17 Free (and Amazing) Things to do in Rome
April 30, 2020
I started this as 10 free things to do in Rome, but the list kept on growing as I went through my photos. Now, my list has 17 of my favorite spots in Rome, all of them free to visit.
When I plan a trip, I always try to find a few things to do beyond the top 3 everybody does. In Rome, besides the Colosseum and the Vatican there are so many things to see that you can easily spend a few weeks and still feel you’ve just begun.
So, here it is:
My 17 Free Things to do in Rome
1. Basilica di San Pietro
St. Peter’s Church is technically part of the Vatican. It is the largest church in the world and the burial site of St. Peter, one of the apostles which is also considered the first Pope. Many of the Popes have their graves in the same church along with stone representations.
The most beautiful features are Michelangelo’s Pietà and the bronze canopy over the Altar designed by Bernini. The canopy was built above St. Peter’s tomb and directly beneath the main Dome of the Cathedral. All the bronze for this work came from stripping The Pantheon’s entrance.
The truth is, even though the entrance to the Basilica is free, you’ll probably have to wait in line for an hour or so to get through security. Try to get there early in the morning, or you can buy a skip-the-line access as I did-here.
2. The Trevi Fountain
Probably the most famous fountain in the world, Fontana di Trevi gets its name from the three streets leading to it (in italian tre vie=three streets). An ancient aqueduct, later rebuilt, is still supplying the water to the fountain.
It’s actually hard to take a decent photo of the fountain, it’s a very popular spot all day long. Try to make it there early in the morning to escape some of the crowds. Also, in the last couple of years, Trevi Fountain, as well as the Spanish Steps are supervised and tourists are not allowed to sit or eat at these sites. It’s a good thing, to protect these monuments, but the constant whistles sound is somewhat annoying.
Legend says if you throw a coin in the fountain, your wish will come true. Therefore, a lot of wishes are trying to come true here, about 3000 euros a day worth.
3. Marcellus Theater
Emperor Augustus inaugurated this open air theater more than 2000 years ago. In the middle ages, residences were built on top of the ancient theater.
Very close to this structure, you can exit by the Portico d’Ottavia to the Jewish Ghetto, a small area full of restaurants and small shops.
4. Villa Borghese Park
This is a large park in the center of Rome, an oasis in this busy city. As you enter the park from Piazza del Popolo you will have a great panorama of the city. Also, inside the gardens you will find the Water Clock, a Zoo and the famous Borghese Gallery. It is open from sunrise to sunset.
5. The Aventine Keyhole
This is one of the lesser known wonders of Rome. On the Aventine Hill, a nice walk uphill from Circus Maximus, you will get to this plain looking property, where you’ll likely find some people queuing, as I did. If you look through this door’s keyhole (literally), you will have a picture-perfect view of St.Peter’s Church. The catch is that you can’t really take a photo, so you just have to see it and it becomes a very personal experience.
The building belongs to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, a religious order on a Maltese territory. In short, you are looking from an Italian ground, through Malta to the Vatican, an interesting point of view.
6. The Garden of the Orange Trees
On the same Aventine Hill, a few steps down from the “Keyhole” you’ll enter “Il giardino degli Aranci”, a garden with an amazing view over the city. This garden is a perfect place to rest for a little while, among the orange trees and umbrella pines.
7. Aqueducts Park
This one makes it to my top 3 in #Rome. It’s part of the Regional Park of Appia Antica and easily accesible by metro line A to either Lucio Sestio or Giulio Agricola stops. You’ll find here aqueduct ruins from all ages of Roman history. The most spectacular is Aquedotto Claudio. Plan to spend the afternoon here to see the sun setting over the aqueducts.
Also, there’s a small area in this park where you’ll find a section of the ancient Via Aurelia. Romans built the road during the Republic, around 240 BC and extended to modern-day Pisa.
8. Via Appia Antica
Another favorite of mine and a great choice for a Sunday in Rome. Read all about it in my post here.
9. The racecourse on a weekday
A couple of hours watching a horse race? I loved it and wrote the details in my post here.
10. Testaccio Market
This is a very Italian market with a bit of everything, including an area of street food where you can have a good lunch for 10 to 12 €. The market is open Monday to Saturday from 7:00 to 15:30 but the food section closes around 14:30 usually. Find more info about this market here.
11. The Pantheon
The Pantheon was originally a temple to all gods. This 2000 years old building is the best preserved building of Ancient Rome. It also has the largest unsupported dome in the world-43.30 meters (142ft), which is also the exact distance from the top of the dome to the marble floor.
The round building has no windows, the only source of light is the Oculus (the 7.8 meters hole on top of the dome), probably intended as a direct link to the gods above the temple.
12. Monte Testaccio
This one is so interesting! Take a stroll around it after a visit to Mercato Testaccio to discover this artificial “mountain” made entirely of ancient broken pottery.
This spot is close to the river bank of the Tiber where imports of olive oil arrived. They transported the oil in large amphorae which were then broken as the oil remains decayed quickly and it wasn’t healthy to reuse them. The round pottery fragments were carefully placed on top of each other forming what is now a 35 meters (115ft) high and almost 1km diameter mound. The oil fat sealed the shards together, so the mound lasted centuries, though it was probably higher at it’s peak.
Around the “Mount of Shards” there are now night clubs and climbing on the hill is not allowed but you can easily walk all around it and imagine how they used to carry and break the pottery containers, then place the shards together.
13. The Pyramid of Cestius
Still in the same neighborhood, walk to the Protestant Cemetery. This is a private cemetery hosting non-catholic residents of Rome, among them-poets Kelley and Shelley. To the far side of the cemetery you’ll find the Cestius Pyramid. It was likely built around 15 BC by the Gaius Cestius, a Roman magistrate in a time when the conquest of Egypt inspired the wealthy class to follow the Egyptian fashion in everything, including burial sites. The tomb was built outside the city walls of the time, as Roman law required. Later, the pyramid was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls, which helped the monument survive to this day.
Technically, the cemetery is free to visit but they recommend of at least 3 € donation to help with the maintenance of the site and to feed the cat community there. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM and to 1 PM on Sundays and public holidays.
14. Caffarella Park
Caffarella Park is also part of the Appia Antica Regional Park. It’s a large park outside the Aurelian Walls that covers the area between Via Appia Nuova and Via Appia Antica. Locals come here to walk, run, spend time with their families and walk their dogs. You can rent a bike and explore the park and the ruins scattered around the area. Find out more about this park here.
15. Cat Sanctuary at Torre Argentina
This place is right in the middle of Rome, but you’ll probably pass by it without knowing its history. The ruins discovered in the square of Torre Argentina are those of the Theater of Pompey and 4 temples. The theater is the building where they stabbed Julius Caesar as he entered a Senate session.
One of the sides of the square is now occupied by a cat shelter where volunteers take care of about 150 cats. You can visit the sanctuary, donate, buy a souvenir or adopt a cat. Find out everything about the cat sanctuary on their website.
16. The Tiber Island
Isola Tiberina is a small island in the shape of a boat connected to both river banks by two of the oldest bridges in Rome. The island was always used for healing purposes and to isolate the sick. A temple of Aesculap-the god of healing stood on the island, now a church. During the imperial age, the Romans covered the sides of the island with marble sheets to make it look like a ship sailing the river. It even had a mast, an obelisk placed in the center of the island.
It’s a nice walk around the island and the gelateria there is not to be neglected either.
17. San Luigi dei Francesi Church
This church is very close to Piazza Navona and it holds three Caravaggio masterpieces. As most churches in Italy, it is free to enter. With a 1 € coin you can turn the light on in the chapel to fully admire the paintings.
The church is open every day 10:00 – 12:30 and 15:00 – 19:00, except for Thursdays when it is closed in the afternoon.
This was my 17 free (and amazing) things to do in Rome. I left a few out, the list could be longer but I chose the places that impressed me the most. Please comment with your favorite things to do do in Rome, free or not.
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