Free museums? No, thanks!

Posted on Mar 10, 2023 in On your own, Planning Support

[revised December 2023] You might have heard that in Italy we have the so called “domeniche gratuite” which means one Sunday each month (the first Sunday) most museums (all national museums and many city museums) are open for free.

“Wow, that’s great news!” should be the reaction. While the real comment is “Bugger!”.

Yes, it is a problem in fact if you wish to visit a main attraction (in Rome it would be Colosseum, Galleria Borghese,  Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, sometimes Caracalla baths and Ostia Antica also get very busy…), because it is not possible to book in advance and lines can be nightmarish. At the Colosseum they always are, even in winter months. In the other sites it might vary, but many local associations profit of this opportunity to suggest the visit of venues with expensive tickets in those Sundays and even “minor sites” get crowded  with local visitors.

So, what’s our suggestion if your travel plans match with a “free Sunday”?

  • try to have another day in town and schedule one of the sites mentioned above on Saturday or Monday.
  • on Sunday enjoy less famous museum: Centrale Montemartini, Villa Giulia, Galleria Nazionale, Palazzo Barberini or Corsini…
  • on Sunday you can also plan a day out: the countryside around Rome is beautiful and a day trip is a very “local” thing to do, we call it “gita fuori porta” ! I dedicated to this a full website and a book to these experiences.
  • Remember not everything is included in the “free Sunday” offer, for instance catacombs are open regularly with a ticket and internal visits, it is generally quiet. And many interesting things to see in Rome have no tickets: churches (but avoid Sunday mornings for celebrations), parks, the Appian Way, interesting neighbourhoods, urban art districts….

A final note about Vatican Museums: they are not part of the “free Sunday” program, since the Vatican is another country, but they do offer a free day: it is the last Sunday of the month instead of the first. Same comments apply: unbelievable lines from dawn. But recently it is possible to book in advance an internal visit of the museum and skip the line by joining these tours. Check on the Vatican website.  We still do not recommend it, the museum is so packed on those Sundays and you have limited time at disposal (it’s only open in the morning), therefore it is hard to appreciate the masterpieces sheltered in this museum. But if you have only that day, well, that’s how it works.