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Rome on a budget 2018

Updated: May 25, 2023

Can you visit Rome on a budget and still have enough change in your pocket to make it home in a taxi? Here are the answers.


Vatican in the background
Rome

Rome.... is there anywhere else on earth like it? I would have to shout a resounding NO! Steeped in churches, historical monuments, ruins, and some of the best food on the planet. Rome is a utopia for history lovers, "just" lovers, and anyone else seeking an experience they can't get anywhere else on Earth. But can you do this city on a budget?


“Yes, I have finally arrived at this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Rome is and has been on everyone’s travel bucket list for obvious reasons. But can you afford it?

In this guide, I will show you how you can afford Rome on any budget. I will lay this out for the following budgets.

BUDGET: This will be the most inexpensive but will be a lot of eating in and skipping the more expensive sights.

and

FRUGAL: Will be a little more expensive and have more flexibility on what you can eat and see.

I have only listed these two because if you have a bigger budget than that, then do everything! You can spend a fortune in Rome though, so KEEP TO YOUR BUDGET!


Inside the Pantheon after a long lunch in the Piazza
Rome

FLIGHTS

BUDGET.

Flights- buy your tickets early! The sooner you can buy them the better. There is even a day called Cyber Monday where you can try to get tickets at a price that will leave you in shock. I found tickets to Rome a few years ago on Cyber Monday for 130.! Yes, that is not typical, but it can be done.

Another tip for cheap flights is flexibility! Flexible on your dates, times, and even destinations! I have seen flights to Paris for 300. and flying from Paris to Rome can be as cheap as 50. Euro’s so be flexible when looking for tickets! You must outsmart the airlines and that can be time-consuming and difficult, but it is possible.

FRUGAL.

The next tip is to use the best ticket search engines. I will tell you upfront that these change from one year to the next. The best ones I use are Kayak, Momondo, Skyscanner, Hip Monk, and Airfare Watchdog. Another trick I use is to use the website to find the cheapest flights and then go directly to the airline website and see if they have a better fare. United Airlines are good for this. I have twice found better fares on their website when booking travel.

I know this goes against the whole Firefly principle, but if you find a fare that is close to your budget, go to your local travel agent in town and ask them if they can find a better fare. Sometimes they can get a better deal on a block of seats they already negotiated a low price for. Be aware you will be bombarded with offers for entire tours. (not my thing)

Check surrounding cities' airports. Sometimes flights are cheaper to a smaller airport. Make sure you know the transportation cost. (do not forget when the trains or busses stop running at night). Also, sign up for newsletters for the airlines. They have flash sales all the time and will give you the cheapest fares, but this again is all about flexibility.

Good deals found can range from 400 to 600 per person.


The Spanish Steps before the "sit-down" ban in 2019
Rome

ACCOMMODATIONS

BUDGET.

The cheapest version of this always seems to be a Hostel but Airbnb has changed all this. Airbnb is best used if you use the filters they supply correctly. The first thing you are going to click on is cancelation flexibility. This is important to do because you do not want to get to a bad Airbnb and need to change but end up paying for the bad one anyway. Look for this in the cancelation policy and always insist on accommodations that allow you to cancel up to one day before your booking. The next thing to filter is the type of place.

FRUGAL.

For the budget conscious I will say to leave that unchecked as the hostels will be in the listings as well. Click what amount of beds, and bathrooms you want and set the filter from cheapest to most expensive. you will find rooms for as cheap as 29. per night! Also, you can check out Hostelworld.com you can find beds for 10. Per night! The cheapest places to stay are in the outlying areas but do not let that throw you off, it can be an easy bus ride anywhere in the city. (check my transportation tips)

Deals found can range from 10. To 30. Per night!


Alter of the Fatherland is so massive it takes up 4 city blocks!
Rome

SIGHTSEEING

The sights of Rome are like no others in the world! The trick to doing Rome for the budget crowd (like me) or even free is to know what day of the week you want to go. For instance, all museums in Rome are free on the first Sunday of the month. Some museums are free every Sunday, so you should check the official websites to get this information. The best one to see is of course the Vatican Museum. I will warn you to get there extremely early in the morning or you will wait in line for hours longer than needed. If you decide to buy a ticket for this, get the skip-the-line ticket, even if it is more expensive. In fact, any ticket you get for Italy should skip the line unless you want to spend your vacation standing around for hours on cobblestones in the hot sun.

FRUGAL.

A great tip for you is the Pantheon. The Pantheon is free all the time. Built in 180AD it's still considered a church. All churches are free to enter. Also, the Trevi Fountain is amazing and free but get there early in the morning or late at night or you will have to fight for a spot to get your photo.

Bramante’s Little Temple is a magnificent example of Renaissance art and is free. A cool thing to do is to see The Cavalieri Di Malta (Knights of Malta) Keyhole is in the square itself and will be easy to find, just look for the line and have your camera ready. The square itself is breathtakingly beautiful and will take you hours to see everything around this area. Do this at sunset and check out the park nearby for a gorgeous view with lots of orange groves and a local atmosphere after dark.

If you are wanting to get into the Vatican area, St Peters Basilica is free and no trip to Rome is complete without going to St Peter's Square and again, is free. Be sure to download Rick Steve’s audio guide for the Basilica! Use this as your tour guide and it's FREE! The Piazza Navona is just a must-see place that will make your face tingle! Giacomo della Porta with its three unbelievable fountains and the church. The Fountain of the Moor, the Fountain of Neptune, and the incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers, which is Bernini’s masterpiece. All Free! Trust me when I tell you that you could spend a year in Rome and not spend one dime on sights to see and never see the same one twice. For the most popular places go super early in the morning to avoid crowds.


Piazza Navona has the best night walking experience of all Rome
Rome

TRANSPORTATION

FRUGAL.

The cheapest transportation is the busses. They run everywhere in Rome and to the outskirts as well. They run from 5:30 am to midnight daily but there are some buses that run all night along main routes. To buy tickets, look for the big blue T in the front of little shops. These are Tabaccaria and they sell cigarettes, souvenirs, Tylenol, and all sorts of helpful things. They also sell bus tickets. There are also vending machines at major stops like Termini Station.

On buses, your ticket is valid for 100 minutes (about 1 and a half hours) from the first tap. You tap the yellow machine on the bus and this way you can transfer buses to go to another route or stop. One ticket is 1.50 Euro but if you will be in Rome for a while, they also offer 24-hour, 48-hour, 72-hour, and the 7 days books/card. Get the biggest one you may need and save yourself a lot of money.

BUDGET.

The metro is cheap but only stops at specific areas and I find them a bad choice as you do not get the lay of the land by traveling underground.


The beautiful Pantheon. Don't forget to see it at night!
Rome

FOOD

BUDGET.

I will try to keep this short but I think another entire article on food is in my future soon. Food in Rome is on a level all its own. Roman street food is cheap, and parks are abundant! Try the dried zucchini flowers. You’re welcome. The grocery stores are an abundance of locally grown fruits and veggies, the cheapest bottles of amazing wines, and the largest selections of cheese and meats, all for less than you would spend on a gelato!

FRUGAL.

Our favorite thing to do here is to buy a bunch of cheese, salami, and olives and go sit in the park nearby. Picnic lunches are not only cheap but more romantic than a café full of tourists. Limit yourself to one restaurant a day and your budget will thank you. For your dinner (if you have a stove at your accommodation) buy food at the market and cook yourself some fresh pasta and some cheese or a huge sandwich with some great deli meats and fresh Mozzarella.

Breakfast- A cornetto and cappuccino can be found for under 3 Euros per person. Ask a local and they will point you in the right direction.

Picnic lunch from the grocer- ranges from 3 euros to 10 euros for two. Seriously, try the cheeses. All of them!

Dinner – The Campo di Fiori market has an early morning market with the biggest choice of everything edible! Since 1869 the market has had locally rented stalls selling fresh fish, poultry, and produce. 8 to 20 euros for two people is not hard to achieve. They are open every day except Sunday. This is a fantastic way to eat local and well for truly little money.

Gelato- Do not go cheap on Gelato, just do not! Eat gelato two to five times a day and pay whatever they want. Gelato in Rome is like buying toilet paper, you do not want the cheapest or thinnest, just the best and a lot of it. Gelato in Italy is a mix of surprise and awe. There is no comparison in the world to Italian gelato from Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio 112. They have mastered the art of Gelato. Do not forget to say yes to Panna (homemade whipped cream on top) I am drooling on my laptop right now. Tim and I went, and it was so creamy and smooth and made in a little workshop in the back using traditional Italian techniques. Molto Bene!

Budget of about 15 euros per day.

For a 7-day trip, you can budget anywhere from 29. To 75 euros per day for two people and make it work but I must warn you that there is temptation everywhere. I had the best luck by putting my cash in an envelope in my purse and only have that for the day. This way you know when you need to pinch and when you have saved enough for a seafood dinner.


The Holy See is a country all on its own.
Vatican City

EXTRA TIPS;

FLIGHTS

I would say if you want to pay extra for the more comfortable exit rows or the bump up in leg room by a whole 2 inches, then it is not that expensive on your domestic flights. It is a different story on your long flight over the Atlantic. To get the next class up is usually about another 700.-800. and not worth it to me. But it's available to you if this is important to you or if you are 7 feet tall.

Accommodations- You could get a room next to the Colosseum for 200. Per night or you can click the Airbnb filter for Airbnb Luxe and Airbnb Plus and choose Super host. These are the Crème de la crème of the Airbnb world. You can pick these up for between 75. To 300. per night. Most come with breakfast and some even come with personal touches like tours or dinner with the family that owns them.

Hotels are out of reach usually for the budget-friendly traveler but the best way to get them cheaper is to go straight to their own websites and email when you will be there, asking if they have anything on sale. They usually will have a few rooms set aside with just as nice luxury but no views or no breakfast that they could squeeze you into. We found the cutest little cottage just outside the Trastevere area for 22. Euro per night and loved it, but there is a bus ride to consider as well. If you are staying outside the city center, keep in mind locals there do not always speak English.

SIGHTS

These are the sights you will pay for but can get early by booking online, so you do not pay too much. I have omitted the free sights to not be repetitive. Always book the Skip the Line choice whenever possible. It is worth every dime. Added to the list above are my top five but there are many more must-see sights.

The Vatican Museums (use Rick Steve's audio guides, they really are the best). Make sure you plan your route with an online map. The Sistine Chapel is the highlight and will be massively crowded so to avoid this you can visit twice. Once with a skip-the-line ticket and spend the day going through the whole place on the audio guide, and again in the morning before they open on a tour with just the Sistine Chapel. I recommend the Tour Guy early-access tour. This is the coolest thing you will ever do. You are alone in the Sistine with 12 other people on the tour and the serenity is so deafening, it's unimaginable until you are there. Absolute heaven.

The Colosseum (take a combo tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum together by booking online with CityWalk's tours, they have great tour guides that are usually professors or archaeologists). We had Mossimo the history professor from Florence. If I had walked through this by myself, it would have been a pile of rocks. With Mossimo, the place came alive in front of my eyes. Having someone there to tell the story makes this the only clever way to see this site.

The Galleria Borghese is an art gallery that was built as a party house by Cardinal Borghese in the 17th century. A nephew of Pope Paul the 5th, The cardinal was also a patron of the arts. Included are sculptures by Bernini, the National Museum of Musical Instruments, and paintings by Titian. The garden in front is a sight all its own. Massive and beautiful grassy areas with Renaissance statues all throughout the park. Rick Steve’s audio guide will be cheaper than the audio guide you can rent from the museum, which cuts out on you and does not have many details.

Castel St Angelo, built to be a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family in 123BC, later was turned into a fortress and castle by the Pope. It was once Rome’s tallest building; the ashes of other Emperors were buried there but scattered when the Visigoths invaded in 410AD. It also served as a prison but today it is a museum. Well worth a few hours and make sure you book the skip-the-line feature online or you could be standing in line for quite a while.

The Capitoline Museum- Dating from 1471, housing the world's oldest public museums. The Lupa Capitolina, a full-scale bronze she-wolf suckling Remus and Romulus (the founders of Rome). Housing the Galata Morente, a moving depiction of a dying warrior, and the masterpieces of Titian, Tintoretto, Reubens, and Caravaggio, this museum is the unsung hero of museums in Rome. Climb to the top and be greeted by the square designed by Michelangelo. (turn right to go directly to the terrace) The terrace has a magnificent view but goes to the rooftop through a secret door and it's free. (ok it is not a secret but there is a guard at the door, tell him you want to go to the bar, and he will usher you right up the elevator.

TRANSPORTATION

Busses still are the best way to get around but if you decide you are a cabbie person, be warned, they take longer than walking and can be expensive. Cab drivers do come in handy if you are way across town and you just have had enough of sore feet. Take your sore feet and grab one but be sure he has three things. A meter, if not run away. As of the date of this article, the rates for cabs start at 2.80 euros on the meter. Look at the left of the meter, this number is the fare number. If there is just you and no luggage it should be set on a 1. Make sure the meter is running. The crooked cabbies will keep it off or cover it with a hat. If they do this and quote you an unreasonable amount that is not on a meter just get out and refuse to pay! They will not call the police (they are criminals) and you just got a free ride.

On any budget, a ride from the airport in a cab is a fixed rate of 40 euros. A private car hire can be arranged to and from the airport as well online before your trip for anywhere from 30 euros for a minivan with other passengers (if you are short on time before a flight I do not suggest these), and 90 euros for a Mercedes SL class just for you. (these are nice when your flight is early in the morning or extremely late at night.)

Food- I will start by saying, you do not need to go out to a fancy place to eat exceptionally well in Rome. Do not go out to eat every night. Part of the Roman experience is cooking a meal at your Airbnb or even better, finding a cooking class. There is another possibility for you as well. Download the App Eatwithlocals. This is such a wonderful way to not only, eat well, but eat amazing home-cooked Roman food, and meet other travelers and locals. The dinner is at a local Roman's home. They serve tons of food and wine, and the drinks are abundant. This will be a highlight of your trip, I promise!

Restaurants in Rome number in the thousands, so it can be a whole ordeal just trying to pick the right one. Here are a few tips for picking the perfect dining experience.

*Ask a Roman! This is the number one tip. Romans know where to eat. Ask your porter or the guy at the local bar. They will always know better than any website or app.

*Do not pick anything that is right next to or too near any of the major attractions like the Colosseum or the Castel St Angelo. All the attractions have many tourist spots to eat but the food is horrible. Even if you are just wandering around and need food now, walk a few blocks away from the crowded areas and you will find better food.

*If you are in a local area and see a line down the block, that is a good sign it is a local favorite. GET IN LINE! Some of these are new and not on your trip advisor yet but the locals know where the tasty food is. Trust them.

*Try the street food. Especially the pizza places. Find a little hole-in-the-wall place for pizza and try pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). Italy is renowned for its wood-fired pizzas. La Boccacia in Trastevere is the Molto Meglio! (the absolute best)

*Know what you are ordering. Seafood salad in America is not the same dish whatsoever as seafood salad in Rome! (I ended up with a live octopus on my plate once!) There is an app called Snap translate. With this, you take a picture, and it translates what is on the picture. Like for a whole page of a menu! It's handy but can get things wrong so always ask if you have any doubts. Honestly, most restaurants in Rome speak “Food English” at least, so you should be fine.


The Colosseum tour is magical.
Rome

TOP 6 PLACES TO TRY IN ROME:

$$ La Pergala. The only three-star restaurant in Rome. German Chef, Heinz Beck is not what you would expect from an Italian restaurant, but he is a genius and makes the best Fagateli and Lobster with almond cream. Keep in mind, this is a culinary experience, not just food. The over 30,000 wines here are all exceptional, and the staff is friendly and will cater to your every whim. If you are not worried about your budget at all, I suggest the 10-course meal. Tell your waiter what your price range is for wine and let him choose for you. You will not be sorry. Price tag; anywhere from 70-700 for two, depending on your meal and wine selections.

$ La Rochelle. No matter the dish you had in mind, if it is not spaghetti carbonara, forget it. The spaghetti here is the perfect al dente. The richness of the pork cheek is of particularly high quality and abundant on your plate. Everything here (and in most places in Rome) is local farm-to-table. Absolutely wonderful.

$ Pizzaria Da Baffetto, Via del Governo Vecchio, 114. The best Roman-style pizza around. They are known for thin crisp pizzas and its delicious. Get the style you want; they are all wonderful.

$ Da Enzo (AL 29) Via dei Vascellari, 29. In Trastevere. Cacio e Pepe or Burrata. Both are equally delicious! The Burrata may not be on the menu but ask the waiter if they are serving it that day. You cannot be disappointed with any dish here! These guys know their stuff!

$ Osteria Da Fortunata, Via del Pellegrino, 11/12. The pasta here is beyond great. They make all their own past fresh right in front of you. They also have a panna cotta dessert that is better here than any other place in Rome.

$$ A more high-end place with particularly tasty food is in Trastevere (Trastevere has the best food) at Taverna Trilussa, Via del Politeama, 23/25. The pasta you need to try is the truffle pasta, served to you in a buttery skillet. This pasta has a rich taste that will bring up images of your own Italian Nona (grandmother), slaving away in a kitchen. Please try this if you are in Trastevere. The food, atmosphere, and staff make this one of the best foodie experiences in Rome

Don't forget to look up!
Rome

MOST IMPORTANTE’

Café and Cornetto. Do yourself a huge favor and get up early. Go to Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16 to Roscioli Caffe’, and have your café and cornetto at the bar (like a local) This place has the best cornetto in Italy, but you better get there early or they run out of them by as early as 8 am! They also make the best cappuccino around so, winning!

Another great café', Sant'Eustachio is particularly good! Try the granita con panna (iced coffee-style dessert!)

For those Starbucks junkies like me out there, they have the best Frappe’ in Rome. Few places serve iced coffee, but they got it right here. For a warmer coffee try the Moretto, coffee with chocolate and cream.

EVEN MORE EXTRA ADVICE

Tiramisu: Everywhere has great tiramisu in Rome! For your to-go needs though, grab a tiramisu in a box from Pompi at Via della Croce, 82 (they have other locations as well). This makes a great take-home breakfast! (do not judge me).

For the View: Go to Terazza Borromini, Via di Santa Maria dell’ Anima, 30A. This does not have the best food but the Aperol Spritz and appetizers are perfect. The view is worth the price. This is a fantastic sunset place.

Keep in mind these are samples of what I recommend. They are not strict itineraries and can be adjusted to your style and what you would like to do.

The #1 thing to know about Rome is to relax! Make sure you only plan one or two major sights to see in a day and the rest of the time, wander! Rome is extremely fun to get lost in. So have fun!

Make sure you have on your Sketchers Go Walks! There is nothing but cobblestones and stairs in Rome. I have Plantar Fasciitis and high arches so buying these was a life changer.

HEADS UP; My post may contain affiliate links! If

you buy something through one of those links, you won't pay a penny more, but

we’ll get a small commission, which helps feed the cats. They say “Thank you “

for the pizza.


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