Rome is a beautiful city and one of the most popular travel destinations in the world–and for great reasons! The city of Rome houses some of the most well-known and beautiful examples of historic architecture and artwork in the world.
Walking down any given street in Rome is like walking along the pages of a history book–except way, way better! In addition to the immense amount of history and art available, you’ve also got lots and lots (and lots…and lots…) of aromatic Italian restaurants, charming outdoor cafes, pretty local markets, and enticing designer stores.
Essentially, there are countless boutiques, museums, cafes and eateries on every street corner tempting you to spend a dollar or two here, and a few dollars there…which, needless to say, adds up quick.
It’s a well-established fact that Italy is one of the more expensive European destinations, but don’t be fooled; there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself for free in The Eternal City (leaving more room in your budget for pasta, gnocchi, pizza, gelato and wine)!
Okay, okay–if you really want to do the Trevi Fountain right, you’ll need a coin of some sort to toss over your shoulder into the fountain, which will ensure that you’ll one day return to Rome. But, I’d say a dollar or less investment for a guarantee that you’ll one day be back to this beautiful city is more than worth it!
If you’re short on coins, the Trevi Fountain is still a perfect area for people-watching. The crowds here are insane, so be prepared to get a glimpse of people from all walks of life, both locals and tourists. The fountain itself is also a truly beautiful work of art.
Whether you’re here to sacrifice some coins or not, you’ll be right in the heart of one of Rome’s biggest attractions–for free!
Equally suited for people-watching are Rome’s famous Spanish Steps. At the foot of the steps sits the Piazza di Spagna, one of the city’s liveliest and most well known squares. Like much of Rome, the entire area is speckled with architectural gems.
Wander through the square and meander up and down the 135 steps, before taking a seat on one of the stairs and watching the world go by. Listen to the sounds of the city, and try to catch a word or two of an Italian conversation. If you’re lucky, you may even be treated to some street music.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Technically located in Vatican City, this church is a must-see for art, history, or architecture lovers. It’s one of the largest churches in the world, and is home to an astonishing amount of renowned Renaissance art and architectural design.
One of these works of art is the beloved bronze statue of St. Peter. Traditionally, worshipers and pilgrims rub or kiss the right foot of the statue when they pass it, which has made for one very worn-down bronze foot. I’m not sure exactly of the origins of this tradition (good luck?) but I happily obliged in the ritual during my visit.
Whether you’re a believer or not, St. Peter’s is absolutely beautiful and is one of the most memorable churches I’ve seen…and I’ve been to a lot of churches. The Basilica itself is free to enter, although venturing further into other areas of the property requires payment.
See the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on a Free Day
I’m one of those sorry suckers who actually obeys the “no photographs” signs in churches and museums (mostly for fear of being publicly called out rather than any sense of a moral compass) but in case you’re in need of a refresher, the Chapel ceiling was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and is one of the most famous works of Renaissance artwork that exists. It looks like this:
On the last Sunday of each month, entry to the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, is free between 9am and 12:30pm (you can stay later than this, but this is when free entry ends).
Although I have a very small working knowledge of art history, I really and truly never get tired of works of art like this.
In my opinion, a visit to the Sistine Chapel is worth a visit whether you’re paying full admission prices or not, but if you’re short on cash (and don’t mind putting up with the inevitable increased crowds) try to plan your trip accordingly to enter for free.
Built between 118 and 128 AD, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s biggest “must-sees.” Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a dime to see it. While the exterior structure is worth a look all on its own, its the interior that will really captivate you. Dome-shaped, encircled by white columns and complete with a natural light oculus, you’ll really get a feel for how impressive and beautiful Roman architecture truly is.
I somehow managed to visit without taking any pictures, but trust me (and literally every guidebook and travel website)–it’s absolutely worth a visit.
Piazza de Popolo
The name of this picturesque plaza translates literally into “People’s Square” in Italian, and true to its name, it is constantly filled with the hustle and bustle of both Italian and foreign pedestrians.
There are a number of sights to be seen here, such as an Egyptian obelisk in the center of the plaza and the “twin” churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto at the south end of the plaza.
Obviously it’s completely free to wander the plaza, and like all good Italian plazas it’s perfect for people-watching and checking out the impressive architecture.
Arch of Constantine
This triumphal arch is located between the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, and is free to view and visit. It was built in AD 315 to honor Constantine I’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. It’s right in the heart of one of Rome’s most historic districts, is the perfect free addition to a paid trip to the Colosseum and the Forum.
Santa Maria della Vittoria / Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
If these other ancient Roman sights and works of art just aren’t quite scandalous enough for you, stay tuned: a visit to the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria to see the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa may be just what you need.
This life-size marble sculpture is one of the most notable works of revered sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The work is based on a journal entry by Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century nun who described in her journal an encounter with an angel who pierced her heart and soul with a long, golden spear, sending her into a spiritual (and apparently somewhat painful) state of ecstasy.
It’s definitely a dramatic work of art, and one that has drawn a number of unique conclusions about the true meaning of this event, but no matter your views this is definitely a beautiful and interesting piece and well worth a visit.
*Bonus: Do Absolutely Nothing!*
Of course, one of the best free experiences you can have in Rome is just letting yourself be in Rome.
There are an absolutely limitless number of cathedrals, museums, art galleries and historic sites to be seen in this European capital, but nothing beats strolling down a pretty street lined with outdoor cafes and colorful flower markets and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of every day life in Rome–all of which can be had for absolutely, 100 percent free.
Have you ever taken advantage of any of these Rome freebies? What would you add to this list?