Rome’s Fabulous, Free Days

If you are fortunate in your timing, you may be in for a money-saving treat — numerous state-owned attractions in Rome are sometimes open for free. The free days include the most popular attraction in Rome, the Colosseum/Roman Forum/Palatine Hill.

But there are many other interesting places to go on a free day.  And you may stumble onto a hidden gem!

One place to get to is Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia.  On the free day I visited it, I was delighted just to go into a building I had walked and driven by so many times but never entered. The museum was practically empty. The usual entrance fee for this museum is 5 euros per person, so we saved 10 euros and found a lovely, if somewhat eccentric, art collection inside a gorgeous palazzo.

The lovely collection of bits and pieces of Roman antiquities at Palazzo Venezia


Holy Family with the infant St. John and St. Francis, Palazzo Venezia (Giorgio Vasari)

We’ve also visited the Crypta Balbi for free, one of the four museums of the Museo Nazionale Romano (the others being Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, and the Baths of Diocletian). Admission is normally 10 euros. Once again, there was almost no one there.  I need to get to the rest of those places again.

Inside Crypta Balbi


Frescoes on display at Crypta Balbi

On yet another free day we headed to the Scavi di Ostia Antica and saved 16 euros. While there were clearly many Roman families enjoying the site and having a picnic, it too, was never crowded, as you can see from the photos.

Ostia Antica – a city frozen in time


Ancient road, Ostia Antica

Here are some other, less visited places I would highly recommend for a free day.

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – Palazzo Corsini: just across the street from the lovely Villa Farnesina is an art collection in a historic palazzo. Normally, admission is 12 euros (combo ticket with Palazzo Barberini).

Madonna and Child, Galleria Corsini (Orazio Gentileschi)

Likewise, the other part of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – Palazzo Barberini – is a great artsy place to go on a free day.  There are some amazing masterpieces here.

Caravaggio’s Narcissus, at Palazzo Barberini

Another good bet: Galleria Spada is home to the magnificent Borromini perspective gallery, an amazing optical illusion of forced perspective.  5 euros admission on non-free days. Worth it just for the Borromini perspective, this gallery also has an enthralling art collection hung in the 17th-century manner (meaning, tons and tons of art all over the place; contrast this to how we display art today, one piece at a time on white walls).

Other good choices: Galleria Nazionale Arte Moderna (GNAM), a massive, modern art gallery (normal admission is 10 euros); Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (8 euros normally); and Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo (admission is normally a whopping 14 euros). We recently went to the Baths of Caracalla on a free day (8 euros normally). This wonderful and famous site was also showcasing a modern art installation at the time.

Galleria Borghese is also included on the free days. Note that you still need to reserve the limited timed-entry tickets. The good part is that the Galleria Borghese will not get too crowded since the number of tickets is limited.

Other good places to visit include Museo Nazionale dell’Alto MedioevoMausoleo di Cecilia Metella, Hadrian’s Villa, and Villa d’Este in Tivoli.

Through 2018, the free day was always the first Sunday of the month. The schedule has just changed.

Free first Sundays will now only be offered in the low season. However, things just got even better.

On February 26, the “IoVadoAlMuseo” (“I go to the museums”) initiative of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities was announced. It provides for 20(!) days of free admission per calendar year for all state owned monuments, museums, archaeological sites, parks, and monumental gardens.

Museums and sites of the Ministry will be open for free every first Sunday of the month from October to March. The Settimana dei Musei (Museums Week) will be announced every year, with six days of free openings. In 2019 it will be gratis the week of March 5-10. Each institute will offer additional 8 days of free admission (chosen by the director of each place, so they will vary). To find out when the museum you want to visit is open for free, consult the IoVadoAlMusei website (only available in Italian at this time) or check the individual attraction websites.

The Colosseum’s official website has just announced its free days for 2019:

March 5th to 10th (Culture Week)
Free First Sundays of the month – October to March
And, additional free days:
9th of May
5th of June
29th of June
23rd of September
4th of October
4th of November
22th  of November
18th of December

One thing to note: there are no guided tours available at the Colosseum during the free days. So if you want a tour, go on a “regular” day — and take advantage of the other places I’ve mentioned here on a free day. You might discover something unexpected and wonderful.