Best 40 free things not to miss
By DUNCAN GARWOOD Lonely Planet Writer
Travelling to Rome on a budget? Never fear – sightseeing in Italy’s magnificent capital city doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Although many museums and monuments charge hefty admission fees, a surprising number of the famous sights are actually completely free.
The doors of the city’s art-laden churches are flung open to all, ancient architectural wonders await around many a corner and it costs nothing to wander the historic streets, piazzas and parks.
Check out our list of the best things to do in Rome without spending a thing:
1. The Pantheon
It’s an exhilarating experience to enter the Pantheon, an iconic Roman building, and gaze up at the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built.
2. St Peter’s Basilica
The Vatican’s showcase basilica is free, though you’ll probably have to queue to get in. Once inside, look out for Michelangelo’s Pietà statue and Bernini’s baldachin (altar canopy).
3. Piazza Navona
Hang out and enjoy the daily circus of street performers, artists and tourists acted out against Piazza Navona’s backdrop of baroque palazzi and ornate fountains.
4. Spanish Steps and the Convent of Trinità dei Monti
While it’s now forbidden to sit on the Spanish Steps, you can still climb them. At the very top of the city’s most famous staircase perches Chiesa della Trinità dei Monti. Duck inside and take in spectacular works of art, including frescoes, an astrolabe, and a duo of anamorphoses, wall paintings that appear to change entirely depending on where you stand.
5. Trevi Fountain
The blue waters of Trevi Fountain are backed by the grandiose Baroque sculptures and mansion-like facade.
According to legend, throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain will ensure your return to Rome. You and thousands of other people – on an average day about €3000 is chucked over people’s shoulders into the water.
6. Via Margutta
Draped in ivy, take a stroll down the charming Via Margutta, where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck rendezvous in silver screen classic Roman Holiday.
7. Villa Borghese
Rome’s most famous park, Villa Borghese, is an oasis of shaded walkways, verdant corners and excellent museums to be explored.
8. Il Vittoriano
Few views can top those from the massive marble monolith of Il Vittoriano.
You have to pay to take the lift to the top (€10) but there are plenty of free viewing spots.
9. The Jewish Ghetto
This atmospheric area is studded with artisans’ studios, kosher bakeries and popular trattorias.
10. Via Appia Antica
Antiquity’s most famous road, ViaAppia Antica, sets the perfect scene for a leisurely amble with its pine trees, Roman ruins and eerie catacombs.
The vibrant Trastevere district buzzes well into the night as locals and tourists hang out on its picturesque lanes and piazzas.
Read our guide on how to spend a perfect day in Rome’s favourite neighbourhood.
12. New Rome Free Tours
New Rome Free Tour runs a twice daily walking tour of the historic centre.
13. Cimitero Acattolico
The last resting place of Keats and Shelley, Rome’s non-Catholic Cemetery is a serene spot to recharge your batteries.
14. Museo Storico della Liberazione
Rome’s Nazi occupation is recounted at this chilling museum housed in what were once the city’s SS headquarters.
15. Chiesa di Santa Prassede
The sparkling Byzantine mosaic compositions in the easy-to-miss Chiesa di Santa Prassede are among Rome’s most impressive.
16. EUR district
A highlight of the southern EUR district is the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, a masterpiece of Italian rationalism known as the Square Colosseum.
17. Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria
The roadside Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria is the unlikely setting for one of Italian baroque’s great masterpieces, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa.
18. Tempietto del Bramante
Bramante’s Tempietto (little temple) is considered the first great building of the High Renaissance.
19. Arco degli Acetari
Discover the picture-perfect medieval courtyard hiding behind the dark Vinegar-Makers’ Arch (Via del Pellegrino 19).
20. Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli
Michelangelo’s muscular Moses is the star turn at the 5th-century Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli. Also here are the chains that St Peter supposedly wore in captivity.
21. Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta
Peek through the keyhole of the Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta and you’ll see St Peter’s dome perfectly framed at the end of a hedge-lined avenue.
22. Partake in the passeggiata
Head to Via del Corso and join the locals on their early-evening passeggiata (stroll).
23. Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi
Catch three Caravaggios at the baroque Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi; home to the St Matthew cycle, a trio of the artist’s earliest religious paintings.
24. Campo de’ Fiori
By day, poke around the much-loved market; at night, grab a drink and see in the small hours with hundreds of like-minded revellers in Campo de’ Fiori.
25. Quartiere Coppedè
With its turreted villas, fairytale towers, gargoyles and arches, the Art Nouveau neighbourhood of Quartiere Coppedè stands in contrast to Rome’s more serious sights.
26. Piazza del Popolo
There’s always something going on in the grand neoclassical square of Piazza del Popolo. Nearby, the art-rich Chiesa di Santa del Popolo is well worth a look.
27. Teatro di Marcello
A dead ringer for the Colosseum, the ancient stadium looms over the Area Archeologica del Teatro di Marcello e del Portico d’Ottavia.
28. Largo di Torre Argentina
Modern investigators have identified the spot where Julius Caesar was murdered. It was in the Area Sacra on Largo di Torre Argentina.
29. Estate Romana
Rome’s big summer festival, Estate Romana, stages everything from concerts and dance performances to book fairs and late-night museum openings. Some are free.
30. Piazza del Campidoglio
On the Capitoline Hill, Michelangelo’s exquisitely designed Piazza del Campidoglio is one of Rome’s most beautiful public spaces.
31. Trajan’s Column
The ancient landmark of Trajan’s Column towers over the Imperial Forums. If you can make them out, the reliefs depict Trajan’s military campaigns.
The sparky neighbourhood of Garbatella presents a colourful front with its community gardens, faux baroque palazzi and red housing blocks.
33. Circo Massimo
Where once crowds cheered chariot racers in Rome’s larges arena, Circo Massimo, now locals come to stretch their legs. Why not join them for a jog?
34. Colosseum, Palatino, and Roman Forum; first Sunday of the month.
35. Vatican Museums; last Sunday of the month.
36. All state museums; first Sunday of the month.
37. Pope’s weekly audience; every Wednesday morning.
38. Porta Portese market; every Sunday morning.
39. Palazzo di Montecitorio; first Sunday of the month.
40. May Day Concert; May 1
This article was last updated in February 2020.