s no denying the design marvels of this proto-modernist new town, with its ordered squares and buildings boasting perfect symmetry and clean rationalist lines, located south of the city centre. EUR (now its official name, from the initials for Esposizione Universale Roma) was designed in 1939 as the site for the 1942 World’s Fair (which never took place due to World War II). Two decades later, Fellini clearly enjoyed using the contrast between the animated centro storico and the slightly spooky, silent sterility of this quarter. The imposing Palazzo dei Congressi even doubled up as a hospital in La Dolce Vita, one of the film’s early warning signs that it wasn’t all gorgeous shoes and fast cars in the post-war boom. Now principally a business district, you can find some decent shopping options on Viale Europa. Appears in: La Dolce Vita and Le Tentazioni del Dottor Antonio (The Temptations of Dr Antonio) from the anthology film Boccaccio ’70 (1962)
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Baths of Caracalla

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
Baths of Caracalla-Rome,Italy
© Bruce Ingwall / Getty Images

Fellini converted these ancient thermal baths into a subterranean nightclub for a show-stopping scene in La Dolce Vita, with Anita Ekberg seductively dancing the Frug alongside a jazz combo. Set along the Appian Way, today the Baths of Caracalla regularly play host to live music and theatrical events but are worth a visit even if there’s nothing on. As it’s less busy than some of Rome’s other famous ruins, it’s a great place where you can escape the heat and get your historical groove on all at the same time. Appears in: La Dolce Vita

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Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Church
Ancient ruins in Rome (Italy) - Interior of Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri), which is the site of Baths of Diocletian (Terme di Diocleziano)
Fellini’s funeral took place in this grand basilica, though his body was buried elsewhere | © Tatsuo115 / Getty Images

In November 1993, Fellini’s state funeral service took place in this basilica partly designed by Michelangelo, near the Piazza della Repubblica. Some 30,000 mourners had gathered earlier in the day at Cinecittà, with thousands waiting outside the church for a glimpse of his coffin. However, you won’t find his grave here – Fellini returned home to the Rimini Cemetery shortly after the service.

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Grande Raccordo Anulare

Historical Landmark
road junction in the italian highway called GRA and indications to ROME and other italian place
Fellini could even see magic in an Italian highway | © FC_Italy / Alamy Stock Photo

The last place on this list of Fellini Roman locales is the colossal ring road that circles the city. Don’t spend more time than you need to stuck on this orbital motorway. However, if you find yourself in the back of a taxi gazing out across the concrete expanse for any length of time, remember that Fellini managed to find a certain magic even in this place, with white horses running between the banks of cars caught up in a very Felliniesque, very Roman traffic jam. Appears in: Roma (1972)

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These recommendations were updated on December 12, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.