Even though Rome, the capital of Italy, doesn’t sound like the most wallet-friendly destination in Europe, shortly after your arrival, you will gladly change your mind. Chose your accommodation wisely, do a bit of research about the places where locals have dinner, and you’ll be surprised at how much you are able to save on your trip to Rome. Moreover, there is a bunch of amazing things to do in Rome for free, which I’m about to lay out for you.
1. Take a stroll in the historic center, the best thing to do in Rome for free
The 20 square kilometers wide historical center of Rome, which is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site, is a paradise for lovers of architecture and ancient history. Fill your eyes and your camera with the outline of buildings from different historical ages: Roman, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque.
Rome has it all, and you can admire it all for free just by strolling around the city center. One of the most scenic walks you can take starts from Piazza Del Popolo and, ends at the Colosseum Historical Park (5km). I talk about this in my one-day itinerary in Rome, which touches many of Rome’s landmarks.
2. See Caravaggio in Rome for free
Among the best free things to see in Rome, the stunning paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (commonly called “Caravaggio”) should be at the top of your list. As a painter, Caravaggio is considered a pioneer in the study of light and composition. He was commissioned repeatedly by some of the most influential families of the time (between the 16th and the 17th Century).
There are two churches that keep Caravaggio’s art in Rome, and you can visit both of them for free:
- the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo
- the Church of San Luigi Dei Francesi in Piazza San Luigi De’ Francesi.
If you’re short on time, go straight to San Luigi Dei Francesi, where a chapel holds the three paintings recounting the story of St Matthew: the “Calling of St. Matthew”, “St. Matthew with the Angel”, and the “Martyrdom of St. Matthew”.
Caravaggio paintings: the cycle of St. Matthew | Things to do in Tome for free
3. Hunt for the best views in Rome
A self-guided tour through Rome’s historical center can be quite overwhelming, an endless list of things to see and taste, finding your way across crowds and queues. To unplug, consider visiting off-the-beaten-path locations too, like the Janiculum Terrace, a natural rooftop overlooking Rome.
From the terrace, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the city. The view becomes particularly interesting at sunset and it’s best enjoyed at the end of a panoramic walk from the Piazza Trilussa in the Trastevere neighborhood up to the hill where the terrace is located (1km). In case you want to visit the terrace in the morning, be aware that every day at 12 o’clock PM, from a balcony just below the Janiculum Terrace, an ancient military cannon shoots a volley of fire to sign the time… Don’t be scared!
Address // Piazzale Garibaldi
View from the Monte Mario Hill | Best views in Rome
4. Hit one of the open-air markets
Every neighborhood of the city has daily or weekly open-air markets that bring local specialties and cheap objects in good conditions closer to the citizens.
With regards to flea markets, the most popular in Rome is the one happening at the edge of the Trastevere neighborhood on Sundays 6 AM to 2 PM, known as “Porta Portese”. Here you can go around dozens of stands displaying vintage clothes, handicrafts, antiques, and even second-hand bikes and furniture.
Regarding food products, producers from every part of the Lazio region meet their customers inside the scenic Roman stadium “Circus Maximus” on weekends (Sat. And Sun 8 AM to 3 PM). Here you’ll get veggies, meats, milk, and all kinds of products grown in the countryside around Rome. The Campagna Amica Market needs to be on the itinerary of all the foodies traveling to Rome.
Address // Via San Teodoro, 74. Subway Metro B Circo Massimo
5. Discover one of Rome’s huge public parks: spending time nature is my favorite thing to do in Rome for free
Rome is one of the greenest cities in the world, boasting 3932 hectares of parks and gardens integrated into the urban pattern. Some of the public parks like the Villa Borghese and the Villa Torlonia are located inside or at a short walking distance from the historical center, however, it is really worth getting on a bus to visit at least one of the two biggest parks in Rome: Villa Pamphili and Villa Ada.
A few centuries ago, when Rome was way smaller, these two public parks were the farmsteads of powerful Italian families. In Villa Pamphili, you can admire the exterior of the Pamphili mansion, church, and nymphaeum. Both parks are perfect for running, picnics (no fire or BBQs allowed though), and chilling time.
Public parks are definitely the best places to spend the central part of the day if you visit Rome during summer. Once you have entered the gate of the parks, among nature trails, ponds, and pinewoods, the city’s bustle and noises disappear and give way to a sense of peace and wellbeing. Don’t underestimate the power of this rewarding activity on this of things to do in Rome for free!
- Villa Ada Park // Via Salaria 267. Bus 38 from Termini to Trieste-Gorizia
- Villa Pamphili Park // Via Leone XIII. Subway Metro A from Termini to Cipro and then change to bus 33 to Leone XIII Villa Pamphili
6. Visit any of the churches in Rome for free
As a multicultural city, Rome hosts temples belonging to the main religions of the world, however, the number of catholic churches is noticeable: more than 900! Most of these churches are still functioning, centuries-old, and you can visit them all for free!
The churches in Rome showcase fascinating architecture and preserve important artistic works like frescoes, mosaics, paintings, sculptures, not to mention the vestiges of saints, popes, kings, and artists… It will take you days to discover the most beautiful churches in Rome. If this is your first time in town, head immediately to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon dates back to the year 25 b. C, while the structure we see today is due to the magnificent restoration that happened during the empire of Hadrian at the beginning of the 2nd Century AD. The temple was originally dedicated to “all deities” (from Latin: pantheum) of the past, present, and future. During the 7th Century, the Pantheon was declared a Christian basilica, and so is today, hosting the tombs of the kings and queens of unified Italy and of artists like Raphael. The building is a perfectly preserved example of classical architecture with the original marbles and the impressive dome in Roman concrete, which still today remains one of the biggest domes in the world.
Other impressive churches to visit are:
- The Basilica of Saint Peter
- The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore just outside the cute Monti neighborhood
- The Basilica of San Paolo
7. Discover Rome’s street art
Rome has something to say even when it comes to contemporary art! The city is packed with amazing street art, and you can enjoy it all for free. Street art mainly flourishes in Rome’s outskirts, where some of the best street artists in the world unleashed their creativity for all of us street art lovers to enjoy.
On your things to do in Rome for free list, you must add visiting the Museo Condominiale Tor Marancia street art district to the list. To get there, get the bus 714 from Roma Termini Piazza dei Cinquecento, get off at Colombo/Rufino, and then walk for 6 minutes.
8. Contemplate life from one of the scenic piazzas of Rome
Once you’ve spent your first day in town, you will have noticed a distinctive feature of Rome’s urban architecture: the piazza.
The piazzas in Rome began being massively restored and rearranged during the Renaissance period (16th Century) with the financial support of the popes. The main features of the Italian piazza have pagan origins: a masculine element (a tall building, a dome reaching for the sky) which is usually a church, and a feminine element like a fountain. There are countless piazzas, tiny and big, to visit in Rome, and one of the locals’ favorite piazzas is no doubt the Piazza Navona., which at the time of Emperor Diocletian, AD 85, was a stadium for athletics.
While the locals gather in the cafes around the Navona Square at the aperitivo time, when they get off work, travelers can have the piazza to themselves throughout the day. Stroll around the 3 stunning Baroque fountains (the central one is a work by the famous 17th Century sculptor Bernini), visit the Church of St. Agnese, and then relax on one of the marble benches, watching people go by and street artists exhibit.
Address: Piazza Navona. Bus 70 from Termini to Rinascimento.
Piazza Navona | Free things to do in Rome
9. Visit the Accademia di San Luca
There are only a few museums in Rome you can always access for free. If you love spending time in front of beautiful paintings, you should visit the contemporary version of the ancient Roman School of Fine Arts, which was renamed during the Renaissance as the Accademia di San Luca and is located in the elegant Carpegna Palace, just a few steps away from the Trevi Fountain.
Hundreds of paintings and sculptures of the students who studied at the Accademia throughout the ages are preserved here. Some of the most remarkable paintings for you to enjoy are the works by the Renaissance master Guido Reni. The ancient library of the school, the Biblioteca Accademica (1607), is open to the public as well.
Address: Piazza Accademia di San Luca, 77. Subway Metro A from Termini to Barberini, then walk for 5 minutes.
10 Chill at the Caffè Letterario
The “espresso” or simply “caffè” as the locals usually call it, is the cheapest drink you can have in Rome, surpassed only by potable water you can get for free from the little fountains all over the city (the water is drinkable unless stated differently on the fountain).
In the historic center of Rome, all drinks are a bit more expensive if you consume them sitting at a table, instead of standing at the bar. There is at least one place though, where you will be welcome even if you don’t drink or eat anything, and this is the Caffè Letterario. The Caffè Letterario is one of the cutest cafes in Rome: once a garage, it’s been acquired by the municipality and transformed into a public library with attached a coffee shop decorated with comfortable couches, dim lights, and vintage/industrial furniture. The café might host concerts, movie projections, or other cultural events in the evenings and has become one of the most popular hubs for young adults and adults alike in the lively Ostiense district.
Address: Via Ostiense 95. Subway Metro B from Termini to Piramide, then a short walk to the café.
11 Take a free guided tour of Rome
Some tour guides in Rome have joined together in the association “Free Tour Rome” and offer a tour of the major attractions of the historic center in exchange for an optional tip.
The tour starts at noon, lasts two hours, and covers the following steps:
Forum of Trajan
Reservation is required
12 Explore different neighborhoods in the historic center and beyond
Each district of Rome has different characteristics and a special atmosphere to discover. You can take some time to discover the hidden treasures that some of the prettiest neighborhoods hide.
A few hundred meters from the Colosseum is the Monti Neighborhood. This neighborhood is often referred to as “hipster” because of the presence of an essay cinema and many second-hand stores, develops around Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, Piazza Degli Zingari and Via Urbana. Here you will also find the best of Roman street food.
The Prati district instead, develops around Piazza Cavour, Via Cola di Rienzo and Via Ottaviano. Perfect for window shopping and to admire a part of Rome where the Central European architecture is prevalent.
The Coppedé Neighborhood instead, extends around Piazza Mincio. The name of the district comes from the architect Gino Coppedé, who designed it in the early twentieth century. Here you go beyond the Liberty style. To get an idea of the type of architecture, defined by many as “fairy-talish”, here are the names of some of the buildings: the Palace of the Spider, the Villas of Fairies, the Fountain of the Frog.
Now you know what are the locals’ preferred things to do in Rome for free! Hopefully, you’ll have enough time to check most of these sweet items from your bucket list, so to make even more pleasant your stay in a city that has so much to offer to all types of travelers!
13 Admire masterworks of sculpture
You don’t need to pay entrance fees for museums that specialize in sculpture such as the Borghese Gallery, Capitoline Museums and Vatican Museums to admire incredible artworks in Rome. In fact, some ancient statues and sculptures by Italian masters can be enjoyed for free.
Think of Michelangelo’s Piety inside St. Peter’s Basilica and the Moses by the same artist preserved in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli.
Not to mention the sculptures of Bernini, such as those of the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona or the little-known statue of Santa Bibiana in the homonymous Church of Santa Bibiana next to Termini Station.
14 Watch the sunset from one of Rome’s bridges
Rome, which is crossed by the Tiber River, has many ancient bridges to discover, and some in the historic center are even reserved for pedestrians.
Bridges such as Ponte Sisto, Ponte Sant’Angelo, Ponte Cestio and Ponte Milvio are romantic places to stop and admire the sunset, with the sound of flowing water in the background.
Often street artists stop to play near the bridge, making the wait even more suggestive.
Fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps