All roads lead to Rome. And some of them have no tolls! When we asked our members for free and fun things to do in Rome, these were 10 of their favorites.
Famous and sought after in early 17th-century Rome, Caravaggio was a notoriously rowdy and belligerent Italian painter. When accused of murder, he fled Rome to escape imprisonment, only to die a few years later under mysterious circumstances in Tuscany and unaware of his papal pardon. He left a legacy of work credited with influencing an entire generation of artists. Realistic, dramatic and emotional, his pieces are appreciated by both the untrained and educated eye. Thankfully, some of his masterpieces can be seen for free around Rome.
Not far from the Piazza Navona, touted as one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Inside are three Caravaggio paintings, the most famous being The Calling of St. Matthew. In the same neighborhood, in the Cavalletti Chapel of the Church of Sant’Agostino, is the Madonna of Loreto. Near the Piazza del Popolo just inside the northern gate in the Aurelian wall, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, an Augustinian church, houses The Crucifixion of St Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus.
Photo by Carmen Alonso Suarez, via Flickr CC
Bike along a real Roman road (the legendary Appian Way), but make sure to mind the bumps! This ancient byway is ranked as one of the “top ten places to enjoy the great outdoors in Rome” by TripAdvisor’s Guide to Rome Outdoors. Take in the beautiful Roman countryside and more than a few historical stops along the way. There are over 30 kilometers of trails inside the park. Rent a bike at the visitor center or arrange to borrow one from your HomeExchange partners.
The most popular section of the Appia Antica is right at its start, between the main visitor center and Cecilia Metella. There’s something to see every 100 meters or so. Leaflets at the visitor center list 54 attractions in the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica, the most popular being the Catacombs of San Callisto.
Photo by Shaun Merritt, via Flickr CC
From the top of the hill, all of Rome is at your feet. You’ll know it’s noon when you hear the cannon, which has been fired at midday every day since the 1944 Battle for Rome. Take Via Garibaldi all the way to Passeggiata Del Gianicolo and continue to the top. The panoramic view is astounding. You will see the domes of the city center, the Colosseum and the Pincio Gardens of the Villa Borghese from this majestic spot.
Photo by Riccardo Cuppini, via Flickr CC
Not typically crowded and conveniently located near the Termini railway station, Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the first churches built in honor of the Virgin Mary. For almost 16 centuries, pilgrims from all over the world have trekked to this shrine containing numerous exquisite treasures and a history dating to the 5th century. Santa Maria Maggiore is located in Italian territory, not that of the Vatican.
Photo by Riccardo Cuppini, via Flickr CC
When you take in the amazing view of Rome through the Knights of Malta keyhole on Aventine Hill, you’ll feel like you were given a key to the city. Amazingly, it is also the only keyhole in the world through which you will see three countries: Malta, Italy and Vatican City. (Just try to keep the photographer in you from framing St. Peter’s Basilica through this iconic peekaboo at the Villa Malta!). If you use the Via San Sabina footpath to Piazza Cavalieri di Malta, you’ll also get a great view of Trastevere and St. Peter from the Orange Garden at Santa Sabina (see number 8 below).
Photo by Eje Gustafsson, via Flickr CC
St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter at all times, although the climb into the dome isn’t. Keep in mind that the line to enter the basilica can be long at peak travel times and that the dress code at St. Peter’s Basilica is strictly enforced – no shorts (men and women), bare shoulders or miniskirts allowed.
For fun, try mailing some postcards from Vatican City. Aside from the cool stamps and postmark, the Poste Vaticane is Swiss-run and famously more efficient than the Italian postal system.
Photo by Randy OHC, via Flickr CC
Do like HomeExchanger Caroline from France and follow in the footsteps of Professor Langdon from the film “Angels and Demons.” You can map your own self-guided tour of Rome or pick and choose key locations in Rome highlighted in the film.
If your taste in movies runs to the more classic, revisit an oldie but goodie. The 1953 film “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck has a brilliant repertoire of sites to visit on your Roman holiday.
Photo by Knowsphotos, via Flickr CC
There’s a special magic to this Mediterranean “Garden of Oranges,” with it’s beautifully maintained roses, orange trees and jasmine blossoms, and gorgeous panoramic views. Also known as Savello Park, it is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city below, not far from Circus Maximus. Take pictures, enjoy some shade and marvel at the stunning views of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Photo by Stijn Nieuwendijk via Flickr CC
Casa del Cinema is in the center of Villa Borghese, Rome’s largest park. The building that now houses the “House of Cinema” was in a state of decay until the City of Rome fully restored it. Now art-house movies are shown in three screening rooms with some of the most advanced digital equipment available. In summer, free outdoor movies are hosted al fresco (seats are taken quickly!). Film screenings are listed online.
Photo by kiki99, via Flickr CC
Rome is famous for its Classical and Renaissance architecture. In contrast, reflecting Italy’s more recent history, the EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) is an entire district showcasing Italy’s architectural identity when it was under the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini. Clean lines and mammoth structures typify this period.
Another example of “fascist” architecture is the Foro Italico, formerly called Foro Mussolini (Mussolini’s Forum). Foro Italico has hosted the 1960 Summer Olympics, various international tennis events and live music concerts. For those with a love of sculpture, the Stadio dei Marmi (Stadium of the Marbles) is a collection of 60 huge white marble sculptures celebrating the athletic male form (both with and without fig leaves).
Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, via Flickr CC
Sometimes what’s free depends on the day, especially if that day is Sunday. For example, all state museums, the Colosseum, Palatino, Roman Forum and the Palazzo di Montecitorio are free on the first Sunday of the month. The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of the month. And every Sunday morning, you are free to enjoy the Porta Portese market.
In addition to Rome’s Sunday offerings, the Pope’s weekly audience happens every Wednesday morning and there is a free May Day Concert every May 1st.
Want to add to our list? Tell us in the comments!