ROAM FOR FREE
Rome wasn't built in a day, but travelers can get plenty of sightseeing done in a few days while visiting the capital of Italy. Tourists keen to see major attractions such as the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel can save money with a three-day Omnia Vatican Rome Card, which includes entrance fees, fast-track entry, bus tours, and so on but costs about $125. For those on a tighter budget, here are 25 free or cheap activities in this historic city.
VISIT ANCIENT RUINS
Anyone who goes to Rome must visit the ruins, many of which date back to the first century A.D. Take advantage of free admission to the Colosseum, Palatino, and Roman Forum on the first Sunday of the month. Go early, as lines emanate fast.
BROWSE THE ART AT THE VATICAN AND STATE MUSEUMS
The Vatican Museums in Vatican City house art collections curated by the popes, starting from the early 16th century. Peruse classical paintings, sculptures, and pieces from the Renaissance era. Admission is free on the last Sunday of every month. For art junkies who can't get enough of the visual delights, all Italy's state museums are free on the first Sunday of the month.
ATTEND A PAPAL AUDIENCE OR BLESSING
Seeing the pope is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Head for St. Peter's Square, where the papal audience is held on most Wednesday mornings during spring, summer, and part of fall. Admission is free, but tickets may be required, so check the Vatican's schedule. The Pope often gives a public blessing on Sundays at noon for 15 to 20 minutes.
ORDER COFFEE LIKE A LOCAL
Italians often start their day with a quick espresso, but visitors heading to Italy for the first time may be surprised at the lack of to-go cups. When in Rome, try ordering and drinking coffee at the café bar with the locals for a true Italian coffee experience.
HAGGLE AT THE PORTA PORTESE MARKET
Smart and thrifty shoppers should head to Porta Portese, the massive flea market that takes place every Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Venture through thousands of stalls to find hidden treasures -- and don't be afraid to haggle over prices.
Related: Don't Get Ripped Off: 10 Tips for Bargaining Abroad
TOUR THE PALAZZO DI MONTECITORIO
The Palazzo di Montecitorio houses Italy's Chamber of Deputies and is well known for its beautiful Baroque architecture. Free tours are given on the first Sunday of every month in the afternoon, letting visitors ogle the palace's massive chambers and opulent reception rooms.
ENJOY THE VIEW ON THE SPANISH STEPS
The Spanish Steps are closed for renovation but expected to reopen this summer. Located in the middle of two beautiful piazzas, with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top and a fountain built in the late 1620s at the base, this may be one of the best places to relax and take a break from sightseeing. Grab a treat at one of the stands near the Spagna metro station for an even sweeter respite.
SHOP AT A FOOD MARKET
Shop like a local at one of Rome's many food markets, which groan with fresh seafood, meat, vegetables, dairy products, and more. The Campo di Fiore market offers free samples of olive oil. Many residents in search of afternoon sandwiches flock to the Testaccio Market, which draws raves from visitors for cleanliness and variety.
VISIT THE TREVI FOUNTAIN AT NIGHT
Rome is famous for its numerous and ornate fountains, but the most celebrated is the Fontana di Trevi, dating to 1762. It is Rome's largest fountain in a Baroque style. Throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder; according to legend, if the coin lands in the fountain, you will return to Rome one day. The fountain is overrun with daytime crowds, so a second visit closer to midnight will be more rewarding.
TAKE A FREE GUIDED WALKING TOUR
Rome is perfect for walking, whether through quaint cobblestone streets, sprawling ruins, or busy piazzas. Join the highly rated New Rome Free Tour, which starts at the Spanish Steps and winds past the Galleria, the prime minister's residence, the Pantheon, the Temple of Hadrian, and more, and ends at the Trevi Fountain. The tour is free and takes two hours; advance reservations are required.
STROLL THE GARDENS AT VILLA BORGHESE
Spend a day outdoors in the beautifully landscaped gardens of Villa Borghese. One of the largest public parks in Rome, it houses five museums and a zoo. The park is the perfect place for a picnic, and is frequented by joggers and cyclists.
PERUSE THE STREET ART
When conjuring images of jaw-dropping Italian art, street art may be the last style that comes to mind. But head to the neighborhood of Ostiense and discover a vibrant local street art scene in the city's south. More urban art is on view in Quadraro and Pigneto.
SEE A PYRAMID
One of the lesser known attractions is the Pyramid of Cestius in the southern part of the city. More than 2,000 years old, the pyramid serves as the resting place of Gaius Cestius, a wealthy magistrate buried in 12 B.C. The tomb is open two days a month for those who wish to see the interior and pay the 7 euro fee (about $7.90).
GET YOUR GELATO FIX
Craving a rich, smooth, cold dessert? There's no better place to satisfy that hunger than at the best gelato shops in Rome. Avoid chain shops filled with tourists and instead opt for shops that locals recommend.
EXPLORE VILLA DORIA PAMPHILI
The Villa Doria Pamphili, built in the mid-17th century, is Rome's largest park. Massive landscaped gardens, waterfalls, a curving bridge, fountains, and more will delight the entire family. Areas are set aside for jogging and bird watching.
CLIMB GIANICOLO HILL
For one of the best scenic views of Rome, climb up Gianicolo Hill, located near Villa Doria Pamphili. An impressive monument of General Giuseppe Garibaldi sits atop the hill, which guarantees a breathtaking view of Rome's historic buildings, church bell towers, and domes. It's worth the 20-minute hike.
LEARN ABOUT THE PANTHEON
The Pantheon dates back nearly 2,000 years. Learn about its origins and evolution spanning the ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern periods. Angel Tours Rome offers free daily half-hour tours for small groups, starting at 7 p.m. Advance booking is required and a tip is a welcome thank-you.
PEOPLE-WATCH IN TRASTEVERE
When the sun sets, take a stroll across the Tiber River to the working class neighborhood of Trastevere. The area is filled with restaurants, bars, quaint streets, and shops. Take a seat at the piazza fountain to people-watch and get an up-close view of the bustling nightlife.
EMBARK ON A SELF-GUIDED TOUR
Forget about those longwinded history lessons from tour guides. Explore Rome on your own with a self-guided walking tour. The Rome Toolkit suggests eight routes in the city center and one, the Appian Way, that requires a short bus ride to get there.
ENJOY A MEAL AT AN AUTHENTIC TRATTORIA
Anyone who has traveled to Italy will reminisce about the fresh cheese, amazing pasta, and cheap, high-quality wine. For an enjoyable, budget-friendly meal, dine in an authentic trattoria at least once. Rome Wise offers detailed recommendations for a reasonably priced lunch and dinner.
LOOK THROUGH A SECRET KEYHOLE
The Knights of Malta Keyhole is one of Rome's best kept secrets. We won't spoil the surprise, but peep through the keyhole when visiting Villa del Priorato di Malta, located on Aventine Hill.
PET A FURRY FRIEND AT THE TORRE ARGENTINA SANCTUARY
Visitors to the Largo di Torre Argentina ruins may run into unexpected feline friends from the cat sanctuary located beneath. It's a no-kill shelter staffed entirely by volunteers. Admission is free and donations are always welcome.
GRAB A BITE AT SAN LORENZO
The neighborhood of San Lorenzo is near University La Sapienza, so it's no wonder young students and artists converge there for a night out. Stroll around, indulge in the area's cheap eats, and sample the nightlife.
Rome is full of fountains with cold, drinkable water. Many look like fire hydrants and some can be found on the sides of buildings. Carry a reusable water bottle and refill it when possible to prevent dehydration on long walks. There's even an iOS app for finding the closest one.
MEET AND DINE WITH LOCALS
Immerse yourself in Roman culture and meet locals through BonAppetour. This service connects visitors with local chefs who host meals in their homes. At time of writing, a vintage brunch started at $23, and welcome drinks and snacks started at $18 -- relatively cheap considering the nature and quality of the experience.