7 free things to do in Rome

7 free things to do in Rome is from travel blogger Marta Correale who blogs at Learning Escapes.

Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world. With over 2000 years of history, pleasant weather and great food, the city attracts millions of tourists every year. This popularity comes, literally, at a price. Attractions and tours charge exorbitant prices and the high season is long. It’s hard to get deals worth mentioning. However, there are many ways to enjoy the city without spending money. Here are some of my favourite free things to do in Rome.

Step back into ancient Rome

Free things to do in Rome - The Trajan Forum, Rome, photo Learning Escapes

Trajan’s Forum, Rome, photo/Learning Escapes

The Coliseum and the Forum are places that you need to see to believe. I’ve spent most of my life in Rome and no matter how many times I see them I never fail to take a moment to take in how beautiful and meaningful they are. My favourite way to experience ancient Rome is strolling down Via dei Fori Imperiali, the wide road along the Forum. This walk won’t bring you inside the archaeological area but it will give you great views of the remains and the temples and provide fantastic photo ops. At the end of this road, you’ll find the Coliseum. Rather than battling the crowd, cross the road and follow the steps up the small hill in front. This is THE spot to get a birds-eye view of ancient Rome.

Visit churches

Free things to do in Rome - Michelangelo's Moses at the Church pf San Pietro in Vincoli, photo Learning Escapes

Michelangelo’s Moses at the Church pf San Pietro in Vincoli, photo/Learning Escapes

Rome has over 900 churches; many host invaluable masterpieces. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi has a Caravaggio, San Pietro in Vincoli has Michelangelo’s Moses, and the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria is home to the famous St Theresa’s Ecstasy by Bernini; these are just the most famous. Churches in Rome are an excellent alternative to museums and, in summer, make for a great refuge from the heat.

While Rome’s churches are free, visitors need to abide by certain rules, especially with regard to attire. Shorts, mini skirts and tank tops (for both men and women) are not allowed and they are strict about this. For women, a shawl wrapped around your shoulders if you’re wearing a sleeveless top or around your waist if you’re in shorts or a mini skirt is usually enough.

St. Peter’s Square

Free things to do in Rome - St Peter's Square, photo/Learning Escapes

St Peter’s Square, photo/Learning Escapes

Access to the Vatican museum and St Peter’s dome is expensive, but St Peter’s Square and the Basilica’s main floor are open to the public at no charge and are a remarkable sight. The square, created by Bernini, has an impressive colonnade providing the perfect frame for the huge basilica. Standing in the middle of the square, your eye lifts towards the imposing dome; make sure you take the time to look at your surroundings, too. Look up to the second floor of the building on your right to see the window from which the Pope addresses the faithful. Look for the special marks on the square. When you stand on one there’s an optical illusion that causes the columns around you to disappear. In December there’s a nativity scene the centre of the square. The theme changes annually but it always evokes current world events and is an emotional sight. In 2016 the scene came from Malta and included references to the tragedy of the refugees who lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

Stroll Rome’s famous cobbled streets

Free things to do in Rome - Piazza Navona, photo Learning Escapes

Piazza Navona, photo/Learning Escapes

Romantic Rome is at its best in the small cobbled streets between Piazza Navona and the Tiber. This is where Rome’s medieval alleys unfold with crumbling buildings, hidden corners and local eateries. The best way to experience this area is to allow yourself to get lost and wander or make your way to Piazza della Pace and then stroll across Piazza del Fico and Via del Governo Vecchio. These are some of the city’ most atmospheric streets! Make sure you stop at the statue of Pasquino, one of The Talking Statues of Rome, located in the Piazza di Pasquino. These are interesting pieces of the city’s Papal history.

Go green in one of Rome’s parks

Free things to do in Rome - Villa Borghese pond, photo/Learning Escapes

Villa Borghese pond, photo/Learning Escapes

Rome is a green city with many large parks right the city centre. Many of Rome’s green spaces used to be private villas belonging to the city’s nobility. These spaces offer more than just respite from the city busy streets, hosting beautiful palaces, museums and elegant alleyways. My favourites are Villa Borghese, close to Piazza del Popolo and Villa Doria Pamphili. The Villa Borghese has a small pond with rowing boats, ducks and frogs that seem like they’re out of a Victorian painting. Renting boats is expensive, but the view is free! The Villa Doria offers a stunning view over St Peter’s dome.

Visit the Protestant Cemetery

Free things to do in Rome - Graves at Rome's Protestant Cemetery, photo/Learning Escapes

Graves at Rome’s Protestant Cemetery, photo/Learning Escapes

One of the most peculiar corners of Rome is the Non-Catholic Cemetery also known as the Protestant Cemetery. Located immediately outside the city centre, this small cemetery is the resting place for many artists and intellectuals, including Keats and Shelley, who over centuries, met their fate in the Eternal city. It is a quiet, beautiful corner of the city, green and immensely romantic. Strolling through its tombstones you will find many elaborate sculptures and will have a vantage point to see what is, allegedly, Rome’s most peculiar building, the Pyramid of Cestius.

Spy St Peter’s from a keyhole

Free things to do in Rome - St. Peter's Basilica through the keyhole, photo/Learning Escapes

St. Peter’s Basilica through the keyhole, photo/Learning Escapes

There is no better place to catch a view of the city than the Garden of Oranges atop the Aventine, one of Rome’s seven hills. The site offers a lovely view over the river and the city, but the real surprise is in the square five minutes down the road. Here, a big black door hides the beautiful gardens of the Maltese Institute. The gardens are closed to the public but you can (and should) peek in thought the keyhole. This offers the observer a perfect view over St Peter’s dome, framed by two rows of elegant shrubs.

I hope you enjoyed my suggestions for free things to do in Rome. Enjoy my beautiful hometown!

What are your favorite free things to do in Rome?

Born and raised in Rome, Marta Correale now lives in Ireland with her husband and 2 young children. A part-time traveller in love with coffee, food and culture in all forms, Marta is the founder of Learning Escapes, a blog about slow family travel and cultural tourism. You’ll find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Read more of our free things to do series.

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8 free things to do in Melbourne
5 free things to do in Seattle
5 free things to do in London
Free things to do in Ipoh, Malaysia
Free things to do in Budapest
11 free things to do in Edinburgh
Free things to do in Lisbon
Free things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Free things to do in Ottawa

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2 Responses to “7 free things to do in Rome”

  1. Christine - The Dime Travelers
    March 16, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    Those are great ideas!! It’s been a couple years since I was last in Rome, but at the time my favorite free activity turned out to be a free walking tour that met at the bottom of the Spanish Steps and went around for 1-2 hours. The tour guide was absolutely amazing and full of interesting information as we visited various churches and buildings until finishing at the Trevi fountain.

    • Billie Frank
      March 21, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      That free tour sounds great! It’s amazing how many free things cities have to offer.

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