Rome is one of the most popular tourist cities in Europe and for good reason. It has many incredible things to do, a rich history, beautiful streets to explore, and fantastic places to eat.
From the Colosseum to the Vatican City, the city has many famous landmarks worth visiting, but there are also many great free things to do in Rome if you’re looking to fill your time on a budget.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just stopping by for a weekend getaway or if you’re planning a week-long holiday to the city, there are loads of activities and things to see in Rome that don’t need to cost a penny.
Many of these you can simply discover while exploring the city streets, including the historic Ancient Roman ruins and beautiful Renaissance churches, but there are also famous landmarks you can enter for free like St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon.
For a full rundown of ideas you can add to your itinerary, here are the best free things to do in Rome.
1. St Peter’s Basilica
One of the main attractions in Rome that’s at the top of most tourists’ bucket lists is a visit to the Vatican City. While it does cost to enter the Vatican museums and see the world-famous Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica has free entry and is arguably more impressive.
St Peter’s Square is free to wander around, but you’ll have to pass through a security check before entering the basilica itself. There is often a long queue to get in, but it’s worth the wait.
At 220 metres long and 136.6 metres high, standing inside the basilica is awe-inspiring and one of the most incredible feats of Renaissance architecture in the world.
2. Trevi Fountain
Another of the most famous spots in Rome is the Trevi Fountain, which is also free to see and spend time at.
This iconic fountain in the centre of the city is hard to miss due to the bustling crowds that flock around it during the day. It’s also one of the most romantic spots in the city and visiting it is among the best things to do in Rome for couples.
Try and visit the Trevi Fountain early in the morning or late at night if you want to see it when it’s quietest, as otherwise you’ll be hard-pressed to get a clear photo opportunity!
There’s also a tradition to throw a coin in the fountain. While this will cost a small bit of money, it’s supposed to guarantee that you’ll return to Rome in the future, so it’s certainly worth doing!
3. The Spanish Steps
Designed in the 18th century, the Spanish Steps is another famous landmark in Rome that requires no entry fee and is free to explore.
The 135 steps of this impressive stairway connect the Piazza di Spagna at the base to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top and were given their name because of the Spanish embassy that was located at the bottom.
Nowadays the Spanish Steps are a popular tourist attraction and making the climb is one of the best free things to do in Rome due to the amazing view of the city you’ll get from the top.
You can also look around the beautiful church at the top of the steps for free too – the Trinità dei Monti.
4. The Pantheon
Not only is the Pantheon one of the most well-preserved Ancient Roman buildings in the city, but there’s also no cost to enter so paying a visit is one of the best free things to do in Rome.
Originally a Roman temple (its name means “temple of all the gods”) and then a Catholic church since 609AD, it’s full of history which can be discovered inside.
The Pantheon also has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, so it’s worth seeing just for the impressive feat of architecture.
Visit early in the morning and you can avoid long queues to get in. Plus, the piazza outside has several places to get a drink or something to eat with fantastic views of this incredible building.
5. Villa Borghese
Located near the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo, Villa Borghese is the third-largest public park in Rome and one of the most popular.
Open every day from dusk till dawn and completely free of charge, taking a stroll through its green spaces and serene paths is a great way to spend time on a sunny day.
It’s also one of the best places to sit and have a picnic, whether by one of its beautiful fountains or in the luscious gardens.
There are plenty of other things to do in Villa Borghese too, such as rowing on the boating lake or hiring bikes, although these will cost a small amount.
6. Altar of the Fatherland
Overlooking the Piazza Venezia, the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) is an incredible white marble monument that contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a war memorial.
The Altare della Patria is part of the Vittoriano, a monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy.
You can not only climb the steps of the monument for free, from where you can get great views back across the piazza, but you can also go inside free of charge and take a look around the exhibits on display there.
For one of the best views in Rome, consider paying for the Ascensori Panoramici, a lift that takes you right up to an observation deck on top of the monument with 360-degree views of the city.
7. Basilica di Santa Maria in Aro Coeli (and the Scalinata dell’Ara Coeli)
At the highest point of Capitoline Hill, next to the Altar of the Fatherland, is one of the most popular churches in the city – Basilica di Santa Maria.
The 124 marble steps that lead up to the church were completed in 1348 to celebrate the end of the Black Death in Rome. While it’s a tiring climb, the church is cool and pleasant to walk around once you’re at the top.
Founded on the site of a Byzantine abbey from the 6th century, the church has a long history and the beautiful interior makes it a great place to take a look around.
8. Marcello Theatre
There are many ancient ruins around Rome that you’ll stumble upon while exploring its beautiful streets, but the Teatro di Marcello (Marcello Theatre) is one of the most impressive behind the more famous landmarks such as the Colosseum.
Located near the River Tiber and not far from Capitoline Hill, this ancient open-air theatre was completed in 13 BC and was used for performances of drama for an audience of up to 20,000 people.
Walking around the theatre and the surrounding ruins is completely free, so it’s well worth taking a detour if you’re in the area.
9. Largo di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina is an architectural site which, while closed to the public, can be viewed from the streets around.
It contains the remains of four Roman temples and Pompey’s Theatre, including the spot where Julius Caesar was believed to have been assassinated.
The site is now also used as a cat sanctuary, so you will be able to see some of the cats relaxing in the ruins or even being fed.
10. Chiesa di Sant Ignazio di Loyalo
As a city full of stunning historic churches, one of the best free things to do in Rome is to take a look around the ones you come across and admire the amazing architecture and ornaments which, even if you’re not especially spiritual, are stunning to look at.
One of the most spectacular is the Chiesa di Sant Ignazio di Loyalo (Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola), located a short distance away from the Pantheon.
This church has an incredible painted ceiling which you can observe from a handily-positioned mirror.
11. Bocca della Verità
The Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) is a large marble mask that was believed to be an Ancient Roman manhole cover that helped the street be drained of floodwater.
Now located at the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church, there’s a popular legend that it will bite off the hand of a liar who places their hand in its mouth.
It’s free to see the Bocca della Verità and get a photo with it, which is a popular activity for tourists to the city.
Plus, if you stop by the Bocca della Verità you can then look around the church and also see two ancient Roman temples across the street, the Tempio di Ercole Vincitore and the Tempio di Portuno.
12. Piazza Navona
There are many great piazzas worth seeing in the city, and one of the best free things to do in Rome is exploring what each of them have to offer.
One of the most famous is Piazza Navona, an open space built on the site of a Roman stadium from the 1st century AD.
Seeing the three beautiful fountains is a good enough reason to visit the piazza, and it’s also a nice spot to grab a drink.
13. Roman Forum
While you will have to buy a ticket in order to access the Roman Forum, it is possible to get a great overview of this popular tourist attraction without paying a penny.
There are a couple of amazing viewpoints worth checking out: one is just to the east of Campidoglio and the other is at the top of Via Monte Tarpeo.
14. Tiber Island
The only island located in the stretch of the River Tiber that runs through Rome is (not very originally!) called Tiber Island.
The island is roughly 270 metres long so it’s not too big to explore, but it’s also a great spot to grab gelato or a picnic and sit by the river on a sunny day.
15. Giardino degli Aranci
Giardino degli Aranci (the Orange Garden) is one of the smaller parks in the city, especially compared to Villa Borghese, but visiting it is one of the best free things to do in Rome if you’re looking for a good view.
Located on Aventine Hill right by the river, just south of Tiber Island, it’s a great spot to watch the sunset over the water.