Travel is, without a doubt, an expensive hobby, but some destinations are very easily enjoyed even on a tight budget. One of them? Rome. While the Eternal city is sure to tempt you with glittering shops, museums and restaurants, there are many things that she is happy to share with you for free. Here is a list of 15 of my favourite free things to see in Rome with kids and, indeed, without.
- 15 amazing free things to see in Rome
- 1. Its world famous piazzas
- 2. Visit churches
- 3. Visit the Pantheon
- 4. Trevi fountain
- 5. Spanish steps
- 6. Bocca della verita’
- 7. Climb September for a view from above
- 8. Go to villa Borghese or Villa Doria Pamphili
- 9. St Peter Basilica (main floor)
- 10. Stroll down via dei fori imperiali
- 11. Discover the non-catholic cemetery
- 12. Discover off the beaten track neighbourhoods
- 13. Visit museums on the first Sunday of the month
- 14. Discover Rome Markets
- 15. The deconsecrated church at Caracalla
15 amazing free things to see in Rome
1. Its world famous piazzas
I love to take walks and a stroll around a neighbourhood I don’t know is often my favourite part of any city break. In Rome, however, walks are much more than a pleasant form of exercise in between touristy stops or a fallback plan for the cash poor.
They are by far the best way to discover what is truly special about the city: from the small cobbled streets to the hidden but sometimes huge and spectacular piazzas, to the main tourist attractions, Rome gives her best if visited on foot.
When a small street opens up to reveal the pantheon (or Piazza Navona, in the photo)… this is when Rome captures your heart and no bus tour or pre-defined itinerary can really match the emotion of the sudden discovery of a treasure.
One you cannot miss is Piazza Navona, in the photo, but this is just the most impressive of many: get lost in Rome city centre and discover your favourite piazza, then come back and let me know which one it is!
Family travel tip: if you are visiting Rome with small children, consider bringing a carrier and use that, rather than a stroller, for short walks. Cobbled streets make for bumpy rides if your child is in a pushchair and you will often find yourself fighting against cars for space on the pavements: in Rome, parking is wild and car owners have no issues parking anywhere they find a space (regardless if it is legal or not).
2. Visit churches
Rome has a staggering amount of churches and many of them are home to spectacular masterpieces (many Caravaggio are in churches), making them a very valid alternative to a museum. Churches are free to visit and especially for families with children and great way to see art without forcing little people to stand in line or keep quiet in museum corridors. Particularly impressive are, I believe: Santa Maria della Pieta’ (with the Ecstasy of St Teresa, by Bernini), San Pietro in Vincoli (with a Moses by Michelangelo) and San Luigi dei francesi, with a fantastic Caravaggio.
3. Visit the Pantheon
You might be surprised to know that one of Rome’s most famous attractions is totally free! Stroll there, walk in and look up at, literally, the sky above you.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
4. Trevi fountain
Another majour Roman attraction, the Trevi fountain is free as it is built in the homonymous square: tradition says you should throw a coin in it to make sure you come back to Rome – if you don’t want to or decide to push your luck, you can save that!
5. Spanish steps
If you can take the crowds, the Spanish steps are right in the centre of the city and beautiful, especially in spring when dressed in flowers. I hate to say this but be careful there: it is a spot notorious for pickpockets, especially close to the metro station, so be extra careful.
6. Bocca della verita’
If you have seen the moviea ‘A Roman holiday’ you might remember the scene where Gregory Peck pretends to have his hand bitten by a giant stone ‘mouth’. That mouth is indeed in Rome and you can see it for free.
Tip for family travel to Rome: The mouth of truth is always a great hit with kids, but the line to get in are long. Bring a snack and water if going in the middle of the day and prepare your kids for the wait. If visiting in summer, bring also a sunhat and sunglasses as there is no shade there.
Find my tips for visiting Rome with a baby or young child in summer here
Update: in September 2017 la bocca della verita’ stopped being free: now there is a 2 euro charge to access it (source: The guardian, article here). A good alternative, in the same area, is to climb up towards the back of the Capitolium, for stunning views over ancient Rome.
7. Climb September for a view from above
One of the most beautiful spots in Rome, I believe, is one of Rome’s seven hills: Aventino. Just in front of Circo Massimo, the Aventino hill is a wonderful spot for a stroll: climb up to Giardino degli aranci for a beautiful view over the city, pop into the beautiful churches at its top and look at St Peter’s dome from the door of the Istituto dei Cavalieri di Malta.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
L’Aventino is also a wealthy residential part of town, so it is interesting if you want to get lost in the fantasy of what it would be like to have a wonderful house in Rome!
Tip for families travelling to Rome with children. On top of Aventino, there is a non-descriptive door with a bigger-than-normal keyhole. Undo all the ‘no peeking through the keyhole’ screaming you might have done over the years and encourage children to look through it! It is designed to give a perfect view of St Peter’s dome, framed by evergreen, manicured shrubs.
8. Go to villa Borghese or Villa Doria Pamphili
Rome is full of beautiful parks and Villa Borghese and Villa Doria Pamphili are two of the best. Stroll under Villa Borghese’s pine trees, explore its little lake and then head towards il Pincio terrace for a view over Piazza del Popolo. Villa Doria Pamphili is gorgeous and really family friendly: it’s a great spot for a picnic and, from parts of it, you have a pretty incredible view over St Peter’s dome. What, again? Yes, but I promise you: it’s worth it!
9. St Peter Basilica (main floor)
I got you to look at it from all sides, now it is time to visit. Access to St Peter’s dome is not free, but you can access the main piazza and Basilica’s main floor without paying. If you plan on walking into the church, just make sure you have the required attire: shorts, vests and revealing clothes are not allowed and Vatican security will stop you on your tracks.
Tip for family travelling with children: Vatican city is a State and therefore entering it means crossing an international border. Kids love the idea of border crossing and if you are counting countries visited, this one counts as one: make sure you tell them!
10. Stroll down via dei fori imperiali
If you are on a budget and cannot pay to enter the forum or the Colosseum, just take a stroll on via dei fori imperiali: while I highly recommend visiting them, this way you can anyway get a good idea of their layout and feel – make sure you climb the small hill in front of the Colosseum for the best views.
11. Discover the non-catholic cemetery
One of the most peaceful corners of the whole city, this cemetery should be visited for many reasons: it is beautiful, it is home to the remains of Keats and Shelley and offers incredible views over possibly the most peculiar building in Rome: Cestius’ pyramid. Access to the cemetery is free but a small donation is recommended.
Family travel tip: as unlikely as it may seem, the cemetery is a great place for kids: part of it is a wide lawn overlooking hte pyramid – a great spot for a break while sightseeing.
12. Discover off the beaten track neighbourhoods
One of the most pleasant free things to do in Rome is to allow yourself to get lost in some of its off the beaten track areas. Rome has some stunning and interesting neighbourhoods that are worth discovering.
Rome has some stunning and interesting neighbourhoods that are worth discovering. Quartiere Coppede’, la Garbatella, Testaccio, for instance, are all full of history and charm. As well as giving you a real sense of what the city is like, outside the tourist areas, food is cheaper here and the quality or restaurants, usually, high. Off the beaten track areas are also often the ones offering good value accommodation and better vaule for money.
If you are looking for cheap accommodation in Rome, don’t forget to check Hotels Combined, a price comparison sites showing the best offers available from majour booking engines such as booking.com, Tripadvisor and many more.
13. Visit museums on the first Sunday of the month
All state museums are open to visitors for free on the first Sunday of the month: they get crowded but it is a fantastic opportuity especially if travelling as a family as tickets for small groups are sometimes pricey.
14. Discover Rome Markets
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to markets and bric-a-brac. A very well-known one is mercato di Porta Portese and one of the trendiest right now is Mercato Monti, but many many neighbourhoods have their own. In the city centre, a famous market is mercato di Campo de’ Fiori – now less authentic than in used to be, it still is a fun place to visit in the morning.
15. The deconsecrated church at Caracalla
Head to Caracalla and discover the beautiful setting of civil weddings in Rome. Civil ceremonies are short in Rome, they literally only take about 15 minutes, but they take place in a truly charming place: the de-consecrated church at Caracalla. You might not be able to sneak in but if you are near Circo Massimo, do pass by and see the lines of brides in their white dress waiting for their turn to tie the knot!
How do you make your travel budget friendly? If you have ideas or tips to share, please leave a comment!
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