Throughout the centuries, the Eternal City has gained quite a reputation as home to one of the world’s most stunning “outdoor museums”. And, no, this is not some sort of exhibit or event that has been set up – it’s just Rome as she is. Stunning Baroque fountains mingling with Renaissance palaces, and with gothic and medieval churches dotted in between. Around every corner there is a surprise, whether it be a frescoed altar, a quaint courtyard, or a picturesque Roman terrace. But, here, we have compiled a guide to the most magnificent sights to see for FREE on your next Roman holiday! While a few DO require a ticket to enter, we’ve decided to mention them anyway as they are sure to impress you – even from the outside!
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica and Square
View of St. Peter’s and Sant’Angelo Bridge from the Tiber
Yes, it’s unbelievable, but nonetheless true, that St. Peter’s Basilica is 100% free to visit! Doors are generally open from 7am – 6:30pm, but your shoulders and knees will have to be covered if you plan on going inside. If you can’t make it during opening hours, you should stop by anyway – St. Peter’s Square, with it’s fountains, cobblestones, and colonnades, is absolutely stunning at any time of day (or night).
Cross the Tiber River at Castel Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo Imperial mausoleum to Renaissance fortress
Although the famous Roman castle likely does not resemble those from your childhood dreams, it’s got a lot going for it! A ticket is required for entry, but there’s plenty to be admired from the outside. The most picturesque view is from head on, where the Bridge of Angels, or Ponte Sant’Angelo, welcomes visitors to cross the Tiber whilst gazing upon 10 angelic statues designed by the Eternal City’s favorite sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Take in the Beauty of the Trevi Fountain
As if it wasn’t already on your bucket list! The Trevi Fountain is undeniably wondrous, and cannot be missed on a trip to Rome. More than 2,500,000 cubic feet of water are pumped through this gem on a daily basis and, though it’s free to visit, it is said to collect over €1 million in coins each year. If you believe in legends, you should certainly bring a few euros to toss in! One coin over the right shoulder should earn you an eventual return to Rome. Two coins, you’ll come back and fall in love. Three coins and, well, you’ll apparently get married!
Stand in Awe of the Pantheon
The Pantheon is an absolute must see – and is even free to enter (although there is talk about charging for entry in the future)! This architectural wonder has been standing for nearly 2,000 years and boasts the largest unsupported dome in the world. The 16 monolithic granite colonnades that support the portico stand 13 meters tall. The ceiling, which centers on an open oculus (which is apparently just a fancy word for “hole”), is geometrical perfection. The interior is almost entirely made up of spectacular marble patterns. And the tomb of Raphael is housed inside. What’s not to love? Even if they do start to charge for entry, the Pantheon is an absolute dream to witness even from the fountain steps in Piazza della Rotonda.
Take a break at the Spanish Steps
Kicking up your feet on the Spanish Steps is like a rite of passage for any Rome tourist. First of all, this is prime real estate for relaxing and watching the world pass by. Moreover, you’ll notice the fantastic view of Via Condotti (Rome’s most luxurious shopping strip), and you can drink from one of Bernini’s earliest fountains, La Barcaccia (which literally translates to “the Ugly Boat”… we didn’t say it was his best). While lounging on the steps is free of charge, you might be tempted to splurge on a modestly priced ticket to the neighboring Shelley-Keats museum to learn about the English Romantic poets who once resided in the area, or grab a coffee at the famous Antico Café Greco.
Ponder Ancient Life at the Roman Forums
Entering either of the forums actually does require a ticket purchase, but there’s a lot to see from the outside as well! Short gates line the perimeter of both archaeological sites, so onlookers can see nearly everything inside from above. Considering that this is acknowledged as the birthplace of Rome, and was once the very center of ancient city life, it would seem silly to skip out on. With spectacular remnants of basilicas, temples, and triumphal arches, this area offers the most sprawling display of ancient ruins and relics in the Eternal City.
Let the Colosseum Take Your Breath Away
Undoubtedly, a no brainer, but we couldn’t leave it out. It is a true privilege to witness the majestic 2,000-year-old Colosseum – from outside or in. Sure, if you have time we definitely recommend purchasing a ticket, which would allow you to hop inside and get a look at the arena floor and the hypogeum, but just having a stroll around the outer perimeter of the amphitheater will certainly not fail to move you. And, less than 200 meters away, you’ll get to see the opulent 4th century Arch of Constantine, too.
Discover Michelangelo’s Piazza Campidoglio
Hidden behind Piazza Venezia’s imposing “Altare della Patria” (which is another free monument worth exploring), Capitoline Hill encompasses a ton of truly delightful sights! Michelangelo’s gorgeous Piazza del Campidoglio sits at its peak and from there, depending on which way you turn, you’ll find beautiful churches, lavish government buildings, detailed sculptures, and stunning overhead views of the city and Roman Forum. All of these sites are completely cost-free. If you feel inspired, however, you can pay to visit the Capitoline Museum, which houses Bernini’s “Medusa” sculpture!
Admire Bernini’s “Fountain of Four Rivers” in Piazza Navona
Featured in just about every Rome-based film, this cinematic piazza offers a picturesque view of Roman life. The Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone borders the square, which centers on one of Bernini’s largest and most celebrated fountains, The Fountain of Four Rivers. A variety of restaurants and bars surround the piazza, where art vendors and musicians can often be found, making the scene extra special. Roaming the piazza is absolutely free, but you might opt to linger with a coffee or cocktail!
Mingle with Ancient, Renaissance & Modern in Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica
Floating under the general radar, this square is underrated, to say the least. The ancient Baths of Diocletian come together with the 16th century Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs designed by Michelangelo, which is totally free to enter and explore. It is unique from other churches in Rome, in its layout and its collection of interesting sculptures. At nightfall, the grand portico (opposite the church) illuminates the central fountain, making for a truly magical Roman sight.
Watch the Sunset from the Garden of Oranges
St Peter’s dome from the Garden of Oranges
The Giardino deli Aranci (sometimes called “Parco Savello”) is exactly what it sounds like – a lovely garden full of sweet-smelling orange groves. It’s not as central as some of our other picks, but that just makes it all the more exclusive. And the views are absolutely breathtaking! Located on Aventine Hill, this garden, open daily from 7am till sunset, offers an incredible panoramic view of the Eternal City below. We recommend stopping by to watch the sun set over St. Peter’s Basilica – a free, but priceless, experience.
Get Some Fresh Air in Villa Borghese
Villa Borghese is an extravagant escape from the buzzing city life of Rome, just steps away from Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna. It’s the third largest public park in Rome, sprawling over nearly 200 acres. It’s a treat to explore on foot, or you can opt to rent a bicycle or pedal cart. Don’t worry about getting lost – there are plenty of maps posted throughout the park to guide you amongst flowing fountains, gorgeous gazebos, charming cafes, and even a small lake, where you can rent a row boat and get an up close look at the breathtaking 18th century Temple of Aesculapius.
See the Protestant Cemetary and Pyramid of Cestius
Pyramid of Cestius
Head off the beaten path to the lesser-known Roman neighborhood of Ostiense. Upon exiting the “Piramide” metro station, you’ll be greeted by the only Egyptian style pyramid in Europe: the Pyramid of Cestius. The 36-meter-tall structure was built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius in 12 BC. It neighbors the Protestant Cemetery (or Non-Catholic Cemetery), where the graves of notable English poets John Keats and Percy B. Shelley can be found.
Discover Rome’s Magnificent Churches
St Paul Outside the Walls
With over 900 churches in Rome, it might be difficult for you to decide which ones to prioritise on your trip! As you can see, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls (pictured above) is simply stunning! But some of the city’s more central churches boast artworks by Michelangelo, Bernini, and Caravaggio.
Admire Artwork by Italian Master Artists
The sheer quantity of unparalleled art pieces in Rome is, frankly, unfair. No other city can live up to it! What’s even more incredible is the fact that many of the masterpieces are housed in local churches and are, therefore, 100% free to visit! So, in reality, visitors get the chance to admire original works by the likes of Bernini, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo as well as the fantastic architecture of the Roman Catholic churches. Check out our guide to Master Artist’s in Rome’s Churches for specific locations and information on the pieces. Just check out Bernini’s “Blessed Ludovica” above.
See the Greek in Rome’s Oldest Preserved Temples
You won’t see this anywhere other than Rome
Head to the Forum Boarium, an area nestled between the Tiber River, Capitoline Hill, Aventine Hill, and Palatine Hill, and feast your eyes on 2 of the most impressive examples of Ancient Roman architecture! The Temple of Hercules Victor dates back to 2nd century BC while the Temple of Portunus was completed around 100 BC. Both show obvious Greek influence in their architecture and are extremely well preserved.
Pass the Time in Rome’s Picture-Perfect Piazzas
Be sure to check Rome’s piazzas off your list
In a city with such a moderate climate, kicking back in a piazza is an outstanding option year-round! Hop from square to square to discover stunning fountains and ancient obelisks, magnificent churches, Roman palazzi, and incredible sculptures! Some of our favourites are Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, and Piazza del Popolo – but piazza perfection awaits you around nearly every corner in Rome.
Discover All the Capitoline Hill Has to Offer
Bask in history and get great views of the Roman Forum
Capitoline Hill is at the very center of Rome, where the modern and ancient worlds collide beautifully. Starting in Piazza Venezia, visitors can enter and roam the 20th century Altare della Patria (also known as “the Wedding Cake” due to its bright white, layered architecture) for a view stretching all the way down Via del Corso. At its peak, the Capitoline Museum and the 12th century Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli center on Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio. Just around the corner, you’ll find the most stunning overhead view of the Roman Forum!
Get your Fill of Rome’s Contemporary Art
Rome has a thriving art scene
Rome has a reputation to uphold in the art world – and, fortunately for us, the city’s art connoisseurs are doing it justice! World class galleries, like the Lorcan O’Neil and Gagosian, showcase international artists in modern spaces – offering a contemporary experience in the ancient city. Why pay thousands (or even millions) for the artworks when you can get up close and snap a selfie for free?
Soak Up the Beauty of Rome’s Fountains
Rome’s fountains move more than just water
Italian artists, like Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Moderna, and Nicola Salvi, took the art of fountain-making to new levels when leaving their everlasting marks on the Eternal City! The Trevi Fountain is just one of numerous flowing founts that should be visited on a trip to Rome.
Roam the Jewish Ghetto
One of Rome’s few untouched historic neighborhoods
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, established way back in 1555, is the oldest Jewish Ghetto in the world! Ancient ruins like the Theatre of Marcellus, the 13 BC amphitheatre that inspired the Colosseum, and the Portico D’Ottavia of 770 AD mix with Renaissance palazzi and more modern structures like the Great Synagogue, completed in 1904. Cobblestone streets are lined with Kosher bakeries, boutique shops, and some of the finest traditional restaurants in The Eternal City. Don’t forget to stop by Giacomo della Porta’s Turtle Fountain in Piazza Mattei – it’s a charming corner to ponder the history of Rome’s Jewish community.
Browse Rome’s Neighbourhood Markets
You know what they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Italians love their local markets, as they give consumers a chance to not only support small, local businesses but to also pick out quality goods and products for themselves. Rome’s markets are social hubs, bustling with authentic charm, where one can find anything from food and flowers to clothing and antiques. Of course, shopping is not free – but browsing is!
See Where Julius Caesar was Assassinated
Did Caesar order this excavation from beyond the grave?
Largo del Torre Argentina is an archaeological site in the historic center of Rome which includes the ancient ruins of four Roman Republican temples as well as the remains of Pompey’s Theatre, where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC! While the public is not actually allowed to enter, the site is visible from ground level – and is often filled with sunbathing kitties! A local “cat sanctuary” cares for felines in an underground shelter connected to the historic space and the four-legged friends are often free to roam as they please.
Take a Nature Escape in Rome’s Parks
Take some time to relax in Rome’s lush city parks
Buzzing cities like Rome, filled with people and amazing surprises around every corner, can easily send one into sensory overload. Fortunately, there are plenty of parks close by where visitors can enjoy a variety of trees, secret sculpture gardens, and quaint lakes for peace of mind.
For more information or to arrange a tour check out What a Life Tours or contact us by phone +39 06 88975757/+39 334 7273299 (WhatsApp) or email at [email protected]!