25 free things to see and do in Rome

Posted in: Rome Sights


Colloseum by night.
Colloseum by night, and for free. Photo by Storm Crypt

By Nicole Arriaga in Rome—

Though Rome is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, there are plenty of things to see and do in the capital that won’t break the bank. Here’s a list of 25 activities that won’t cost one euro cent:

1) Churches: Some of Rome’s finest artwork and architectural design on display can’t only be found in museums. In fact, the creative masterpieces of some of the Bel Paese’s finest, Michelangelo, Bernini, Borromini and many others are actually found in the churches of Rome. Some real gems are: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Sant’Ignazio, Santa Maria del Popolo, and Saint Peter’s Basilica.

2) Fountains: There are an endless supply of fountains in Rome and seeing them will cost you nothing! Some favorites are the Fontana di Trevi, the Fontana di Quattro Fiumi (Piazza Navona), Fontana delle Tartarughe (Piazza Mattei), Fontana del Tritone (Piazza Barberini) and Fontana delle Api (Via Veneto).

A special note about the Trevi Fountain: No one comes to Rome without making a stop at the grandiose Fontana di Trevi. Whether it be day or night, it’s hard not to admire the sheer beauty of the fountain that Federico Fellini chose as his backdrop for the famed movie La Dolce Vita. Tourists flock in herds to the fountain, to throw a coin in as legend has it you’re sure to come back to Rome one day soon.

3) Piazzas: A favorite Italian pastime is to meet up with your friends in the piazza and shoot the breeze. Some of the more popular piazzas with both tourists and locals alike also happen to be very picturesque. These are at the top of your must-see list: Piazza di Spagna, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza della Repubblica.

Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain. Photo by budgetplaces

4) Obelisks: There are a number of Ancient Egyptian and Roman relics scattered in piazzas around the city. The most famous obelisks are those located in Piazza San Giovanni in Lateranno, Piazza Minerva, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona.

5) Ruins: Wander up the Via dei Fori Imperiali and see Trajan’s Market (Mercati di Traiano), Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino), Roman Forum (Foro Romano) and the Palatine Hill (Palatino). This is the heart of what is left of Ancient Rome. You have to pay to get inside the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, but taking a snap from outside won’t cost a thing.

6) Collosseum: It’s one of the seven wonders of the world and the unofficial mascot of Rome. To get inside this gargantuan monument where some of the bravest gladiators gave their best battle, you’ll have to wait in line and buy a ticket. However, it won’t cost you a dime to take in its immense beauty and a perfect picture.

7) Parks: Believe it or not, Rome has lots of green space hidden behind its monuments and ruins. Some famous parks are Villa Pamphilli (Monteverde) and Villa Ada (Corso Trieste).

Roman obelisk

Roman obelisk with local pigeons. Photo by euthman

8.) Villa Borghese: Dubbed as the Central park of Rome, Villa Borghese is one of the few green spaces in the Ancient City where you can truly relax, take a stroll and plan a picnic away from all of the hustle and bustle of the city. Hike up to the spot called the ‘Pincio’ for a bird’s eye view of Piazza del Popolo and the Roman skyline. Paradiso!

9) Villa Torlonia: A beautiful villa and garden, once Mussolini’s family residence, it then fell into disrepair and is now being restored. The garden contains many exotic plants and large trees. There’s also a nice museum called the Casina dellle Civette that’s remarkable for its stained glass windows. Open daily 7am-8:30pm, Via Nomentana, 70.

10) Appia Antica: All roads lead to Rome and what better way to enjoy a peaceful stroll than taking the old path to Rome on a Sunday when all cars are banned? The Appian Antica way makes for a lovely walk with tons of ancient ruins to see along the way. The park has detailed routes with maps for the best walking routes.

11) Gianiculum Hill: For breathtaking views of the city, head up the Gianiculum hill from Trastevere. At the top of the hill, there is also a lovely 17th century fountain and a statue of the Italian national military hero Giuseppe Garibaldi.

12) The Teatro di Pulcinella in Rome: Home to wonderful open-air puppet shows. The shows are free (although a small donation is appreciated). What’s more, the Gianiculum Hill, home to the theatre, provides fantastic views of the city.

13) Street Markets: Experience first hand how Romans shop for fresh fruits and vegetables or bargain down the price of that shirt they always wanted! The cost is free to get unless you buy something of course! The best open-air food markets are: Mercato di Trionfale (Via Andrea Doria), Campo de’ Fiori (Centro Storico) and Piazza San Giovanni di Dio (Monteverde). Best flea markets are: Via Sannio Market (San Giovanni) and Porta Portese Market (Trestevere).

14) Galleria Nazionale Di San Luca: Located near the Trevi Fountain at Piazza dell’Accademia di San Luca #77, the Galleria is open on select days, but always free. Bernini famously got his start at this academy. Browse works by famous and not so famous artists here (Van Dyck and Raphael to name a few).

15) Trastevere: Wander the streets and lose yourself in the winding cobble-stoned alleyways that make the oldest and most characteristic neighborhood in Rome so charming. Remember, a passeggiata won’t cost you a thing!

16) The Vatican Museums: On the last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums are open to the public for free. The only downside is that the line is much longer on this day than most, so be prepared to wait or get there super early. The dates when admission is free for 2010 are:
-October 31, 2010
-November 28, 2010
-December 26, 2010

Vatican City, Rome. Photo by Juan Rubiano

17) 100 Painters on Via Margutta: This well-hidden little art market on Via Margutta has held a reputation since the 17th century of being a notorious haunt for bohemians and starving artists. In the 1950s, its studios and bars were frequented by international celebrities such as film stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando. The exhibit takes place fom October 29th through November 1st.

18) Innamorati dell’arte (Art Lovers): On Valentine’s Day throughout Italy, couples and friends can get tickets two-for-one entrance tickets at National museums, monuments and archaeological sites. (Includes: National Musuem of Villa Giulia, Galleria Borghese and the National Musuem of Castel S. Angelo. Admission: Two for the price of one. February 14th only.

19) Piramide (Pyramid): Believe it or not, Rome has a pyramid. The piramide was originally built as a tomb for for Gaius Cestius in 12 BC, and located in bustling piazza right near the Piramide Metro stop (Line B). Visitors can only appreciate the outside of the pyramid.

20) Crypts and Bones: Creepy for some yet cool for others, the Santa Maria della Immocalata Concezione church, or best known as the “Bones Church” has a tiny crypt underneath it where the skulls and bones of more than 4,000 Cappuchin monks have been artfully arranged to decorate the walls of several tiny chapels. It’s located on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Open everyday except Thursdays from 9am-noon and 3pm-6pm.

21) Aula Octagonale: Considered to be one of Rome’s hidden treasures, this well kept secret in Piazza della Repubblica houses ancient Roman sculptures near the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The room was part of the Baths of Diocletian. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-7pm (Closed Mondays).

22) Pantheon: One of Rome’s best preserved monuments other than the Collossuem is the Pantheon. It was originally a pagan temple only to be later converted into a church. The immense monument located in Piazza della Rotonda, is a photographer’s paradise. The piazza also happens to be a favorite hangout for young people and becomes quite lively with its outdoor cafés and street performers.

23) La Bocca della Verità: If you zip by the outside of this church (Santa Maria in Cosmedin), you might wonder what all the fuss is about until you see why everyone’s waiting in line. Tourists love taking a kitschy picture with their hand in the Bocca della Verità (mouth of truth). Legend has it, if you’re untruthful, the mouth will bite off your hand!

24) Papal Mass: Whether you’re religious or not, standing in the middle of hundreds of pilgrims and not whilst listening to Pope Benedict XVI give his Sunday mass is moving for everyone. You can catch a glimpse of the Pope give his mass from his window or televised on the big screen TVs every Sunday in Piazza San Pietro at 10am.

25) St. Peter’s Basilica: There’s nothing quite as remarkable as St. Peter’s Basilica. The road and square leading up to the church is just as magnificent. Though there’s no cost to get inside, there is a dress code that is strictly enforced. No shorts and skirts above the knees and no bare sholders. Make sure to check out the Vatican Grottoes underneath the church, where several popes including Pope John Paul II and where St. Peter is buried. Don’t forget to snap a picture with one of the Swiss Guards standing outside as well!

About the author

Nicole Arriaga

About the author: After her first trip to the Bel Paese in 1999, Nicole Arriaga knew she would one day return permanently in search of the good life. Before moving to Rome in 2003, Nicole worked as a TV producer and a writer in sunny Miami. She has written for Fodor’s, Insight Guides, The American and various other travel publications. She currently works as a freelance writer and as a programs coordinator for a study abroad organization in Rome.

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8 thoughts on “25 free things to see and do in Rome”

  1. Great ideas re what to do in Rome – thank you!
    We were at St Peter’s Basilica the other day and on the walk past the hanging calendar saw it that 31 Oct rather than 24 Oct was the Sunday for free admission to the museum.

  2. Pingback: Best Travel Deals and News – October 12, 2010 – Staying Healthy in India, NYC Bike Tours, Free Things To Do In Rome, Visit Iceland — NoDebtWorldTravel.com

  3. When it comes to tourist destination Rome is one of the places to go. It offers a lot of natural, man-made, historical, religious etc sites. What I love most in Rome is the architectural structures or designs which is so classic looking. I just love it so.

  4. It’s a blessing that most of Rome sights are actually free of charge and enjoyable everywhere.

    For free visits inside the Vaticano Museum or Collosseum, make sure to check out Culture festivals, held on different times during the year – they offer free access to many places of interest.


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