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Eight things you can do in Rome for free

Whether you're visiting Rome on a shoestring budget or just like to keep things thrifty, here are eight activities you can do in the Eternal City for absolutely free.

There are a range of things visitors to Rome can do for free.
There are a range of things visitors to Rome can do for free. Photo by Marie-Laure MESSANA / AFP

1. Visit St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon (among other churches)

St Peter’s Basilica, aka the Vatican’s church, is completely free to visit – you just need to be prepared to spend some time queuing and go through a quick airport security-style bag check. If you time your visit right, you’ll even be able to see the Pope.

Many visitors to Rome are unaware that the Pantheon, first built in the 1st century BC as a pagan temple, has served as a Catholic church since the 600s. Entry is currently free for all, though Italy’s culture minister announced in March 2023 that an entry fee of 5 euros would be introduced at some point this year. 

READ ALSO: Why is Italy’s plan to charge for entry to the Pantheon so controversial?

It will always be free for Rome residents, under-18s, and those attending religious services.

You could spend years touring Rome’s churches, but ones often considered particularly worth a visit include the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill, the Basilica di Santa Prassede with its Byzantine mosaics, Santa Maria in Trastevere, and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

2. Admire the views of Rome

There are multiple viewpoints in Rome that will give you access to a sweeping vista over the city; some of the best are the Gianicolo (‘Janiculum’) terrace above the Trastevere neighbourhood, the Giardino degli Aranci orange park on the Aventine Hill, and Villa Borghese’s Pincio Terrace.

Pincio Terrace in Rome

Pincio Terrace will give you a sweeping view of the Eternal City. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

If you stop by the Giardino degli Aranci, be sure to check out the view of St. Peter’s dome through the keyhole of the nearby headquarters of the Knights of Malta.

The four-minute walk from the Pincio Terrace to the top of the Spanish Steps makes for a particularly scenic promenade.

3. Take a self-guided walking tour

Rome is an open-air museum, and most of its main attractions (the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo etc.) are conveniently all located within walking distance of one another.

If you’re on a budget, all you need to do is download a map or app with an itinerary and start your journey. Rome Tool Kit, Le Long Weekend, and Get Your Guide all offer free guides, and if you have a few euros to spare, the Urbs Smart City paid app is generally well-reviewed.

READ ALSO: Metro, bus or tram: Rome’s tickets, passes and apps explained

Waidy Wow, a free app created by the water company Acea, provides historical guides to Rome’s famous fountains, along with a map of all the nasoni drinking fountains in the city.

While like any other major city Rome has several ‘free’ walking tour companies, these are really tip-based; if you go on one of these, make sure to generously tip your guide at the end for their time and expertise.

4. Attend a free concert

A number of churches across Rome regularly host music concerts, some of which are free. These are often not very widely publicised, but if you check the social media pages of churches like All Saints by the Spanish Steps, you’ll sometimes see upcoming concerts advertised.

Eventbrite keeps an up-to-date calendar of the free musical events scheduled in Rome (type Prezzo: Gratuito and Music in the filters), and Oggi Roma also collates a list of free events happening in the city.

It’s not a concert, but if you pass by the Sant’Aselmo monastery for vespers at 7.15pm on a Sunday evening (and possibly some other days of the week), you’ll be able to hear the monks who live there singing Gregorian chants.

5. Wander round a park or garden

Rome is one of the greenest cities in Europe, containing numerous public parks and gardens where you can go for a stroll or enjoy a picnic lunch.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

Near the Colosseum you have Villa Celimontana, Parco del Celio and Parco del Colle Oppio on top of Nero’s buried Domus Aurea palace, that can be visited for a fee from Friday to Sunday (the latter also has a public basketball court that directly overlooks the ancient amphitheatre).

Rome has no shortage of parks and gardens where you can go for a stroll or enjoy an open-air lunch. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

As well as the Pincio Terrace, Villa Borghese has an artificial lake with row boats, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, sculptures, fountains and playgrounds. Around the Trastevere and Monte Verde neighbourhoods, visitors can access the sprawling Villa Doria Pamphili and the more compact Villa Sciarra.

If you’re looking for some sculpted gardens, the rose gardens by the ancient Circo Massimo chariot racetrack are open to the public for free, as are the landscaped gardens directly behind Palazzo Barberini.

6. Go to a paid museum for free

Regular visitors to Rome will know that state-owned museums and historic sites, including the Colosseum, are opened to the public for free on the first Sunday of every month.

The Vatican museums, meanwhile, are free to visit on the last Sunday of the month.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: How to visit Rome’s Vatican Museums

A lot of people take advantage of the waived fees to visit these sites on the free Sundays, so be prepared to contend with very large crowds.

If you’re a Rome resident, make sure to invest 5 euros in a MIC card, which will give you a year’s free access to Rome’s city-owned museums.

7. Go on a street art tour

Rome isn’t all millennia-old ruins and Renaissance buildings and artworks; there’s a more modern side to the city, as you’ll learn if you take yourself on a tour of its street art.

In 2010 the artist David Diavù Vecchiato founded the MURo open-air urban ‘museum’ to recognise the value of the murals that dot the newer parts of the capital.

Street art in Rome

A graffiti dedicated to AS Roma’s former captain Francesco Totti. Photo by Marie-Laure MESSANA / AFP

Ostiense, Garbatella and Tor Marancia are the neighbourhoods with the most to offer in this regard; you can find a ‘map’ with the names of the streets where some of the city’s best urban artwork can be found here, and you can find MURo’s interactive map here.

8. See where Julius Caesar was stabbed (and pet some cats)

In a city filled with so much splendour, the ruins at Largo di Torre Argentina in central Rome don’t seem particularly impressive, and many tourists pass them by without a second glance.

That’s a mistake, because this was once the meeting place of the Roman senate, i.e. the site where Julius Caesar is thought to have been assassinated – though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the explanatory plaque, which mainly focuses on the rock the columns were carved from and relegates the historic event to a footnote.

These days, the ruins also host a volunteer-run cat sanctuary at the base of one of the temples, that cat-lovers can pay a visit and make a donation to.

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For members


EXPLAINED: How will Venice’s ‘tourist tax’ work?

Venice has confirmed it will trial a long-delayed ticketing system for visitors in spring 2024. But who will the fee apply to and how will it work?

EXPLAINED: How will Venice’s ‘tourist tax’ work?

Venice officials last week approved the trial of a long-delayed ‘tourist tax’ aimed at regulating crowds and lessening the impact of mass tourism on its city centre. 

But the announcement, which reportedly contributed to Venice dodging inclusion on the UNESCO list of endangered heritage sites for the second time, has left many confused as to who the entry fee will apply to, who will be exempt and how the system will be enforced.

Though future changes cannot be ruled out, especially given the project’s troubled history, this is what the city council has said so far about the incoming trial, which is presently scheduled to start next spring.

Who will the entry fee apply to?

The Venice city council has said that all day trippers over the age of 14 will have to pay the fee. But no small amount of confusion lingers over who exactly will qualify as a ‘day tripper’.

In particular, Venice officials describe turisti giornalieri as visitors who don’t “stay in one of the accommodation facilities located within the territory of the Venice municipality”.

READ ALSO: Five essential tips to escape the tourist crowds in Venice

Besides hotels, it remains unclear exactly which other types of accommodation (B&Bs, hostels, holiday rentals, guest houses, etc.) will fall under the ‘accommodation facilities’ umbrella.

Gondola, Venice

A traditional gondola crosses the Grand Canal in Venice. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

Who’s exempt?

Aside from guests staying at the city’s hotels, so far the city has said a number of other categories will be exempt from paying the fee. 

Exemptions will include: 

  • Venice residents
  • People working or studying in Venice
  • Veneto residents (though they may still be required to register their trip online)
  • Second-home owners and their households
  • Partners, parents or relatives up to the third degree of kinship of people residing in Venice 

There are currently no details on how people will be asked to prove they’re entitled to the exemption.

How much is the fee?

Day trippers will be charged a flat five-euro fee to access the city’s historical centre during the 2024 trial stage.

However, it’s likely that this set-up will change once the trial’s over and the ticketing system becomes fully operative. 

As laid out in some of the earliest project plans, the council should ultimately opt for a variable-fee format, with the fee’s amount changing based on the time of the year and the number of visitors expected in the city. 

This means that the fee will be higher in peak tourist season and lower in low season.

How can I pay the fee?

According to the Venice comune, tourists will be required to pay the fee via a new online platform (also available via mobile app) that is expected to become operational next year. 

Venice, St Mark, tourists

Tourists walk across St Mark’s Square, one of Venice’s most popular attractions. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

The platform will provide visitors with a QR code, which they will then have to show to ticket officers upon entering the city. 

READ ALSO: Five ‘secret’ places in Venice you need to visit

It remains unclear where and how controls will take place, though the city council previously advanced the idea of setting up gates at the city’s main entry points.

Fines for those flouting the rules will range from 50 to 300 euros.

When will the trial start?

The Venice city council has said that the trial will be spread out over up to 30 days during 2024, but officials haven’t yet agreed on exactly which days the entry fee will kick in.

That said, it is likely that the system will be tested on particularly crowded days such as long weekends and public holidays, according to the Venice comune website.