When in Rome, do… as much of the free things to do as possible, right? Rome isn’t known for being a super budget-friendly destination, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see Rome on a student budget. Here’s 14 of our favorite free things to do in Rome!
Pro tip: Rome can be quite crowded, especially in the summer months and at popular tourists sights. Traveling to Rome in off-season or shoulder season (i.e. October through April) will be a much more peaceful (and often cheaper) experience. Also, visit popular landmarks early in the day to beat the rush!
1. Snap a selfie at the Colosseum.
If you don’t have a Colosseum selfie, did you even go to Rome? The answer is no, so head on over to the Colosseum and get snapping. Tickets to get into the Colosseum are 12 euros (and well worth it!) and there are plenty of guided tours available as well. But even if you only walk around the outside, it’s absolutely a can’t-miss stop.
2. See the Trevi Fountain.
One of the most famous landmarks in Rome is totally free—well, unless you want to throw a 10-cent euro in the fountain of course. Legend has it that anyone who throws a euro into the fountain (10 cents is the traditional amount) backwards over their left shoulder will definitely return to Rome again. Want to ensure a return trip? Make sure you don’t miss out on the Trevi.
3. Walk up the Spanish Steps.
Although recent changes in city laws now prevent people from sitting on the Spanish steps, you can still walk up and down them and take in the stunning staircase. (The view of the sunset from the top of the stairs is particularly good.)
4. People-watch in the Piazza Navona.
The Piazza Navona is one of the most famous and popular piazzas in Rome, known for the fountains, palaces and churches that surround it. Grab a cappuccino or a croissant from one of the cafes around the piazza, then stroll around to admire the famous fountains. Or take a break and enjoy watching the people walk by.
5. Be awed at St. Peter’s Basilica.
One of the largest and arguably most stunning basilicas in the world is right here in Rome and shouldn’t be missed! Two things to note: the dress code is strictly enforced (long pants for guys, long pants/skirts for girls and no bare shoulders) and the lines to get in can be quite long. We recommend you plan to get to St. Peter’s by 8-9am to beat the lines and the crowds. Although you can also purchase fast-track tickets to skip the line at any time of day. You can also climb to the very top of St. Peter’s Dome, to be rewarded with 360° views of Rome. It’s 8 euros, but it’s a stunning sight and is definitely worth it.
6. Visit each of the Seven Hills of Rome.
Rome is built around seven hills, where the ancient city was originally built. Each of these seven hills is now home to ancient monuments or parks, all worth seeing! Aventine Hill has the secret keyhole that looks out to St. Peter’s basilica, Capitoline Hill is home to the Capitoline Museums and Palatine Hill holds an archaeological area (and is supposedly where Romulus and Remus were born). The Gianicolo Hill (not one of the OG hills, but was built up later) has some of the best sunset viewing spots in the whole city.
7. Get lost in some of Rome’s smaller neighborhoods.
Rome is endlessly walkable and filled with tons of smaller neighborhoods and districts to explore that won’t be as crowded as the city center. Trastevere is a whimsical and perfectly picturesque place to explore—stroll through the cobblestone streets, enjoy a quick cup of coffee or some gelato and listen to street performers. Monti, Aventine and the Jewish Ghetto are three more you should see.
8. See the Pantheon.
Another famous Roman landmark, the Pantheon is an ancient Roman temple that was completed around 125 AD. (Yes, it’s almost 2,000 years old, and yes, it’s still standing.) The hole at the top of the ceiling dome was originally the only source of light and still provides a unique glance at ancient Roman architecture.
9. Peek into the Roman Forum.
Want to see some Roman ruins from 2,000 years ago? Located right next to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum was one of the centerpoints of business, politics and religious happenings and activities in ancient Rome. So besides holding a ton of history, the ruins are actually beautiful in their own way, too. Although it costs 12 euros to actually enter the forum and walk around, you can see much of it from the outside.
10. Picnic in the Villa Borghese Gardens.
The Villa Borghese Gardens are some of the largest public gardens in Rome, and they’re totally free. If you need a stunning place for a walk or an afternoon picnic, there’s almost 200 acres of parks, lakes and gardens to explore.
11. Take a free walking tour.
Many cities now have free walking tours you can take. These walking tours are a great way to get familiar with the city and learn a bit more about the history and culture of a new place. The Rome Free Walking Tours are a good option, happening every day at 10am and 4pm, starting from the Spanish steps.
12. Peek through the secret keyhole on Aventine Hill.
One of the most off-the-beaten-path things to do in Rome lies within a secret keyhole. The keyhole, located on a doorway that belongs to the Knights of Malta, looks through a tree-lined garden walkway that perfectly frames the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. There’s plenty of legends about the keyhole and Aventine Hill (where it’s located), but you can see it for yourself at the intersection of via di S. Sabina and via di Porta Lavernale.
13. Snap some pics on one of Rome’s many famous bridges.
As if Rome isn’t photogenic enough already, the iconic (and historic!) bridges crossing the River Tiber at various points are definitely worth your attention. The St. Angelo Bridge is one of the most famous—like many things in Rome, it’s almost 2,000 years old, and it provides picture-perfect views of St. Peter’s basilica and St. Angelo’s castle. Visit it at night or sunset for the most magical views!
14. Visit the Vatican.
Ok, so it’s only free on the last Sunday of the month, but it’s definitely worth a visit if it coincides with your trip dates. (Even if it doesn’t, it’s worth it to pay, but we digress…) This is the perfect chance to see the Sistine Chapel, tons of Renaissance art and St. Peter’s Cathedral for free. Keep in mind it’ll be crowded, so plan to get there early!