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Rome for Free

July 10, 2013

Rome might be quite an expensive city in terms of rent, accommodation, and eating out; however, many of the city’s top attractions are entirely free!  This was a welcome relief given the amount we were paying for our hotel, dinners out, and the copious amounts of gelato and pizza we consumed.  Visitors to Florence, where it seems everything has a fee, will find this aspect of Rome particularly refreshing.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are a few of my favorite things we did and saw without opening our pocketbooks.

1. Rome’s streets and piazzas

I praised Rome’s streets, alleys, and piazzas as an attraction in and of themselves earlier this week, and one of the best parts of strolling around the city and soaking in the picturesque architecture or more eclectic neighborhoods is that it is absolutely free.

Piazza del Popolo and a small alley near the Pantheon.

Given that quite of few of Rome’s most famous spots–Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, Campo di Fiori, etc.–are or are in outdoor squares entirely open to the public, you can spend days wandering around without spending a dime.

Trevi Fountain (one of the few shots without tons of heads).

Trevi Fountain (one of the few shots without tons of heads).

Of course, frequent stops at gelaterias along the way might interfere a bit.

Eating one of the many cups of gelato on this trip.

Eating one of the many cups of gelato on this trip.

2. Many of Rome’s cathedrals

According to Wikipedia, there are over 900 churches in Rome.  The city has long been the seat of the Holy See and Catholic papal authority.  Therefore, it is unsurprising that some of the most magnificent and important works of architecture from ancient through modern times are found in Rome’s many churches and cathedrals.  The best part is entering these places of worship is usually absolutely free.

Facade of Il Gesu and close-up of the main altar. 

Some of the my favorites are Il Gesu, San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and (of course) St. Peter’s Basilica.

Facade of St. Peter’s and Swiss guard on the exterior.

Remember that churches aren’t just sacred spaces with beautiful architecture; they also house fantastic works of art.  For example, San Luigi dei Francesi has gorgeous Baroque paintings by Caravaggio in several of its chapels; Santa Maria della Vittoria has Bernini’s famous sculpture St. Theresa in Ecstasy; and, St. Peter’s has Michelangelo’s well-known Pieta sculpture.  While these are open everyday, note that some smaller churches do close for mid-day.

Bernini's baldacchino at the intersection of the nave and transept in St. Peter's.

Bernini’s baldacchino at the intersection of the nave and transept in St. Peter’s.

3. The Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of the best preserved sites from ancient Rome.  It was commissioned by Roman general Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Emperor Augustus as a temple dedicated to the all the Roman gods (hence, the name pantheon).

Pantheon from the Piazza Rotunda.

Pantheon from the Piazza Rotunda.

The structure epitomizes classical architecture with its geometric columns, pediment, and dome.  The unreinforced dome, constructed out of concrete, is one of the most innovative aspects of the structure and would revolutionize future architecture.

This was one of our first stops in Rome, and I couldn’t believe we were in a building originally from the 1st century.  Best of all, entering this heavy-hitter is absolutely free!

4. Borghese Gardens

We loved visiting the Borghese Gallery (more on that later), but almost as fantastic as the art on the walls are the expansive gardens that surround the area.  The Borghese Gardens are quite shady and have many walking trails and benches.  We decided to explore the gardens after our visit to the gallery and were entertained by both a jazz band and an accordion player.

                                                        View of Rome from the edge of the gardens.

While the gallery requires advance tickets, the gardens are free and open to the public.  In our walk around, we saw many Romans out for a jog or playing sports, which made the gardens a nice site of intersection between tourism and local life.

5. Arch of Constantine

While the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill all require tickets, the nearby Arch of Constantine is free to come up and admire.  Built in the 4th century, it is a triumphal arch, meaning that it was erected to commemorate a battle victory of Constantine I.

View of Arch of Constantine from the 3rd tier of the Colosseum.

View of Arch of Constantine from the 3rd tier of the Colosseum.

One of the most interesting aspects about the arch is the use of spolia in its construction.  Spolia, Latin for spoils, is the reuse of images or objects for the construction of a new monument.  For example, the arch uses many reliefs taken from 2nd-century monuments, which sharply contrast with the 4th-century images made for the arch.  The reuse of art can be interpreted in multiple ways as an pragmatic exercise in utility, a statement of triumph over former dynasties, and a revitalization or glorification of the past.

Though Rome isn’t a cheap city by any means, we couldn’t believe just how many famous sites and fun things to do were free.  As travelers used to visiting countries in Asia, the cost of Europe was a bit shocking.  However, saving here and there allowed us to feel not quite so bad about spending more on accommodation and eating out.

What are your favorite free activities to do or sites to visit while traveling?  If you’ve been to Rome, is there anything I should add to this list?

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2013 12:00 am

    Great post!

  2. July 12, 2013 12:01 am

    Reblogged this on TTP and commented:
    Rome for Free… by Ashley

  3. July 12, 2013 6:26 am

    I love to wander in Rome, especially in the Borghese gardens. The Pantheon is my very favourite place in the city. I like to go early before the crowds arrive.
    Your suggestions are excellent.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink*
      July 12, 2013 11:41 pm

      Thanks, Debra. I was continually surprised how walkable Rome is and found the historic center to be my favorite part of the city as well.

  4. July 19, 2013 7:26 am

    A very useful post. I was expecting to break my bank on my recent trip to Rome, but luckily found out it can also easily be done on a budget.

    You are welcome to check out some of my recommendations at my blog. I am also sure my photos will bring back some nice memories. 😉

    Have fun, keep travelling and don’t stop blogging about it!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink*
      July 22, 2013 2:02 pm

      Thanks, Marko!

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