Rome may be very touristy, but there is a lot of free sightseeing to do when in Rome!
The Colosseum is Rome’s most iconic tourist attraction, and you can see much of it from the outside (including through the ruined wall to parts of the inside) free of charge. While I do think going inside is worth the time and money if you have it to spare, if you’re short on either, you can still have a very good look from the outside, and avoid the queues (which can range from 15 minutes if you’re lucky, like we were, to over 3 hours as others have reported on sites like Trip Advisor).
It seems the worst thing you can do at the Colosseum is to purchase a ‘skip the queue’ ticket in advance, as you do NOT receive an actual ticket, and will have to line up to exchange the voucher you print out for your actual ticket! As we had read online, the line for pre-booked tickets was indeed longer. Touts offering ‘tours’ were everywhere – apparently the scam is you pay them a lot of money, they take you in the private tours entrance, where you don’t have to line up, and then they just off and get the next customer!
If you do pay to enter the Colosseum, you’ll get free entrance to the Roman Forum. Both of these attractions are well covered on the free to download Rick Steves audio guide app, which, while a little too American for my tastes, is still very useful when in Rome, as there neither place has good signage or other information, and the map you receive provides nothing in the way of historical information and is difficult to navigate. Without Steves’ guide, we would have missed a lot of the colour of the place.
The free to enter Pantheon, as the name suggests, was once a place to worship all gods, based on the Greek principle, but was transformed into a Christian church. Again, the audio guide is invaluable here, and will save you a lot of money. The Sant’Ignzaio Chruch is famous for its illusory paintings on the roof by Andrea Pozzo, which make it look as if there is a dome and other architectural features on the ceiling. And of course, you shouldn’t miss the Trevi Fountain.
You won’t be able to enter the cupola area of St. Paul’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel without a ticket, but even if you’re on a budget, you can still go and soak up the atmosphere of St. Peter’s Square and part of the Basilica downstairs for free.