35 FREE THINGS TO DO IN ROME
The city of Rome is a place where cosmopolitan modern life and ancient culture collide, resulting in an utterly unique and special atmosphere that stays with you long after returning home. With so much to see and do, it’s little wonder that Rome draws repeat visits from travelers year after year, all eager to experience a previously undiscovered gem in some far-flung or unexplored corner of the city. Whether you’re planning your first visit to Rome or your fiftieth, there are literally hundreds of unforgettable moments waiting to be enjoyed, many of which don’t cost a penny. Here are 35 free things to do in Rome to get you started and spark your imagination.
1. Look Heavenwards Inside the Pantheon
This magnificent building, once a pagan temple in ancient times, is free to enter and still boasts the largest unreinforced dome of any structure ever built. Open to the elements, gazing upwards to witness open skies will leave you breathless. The entrance is free although many tour companies offer group and private tours of Rome to explore Rome city center.
2. Watch the Street Performers at Piazza Navona
With its ornate central fountain, impressive architecture on every side and buzzing atmosphere, the Piazza Navona draws hundreds of people each day and evening, attracted by the many street artists who entertain curious and delighted crowds with their performances. You can listen to great music while having a drink or get a portrait from one of the many painters in the piazza.
3. Admire the Opulence at church of san luigi dei francesi
Known as the St Mathew Cycle, not one but three of late Renaissance painter Caravaggio’s paintings are housed in this exquisite church, which is the home of Rome’s French church community. It is just a few steps from Palazzo Madama which is also the seat of the Italian Senate, in the very heart of Rome City Center. It is free to visit and really something not to be missed.
4. Pay for Your Return Trip at the Trevi Fountain
Local lore has it that by throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain you will ensure your return to Rome. One of the most popular traditions for visitors, the fountain is carpeted each day with sparkling coins, making for an eye-catching spectacle in itself. The proper ritual is to face away from the fountain and throw from the left hand over your right shoulder. Don’t think your penny is going to waste – the coins are collected each day and go towards a local Red Cross charity fund, so you’re not literally throwing your money away!
5. Walk the Labyrinthine Streets of Trastavere
Characterful and colourful, the regenerated district of Trastavere is alive with nightlife and street culture. Soak up the atmosphere as you walk the winding cobbled streets and take in the graffiti and mosaics. Two places you don’t want to miss: Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere with its ancient church and, if you are young and ready to hang out with locals until late, the famous Piazza Trilussa. Hint: warm up at Bar San Callisto nearby Santa Maria in Trastevere, have dinner in one of the many pizza places around and then move to Freni e Frizioni for the second round.
6. Inspect the Site of Julius Caesar’s Assassination
Probably most legendary political murder in history happened right here in the center of Rome. Look down on the ruins of the Curia of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was famously stabbed to death by a group of rebellious senators. Walk to Largo di Torre Argentina and enjoy the buzz of a lively piazza born on the very site were Julius Caesar died.
7. Stroll the Banks of the River Tiber
Relaxing and restorative, a walk along the banks of Rome’s great river gives you an enjoyable and leisurely way to take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. One of the best times to do this is late afternoon, known as the golden hour, when everything is suffused with a rich, warm golden glow. Working your way south along the river, Ponte Sant’Angelo – the ‘Bridge of Angels’ – is an ideal place to begin. At night, move towards the Tiberine Island.
8. Witness the Roman Forum at Sunset
Sundown is when the Roman Forum and the Colosseum are lit up, making for a spectacular evening view. A great place to see it is from the rear side of Piazza del Campidoglio, where you can take in the best views. It is called Via di San Teodora and it is one of the best view on the Roman Forum and the Ancient City that you can find in Rome. Also as you look at the City Hall, there is a narrow wining street on your left. Right before the crossroad with Via dei Fori Imperiali there is another small unnamed street on the right, walk down that way towards the Carcere Mamertino and enjoy the spectacular view.
9. Find Out Why All Roads Lead to Rome
A bus ride to the south of the city will take you to Via Appia Antica, the first highway ever built. Known historically as the ‘Queen of Roads’, it’s no surprise that the Romans, famous for building good roads, have managed to keep this highway well preserved right up to the present day. During the summer it is a great idea to take a bike tour on the Via Appia Antica. Go see the Mausoleo of Cecilia Metella and the Villa of Emperor Massenzio. Nearby these sites you can also find the entrances to many catacombs, like the Catacombs of St Sebastian.
10. Get in Line for St Peter’s Basilica
Justifiably the most famous church in the world as well as being the largest, St Peter’s Basilica is worth queuing up for. Luxurious and stunning, the religious art and opulence has to be seen to be believed. On a normal weekday morning the line could be between 20 to 40 minutes long, but still you are waiting in a beautiful piazza.
11. Peruse the Markets at Campo di Fiori
A lively marketplace by day and well used by locals, Campo di Fiori is a brilliant morning pit stop to pick up some fresh produce and take advantage of the excellent prices. Italians take their ingredients seriously and the fruit and vegetables here are of the highest quality. The famous statue of philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at stake in this very place in the year 1600, stands in the middle of the piazza.
12. Watch the Sun Go Down From the Altare della Patria
The ‘Alter of the Fatherland’, the Altare della Patria is Italy’s largest national monument and is a site to behold in itself. Built to commemorate the first king of Italy, the steps at the front of this imposing building are a popular place to take in a spectacular Roman sunset.
13. Buy an Aperitif and Eat for Free
For the cost of a drink in the late afternoon – aperitivo time – you will find yourself rewarded with enough substantial snacks to forgo dinner later. Olives, bruschetta, crostini and cured meats are just some of the local eats you can expect. Ask you bartender if they offer the apertivo.
14. Test the Truth at Bocca della Verita
A timeworn tradition of Rome is to place your hand in the ‘Mouth of Truth’ – the mouth of a stone face at the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin – and tell a lie. Be sure to get your fingertips out the way in time, since the legend goes that the mouth will slam shut on the hand of anyone not telling the truth.
15. Find Europe’s Oldest Jewish Community
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto just south of Campo di Fiori is a little off the beaten path for most tourists, which is a shame because it’s stuffed with character and interest. Hardly surprisingly, Jewish culture abounds in this quarter, including synagogues, churches and kosher bakeries, so go hungry and pick up some bagels while you’re there.
16. Watch the World Go By on the Spanish Steps
One of Rome’s top resting spots, the Spanish Steps make up the widest and longest staircase in Europe and attract hundreds of tourists and locals daily as a place to meet, rest and people watch.
17. Conquer the Sights of Rome From the Seven Hills
Rome is built on a series of seven hills, and the view from each of them is worth the hike, where you can take in the entire city from the summit. Each hill carries a particular history and significance, which you can read about on your way to the top. The Pincio and the Gianicolo are two of the most famous spots for romantic panoramic views of Rome.
18. St PAUL OUTSIDE THE WALLS
The spectacular church of St Paul Outside the Walls was built on the site were St Paul was buried. Take the B line towards Laurentina and get off at Stazione San Paolo. The church is just 5-10 minutes away. Attached to the church, you can also visit the spectacular Medieval cloisters for a couple of bucks.
19. Time Your Visit for Free Entry Day
The first Sunday of every month is Rome’s only free entry day for all its top attractions, so arrive early to take advantage of this brilliant offer and maybe treat yourself to an expensive dinner later at one of Rome’s famous eateries with the money you save.
20. Take a Look at the Square Colosseum
The Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro is a prime example of Italian Rationalist architecture, and is located in the southern district of the city. You have to take the B line and get off at the station of Eur Magliana.
21. visit the church of san pietro in vincoli
The church of San Pietro in Vincoli, or St Peter in Chains, is very close to the Colosseum and besides being very beautiful in itself features one of the most amazing masterpieces of the Renaissance, that is Michelangelo’s Moses. Not many people know of this place, although quite central, and the church is often empty.
22. Admire Michelangelo’s Genius at Piazza del Campidoglio
The perfectly designed proportions and symmetry of this beautiful square are typical of Michelangelo’s genius for design, and it is just one of Rome’s many examples of his unrivaled work. Pair this with n. 8 and 12.
23. Find Fairyland in the Quartiere Coppede
This tiny and ornate Art Nouveau neighbourhood is enchanting, and leaves visitors spellbound with its strange and fantastical architecture.
24. Watch the Free Performances During Estate Romana
Rome’s biggest summer festival hosts many free performances including dance, music and theatre, so check your calendar and be sure to visit the city during this exciting and vibrant season. Romeing is a good source for free events.
25. Walk Under the Arch of Constantine
Imposing and impressive, the Arch of Constantine was built to commemorate the emperor’s victory over Maxentius and dates back to AD 315. Rome’s finest commemorative arch is remarkably well preserved considering tourists are free to walk around and under it at their leisure. It is just a few steps from the Colosseum.
26. Visit the Circo Massimo
Once the site of chariot racing in ancient Rome, Circo Massimo is now known for the considerably less dangerous activities of jogging and dog walking, but this makes it no less impressive in scale. A visit to the Circo Massimo is certainly worthy and you can pair this with n. 14. From the Circo Massimo you can also admire the ruin of the imperial palace on the Palatine Hill.
27. Seek an Audience with the Pope
28. Roam the Piazza del Popolo
The site of numerous churches, fountains and monuments, Piazza del Popolo is a huge square with prime neoclassical sights all around, making it one of Rome’s quintessential locations and a popular place for promenading. Visit the Borghese Gallery and Park first and the walk to the Pincio, where you have an incredible view of Rome and of Piazza del Popolo. Walk down to Piazza del Popolo right at the beginning of the so-called tridente, a shape of three main streets that depart from here and take you anywhere in Rome.
29. Marvel at the Detail of Trajan’s Column
An exquisite architectural gem, Trajan’s Column crowns the centre of Trajan’s Forum. Its stone face is carved in breathtaking detail and towers over 120 feet high. Pair this with n. 8, 12 and 22.
30. Take in the Teatro di Marcello
Now the site of numerous classical concerts and cultural events, the Teatro di Marcello, or Theatre of Marcellus, is uncannily similar to the Colosseum in appearance and in ancient times was said to have held up to 20,000 Roman spectators at a time. Pair this with n. 14.
31. Picnic in the Grounds of the Villa Borghese
One of the most beautiful public parks in the entire city, or indeed anywhere, the grounds at the Villa Borghese are a delight. Rome’s largest public green space is landscaped in a classical English style and studded with temples, fountains and contains a gallery and museum, so you can if you wish make a whole day of it. One very good idea, if you like to walk a little bit, is to reach the park of Villa Borghese by walking on Via Vittorio Veneto, the stage where the Dolce Vita actually took place. Pair this with n. 28.
32. Learn About Rome’s Nazi Occupation at Museo Storico della Liberazione
A small museum located in what was Rome’s SS headquarters during World War II, the Museo Storico della Liberazione offers a sober insight into the Nazi history of Rome. Artefacts include weapons, photographs and even graffiti, written by prisoners during the occupation, on the museum walls.
33. Visit the Pyramid of Cestius
A seemingly strange sight for many visitors to Rome, the Pyramid of Cestius was actually built as a tomb for a wealthy magistrate of ancient Rome. It is one of the best-preserved monuments in the entire city and attracts a considerable number of sightseers, curious to see this Egyptian-style tomb in the heart of Italy’s capital. This is a real 2,000 years old pyramid.
34. Do Some Famous Grave-Spotting at Cimitero Acattolico
The final resting place of poets Keats and Shelley, the Cimitero Acattolico is Rome’s non-Catholic cemetery and makes for a peaceful, tranquil walk among the gravestones and greenery. On the tomb of Keats you can find the famous epitaph “Here lies one whose name was written in water” because the romantic British poet died when he was just 25 and was buried in Rome.
35. Watch Gelato Being Made
Not quite as satisfyingly delicious as actually eating the stuff, spectators can nonetheless witness gelato being made for free at many of the city’s famous gelaterias. To tempt yourself into buying some, step inside and be overwhelmed by the choice of flavours on offer, which can sometimes run into triple figures. Rome is by far one of the most popular cities to visit, and rightly so. Vast, diverse, exciting and offering sights both ancient and modern, there is quite simply no other city quite like it. With expert insider knowledge, Roma Experience can show you an authentic view of Rome via informed and enthusiastic local guides and carefully chosen experiences. Whether your visit to Rome is to enjoy the history, the architecture or simply to soak up the atmosphere of the city streets, Roma Experience will ensure your trip to Italy’s capital is a memorable one you’ll wish to repeat.