The best part is that some of those world-class attractions are also some of the free things to do in Rome. Yes, really.
Here’s a list of things that are always free in Rome – there’s never an admission charge to get in – plus a few that offer free hours on certain days of the week. Enjoy an extra helping of gelato with the money you’ll save.
Free Things to Do in Rome: Always
Knights of Malta Keyhole || creative commons photo by Galen Crout
- St. Peter’s Basilica – The largest church in Christendom and the most important Catholic church in the world, and it’s free to enter every single day. There are security checkpoints to go through, so there’s sometimes a line, but there’s no fee.
- Pantheon – My favorite building Rome, without question, is the Pantheon, so I’ve always felt very lucky that it’s free to get in so I can wander in and out as many times as I like. There’s talk that as of 2018 they’ll start charging an entry fee to help with the upkeep, but at the moment it’s still free.
- Trevi Fountain – Rome’s most famous fountain is, yes, free to gaze upon. To partake in the age-old tradition of throwing in a coin to ensure a return trip to Rome, however, costs whatever coin you toss.
- Spanish Steps – Recently re-opened after a long renovation, the Spanish Steps are gleaming and gorgeous and free to parade up and down. Don’t even try to eat anything while hanging out on the staircase, however, as that’s strictly forbidden.
- San Pietro in Vincoli – Not all Michelangelo sculptures are in museums. The church of St. Peter in Chains has a large figure of Moses that Michelangelo sculpted for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The tomb was never finished, but the statue is an excellent reason to visit the church.
- Borghese Gardens – The vast park behind the Villa Borghese is open to the public, completely free, and very popular during warm weather for picnics, bike rides, and just enjoying a respite from city life.
- Papal Basilicas – There are three churches in Rome with the status of Papal basilicas (St. Peter’s Basilica is also a Papal basilica, but it’s in Vatican City), and they’re all free to visit. The 5th-century Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) has gorgeous 5th century mosaics and the tomb of celebrated sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. The 4th-century San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John in Lateran) is officially Rome’s cathedral and that’s where you’ll find the Scala Sancta, or the Holy Stairs. San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls) dates from the 4th century and contains the tomb of St. Paul.
- Knights of Malta Keyhole – A carefully-trimmed row of cypress trees behind the big doors of the Knights of Malta headquarters, which you can only see by peering through the keyhole in the aforementioned doors, perfectly frames the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
- Gianicolo Hill – One of the best views overlooking the Eternal City is from the top of the Gianicolo Hill (Janiculum in English). There’s also a large fountain at the top of the hill, the terminus of an ancient aqueduct.
- Santa Maria della Vittoria – If you’re still not sure what all the Bernini fuss is about, head for the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria to marvel at the master’s stunning sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.”
- Largo di Torre Argentina – This excavated site contains the ruins of a few ancient Roman temples and Pompey’s Theater, which is where Caesar is believed to have been killed.
- San Luigi dei Francesi – Bask in the dark beauty of Caravaggio’s trio of large paintings dedicated to the life of St. Matthew inside the church of San Luigi dei Francesi – “The Calling of St. Matthew,” “The Inspiration of St. Matthew,” and “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew.”
- Capitoline Hill – This elegant square was designed by Michelangelo, but the main draw is the commanding view over the Roman Forum from behind the Palazzo Senatorio building.
- Piazza Navona – This oblong “square,” originally the site of an ancient Roman circus, is a popular people-watching location which street performers sometimes use as their stage. The fountain in the center, “Fountain of the Four Rivers,” is by Bernini and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone is by Borromini.
- Santa Maria del Popolo – This church on the busy Piazza del Popolo is home to masterpieces by Caravaggio (“Conversion on the Way to Damascus” and “Crucifixion of St. Peter”) in the Cerasi Chapel, and by Bernini and Raphael in the Chigi Chapel.
- Pincio Hill – Climb from the Piazza del Popolo up the nearby Pincio Hill for incredible views over the city in all directions.
- Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – Just around the corner from the Pantheon is the Gothic church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, with a popular (and adorable) elephant statue by Bernini in front. Inside, there’s a sculpture of Christ carrying a cross by Michelangelo, a series of frescoes by Filippino Lippi, and the tomb of Fra Angelico.
- Trastevere – One of the neighborhoods of Rome that will give you some idea of what the historic city felt like is Trastevere. It can be relatively peaceful during the day, and seems to be the textbook definition of “charming.” At night, however, it becomes one of the popular nightlife hot spots.
- Via Appia – No, not all roads lead to Rome anymore. The Via Appia, however, did – and still does. This ancient Roman road is ideally visited on Sundays when it’s off-limits to cars and therefore a haven for bikes and pedestrians. Ancient catacombs and aqueducts line the cobblestone road.
- Campo de’ Fiori – In the mornings, the Campo de’ Fiori is a bustling market square, which is arguably when the square is at its most interesting. In the evenings, it can sometimes be noisy with young travelers who have had too much to drink.
- Piazza del Popolo – This huge piazza revolves around a huge Egyptian obelisk, and the 17th-century city gate (Porta del Popolo) was designed by Bernini.
- Protestant Cemetery – The real name of this cemetery is “The Non-Catholic Cemetery,” since it’s not limited to just Protestants, but it’s commonly still called the Protestant Cemetery. Among the graves, you’ll find the likes of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, both of whom died in Rome. It’s free to enter, though they appreciate donations.
Free Things to Do in Rome: Sometimes
Colosseum || creative commons photo by Yoal Desurmont
Yes, when attractions are free on one day per month (or even less frequently), lines can be insanely long. Personally, I’d go on a skip-the-line tour instead.
- Vatican Museums – Free on the last Sunday of every month.
- Colosseum – Free on the first Sunday of every month.
- Palatine Hill – Free on the first Sunday of every month.
- Roman Forum – Free on the first Sunday of every month.
- Weekly Papal Address – When the pope is at home, he gives a weekly address in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday mornings around 10:00am. You can try to get a seat, or you can just hang out behind the barricades – there are jumbo-tron displays that show him no matter where his Pope-mobile takes him.