Nestled on the River Tiber, Rome is one of most culturally rich cities in the world. You might expect Rome to be closed off to those without an impressive budget, but with our guide you will see there is much Rome has to offer completely free of charge.
1. Explore the Vatican Museum
While you normally require a ticket to visit the Vatican Museum, plan to visit on the last Sunday of the month when it's open free for public entry (09:00—12:30). Contained within, amongst myriad other attractions, is the Sistine Chapel, housing Michelangelo’s famous nine panels that account the creation of the cosmos and man. The museum is one of the most renowned gems in the Roman coronet and an unmissable component of the Italian tourist canon. Do not miss out on the chance to explore the inside (and outside) of this magnificent building.
Location:Viale Vaticano, 00165.
Opening hours: Monday—Saturday, 09.00—18.00 (ticket office closed at 16:00). Sunday, 09:00—12:30 (free entry).
2. Check out some of Rome’s neighbourhoods
Don’t neglect the opportunity to get to know some of Rome’s eminent neighbourhoods. Testaccio lies just east of the Tiber and is the home of a great artificial mount composed of the fragments of broken amphorae (a type of ancient Roman jar). These fragments were discarded by ancient trade ships docked on the Tiber. Monte Testaccio is now a hugely important archaeological site. For those who like to burn the candle at both ends, it's also renowned for its nightlife, with lots of clubs found on Via di Monte Testaccion.
Or you could check out the lovely cobbled streets and medieval houses of Trastevere on the west bank of the Tiber. There, you can also visit the marble plaque in memory of the Spaghetti Western film director, Sergio Leone, who grew up in Viale Glorioso.
3. Ensure your return to Rome at the Trevi Fountain
Considered by some as Rome’s most beautiful fountain, the Trevi Fountain is a Roman tourist magnet any enthusiastic sojourner should visit. Completed in 1762 and issued by Pope Clement XII, the centre of the fountain boasts an impressive statue of Neptune - the Roman god of the sea whose Greek doppelganger is Poseidon. It is said that if you toss a coin over your shoulder into the water (representing Neptune’s sea) you will return to Rome. Be sure to have some spare change...
4. Relax in the squares
There is a reason Rome is well known for its squares. Whether it’s the lovely baroque fountains of Piazza Navona, the naiads of Piazza della Republica (conveniently located right next to the Termini train station), or the magnificent and regal marble floor of Piazza della Rotunda - overlooked by the Pantheon - the sheer aesthetic beauty of the squares is justification enough for planning a trip to visit them. Combined with the fact that enjoying the atmosphere in them is entirely free, they should definitely occupy a top spot on any traveller's must-see list of Roman attractions.
5. Visit Michelangelo’s famous statue
The church 'San Pietro in Vincoli' ('The chains that held St. Peter') is where you will find one of the great Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures, created by him in the early 16th century. This amazing interpretation of Moses sees him with a horned head, and a bewilderingly, elegantly sculpted flowing beard. There are many other notable attractions within, including two canvases of Saint Augustine and the tomb of Cinzio Passeri Aldobrandini (an Italian cardinal who lived during the 16th-17th centuries).
Location: Piazza San Pietro in Vincoli 4A (off Via degli Annibaldi)
Opening hours: Spring/summer: daily 07:00--12:30 and 15:30--19:00. (autumn / winter to 18:00)
6. Check out the Pantheon
The Pantheon is a 1,800 year-old living artefact of the cultural imprint of the great Roman Empire. Literally meaning "all gods", the Pantheon is an impressive stone tribute to the ancient Romacoogon deities. Eight gargantuan granite columns support the pediment of the building’s façade, and, despite its age, it lays claim to the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Be sure to journey to this typically Roman tourist jewel.
Location: Piazza della Rotunda
Opening hours: Monday—Saturday, 08.30—18.30. Sunday, 09:00—13:30.
7. Walk through the Roman Forum
You have probably heard of all the ancient Roman political activities - elections, public speeches, gladiator brawls and criminal trials are some typical examples. The Roman Forum was the location where such activities took place. As such, it is bathed in historical sociocultural significance. Adorned with statues of some of ancient Rome’s most influential individuals, visitation of this attraction is free of charge and a definite hotspot.
Location: Largo Romolo e Remo. Guided tours at 13:00.
8. Avail of a free walking tour
Make sure you spare some time to check out this great free walking tour when visiting Rome. The tour offers a guided experience of the Angels of Bernini, Queen Margherita’s tomb, the big Trompe l’oeil and a further exoploration of Piazza di Spagna, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. All you have to do is show up at the Piazza di Spagna at 17:30 any day of the week (in any weather condition) and enjoy the 2-hour stroll through the Roman streets. This is an excellent free service and one you should definitely make use of when in Rome.
9. Visit St. Peter’s Basilica
A trip to St. Peter’s Basilica is essential during a visit to the Italian capital. As the primary headquarters of earthly Christendom, tourists fly in vast flocks to the Basilica every year. Its inside is truly stunning and is the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. Almost every inch of the inner chamber’s walls is decorated with elaborate and colourful tiling. Near its entrance you will see members of the Swiss Guard - elite members of the small Vatican army. Their trademark colourful uniform - boasting pretty stripes of gold, red and blue - were designed by Leonardo da Vinci and are testament to the artistic zeitgeist of the 15th-16th century European renaissance.
Location: Piazza San Pietro
Opening hours: Daily, 09:00—18:00.
10. Take advantage of Rome’s public water fountains
Especially in the summertime, Rome can become extremely hot. While this is why many travel there, for some the intense heat can occasionally be overpowering. If this applies to you however, then don’t let that get in the way of you experiencing a fantastic European city. Public drinking fountains are dotted all over Rome’s streets. Not only do they serve a valuable functional role (it’s very important to keep your body well hydrated in the heat, and even more important for children), but they also serve as interesting little cultural nuggets - some are centuries old.
11. Eat for free at ‘aperitif’ bars
Aperitif culture in Rome is becoming very popular. Aperitivo refers to an alcoholic drink taken before dinner to stimulate appetite, but in Italian culture it has taken on a different meaning. For the price of a drink (around €5), one not only gets a drink, but allowance to fill a plate of tasty eats free of charge. Typically you will find sandwiches, cold pastas and finger foods. This is a great way to experience some Roman cuisine without breaking the bank. Check out Société Lutèce at Piazza Monte Vecchio (near Piazza Navona) and Pepato at Via del Politeama for a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and share an inexpensive dinner with them.
12. Relax on the Spanish Steps
These 138 steps, constructed in the first quarter of the 18th century, lead all the way from Piazza di Spagna at their base to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. They comprise the widest staircase in Europe and are certainly worthy of a visit. Also, don’t pass up the chance to see the gorgeous fountain at Piazza di Spagna, as well as the impressive French church overlooking the steps and square.
13. Listen to great free music in selected pubs
If you’re out having a drink and want the atmosphere only live music can generate, then Roman pubs are a good place to start. The Nags Head (near Piazza Venezia) houses a variety of live acts from week to week. Night time music performances typically run from Tuesday through Thursday (and sometimes Friday) and begin around 20:00 or 21:00. If you’re really in the mood then DJs will fulfil any dancing requirements until 04:00 and admission is free of charge. If however jazz and blues is your thing, then why not check out Jazz Café (near Piazza Navona) on Friday or Saturday night when entry is free. This is a great place to stop and have a cocktail or even order dinner.
14. Take a photo of the Colosseum
Considering its prominence and status in modern culture, one should not pass up the chance to visit the Roman Colosseum. This amphitheatre was the largest ever built - equipped to accommodate 50,000 spectators - during the era of the Roman Empire, and is a symbol of the highly advanced engineering abilities of the ancient Romans. Its functions ranged from the holding of gladiatorial contests to performances of dramas to public executions. The building is truly impressive and will cry out for the attention of your camera!
Location: Piazza del Colosseo
15. Pay a visit to the Historical Museum of the Liberation of Rome
For those whose interests lie in political history, this fine museum (once the seat of the cultural office of the German Embassy in Rome, and the former headquarters of the Nazi Kommandantur from 1943) houses memorabilia connected with the underground struggle such as the three-point nails used by the partisans against German vehicles. Many of the major representatives of the Roman Resistance were imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and murdered here.
Location: Via Tasso, 145.
Opening hours: Monday—Sunday, 09.30—12.30. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday also 16:00—19:00
So, if you want to spend some time in Italy’s glorious primate city, don’t fool yourself into thinking your wallet must suffer. There are many things you can do in Rome - artworks to see, food to eat, museums to explore - that cost money, but there is also a colourful plethora of free activities in which eager tourists can also engage.