Top Free Things to do in Rome – Recommended by a local

By Andreea Arbune An ardent art and history fan with a story for every church, monument and ruin in Rome.

Edited by Matthew Wears

I truly believe that coming to Rome on a budget is simple, and not only that, it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Quite literally everywhere you turn you find unapparelled historical monuments, ancient Roman ruins or fresco-lined churches. It can sometimes feel as though exploring the Eternal City is like walking around one huge, beautiful museum, all made just for you. Mix all of this with the unique buzz of neighbourhoods like Trastevere or Pigneto, and you can see why Rome has been stealing hearts for the last two thousand years or so. We Romans also love to enjoy life and are thankful for the simplest of pleasures - so watching sunsets, relaxing in parks or even just talking to each other are all just part of day to day life here. Even the free things to do in Rome still pose a kind of magic, a kind of energy that only this city can create. My free Rome guide is going to include everything that makes it so special - from our history, art, politics and religion to all of the beloved parts of local life - and what you should be doing to make the most of our priceless attractions.

Visit the Churches

If you’re trying to find some Rome free museums, then you absolutely have to think about going to churches instead, because that’s where the real history and culture is. In Rome, almost every church you walk into is so richly decorated with historical artworks and beautiful frescoes painted by some of the most celebrated artists to have ever walked the earth – it’s incredible. My favourite is Santa Maria del Popolo, which if you’re a big fan of Tom Hanks you will definitely recognise from the film Angels and Demons. Walk inside and you’re instantly surrounded by seven-hundred years of history of art, with a collection of the most beautifully rich and detailed frescos you will ever see. Spend an hour taking in the spiritual atmosphere and looking at Santa Maria’s endless collection of relics. It’s free things to do in Rome like this that make the city so different to anywhere else on planet earth.

Photo Credit: LivioAndronico [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Gianicolo


Many of the best things to do in Rome for free can be exquisitely simple; like taking pictures for example. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a photographer, one of the places that you have to go is Gianicolo, which is one of the hills near to the very cool Trastevere area (a must-visit neighbourhood). Giancolo has a very dark but interesting history and it was once the place to come to easily pick up opium - although thankfully things have changed drastically since then. Head to the Terrazza del Gianicolo which you’ll find at the very top of the hill, from where you will get unrivalled panoramic views of the city which include the Vatican and the Monument of Emmanuel II (or the “Wedding Cake”, as some Romans call it). Take a walk up here to watch the sunset over the domes and towers of the historical city, making sure to bring you camera because this is probably going to be the most beautiful view you will find. Even amongst all of the free things to do in Rome, there’s something particularly romantic and beautiful about Gianicolo – it’s a must-see for everyone.

Photo Credit: CAPTAIN RAJU [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Capitol Hill

Even though Capitol Hill is the smallest of the seven hills, it’s the most important to visit if you want to understand the detailed storey of Rome. Climb to the top of the hill to walk on the same cobbles where the republic was born, and where Romulus and Remus were said to have founded the city many thousands of years ago. Since we always maintain tradition, you can still see the City Hall standing here today. The exquisite Michelangelo designed Piazza del Campidoglio is perhaps the most beautiful part of the hill and it’s where you’ll get the best views of the Forum and the rest of the city. Michelangelo actually designed it to face St. Peter's Basilica instead, because this was the centre of politics at the time and it was his way of showing the importance of the Church. There are so many things to do in Rome for free around the Capitol Hill area that it’s a very good place to come when you’re on budget – it’s history, politics, art and beautiful views all in one place.

Window shop Villa del Corso

Just near the Piazza del Popolo - where my favourite church is - is one of Rome’s most famous streets: Via del Corso. And it’s dedicated entirely to shopping. Expensive, cheap, brands and artisan shops can all be found on this one street - you could really spend all day here if you’re that much of a shopaholic. When you’re walking down Via del Corso, look out for the small independent shops selling handmade crafts like leather handbags and purses. I always find it interesting that they sit right next to huge department stores and fashion boutiques. You can go from looking at vintage antiques to the most fashionable Gucci stilettos - it really is that diverse. Lots of people looking for some free things to do in Rome like to come here to do some window shopping and to take in the atmosphere of one of the city’s main arteries. It’s always got such an energetic vibe here and you’ll see locals and tourists all coming here to experience a really vibrant area of the city.  

Photo Credit: Martin Furtschegger [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Villa Borghese

The city is famous for its beautiful parks - they’re some of the best things to do in Rome for free for people who want to take some time out from the history and art for a while. The Villa Borghese is about twenty kilometres of beautiful, landscaped garden and is one of my favourite places to spend any sunny afternoon. Find a shaded area to relax or walk around and explore the wonders of the park; which include fountains, sculptures, tree-lined avenues and flower displays. Look out for the water clock because it’s one of the most interesting things about the entire park. Originally designed for the Paris Expo over a century ago, this bizarre contraption still works and can be found in a very special tropical oasis on the south side of Borghese. Bring some food and wine and have lunch in the city’s green lung – perfect if you’re eating in Rome on a budget.

Go on a Free Walking Tour

Rome is so full of ruins and artefacts from long ago that sometimes, you might not really know what you’re looking at. If you’re like me and absolutely love history then you’re likely to look for the story behind every single ruin, but for the many visitors, it can be helpful to have a bit more info when walking these ancient streets. If this is you, you should try going on a Rome free walking tour – they have very knowledgeable guides who can tell you the real-life stories of each building, monument or artwork. There are many companies that do this, each with their own different agendas and routes so find one that you like first. Most will take you to the main places like the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps or outside of the forum and colosseum area. Listen to tales of fierce gladiator battles, complex politics and masterful artists who have all shaped the eternal city. With your newly learned information, you might just begin to understand why Rome is one of the most important empires to have ever existed in the world.

Talk to the Locals

I’ve never seen a free Rome guide that includes talking to the locals as something to do, but I don’t understand why this is. Not only is it the best of getting to know the local culture on a personal level, but it’s a great way to make some friends in Rome as well. It is true that we Romans may seem like we sometimes don’t interact with people very much, and might not speak the best English, but it is also true that for thousands of years Rome has been a city where anyone is welcome. Romans are usually very interested in your life too - so if you get talking to anyone, they might end up asking you where you are going, when you’re going there and why you are going. But just relax, this is just how we are sometimes! Go to the Trastevere district because it’s the best place to come to mix with locals and tourists - it’s everyone’s favourite place to spend an evening. It’s still very authentic here so people are much more friendly and trusting, especially after some Roman wine, and if you’re trying to do Rome on a budget it’s a winner because it’s beautiful, traditional and cheap.

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