I first published a post on free things to do in Rome last year. It’s been one of my most popular posts to date so I thought I would update it to take account of the fact that free entry on the first Sunday of the month has changed. I’ve also added in quite a few additions and categories to the list below, from quirky sites to window shopping, from street art to modern architecture. There are likely many more that could be included, but it’s not always clear from the information online that they’re free.
To build your own itinerary, use my Google map to show where these free sites are located. Click on a marker and you’ll see a photo and a link to the site’s website.
Do feel free to add your recommendations in the comments section below! Happy reading and happy planning!
Free all the time
- 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 bird’s 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, the Ludus Magnus, 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, Nero’s sprawling Golden House).
- 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.
- While the virtual reality Circo Maximo Experience brings the Circus Maximus to life with AR, you can still jog and walk round most of the non-enclosed part of the site.
- Get a glimpse into late imperial Rome with a visit to Santa Costanza, originally the tomb complex of two of Constantine the Great’s daughters, but now a church.
- See parts of the Servian wall in and around Termini, or trace the 3rd Century AD Aurelian Walls around the edge of the city.
- The remains of the Temple of Hadrian provide a gorgeous backdrop to Piazza di Pietra.
- There’s very little left, but trace the remains of the Temple of Claudius in the Basilica of Saints John and Paul in the Celian district.
- The Cloaca maxima (or great sewer) dates from ancient times, and can be seen in various places.
- San Giovanni metro station displays artefacts, some dating back to the ice age, found during excavations for the Metro line C.
- The Aula Octogona, or Octagonal Hall, of the Baths of Diocletian is one of the free areas of the Baths to explore. Trace the remainder of this sprawling complex in the curve of the Piazza della Repubblica, and in the churches of Santa Maria degli Angeli and San Bernardo alle Terme.
- I’m partial to this site as I wrote about if for my MA, but you view the outside of a Roman apartment building, the Insula dell’ara coeli between Piazza Venezia and the Ara Coeli steps.
- The Antiquarium of Lucrezia Romana displays finds from across the city.
- The Theatre of Marcellus archeological Park, including the remains of the Temples of Bellona and Apollo Sosianus. This is now accessible via a paved walkway.
Art, design and literature
- 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 Fondazione Micol Fontana can be found near the Spanish Steps and celebrates the work of the 3 Fontana sisters, who kicked off haute couture in the city.
- The Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi is a costume museum located between Termini and Villa Borghese.
- Museo Mario Praz, near Piazza Navona, is the home of a renowned art collector.
- The Museo Hendrik Chrisen Andersen displays works of the renowned Norwegian born artist.
- Make your own art trail and see the wonders of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini and more in Rome’s churches.
- Peruse the street art in Ostiense and elswhere.
- Via Margutta becomes an open air art gallery during the “One Hundred Painters of Via Margutta” event.
- The Gallery of the San Luca Academy brings together the work of various artists.
- Museo Giacomo Manzu exhibits the work of a 20th Century artist.
- The Luigi Pirandello Studio was the last home of the renowned playwright, and houses the Instituto di Studi Pirandelliani.
This is the reason for many visits. After all 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.San Vitale, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, or Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome’s only Gothic church.
- Join pilgrims from around the world for Wednesday papal audiences, or other services in and around St Peter’s Basilica.
- Naples is more renowned for its extensive Nativity scenes, but Rome also boasts a Museo del Presepio. Opening days are limited, and this one is closed in the summer months.
- Climb the Scala Sancta – the holy stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to see Pontius Pilate.
- See Italy’s oldest baptistery at St John Lateran.
The Musei in Comune de Roma have several 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
- The Museum of Casal de’Pazzi
- Casa Museo Alberto Moravia is one for the literature lovers.
So far I’ve made it to the Museum of the Walls, so there are lots more choices for future visits.
Food and shopping
- OK, gelato’s not free, but treat yourself to one as you marvel at the grandeur around you. Just don’t eat it near an ancient monument (it’s the law), and take your litter home with you.
- Browse what Italian food has to offer at the two branches of Eataly – one in Ostiense, and the other smaller branch under the porticoes of Piazza della Repubblica.
- Browse an authentic Roman food market at Testaccio. Are you brave enough to try the quinto quarto?
- Mercato Centrale near Termini is a feast for the senses – explore the eating options before deciding on your choice.
- Do some high end window shopping on Via Condotti and the area round the Spanish Steps.
- Browse the Via Del Corso, or cross the river to via Cola di Rienzo for more afffordable brands. Alternatively make a day of it in one of the shopping centres dotting the city’s edges.
- Rome has some great markets and the Campo de’ Fiori market is on many tourist lists. Check out others like the Campagna Amica, close to Circus Maximus.
Meandering the Roman streets is one of the main attractions of a visit to the city. Explore areas with long histories and contemporary identities.
- Explore the winding lanes of Monti or Trastevere (Italophilia author Ishita recommends the bookshops of Trastevere), or the brutally fascist architecture of the EUR district.
- People watch around the Spanish Steps (although don’t loiter or sit on them) or Piazza Navona.
- Take a more organised approach with a free guided tour.
Military, conflict and police
- Museo Storico della fanteria (incorporating the Musei dei Carrisri or tank museum) looks at the history of Italy’s Infantry.
- 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 Sessorian Palace).
- Museum of the Carabinieri, housed in Piazza Del Risorgimento, is close to the Vatican Museums.
- The Historical Museum of Military Vehicles is open on Saturday mornings.
- The Museo of the Risorgimento based within the Altare Della Patria, aka the Vittoriano.
- 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 Fosse Ardeatine (Ardeatine caves) commemorates the Ardeatine massacre of 335 people in March 1994.
- The Commonwealth War Cemetery is close to the Protestant Cemetery.
- The permanent collections of Maxxi, the Museum of 21st century art, are now free. The building, designed by Zada Hadid is worth the short trip to the Flaminio district.
- Get a taste of modern Rome with a visit to Rienzo Piano’s Auditorium Parco della Musica. It’s a modern concert space, but also has a free archaeological museum, a free musical instrument museum, the Aristaios Museum (focusing on Minoan pottery), and more.
- The nearby Ponte Della Musica, built in 2011, links the Olympic/Flaminio area with Monte Mario.
- Richard Meier’s Museo dell’Ara Pacis divides opinion (I’m a fan). Have a look at the outside which replicates Augustus’s Res Gestae.
- More Maier can be found at the Jubilee Church. It’s high on my to see list.
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 (still) 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).
- More ancient tombs to explore along Via Appia as well as the Villas of Maxentius and Quintilli.
- The Tomb of the Baker, at Porta Maggiore, provides an insight into the ancient world and its workforce.
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 for free.
- Visit the neighbouring Pincio to get great views over the city, especially at sunset.
- Get a little further out of the centre of Rome and visit Villa Torlonia – it has a range of museums and Mussolini’s bunker to view (these aren’t free), but just walking around taking in the views is a lovely way to while away an afternoon.
- 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.
- And it’s not quite the Christmas Markets that occur in other European countries, but check out the market in Piazza Navona in between Christmas and Epiphany.
- At the same time, explore the beautiful cribs which dot the city during the Christmas period. They’re not just Nativity scenes but often whole villages.
- Explore Tiber Island, with its church housing apostle remains, and the neighbouring Jewish Ghetto area.
- Get to the Gianiculum at midday for the midday gun. Enjoy the views and have a look at the nearby Tempietto (some Irish interest there), and more.
- In May and June, visit the rose garden beside Circus Maximus.
Ports (ancient and modern) and the seaside
- 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 days, visit nearby Portus using a free shuttle bus which runs regularly from Fiumicino airport.
- You can also visit the Isola Sacra Necropolis, housing a range of ancient tombs near Ostia – from the poor to the rich, see how the ancient Romans treated their dead. It’s only open once a month, so do check the dates.
- Indulge in a passeggiata or use the free public beach in Lido Di Ostia (it’s still part of Rome so no extra travel costs).
- Squeeze in a bit of sightseeing on your way home. If you look closely, you can get a taste of ancient Rome in Rome’s modern (air)port, Fiumicino. There are some lovely examples of statues brought from nearby Isola Sacra, and in 2019 don’t go through security until you’ve explored the Leonardo exhibition.
Parades and re-enactments
There are numerous neighbourhood parades for specific saints’ days, so the following is only a small selection of events:
- On 1 January, the Rome New Year festival includes a parade and free concerts around the city.
- The Ephiphany parade, centred on Via della Conciliazione on 6 January, is a lot of fun, and a celebration of La Befana.
- In February or March, the Carnevale is celebrated, often with free events.
- Beware the Ides of March as Julius Caesar’s murder and burial are recreated on 15 March.
- 21 April sees a range of parades and events round the city to celebrate the Natale di Rome, or the city’s foundation in April 753 BCE.
- On 25 April, the city celebrates Liberation Day with parades and a flypast.
- 1 May sees a free concert and entertainment in the area of St John Lateran.
- In the last week of July, the Festa dei Noantri sees the Virgin Mary celebrated with a riverboat procession.
- 5 August sees the Festival of the Snows celebrated at Santa Maria Maggiore.
Quirky and unusual
- Peep through the Knights of Malta keyhole on the Aventine: where else could you see three countries in one go?
- Piccola Londra, or little London, offers a taste of UK architecture in Rome
- Quartiere Coppede represents a mixture of architectural styles.
- I don’t have a sport category, so the Stadio dei Marmi fits here for its fascist era display of athletic statues.
- The Restauri Artistici Squatriti is a doll hospital for porcelain dolls near Piazza del Popolo.
- This one’s not for me, but the Museum of Souls in Purgatory is accessed via the Church of Sacro Cuore del Suffragio.
- The Enrico Fermi Museum takes a look at the life of the famous physicist and his work.
- Museo numismatico della Zecca italiana is the Museum of the Italian Mint, and keeps copies of coins for viewing.
- Museo storico del Vigilo del Fuoco focuses on the wonderfully named Fire Brigade.
- The Museum of Transport is located near the Pyramid and features trains and other rolling stock.
Free on the first weekend of the month
- The Palazzo Montecitorio – home to the Italian Parliament opens its doors monthly on Sundays.
- Palazzo Madama, home of the Senate opens for free guided tours on the first Saturday of the month.
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.
- The Cortili Aperti (open courtyard) event in May lets you have a peek into Roman historic homes.
- Open House Rome also takes place in May and offers free access to some 150 sites.
- Museum Week sees a week of free entry to some museums in March.
- Check out opportunities for free museum entry on International Women’s Day, also in March.
What happened to the free Sundays?
Instead of concentrating free entry into national museums into the first Sunday of the month, each museum chooses a range of days across the year. Entry to almost 50 museums near Rome can be viewed on the Io Vado al Museo website. In Rome itself, the list includes:
- Roman Forum and Palatine
- Basilica di San Cesarea de Appia
- Domus Aurea
- Palazzo Barberini
- Galleria Nazionale D’arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini
- Galleria Spada
- Stittuto Centrale Per La Grafica
- Museo Aristaios
- Galleria Borghese
- 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