Rome is a beautiful city that could take a lifetime to explore. It offers an astonishing number of sights: the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Borghese Gardens, the Pantheon, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and so much more. Any city that has been around for thousands of years is not going to be seen in one visit! Rome is a chaotic, vibrant place I always love to discover more about.
But, while traveling to Rome offers up its charms, it’s also one of the most expensive cities in Europe and many travelers have a hard time visiting the city on a budget. And, while it’s not easy to save money here, it’s not impossible! Master budget traveler Matt Kepnes shares his best tips for visiting Rome on a budget.
Rome on a Budget
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There are ways to turn this pricey city into an affordable one that will have you visiting historic sites and eating endless pasta in no time! Here are some high-impact ways to save money when you visit Rome:
1. Standing at the bar – Sitting at an outside table
Not every café in Rome has this policy but many do: you’ll save a few euros per coffee by having your morning espresso while standing at the bar. Sure, sitting outside is nice, but it’s a luxury that you sometimes have to pay more for. So, do like a Roman would and sip your coffee while standing at the bar. After all, watching the baristas pull shots of espresso while macho Roman men somehow pull off looking uber-cool nursing a tiny cup of coffee is pure theater.
2. All that you can mangiare
In the last decade or so, the aperitivo has hit Rome too. Consider it an Italian version of happy hour: at participating bars in the early evening — usually starting around 7 pm — patrons buy a glass of wine or a cocktail, which opens the door to a room filled with an all-you-can-eat bounty of Italian deliciousness: huge wheels of cheese, mountains of sliced salami, bowls of olives, baskets of fresh bread. Some places even serve pasta. It’s a great way to eat on the semi-cheap.
3. Drinking from the fountains
For a couple of millennia, Rome has had a reputation for its pristine drinking water. And the 21st century carries on that tradition. Ancient Romans built aqueducts to bring water into the city from the nearby mountains that are still in use today. Use fountains all over town for water! Bing bring a reusable bottle like a Lifestraw and fill up every time you come across one. You’ll save money and you’ll save on plastic bottles!
4. Stay in a hostel
For those wondering where to stay in Rome, the city is loaded with affordable hostels, spread across a variety of cool neighborhoods, that can help you keep your budget intact. You get cheap dorms for as low as 10 Euro a night, a social atmosphere, and a staff that is well versed in all the budget-friendly activities of the city. I really love The Yellow and The Beehive! Both have a very social atmosphere and are very central.
For more suggestions, here’s a list of the best hostels in Rome to help you find a place that suits your budget and other needs.
The golden age of Couchsurfing might be over, but the company is still around and active in Rome. This is a great way to get a free place to stay and get to know some locals. Even if you don’t use the website for accommodation, browse the site (or their app) for meetups and hangouts. It’s a fine way to meet like-minded travelers and locals.
6. Cook your own food
Given you’re in Rome — one of the best cities on the planet for eating — it’s not ideal to have to cook your own food. But if you’re on an extreme budget, this will save you money. Many hostels have shared kitchens, and almost all Airbnbs have functional kitchens too. Groceries in Italy are pretty affordable compared to the rest of Western Europe, so you can save some euros by cooking your own lunches and/or dinners.
7. Take a free walking tour
Free tours a great way to get to know Rome, especially for first-time visitors. Free Tour Rome offers a few different types: secrets of Rome, classical Rome, the Jewish ghetto and Trastevere, and an evening tour. Free Tours by Foot also offers a small handful of options, including tours of the Vatican, Trastevere, and the city center, and food tours.
While the tours are free, be sure to tip the guide a few Euros at least as they work on tips!
8. Buy a Roma Pass
A Roma Pass grants you free entry to two participating museums and/or archeological sites (Galleria Borghese, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Capitoline Museums, and the Colosseum, among many others) and free use of public transportation, among other benefits. For a 48-hour card, the cost is 32 euros; a 72-hour card costs 52 euros.
9. Church Hop
Unlike many other European countries, Italy doesn’t charge a fee for entering a church. Some legendary churches to put on your list: the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria in Trastevere, and of course, Saint Peter’s at the Vatican.
Art lovers should prioritize Santa del Popolo to gawk at the Caravaggio murals, Santa Maria sopra Minerva to check out the Michelangelo sculpture, San Pietro in Vicoli for even more Michelangelo, and Santa Maria della Vittoria and the Church of San Francesco a Ripa for striking Bernini sculptures.
10. Eat in squares and parks
Rome is littered with cheap places to eat that serve cheese-topped focaccia and sandwiches. Then there’s that oh-so-Roman pizza-by-the-slice phenomenon. Just point to the type of pizza you want, the guy or gal behind the counter will ask you how much you want, and then they’ll cut a piece off and hand it to you. It’s cheap (only a few Euros) and a wonderful way to eat. Take it to the nearest piazza or park and enjoy the taste of the food amid the sights and sounds of your surroundings.
11. Drink the house wine
If your budget allows you to eat at restaurants, make sure you frequent local, generally out-of-the-city-center spots. They’ll be cheaper, and you can be sure you won’t end up in a tourist trap. Once there, a way to save money on your food and drink is to order a carafe or a half-carafe of the house wine. The red or white won’t win any awards, but it will be very drinkable and 10 or 20 euros cheaper than a bottle of wine. Just ask the server for un litro di vino rosso (or bianco) della casa.
12. Avoid taxis
Rome is compact enough that you might not even need to take the Metro (subway) or buses during your stay, not to mention taxis. But if you want to, take public transportation and skip the taxis, which are expensive even by European standards. The bus and subway go everywhere you need to go if you don’t want to talk (though I do love strolling around because you always end up bumping into some random and beautiful Roman ruin).
13. Take advantage of free museums
A handful of museums in Rome offer free entry. The Museo Napoleonico, the Museo della Mura, and the Museo Carlo Bilotti are just a few. Here is a list of free museums in Rome. If you time your visits right, you can save a ton of money!
14. Stay outside the city center
Accommodation in Rome is very expensive. If you stay outside the city center in areas like Trastevere, you can save a lot of money on accommodation, especially during peak season. The areas on the outskirts are also a lot more local and less focused on catering to tourists so you’ll get a better taste of local life and cheaper, more authentic restaurants.
15. Visit the local tourism office
The local visitor’s center exists for one reason and one reason alone: to tell you what to do in the city. And the staff is full of locals too. I think these centers are grossly underused by travelers. Go there and ask them “what’s cheap to do?” They can direct you to local markets, current festivals, free museums, and they often have tons and tons of exclusive discounts on attractions and tours. Plus, these are locals so you can ask them where they eat when they are off work and then go there. You’ll get a place full of Italians not tourists!
Rome allows travelers on every budget to take advantage of its splendors. You need not arrive with a wad of cash to have a good time here. There are already multiple legendary sites one can enjoy for free — every church and piazza in town, for example. And if you know where to go, what to look for, and where to stay in Rome, you can save a ton of money and enjoy la dolce vita without breaking the bank.