13 Fabulous Free Things to Do in Italy
Sightseeing in Italy is incredible. Sightseeing in Italy when you don’t have to shell out any additional money is even more incredible. Luckily, there are lots of amazing things to do—from tasting delicious wine to viewing iconic art—that don’t cost a penny.
Country-Wide: Visit State Museums on Sundays
If you’re lucky enough to be in Italy on the first Sunday of any month, you can stroll into any of the country’s incredible state museums and archaeological sites free of charge, thanks to an initiative called Domenica al Musueo, or Sunday at the Museum. In Rome, this means places like the Coliseum and the Forum; in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia; in Venice, the Grimani Palace Museum and the Marciana National Library. Just a heads-up that everyone takes advantage of free Sundays, so expect longer lines than usual.
Naples: Gesu Nuovo Church
Italy isn’t wanting for any showstopping churches, but certain ones shouldn’t be missed. Case in point: Gesu Nuovo, which was built in 1470 as a palace for the Prince of Salerno. The outside is cool (and very different in style from most Italian churches), but the interior is incredible, with vaulted frescoes you’ll stare at until your neck hurts.
Chianti: Taste Some of the Best Wine in the World
Forty-five minutes south of Florence is the Chianti region, best known, of course, for its incredible wine. And while you’ll certainly want to pick up a bottle of Chianti Clasisco or Brunello di Montalcino to bring home with you, you’d also be a fool to pass up the free tastings. Check out Il Palagio di Panzano, Il Molino di Grace or Livernano for gratis sips on any given day of the week.
Florence: Watch the Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo
Is your Instagram feed lacking a killer sunset pic? Florence is the spot to get it. A quick (but steep) walk from downtown takes you to Piazzale Michelangelo, a big open space that has the most beautiful view of the city, particularly at sunset. Trek further up the hill for a quick stop at San Miniato al Monte, an incredible basilica built between 1018 and 1207 (that you can peek into for free).
Florence: Browse the Leather Markets
Florence is famous for its leather, and even if you’re not in the market for a new bag, it’s super fun to walk through the colorful stands and watch the leather vendors hawk their goods. The stands, found just a few minutes' walk from the Duomo, end at the Mercato Centrale, a big indoor space with artisanal food stalls and little restaurants to grab a restorative cappuccino (which, sorry, you’ll have to pay for).
Florence: Find the Best View of the Ponte Vecchio
If you’re in Florence, walking across the Ponte Vecchio is a must. But for the best view, head to one of the bridges that surround it—Ponte Santa Trinita or Ponte alle Grazie—and look back (or ahead).
Sicily: Go to a Giant Party
We’re not exaggerating when we say there’s a different Sicilian festival just about every week. That means parades, live music and general jubilance—all free of charge. Consult this guide and join the party, whether you’re in town for Sortino’s Honey Festival in October, Erice’s Renaissance Music Festival in August or Agrigento’s Almond-Blossom Festival in February.
Rome: Watch the Sunrise from Gianicolo Hill
If the best sunset in Italy is in Florence, the best sunrise is in Rome. A 30-minute walk up the hill from Trastevere (a cool neighborhood you should also check out), you’ll find sweeping views of the entire city. It’s impressive any time of day, but even more so at dawn, when you can see each of the city’s unmistakable landmarks—the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Villa Borghese Gardens—light up one by one.
Rome: Make a Wish at the Trevi Fountain
Legend has it, tossing a coin into this massive marble, baroque sculpture means you’ll return to Rome again one day. And you’re going to want to visit again, what with all the gelato and pasta and wine.
Rome: Experience Vatican City
OK, so you can’t get into the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel without paying, but trust us, a trip to Vatican City is worth it regardless, if only to pretend you’re Tom Hanks in The DaVinci Code. (Spoiler alert: Those scenes were filmed at a Vatican recreation in southern California.)
Milan: Window-Shop at One of the World’s Oldest Malls
And by mall, we don’t mean that place you go to buy a Cinnabon. We mean the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a gorgeous four-story building in the center of the city that houses luxury retailers like Prada and Versace. If you want to buy a $2,500 handbag, be our guest, but gazing in the windows (and not taking out a second mortgage) was more than perfect for us.
Milan: Stroll Through Parco Sempione
Designed by architect Emilio Alemagna in the 19th century to look like some of the great gardens of England, Parco Sempione is a peaceful oasis for those times you just need a break. While there, be sure to find the Arco della Pace, an arch erected to commemorate Napoleon’s victories. And bonus, there’s free Wi-Fi throughout the park.
Venice: Try Not to Get Attacked by Pigeons in St. Mark’s Square
OK, so we’re being a little dramatic about the pigeons, but you will have to dodge at least three of them. That’s no reason, though, to skip out on St. Mark’s, an impressive square with an incredible basilica (St. Mark's; entrance is free) and an even more incredible palace (Doge's; entrance is not free). The square itself is flanked by restaurants and shops, and if you turn right at the basilica, you’re right in front of the canal.