23 Jan Free things to do in Rome – Itinerary in one day
Rome is a fantastic city with a lot to offer and incredible things to do: churches, museums, squares, and fountains. There is then a wide choice of free things to do if you’re traveling on a budget. Here’s a list of some of the best free attractions if you are going to be in Rome only for one or two days. This itinerary is doable on foot.
A good number of Rome’s famous sights that are free of charge is churches and that includes Saint Peter’s Basilica.
1. Explore Saint Peter’s Basilica
One of the largest churches in the world (nearly 2,500 square), Saint Peter’s Basilica is part of the smallest independent city-state in the world, Vatican City. An architectural wonder with the imposing Saint Peter’s Square, Saint Peter’s Basilica is completely free of charge. On the contrary, a ticket is required to walk up to the dome (10 Euros). This church houses celebrated masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Pietà and Bernini’s Throne of Saint Peter and the Baldachin over Saint Peter’s tomb. Allow yourselves at least 30 minutes to go through security checks in Saint Peter’s Square. The visit to the Papal Tombs under Saint Peter’s is also free of charge.
The basilica is open from 7 AM till 7 PM in the summer. Best to bring something to cover your shoulders and knees if visiting over the summer.
If interested in skipping the lines and adding a visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, see my Vatican Museums with Sistine and Saint Peter’s Basilica tour here:
2. Stroll to Castel Sant’Angelo
After visiting Saint Peter’s Basilica, you may walk to reach Castel Sant’Angelo and soak its incredible view from the outside. The castle’s name derives from the angel statue on its summit. According to legend, the Archangel Michael was seen brandishing a sword at end of a procession in the VI century AD to announce the end of a plague. Before becoming a castle, Castel Sant’Angelo was the tomb of emperor Hadrian (II c. AD). The outside, with all its stratifications, is quite impressive. The bridge over the Tiber offers a beautiful view of the Basilica of Saint Peter and the city of Rome. It was decorated with a series of angels (sculpted by Bernini’s collaborators) that accompany the pilgrims to the tomb of Saint Peter. The interior of Castel Sant’Angelo is a museum, open from 9:00 AM to 7:30 PM (12 Euros per ticket).
3. Roam around Piazza Navona
At this point, you’re literally a stone’s throw away from Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most beautiful squares with its notorious baroque Fountain of the 4 River Gods in the center and the imposing architecture of the Church of Santa Agnese in Agone. 2000 years ago Piazza Navona was a stadium, used for athletic competitions and music/poetry contests. If you have time, hop inside the Church of Sant’Agnese for free. If interested in finding out more about Piazza Navona and its obelisk, look at my tour of Downtown Rome: https://www.seeromewithme.com/downtown-rome-tour/
4. Admire the Pantheon
Among the most famous free things to do in Rome, we must remember the Pantheon. A beautifully preserved temple, the Pantheon was originally built by Agrippa around 27-25 BC. Its present version is a reconstruction finished in the times of Hadrian (II century AD).
Walk inside the Pantheon to admire the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built and one of the few bronze doors still preserved from antiquity in Rome. FYI, the Pantheon is a church and cannot be visited during mass hours. Mass hours: Sun/Religious Holidays at 10.30 AM and Sat at 5 PM. Over the weekends, a reservation is required but it’s still free of charge here:
5. Marvel at the ceiling in the Church of Saint’Ignatius
One of Rome’s famous churches is dedicated to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. This opulent late 17th church offers a free view over an illusionistic painted ceiling. The paintings show another church that seems to be built on top of the nave. And don’t forget to examine the dome for a surprise…
6. Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain
A trip to Rome cannot be taken without a stroll to the Trevi Fountain. This late baroque fountain attracts thousands of visitors who want to make sure to come back to Rome by tossing a coin in the fountain. Expect then large crowds in a small space but it’s totally worth it!
7. Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill
From here you may continue to Piazza Venezia to see the Vittoriano, one of Rome’s iconic buildings, the monument to the first king of a unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele, who died in 1878. The Vittoriano sits on one of Rome’s seven hills, the Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill. Just past the building, enjoy a stroll over Michelangelo’s staircase to admire the design of the square on top of the hill. Here you’ll see the incredible ancient Roman statues that decorate the piazza (the original of Marcus Aurelius on horseback is inside the Capitoline Museums). Then, walk behind the central Palazzo Senatorio to soak up the view of the ancient city center, the Roman Forum, with its temples and the Colosseum in the distance. Recommended for pictures at sunset. On the Capitoline Hill you’ll find one of Rome’s most famous and ancient public museum, the Capitoline Museums. For a guided tour of the Capitoline Museums and Capitoline Hill, read about my tour here: https://www.seeromewithme.com/capitoline-museums-capitoline-hill-tour/
8. Pay tribute to Michelangelo’s Moses
Michelangelo’s Moses is 1 km away from Piazza del Campidoglio in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. Michelangelo worked for many years on the tomb of pope Julius II, (the pope who commissioned the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling), something he’ll refer to as the drama of his life. The final tomb is quite different than what Michelangelo had envisaged but his Moses is one of the artist’s most striking sculptures.
Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, opening hours: 8 AM till noon and 3-7 PM.