What's the Rome Free Sunday about? Which sites and monuments are free in Rome, when and how can you visit them, and do you need to book in advance?
The Rome Free Sunday is a fantastic initiative to allow everyone to visit (some) sites and monuments for free on the first Sunday of the month.
Here’s everything you need to know about how and when to visit sites in Rome for free:
All year long, Italian state sites and monuments are free for everyone on the first Sunday of every month.
Rome has hundreds of wonderful museums and sites.
What may not be evident to the visitor is that archeological sites and museums are managed by several different entities.
Some, like the Colosseum and Palazzo Barberini, are run by the state of Italy.
Others, like the Capitoline Museums, are run by the city of Rome.
And there are more: private museums, museums run by the Province of Rome, and temporary museums/exhibits.
On the Free Sunday, the sites that are open and free for everyone are:
As I mentioned above, all the sites and museums in Rome are managed by different organizations.
But even some state-run museums are not free on the Free Sunday.
These include MAXXI (modern art) and the Domus Aurea.
They are open with standard admission prices and rules.
I'm not sure why MAXXI is not free.
I think the reason the Domus Aurea does not participate in the Rome Free Sunday is because they depend on ticket income to fund the archeological restorations they do.
Other privately-run sites like the catacombs are also not part of the initiative.
Private museums such as Galleria Colonna and Doria Pamphilj are not included in the Free Sunday (they are not state-run.)
Art galleries with exhibitions are not included in the Free Sunday. These include but are not limited to:
City-run museums are also free on the first Sunday of every month. These include:
The Vatican is a separate state from Italy, so they do not participate in the Rome Free Sunday as described above.
The Vatican Museums, which are usually closed on Sundays, are open and free the last Sunday of every month, with shorter opening hours.
They are open from 9 am - 2 pm, with last entry at 12:30 pm.
You can book in advance only by booking a tour through the Vatican.
Otherwise you can expect very long lines.
Whether you book a tour or not, and no matter what time of day you come on the Free Sunday at the Vatican Museums, you can expect huge crowds, no matter what time of year.
You can, of course, go another day and purchase Vatican Museums tickets, and avoid the Free Sunday lines and crowds.
The only site in Rome that you not only can book in advance on the free Sunday but have to book in advance is the Galleria Borghese. All the other sites are first-come, first-served.
The Vatican Museums, which again, is not part of the Rome Free Sunday, as it's not in Rome, is open and free on the last Sunday of the month.
This is a site that you CAN book in advance only if you book a tour through their site.
And I really recommend this if you want to visit the Vatican for free on their Free Sunday!
The answer is YES, you can use the Roma Pass (and other Rome City Passes) to skip the line on the Free Sunday (and other free dates.) Look for the signs for Roma Pass holders (this is true with other Rome City Passes as well.)
Keep this in mind:
It might be tempting to take a tour of one of the free sites on the Free Sunday. You'd think perhaps you could skip the line this way, as it's certainly the case on non-free dates.
Because there is no way to book entry to the sites on the Rome Free Sunday (other than at the Galleria Borghese), it's not ideal for a tour company to have clients and a guide spend a lot of time in line.
So, some tour companies do not offer tours on the Rome Free Sunday, but there are still some that do.
You will have a hard time booking a Vatican tour with an outside company on the Vatican Museums Free Sunday, but there are a few companies that offer it, especially if you are willing to book a private or semi-private tour.
On the Free Sunday in Rome, Rome’s most popular sites are the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo. You will always find long lines at both sites on the Free Sunday and any other free day.
As you might imagine, when popular Rome sites are free, whether the Vatican Museums or the Colosseum, there will be long lines and crowds throughout the year.
It’s important to note that the Colosseum has a maximum capacity. When they are at capacity, they do not let anyone in. So, if you add this factor to the already long lines on the Free Sunday, you can imagine how long the lines can get.
This is true even in what you might think is low season.
Early November is also really busy in Rome, especially if the November 1 holiday falls anywhere near a weekend.
Early December can also be really busy in Rome, especially if the December 8 holiday falls near a weekend. Even if it doesn’t, don’t think that the first Sunday in December will be quiet.
The first week in January is really peak season in Rome.
While it seems like the first weekend of February would be quiet, it too, has become extremely packed in recent years.
And even if March is still not quite high season, the first Sunday in Rome in March is always very busy.
Bottom line – there is not a quiet time to visit monuments and museums on the Rome Free Sunday in Rome.
The following Colosseum sites are NOT open on the Free Sunday:
If you plan to visit any sites on the Rome Free Sunday, go first thing in the morning, and early.
Or, try to visit some other less-popular sites like Palazzo Barberini or the Rome National Museum.
Throughout the year, the following people have free entry to Rome city sites and Italian state sites:
If you are planning to visit Rome’s monuments and museums with reduced or free entry, always double check on the site’s official website for last-minute changes, and specific rules that might apply to you.
Also, as I mentioned above, each state-run site has other free days scattered throughout the year. But the conditions will be the same – you cannot book in advance (except for the Galleria Borghese), and it will be first-come, first-served, and you can expect crowds and lines at the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Looking for ideas about how to visit Rome on a Budget? Visit my page about this here.
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