An insider guide to the best things you can do in Rome for free. Discover all the monuments, museums and hidden gems you can see in the Eternal city without breaking the bank.
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 things to see in Rome for free.
15 amazing free things to see in Rome
Rome world famous piazzas
Rome if famous for its beautiful piazzas and indeed, some of them are truly special.
The most impressive are the large,monumental ones such as Piazza Navona or Piazza del Pantheon, but even the smaller ones hold a special charm (a perfect example of the latter is Piazza Margana, in the city centre).
Rome piazzas (or piazze, in Italian) are a feature of the city and they are, as such, free. You can make them your destination or you can just let them take your breath away when they suddenly open up at the end of a narrow cobbled road: if you stroll around the historical centre, you won’t miss them.
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.
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, just to name a few.
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.
Update: in 2017 there were rumours about the Pantheon becoming a paid attractions which sparked a lot of controversy. While I cannot report on the ins and out of the argument, what I can say is that in April 2018 the Pantheon was still free to visit. Just make sure you go early to avoid the otherwise very long line)
Marvel at the Trevi fountain
Another majour Roman attraction, the Trevi fountain is free. 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!
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.
The best way to enjoy the steps in all their glory is to go early in the morning or, even better, in the evening during the week. After the sun goes down, the golden light of the streetlights creates a wonderful, warm atmosphere enveloping this wise and truly impressive staircase.
Bocca della verita’ (The mouth of Truth)
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.
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).
You can stilll see the ‘monster’ from outside its precinct but the experience of putting your hand in its mouth is now ticketed. A good alternative, in the same area, is to climb up towards the back of the Capitolium, for stunning views over ancient Rome.
Climb Aventino 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 (peek though the keyhole: yes, i am being serious!). This is one of my favourite things to do in Rome for free, especially in spring, when the light is bright and crisp.
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!
Go to a park
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 also gorgeous 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!
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. See also: what to pack for Rome here
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. Even better: do if with gelato in hand, there are several shops in the area and the take out prices are reasonable
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.
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.
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.
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.
The de-consecrated 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! It is great people watching and one of the many fun free things to see in Rome I normally mention to visiting friends!
I hope you enjoyed my selection of things to do in Rome for free. Safe travels!
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