Thinking of visiting Europe and specifically Rome on a tight budget? The Eternal City has plenty of the things to do that are absolutely free. Here are the best free things to do in Rome!
1. Visit the most important squares and fountains
Get a taste of the dolce vita by exploring Romes most famous squares and fountains. The must see list includes:
Piazza Navona, which is the site of classic expression of Baroque architecture and design. This square, is built on top of the former ancient Stadium of Domitian. At the north end of Piazza Navona make sure you have a peak at the ruins that remain. Here you will find the Fountain of the Four Rivers which was one of the locations depicted in the Dan Brown book Angels and Demons and the subsequent film starring Tom Hanks.
Piazza della Rotonda with the Pantheon. When visiting Rome you must make sure to visit the Pantheon located in Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon, which today is the Basilica of Saint Mary and the Martyrs, is the former temple dedicated to all the gods pan=all theon=gods. The temple was built in 119 by Emperor Hadrian. The Pantheon boasts the largest unsupported cement dome in the world. In the centre of the dome you will find an oculus or hole with a diameter of 9 meters that is not covered by anything. If it is raining outside then it is raining inside the Pantheon too.
Trevi Fountain is the maximum expression of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. Designed by Nicola Salvi in the 18th century, it represents the the god Oceanus in the centre flanked by two tritons on either side. Legend has it that if you toss a coin in the Trevi fountain this will guarantee your return to Rome. This Trevi fountain is a joy to see either during the day or illuminated by night.
Spanish Steps, the so called Spanish Steps are only called that in English. In Italian they are called the Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti. Easily accessible from the Spagna metro station. The Spanish steps are a monumental staircase designed by Francesco de Sanctis and completed by 1725. At the base of the Spanish steps you will see the Barcaccia or ugly boat fountain which also has it’s water supplied from the same source as the Trevi fountain.
2. Go on a mini pilgrimage of the Papal Basilicas
Used to be seven but nowadays for a Jubilee year the list of pilgrimage basilicas is St. Peter’s, St Paul’s outside the walls, Saint Mary Major and Saint John Lateran.
All four papal basilicas can easily be reached by public transit. The definition of a Papal basilica is the presence of a papal altar from which only the Pope can say mass. It is customary to touch the Holy Door of each of these basilicas and all have there Holy Doors on the far right hand side with the exception of St. Mary major whose Holy door is found on the far left hand side of the basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the longest Catholic Church in the world and has a length the equivalent of two football fields. After clearing security you a free to roam this Baroque masterpiece. Inside the basilica, you will want to make sure to see Michelangelo’s Pieta sculpture and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Baldacchino or altar canopy which is entirely made of bronze and has a height the equivalent of a 10 story building.
3. Go for a swim in Lake Bracciano
Just north of the city and a short train ride away is the area of lake Bracciano. On this lake lie three charming towns, Anguillara Sabazia, Bracciano and Trevignano. The area between Anguillara Sabazia and Bracciano boasts the best shores for taking a swim to cool off during the summer months. Black volcanic sand beaches and crystal clear water await you when you go for a swim in this lake. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas or you can bring your own and find a patch of beach to call your own for the day.
This is one of the most unique free things to do in Rome.
4. Discover Artwork in Churches
Rome’s roughly 1000 churches are art galleries in and of themselves. Easily accessible and absolutely free. Pick your favourite artist and create an itinerary around them. An excellent example is the painter Caravaggio. This artist is famous for his use of a painting technique called chiaroscuro the contrast between light and darkness. Paintings of S Peter and S Paul can be found in the Cerasi chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo. Making your way towards the heart of the historic centre you can find the entire Saint Matthew chapel in S Luigi Francese painted by Caravaggio. In between these two churches is another church Santi Apostoli which boasts the famous Madonna dei Pelegrini also by Caravaggio.The same can be done for artists like Michelangelo and for Raphael amongst others.
This is one of the best free things to do in Rome!
5. Walk Along the Appian way
The Appian Way, a road built in 312BC during the Republican era is a very important road in the context of history. Go back in time by following in the footsteps of the Roman armies, Spartacus and even St. Peter by walking the Appia Antica. The section closest to the Roman centre is now the public park of the Appia Antica. Along these basalt stone paved roads you can discover and explore the tomb of Cecilia Matella, the Quo Vadis church and the Circus of Maxentius and several Christian and Jewish catacombs.
6. Free Museum Entrance
On the first Sunday of the month, Rome’s municipal museums are open and free to visit. With the various new regulations you would be advised to call ahead and make a reservation or book a reservation on line. The Vatican museums offers free entrance on the last Sunday of every month. Get there early because lines can be quite long. NB. The Vatican museum free entrance is at the moment suspended for Covid reasons but is expected to be reinstated soon.
7. Refill your Water Bottle
All around Rome you will see drinking fountains. They are called Nasoni which means a large nose in Italian. Most visitors notice that the water runs continuously and sometimes makes them wonder “is this water good to drink?” The answer is yes. The water comes out at a refreshing 10C from the spout. Bring your own refillable water bottle and find refreshment for free on practically every street corner.
This is truly one of the greatest free things to do in Rome.
8. Take a Free Tour
Free tours are flourishing in almost all of the visited cities around the world. Rome is by no means an exception there are a plethora of choices for free tours available from typical and touristy to off the beaten path and specialized. The famous squares, Ancient Rome or the Jewish ghetto and more, it is up to you to decide. Know that the tour is free but a reservation is required and the guide does expect some type of tip for their time and effort. The amount is up to you.
9. Visit the Borghese park and Gardens and take in an awesome sunset on the Pincian
The Villa Borghese park and gardens are affectionately Calle date green heart of Rome. It is a public park that has the shape of a heart. There is plenty to do and see in this park including biking, running and picnics.There is the Carlo Bilotti Museum which is free entrance. In this museums you can lay your eyes on a piece by Andy Warhol. Entrance is free but a reservation is recommended.
Try to time your stroll around the Villa Borghese to end at sunset on the Pincian Terrace. At the base of the Villa Borghese, the Pincian Terrace offers some of the best Roman views of sunsets and St. Peter’s Basilica.
10. Enjoy a Music Festival
All throughout the summer Rome boast free music festivals throughout the city. Piazza del Popolo is a favourite location for the larger free music festivals like the Summer Festival. For jazz fans there is the Village Celimontana located in the Villa Celimontana a public park on the Celian hill.
11. Visit the Aventine Hill and see the famous keyhole
One of the seven ancient hills of Rome, the Aventine hill has a multitude of things to explore at zero cost. Rome’s Rose garden, the Orangery of Santa Sabina, the key hole at Santa Maria del Priorato and great views over Rome and the Circus Maximus.
The keyhole at the gates of Santa Maria del Priorato is famous because by looking through the keyhole you see three independent states at once, You are standing in Italy looking through the keyhole, you look through the courtyard which belongs to the territory of the Knights of Malta and you can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, which is located in Vatican City.
12. Go to a Papal Audience
Every Wednesday morning the Pope has a general audience. It is currently being held in the Courtyard of St. Damascus which is on the left hand side of St. Peter’s Square. It is also held right in St. Peter’s Square depending on the season and weather conditions. Entrance is free and you no longer need a ticket. The Papal Audience starts at 9:30am however it is recommended you get there early in order to secure a good spot to see the Pope. Join the faithful and the curious for this weekly blessing and talk.