In Roman trips I’ve been lucky enough to to see a range of free sights. That got me thinking – would it be possible to spend a holiday just focusing on the free sites from the list below?
Free all the time
The Musei in Comune de Roma have eight museums that are free all the time:
- Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco
- Museo delle Mura
- Villa di Massenzio
- Museo della Repubblica Romana e della memoria garibaldina
- Museo Napoleonico
- Museo Carlo Bilotti
- Museo Pietro Canonica
So far I’ve made it to the Museum of the Walls, so there are lots more choices for future visits.
Art and design
- Fendi’s new HQ now had a free exhibition space – the first time the Fascist era Palazzo del Lavoro (or square colosseum) has been occupied and opened to the public
- The permanent collections of Maxxi are now free
- Museo Mario Praz, near Piazza Navona, is the home of a renowned art collector.
- The Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi is a costume museum between Termini and Villa Borghese.
- While a visit to the Roman Forum is a great experience, you can view Forums such as those of Augustus and Julius Caesar from the via dei Fori Imperiali or (even better from the Capitoline at sunset). It won’t be the same, but if you’re pushed for time or funds, it can be a useful way to orientate yourself.
- Visit the Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano, one of the first parts of the Forum to be converted into a church. Get a birds eye view of the Basilica of Romulus in the Forum, and get closer to the Basilica of Maxentius/Constantine than you can from the Forum.
- Beside the Colosseum, unravel Constantine’s victory at the Arch of Constantine. Look for more arches including those of Dolabella, Drusus, Janus and Gallienus.
- Cross the road at the Colosseum and cast your eye over what’s left of the Gladiator Training School on via Labicana.
- Look for ancient sites including the remains of the Baths of Trajan and Titus in the nearby Parco del Colle Oppio (also home of the Domus Aurea).
- The Parco degli Acquedotti, as its name suggests, houses aqueducts.
- Take a wander to discover the Jewish Ghetto, and get up close to both the Theatre of Marcellus and the newly-restored remains of the Portico of Octavia.
- Nearby, visit two of Rome’s oldest temples at the site of the ancient Forum Boarium.
- If you like cats and / or ancient history, head for Largo di Torre Argentina, home of a cat sanctuary and the site of ancient temples, including the site where Julius Caesar was killed.
- The recently opened flagship Rinascente store on Via Tritone (between Via Del Corso and Piazza Barberini) must be the only department store in the world with its own archaeological site – get up close to the Aqua Virgo aqueduct.
- You won’t get in routinely yet,but you can have a look at the remains of the Mausoleum of Augustus, located next to the Ara Pacis.
Ancient ports: Ostia and Portus
- Trace the history of Ostia without leaving central Rome – the Museo Ostiense (near the Pyramid and Protestant Cemetery has a model of the Roman port of Portus.
- While Ostia Antica is free on selected Sundays, visit Portus using a free shuttle bus which runs regularly from Fiumicino airport.
Parks, open spaces and riverside Rome
- An obvious one, but the great Roman parks of Villa Borghese and Villa Doria Pamphilj are always free. Combine the former with two of the free city museums (Pietro Canonica and Carlo Bilotti. And if you choose the right day, you can also visit the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia and the Galleria Borghese.
- Visit the neighbouring Pincio to get great views over the city, especially at sunset.
- Other parks include Villa Celimontana and Villa Ada, while the Giardini degli Aranci is beside the famous keyhole view of Rome.
- Meander along the Appian Way, including the Parco della Cafarella. Sunday is traffic-free so the best time to go.
- In Summer you’ll find stalls, amusements and more as part of Estate Romana around Rome’s riverside.
- Explore Tiber Island, with its church housing apostle remains, and the neighbouring Jewish Ghetto area.
Rome has over 900 churches to choose from, ranging from the ancient to 21st Century structures. The vast majority are totally free including the four major basilicas: St John Lateran, St Peter’s, Santa Maria Maggiore and St Pauls outside the Walls.
- Don’t discount a plain frontage – they can hide hidden gems such as San Vitale, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, or Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome’s only Gothic church.
- If you’re a fan of Caravaggio or Bernini, check out their work as it was meant to be seen in sites including Santa Maria Della Vittoria or Santa Maria del Popolo. Even better, make your own trail.
- See remnants of Ancient Rome in the Pantheon, Santa Maria degli Angeli or San Bernardo alle Terme. Those last two give a sense of the scale of the baths of Diocletian in particular.
- The Pantheon will start charging €2 per visit in 2018 and there is already a small donation to enter some, like the side chapel of Santi Quattro Coronati, or San Clemente which charges for its lower layers – the top layer is free.
- This one’s not for me, but the Museum of Souls in Purgatory is accessed via the Church of Sacro Cuore del Suffragio.
Military, conflict, police and crime
- Museo Storico della fanteria (incorporating the Musei dei Carrisri or tank museum).
- Museo Storico dei Granatieri (these first two are right beside the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and housed in the remains of St Helena’s SessorianPalace).
- Museum of the Carabinieri, housed in Piazza Del Risorgimento, is close to the Vatican Museums.
- The Museo Storico della Liberazione is somewhere I’ve visited but not written about. It’s an at times painful reminder of Rome’s wartime Nazi occupation. Combine with an exploration of the area round St John Lateran.
- Museum of Allied Forces – a strange one this as it’s based in a hotel near Villa Torlonia. Advance booking is required.
- The Museo of the Risorgimento based within the Altare Della Patria, aka the Vittoriano. The Vittoriano also hosts paid for exhibits and wonderful views from its (paid for) terrace.
Monuments, fountains, sculptures and tombs
From fountains to sculptures, this could become a never-ending list. But it should include:
- Bernini’s Angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo.
- Trajan’s Column – can you unravel the story of Trajan’s victory over the Dacians?
- The Column of Marcus Aurelius.
- Spot the obelisks – 13 (ancient) in all.
- The Trevi fountain – it’s free to look and up to you whether your throw your coin in or not. It’s on my own to do list following its recent restoration.
- More Bernini at the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona or the gorgeous Triton fountain at Piazza Barberini.
- See the tombs of Keats, Shelley and Goethe in the Protestant Cemetery and combine with a visit to the pyramid of Caius Cestius and the Museo Ostiense (another wall museum).
- There’s also a Commonwealth War Cemetery close by.
- More ancient tombs to explore along Via Appia as well as the Villas of Maxentius and Quintilli.
Free on the last Sunday of the Month
- The Vatican Museums are free for limited hours. It can only be a scrum, but if pushed for time, this is a great way to see the various parts of the Museum. Plan your route using the museum website to make sure you see what interests you most.
Free on the first Sunday of the month
All national museums have been free since July 2014. There’s a wealth to choose from, from the obvious to the not so well-known:
- Basilica di San Cesarea de Appia
- Domus Aurea
- Roman Forum and Palatine
- Palazzo Barberini
- Galleria Nazionale D’arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini
- Galleria Spada
- Stittuto Centrale Per La Grafica
- Museo Aristaios
- Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi
- Galleria Borghese
- Museo Hendrik Christian Andersen
- Museo Mario Praz
- Museo Nazionale D’Arte Orientale
- Palazzo Venezia
- Museo Nazionale Dell’Alto Medioevo
- Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari
- Castel Sant Angelo
- Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia
- Museo Nazionale Preistorico ed Etnografico
- Museo Nazionale Romano (includes Baths of Diocletian, Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Massimo and Palazzo Altemps)
- Parco Archaeologico delle Tombe Delle Via Latina
- Baths of Caracalla
- Tomb of Cecilia Metella
- Villa of the Quintili
- The Palazzo Montecitorio – home to the Italian Parliament also opens its doors monthly.
And if you’re a Roman citizen..
- You’ll know this already! All Rome’s civic museums are free to Roman residents on the first Sunday of the month. Included here are some of the big hitters including The Capitoline Museums, Trajan’s Markets and smaller gems like the Ara Pacis Augustae.
- If you’re from Rome, you can also now access these museums via a card that costs the princely sum of €5 per year.
This definitley isn’t a complete list. So, what else (either free or low cost) would you add?