The best free viewpoints in Rome

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The best FREE viewpoints in Rome

After writing my recent post on all of the rooftop bars and restaurants in Rome, I got to thinking about how the vast majority of them, especially those with the best views of the city’s monuments, are cost prohibitive for a lot of people. So, I decided to compile a list of all of the best FREE viewpoints in Rome for travelers (and locals!) on a budget.

Pssssst. This list is also for those of you who didn’t book in a rooftop aperitivo ahead of time, and maybe now can’t get into any of the most sought-after places.

I hope you find this list of Rome’s best free lookouts useful! Forget the pricey drinks – grab a little picnic and head to any of these spots for sprawling views and stunning sunsets. 

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Best free cityscapes

Il Gianicolo – the Janiculum Hill

One of Rome’s most well-known free viewpoints, the Gianicolo is easily accessible and offers an excellent view of the Eternal City. Although it isn’t one of the seven hills of Rome (those are the Palatine, Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, and Aventine), it is the second-highest hill in the city, which means the vantage point is great.

The Gianicolo was the site of a battle to defend the short-lived Roman Republic, so there are related monuments to see in the area (more below).

How to reach the Gianicolo

You can walk to the Gianicolo from Trastevere or Saint Peter’s via la Passeggiata del Gianicolo, but you should know that it’s steep. The 115 and 870 buses have the closest stops to the viewpoint.

To use Google Maps to determine your best route, enter “Belvedere del Gianicolo” into the search bar.

Other free things to see in the Gianicolo area

Il Fontanone dell’Acqua Paola

Il Fontanone dell’Acqua Paola is one of Rome’s many beautiful fountains. On very rare occasions, they open access to a garden that’s behind it (booking required)! Keep your eyes on this page to find out when.

The Canon of the Gianicolo

Fired every day at 12pm since 1847 as a means of making sure everybody knew what time it was and that all the church clocks were in sync, the canon of the Gianicolo still draws visitors daily for its noontime blast.

The Garibaldi Statues

Right in the center of the terrace, you’ll find an equestrian statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the general who led the Italian unification movement. You’ll also find busts of people who fought and died for unification nearby as well.

A three-minute walk will lead you to what is arguably the most interesting statue on the Gianicolo – that of Garibaldi’s wife, Anita, who is holding a gun in one arm and…a baby in the other? Read more about Anita and the symbolism of her statue here.

Il Faro del Gianicolo – The Janiculum Lighthouse

Donated to Rome by the Italian community in Buenos Aires to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Italian unification, the lighthouse is 20 meters high. 

On holidays and for special occasions, the globe at the top is lit up with green, white and red lights, which led to the Roman phrase “sembri il faro del Gianicolo,” or “you look like the Janiculum lighthouse,” which is said to people dressed in an over-the-top way. 

Il Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio

The church of San Pietro in Montorio was built on what was once believed to be the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion (it has since been determined that he was crucified at Nero’s Circus in Vatican City). Set within the church’s courtyard is a small temple designed by by Donato Bramante. The tempietto is renowned for combining a mixture of classical features and for being the inspiration for St. Peter’s Basilica.

The church is worth a peek, too – it contains a series of Renaissance artworks and a chapel designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 

Lo Zodiaco

If you want to see Rome from its highest point (about 140 meters), you have to head up Monte Mario to Lo Zodiaco. With a view that stretches all the way to the Castelli Romani, Lo Zodiaco offers panoramas of the Eternal City from a few different points.

How to get to Lo Zodiaco

The closest bus that passes by is the 913, and then you have to pick up a walking path off Via Trionfale.

Best free views of the Vatican

Monte Ciocci

The view of St. Peter’s at sunset from Monte Ciocci isn’t as well known as the others, so if you’re looking to see the city from a lesser-known point of view, this is a good place to start.

The wall that people perch or lean on reads, “Ma dimmi quante volte hai visto il cielo sopra Roma e hai detto ‘Quant’è bello'” or “Tell me how many times you’ve seen the sky above Rome and said, ‘How beautiful.'”

How to get to Monte Ciocci

You’re in luck with this one – you can take public transportation to the Valle Aurelia train station or metro stop. You can reach the park from there on foot or bicycle, and there’s also parking outside if you happen to be driving.

Via Piccolomini

The view of the dome of St. Peter’s from Via Piccolomini, day or night, is really something special, not just because it allows you to grasp the size of the thing (the external diameter is 60 meters), but also because there’s a built in optical illusion!

Because of the way the buildings line the street, as you move closer to the cupola, it seems to get further away, and vice versa. You can see it on foot (slowly), or on a bike or scooter, but I think the coolest thing to do is drive it, if possible.

Il Giardino degli Aranci (Parco Savello) – The Orange Garden – the Aventine Hill

This is possibly my favorite free viewpoint in Rome. When I lived in the area, I frequently made sure to pass by it on my run, just so I could stop for a minute, get a drink from one of the fountains, and catch my breath while looking out at one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

There are two great viewpoints in the Orange Garden (also known as Parco Savello), actually. One is from the entrance, where you can see the umbrella pines framing the dome of St. Peter’s in the distance, and the other is from the terrace at the end.

Morning view of the Orange Garden and St. Peter’s – go early and have the place to yourself!

How to reach the Orange Garden

The closest metro stop is Circo Massimo, and the 715 bus goes the closest, but there are lots of other bus stops nearby. 

Free things to see around the Orange Garden

Il Buco della Serratura dell’Ordine di Malta – The Aventine Keyhole

A short walk from the Orange Garden will get you to the Aventine Keyhole, which provides a unique view of something you’ve probably already seen. I won’t spoil it here – go and look for yourself!

Circo Massimo

The Circus Maximus is also close to the Orange Garden. There isn’t much to see there, but you can admire the Palatine Hill, or engage in one of my favorite activities, dogwatching. 

Sunset over Circo Massimo

Best free views of the Colosseum

Via Nicola Salvi and Largo Gaetana Agnesi 

There are a couple of great, free places that allow you to admire the Colosseum without the €25 cocktail or the €300 Michelin-starred meal.

The first of these is Via Nicola Salvi and Largo Gaetana Agnesi, which are located above the Colosseum metro stop. 

Note that this isn’t exactly a hidden gem – lots of people go up to take pictures (often the very same one in the very same spot with the very same pose in a very similar outfit – how unique!), but in my experience, you can usually find a little spot to gaze at the gladiators’ arena.

In the past, I have sourced takeaway drinks in plastic cups from the bar in the corner called Oppio Caffè, so that’s an option if you forgot your picnic.

Her majesty the Colosseum on the way up to Largo Gaetana Agnesi

How to get to Via Nicola Salvi and Largo Gaetana Agnesi

From the Colosseo metro stop, there are two ways to reach this free viewpoint: You can either take the staircase inside the station that’s right near the exit, or you can leave the station, take a left, and then take the set of stairs that you’ll come across a short way down the road (also on the left).

Il Giardinetto del Monte Oppio

For a bit of peace and quiet, you can head to il Giardinetto del Monte Oppio – a small garden with a big view. Open daily from 7am – 7pm.

How to get to il Giardinetto del Monte Oppio

From the Colosseum metro stop, take Largo Gaetana Agnesi across Ponte degli Annibaldi (stop there and take photos – more below!) and then a right on Via del Monte Oppio.

Parco del Colle Oppio

For another quiet spot to enjoy your view of the Colosseum, head to the park on the Oppian Hill. There are nice views from around the Via della Domus Aurea and the Fontana dei Petali (Fountain of the Petals).

How to reach the Parco del Colle Oppio

The Colosseum metro stop is the easiest way, although there’s a tram and many buses that pass nearby as well – the 75, 85, 87, 117 and 118.

Other free things to do in the area

The Arch of Constantine

If you’re near the Colosseum, you can’t miss the Arch of Constantine, and I mean that in two ways: 1. You should see it, because it’s monumental and intricately decorated, and 2. It’s mammoth, so, you like, actually can’t miss it.

The arch was erected in 315. It is both the biggest surviving Roman triumphal arch (commemorating Constantine’s victory over Maxentius) and the last great monument of the Roman Empire.

Read more here.

The Roman fora on Via dei Fori Imperiali

You can see a great deal of ancient Rome simply by strolling down Via dei Fori Imperiali towards Piazza Venezia. I highly recommend some sort of guide, either a person, book or audio app, just to help you understand what you’re looking at. 

Here’s some more info.

San Clemente

A five-minute stroll from the Colosseum is the Basilica of San Clemente. You can access the Basilica and see its famed mosaics, frescoes and intricate marble flooring for free. 

For an additional 10 Euro, you can see the excavated lower floors, which house an ancient temple and Medieval frescoes.

Read more about San Clemente here.

San Pietro in Vincoli

How ’bout seeing a Michelangelo masterpiece for free? In the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains), you can do just that. 

Crafted for Pope Julius II, Michelangelo’s statue of Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli adorns an empty tomb – the Pope commissioned it but died before it was completed, so he was buried at the Vatican instead.

Read more about the church and sculpture here.

Best view of Piazza del Popolo

Il Pincio – The Pincian Hill in Villa Borghese

Up above Piazza del Popolo lies il Pincio, which allows you to overlook the Piazza and its surrounding area. This is a very popular spot, especially at sunset, so if you want to see the sky change as night falls, go early to claim your position along the wall. Don’t have a lot of time on your hands? Don’t worry, the viewpoint is also incredibly beautiful during the day!

La Terrazza del Viale del Belvedere

Not too far from Il Pincio is la Terrazza del Viale del Belvedere, which offers another panoramic view of Rome from on high. 

How to get to Il Pincio and la Terrazza del Viale del Belvedere

You can take the A line metro to Flaminio and enter the park from Piazza del Popolo. Buses 61 and 160 stop nearby, as do the 120F and 150F, which are only active on Sundays.

Free things to do in the area of Il Pincio and Viale del Belvedere

Villa Borghese

The park is free of course, and it’s full of scenic spots to walk or rest in the grass. You can also rent a bike or a boat if you want to spend some time seeing one of the city’s most beautiful parks.

If you have a budget for art museums, Galleria Borghese, the museum in the park, has some of the most beautiful works in Rome. Book ahead of time!

Piazza del Popolo

Designed by Giuseppe Valadier, Piazza del Popolo has plenty of sights to check out. 

Porta del Popolo

The first, which you walked through if you took the metro, is the Porta del Popolo, also known as Porta Flaminia. The current gate was built for the Jubilee of 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV, who, although involved in a scandal or two, also oversaw the construction of the Sistine Chapel, opened the Vatican Library to scholars, and is credited with having transformed Rome from a Medieval to a Renaissance city.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Just inside the gate is Santa Maria del Popolo, a church with a subtle facade but a treasure trove within, including chapels designed by Raphael and Bramante, statues by Bernini, works by Pinturicchio and Annibale Carracci, and not one, not two, but THREE Caravaggio paintings, too!

Read more about this church.

The fountains

There are also three fountains in the piazza: the Fountain of Neptune (opposite the park), the fountain of the Goddess Rome (same side as the park), and the Fountain of the Lions (center), which is topped with one of the city’s 13 ancient obelisks. Fun fact, the Flaminio obelisk was actually the first brought to Rome from Egypt.

The “twin” churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Two churches sit across from Porta del Popolo. They’re often referred to as “twins”, but their floor plans, domes and bell towers are actually different.

The churches were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, who wanted to create a grand entrance to Via del Corso, today one of Rome’s busiest shopping streets.

Via Margutta

One of my very favorite streets in Rome, Via Margutta is quiet, with interesting little shops and galleries providing a backdrop to scenes like this one…

Via Margutta

Those of you who are fans of the film Roman Holiday would probably also like to stroll down Via Margutta, because Joe Bradley lived at number 51!

Photo-friendly free viewpoints in Rome

There are six spots in Rome that offer great views, but don’t really have the same “hang out and stay awhile” vibe as the others on this list. I’ve included them here for those of you who are less interested in taking great photos on your trip.

The top and bottom of the Spanish Steps

Once you’ve had your fill of the view of Trinità dei Monti from the bottom of the Spanish Steps, climb up to the top of Rome’s most famous staircase and turn around. The earlier (or later) you go, the better – you’ll have the place all to yourself.

In the springtime, the steps are covered with azaleas, which makes for some pretty great shots.

Ponte degli Annibaldi for (another!) view of the Colosseum

From the Colosseum, walk towards Monti to find Ponte degli Annibaldi, a narrow pedestrian bridge that allows you to take pics of the Colosseum, or to use it as a backdrop for a portrait or selfie.

Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II or Ponte Umberto I for views of Castel Sant’Angelo

Two bridges – Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II and Ponte Umberto I – offer great shots of Castel Sant’Angelo. I like the castle best at night, when it’s illuminated against the inky sky.

Via della Conciliazione for a view of St. Peter’s

Bernini conceived Saint Peter’s square with the Baroque element of surprise in mind – i.e. he wanted people to pop out of the small streets that surround the piazza and be amazed by the size and spectacle of the colonnade and church – however, Mussolini had other ideas for the area. He made way for a grand new street by destroying a neighborhood known as la Spina di Borgo to celebrate an accord signed by his government and the leaders of the church, and so Via della Conciliazione was born.

Although not true to the original design, the view of St. Peter’s from the end of the street is stunning. Even after so many years in Rome, I still love going by it and getting a peekaboo view of the Basilica, which, like its neighbor, Castel Sant’Angelo, is particularly stunning when illuminated at night. 

Il Campidoglio for a view of the Roman fora

There are two great viewpoints of the Roman forum from the Capitoline Hill. After climbing the stairs, face the statue of Marcus Aurelius and you can head either right or left. 

If you’ve got a few extra bucks, head to the museum café (La Caffetteria dei Musei Capitolini). You don’t have to pay for a ticket to access it – and have a coffee while taking in the view from the Terrazza Caffarelli.

How to get to Campidoglio

Take the 8 tram to its final stop in Piazza Venezia, or the 30, 51, 81, 83, 85, 87, 118 or 160 bus to Ara Coeli/Piazza Venezia.

La Scalinata dell’Aracoeli 

Just next to the Campidoglio is a church called Santa Maria dell’Aracoeli. Climb the stairs, and voilà – you’ve got this

I hope you’ve enjoyed my list of the best FREE viewpoints in Rome! Did I miss any? Have you been to one? Share in the comments!

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