Iconic Rome is a true bucket list city and one of the great European destinations. Full of famous history, incredible architecture, unique bridges, wonderful street art and atmospheric plazas, the number of amazing free photo spots in Rome is actually kind of ridiculous. It is the type of place you could spend weeks exploring without ever really having to take a guided tour or paying a bunch of massive entrance fees.
So, naturally, we found it fairly disappointing the first time we visited. Wait, what? Yeah, for some reason it never really spoke to us the first time around (9 years ago). Part of that is down to us getting a big jaded after a few years of hectic travel, but most of it had to do with expectations.
We’ve learned over the years that our level of enjoyment is extremely connected to our expectations of a place going in, and when we finally made it to Rome, Italy for the first time, well, our expectations couldn’t possibly have been higher.
I mean, it had everything I look for in a major city – superb scenery, exceptional wandering, great food, a relaxed vibe and, of course, a river with a whole bunch of bridges. So what was the problem, exactly? Nothing really, that’s the thing. I think we were just so ready to be blown away that Rome simply being beautiful and easy and authentic somehow wasn’t enough.
In hindsight, I see that was idiotic. With close to another decade of travel under our belts since then we have come to a much greater appreciation of Rome’s subtle (and not-so-subtle) charms, not to mention that pungent smell. So what if the trash bins are always overflowing? Or that the most famous bridges in the world haven’t been swept in weeks? Or that the traffic is almost willfully ridiculous? That’s Rome, baby.
So just charge up your phone, wear some good shoes and wander till your heart’s content. Of course, you will still want to pay to see inside all the big attractions at least once – the Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, Sistene Chapel, etc. But there are also a ton of great free places to take pictures in Rome as well. After several days of exploring, here are our picks for the 25 best free photo spots and most Instagrammable places in Rome.
Map of the Best Free Photo Spots in Rome
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St. Peter’s Square / Basilica
Ah, the classic dome of St. Pete’s, as I like to casually call it (but only when it’s out of earshot). You can’t go wrong with photos of it from any angle and the view back over St. Peter’s Square from the top is extraordinary. However, I’m still a sucker for the long walk up Via della Conciliazione with the basilica looming larger and larger with each step.
Of course, it is also pretty incredible on the inside, and it won’t cost you anything to check it out.
Castel Sant Angelo
This squat, perfectly round castle resembles a cross between a discount fortress and large dairy operation. By which, I mean, you can’t help but notice it whenever it pops up in the background of one of your scenic Tiber River or Ponte Vittorio Emanuelle II photos like a dumpy creep photobombing the cool kids.
And an added bonus is getting to cross the stunning Ponte Sant Angelo on your way to find the best angles.
Churches, spires, fountains, colourful buildings and even a bunch of friendly guys handing out free friendship bracelets because they are casually interested in what country you are from. Such a welcoming place.
Originally a Roman temple, then rebuilt into a newer, better temple by Hadrian, and now a Catholic church, its name means, roughly, “of the gods”. Which most experts say was probably just a nickname referring either to the numerous statues of ancient gods and goddesses or the way the inside of the dome resembled the heavens.
Although, how they could possibly know what heaven looks like without today’s CGI technology remains is a mystery.
But, chances are you don’t care about any of that. How about – it is a really cool building with a bunch of gigantic columns? That do it for you?
There’s a nice plaza at the bottom (Piazza di Spagna), an impressive church at the top (Trinita dei Monti) and 135 wide, photogenic steps in between. History, churches, beautiful viewpoints, teens hanging out smoking weed – the Spanish Steps have got it all.
The most famous of the many impressive Roman fountains, you can capture this gorgeous attraction from many different angles. Nearly all of which will include at least three other grinning tourists since it is probably the most popular Rome Instagram spots. Choose wisely.
This crumbling behemoth should also be seen from inside (which isn’t free) but I still think the best photos are from the street just outside the metro station.
Of course, you’ll want to wander all the way around, if for no other reason than to feel small, or insignificant, or whatever vaguely minimizing feeling is supposed to make us appreciate history.
Largo di Torre Argentina
Although I wouldn’t really call it a true photographic highlight, at least not in a place as filled with fantastic photo spots as Rome, this weird green space slash jumble of ruins just sitting there next to a busy intersection (the most typically Rome of sentences) is interesting for its odd backstories.
For example, it was here around 2066 years ago that Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed, uttering that most famous of phrases in response to his friend’s deception. I’m talking about “et tu, Brute?”, not the lesser known but still rather poignant “oh dear, I do believe I’ve shat myself”.
So, from iconic historic site to… cat sanctuary? That’s what they tell me, although we walked all the way around and saw just one, lonely black cat calmly tending to his junk, as they do. So at this point it is unclear if the reputed hordes of cats only come out at night or if, perhaps, curiosity got them? I’ve always wanted to see how that works.
Keyhole at Buco della Serratura dell’Ordine di Malta
I’m not sure which is more fascinatingly bizarre:
Crouching against a large wooden door, spying renowned St. Peter’s Basilica halfway across the city through a tiny keyhole, then frantically toggling the exposure on your phone/camera in an attempt to make the light work and have the dome look like something more interesting than a blinding round light.
Or joining the back of a long queue of people waiting to do exactly that. Still, it was one of Laynni’s favourite new photography spots in Rome.
It was our favourite old Roman neighbourhood from our first visit so this time around we chose an apartment in Trastavere to soak up even more of its effortless charm. It really is one of the most picturesque places in Rome.
Small, scenic cobblestoned streets, brick arches, quaint churches and more pasta joints than you can shake an abandoned bag of dog poop at, Trastavere is probably exactly what you’re thinking of when you think of Rome. Other than the phrase, “when in Rome…”, of course.
Belvedere del Gianicolo
This fantastic sunset spot is actually better about an hour prior, when the sun is still above the hills. The city is lit up with a myriad of colours, the bright light reflecting off shiny domes. We think that, for sunset, it is one of the best views in Rome.
Plus, if you get there early you can beat the rush to the gelato truck.
Pyramid of Caius Cestius
Didn’t know Rome had a pyramid? Me neither. Find it a bit weird? Yeah, me too. And, in true Roman fashion, it is yet again on the corner of a busy intersection.
But there’s also a very old (I assume) stone gate and cute little spire. Not everything has to make sense.
Giardino degli Aranci
This green park is a bit of an uphill walk from the river but it has a nice, serene feel and some pretty sweet views over the Tiber and a fair bit more of the city. Besides, it is right on the way to “the keyhole”, so you’ll definitely be going this way anyway.
From the outside it reminded us of a slightly smaller version of the Colosseum, although they presumably served very different purposes (i.e. creative performance art vs racially motivated lion attacks). Still, scenically, the Marcello is in the same ballpark as its more famous cousin yet is rarely mentioned.
Very few things in Rome qualify as “hidden gems” at this point, but I think we could safely describe it as “not so busy” and “mildly surprising”. I’ll take it.
Ponte Emilio and Ponte Fabricio
What do you think about taking a photo froma bridge of a really old bridge with another pretty great bridge in the background? And a church with a cool dome? And another bridge just around the corner of the island that you can’t see from the angle of this photo but still, just knowing it is there is kind of enough?
Yeah, I thought you might like that.
This is the one around the corner, how about that, eh? Hmm, now that I think about it, if I’d stood in a different place on the bridge I could probably have gotten all three in the same photo.
These are exactly the kind of missed opportunities that haunt the dreams of travel bloggers.
Ponte Settimia Spizzichino
Maybe using the word “underwhelming” is a strange choice when I’m trying to convince you that this is one of the best spots for Instagram photos in Rome.
But that’s mainly because I had it mixed up with some old stone bridge covered in vines (which we never actually found and can no longer remember the name of) and the actual Ponte Settimia Spizzichino is not old, not made of stone and features nary a vine. Like, not a single one.
But it is modern, unique and confusingly loopy so, you know, try to be open-minded.
We have soft spot for Ponte Sisto with its clean lines, white stone and St. Peter’s dome in the background because it was very close to where we were staying so we were able to gaze upon it longingly many times.
Plus, it has a single, perfectly round hole in the middle for some reason. Decoration, architectural integrity, pigeon crossing? The possibilities are endless. But probably decoration.
Ponte Principe Amadeo Savoia Aosta
Very nice, elegant even, and with a rectangular gap in the middle instead of a perfectly round hole. How’s that for a twist?
Side Note: While writing this list it became obvious that when it comes to Rome photography spots you are spoilt for choice with it’s many bridges.
Well off the beaten path, this terrifically odd little covered bridge probably isn’t worth a special trip if you’re on a schedule (it’s a good 40-minute bus trip from the centre), but if you have extra time and are interested in a quiet, very local neighbourhood then by all means, check it out.
There are also a couple of nice parks along the river, a small but busy weekend market and a couple of streets of gorgeous old mansions.
Campo de Fiori
Speaking of markets, chaotic Campo de Fiori is the best of the lot. With stalls, stands and booths selling everything from fresh fish and farm veggies to children’s books and ugly watches, you could literally wander for hours without finding a single thing you actually need.
Taking the whole “busy intersection” thing to a whole new level, Piazza Venezia is a major public transportation hub (as well as a gathering point for thousands of cars, of course).
But it still manages to retain a stylish air with its huge old buildings, huge old roundabout and huge old bus smell. Look both ways before crossing.
Forum of Augustus
Just up the road from the Colosseum and across from the main Roman Forum, this fascinating collection of ancient ruins, columns and arches offers a bunch of great angles and some of the most interesting free photo spots in Rome.
With a wide variety of backdrops, framing and stone windows to choose from, this is the place to get a bit creative.
Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli
First of all, the church itself is quite nice, with an impressive set of stairs and the standard garish interior that Catholic god finds ever so pleasing. But the surprising treat is the superb statue of Moses and friends found inside courtesy of some guy named Michelangelo.
Sure, it may not feature a really famous penis like Florence’s David but Moses never struck me as a full frontal guy anyway, so the flowing robes seemed completely appropriate. It’s not exactly one of the hidden gems in Rome but it is certainly one of the less well known.
A giant metal frame/cylinder sticking up beside the river sort of like the London Eye on a really tight budget, the Gazometro is basically an industrial eyesore repurposed into a tourist attraction and one of the most unique photo spots in Rome.
It is just over a century old (a mere baby in Roman terms) but has a complicated history involving several different kinds of gas and a bunch of different companies which, frankly, don’t interest me at all. But there is a cool bridge nearby (Ponte della Scienza) and apparently on special occasions the Gazometro is decorated with fun lights. So at least they’re trying.
Best Free Rome Photos Spots: Conclusion
We aren’t actually opposed to paying to see top tourist attractions. Honest. I mean, we’ll grumble a bit, but that’s to be expected from people who almost always choose to share a single pizza. But when it comes to the handful of cities around the world that are a cut above when it comes to free photo spots, Rome is definitely one of them.
What sets it apart is that beyond the well-known places, there are just so many more fabulous Instagram spots in Rome lurking around every corner that you don’t even really need a plan.
Although obviously a plan helps, let’s get serious. So hopefully this list of best free photo spots in Rome comes in handy. Or you can just look at the photos we already took and call it good. Either way, I really miss the ravioli.
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