Italy’s ancient capital was once the center of one of the most influential empires of all time, and to prove it, you’ll find breathtaking landmarks, decadent architecture, and precious artworks around every corner of Rome. But Italian culture is all about refinery and elegance, and the Roman way is no different, so can you visit on a budget?
Rome has earned somewhat of a name for itself outside of the art and culture world as an over-priced “tourist trap”. With sites like the Fendi-restored Trevi fountain and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling meshed with the sprawling urban buzz of a gritty modern capital, it is hardly surprising. The sites are certainly worth it, but you can easily get roped into expensive accommodations and inauthentic restaurants just to be close to them.
Our budget itinerary runs through everything you need to know about visiting Rome without breaking the bank, from the free attractions to the best restaurants and how to get around. Let’s get into it.
Getting to Rome on a Budget
If you’re coming from Europe, getting to Rome could be one of the cheapest parts of your visit, especially if you plan to travel outside of the high season. Budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air, and Vueling all operate weekly flights to the Italian capital from most European destinations, and one-way tickets can start from €30.
The average return from London, for example, is just €70, and the cheapest month to fly with most airlines in November, but you’ll find low season discounts operating from October to March. Most of these budget airlines have 10kg carry-on luggage included, so they’re a great option if you’re only headed to Rome for a city break.
Once you’ve got to Rome and arrived at one of its two main airports, there’s the Terravision bus that operates to Rome Termini Station in the center of the city. It’s just €6 each way or €11 for a return ticket and takes around 50 minutes, depending on which airport you’re coming from. In contrast, a taxi from Fiumicino Airport to the city center will cost between €48 and €60.
In general, if you want to get around on a budget in Rome, avoid the taxis at all costs. They’re inefficient, expensive, and prone to scams with dodgy meters and poorly chosen routes to make the journeys longer. If you’re located in or near the center, you can avoid transport completely and save money by traveling on foot. Everything is within walking distance in the vicinity of Rome and you’ll see much more of the city this way.
If you’re staying further out, hop on the metro for €1.50 a journey.
Things to do in Rome on a Budget
Even though it is Rome’s ancient sites that draw hoards of tourists, the major landmarks aren’t the things that will break the bank when you’re there. Touristy can mean pricey, but this doesn’t apply to the museums, squares, and Roman ramparts. You shouldn’t shy away from seeing Rome’s most famous attractions just because of the crowds, especially if you’ll be able to fill your days with art and culture without spending any money.
Aside from the 5-cent coins you might want to toss in, The Trevi Fountain is a completely free site and one of Rome’s most famous locations. The 18th-century water feature was designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini but was recently renovated by luxury fashion house, Fendi. Measuring some 20 meters in width and 26 meters in height, the fountain sits against the back of the grand Palazzo Poli building. A statue of the nautical god Neptune being pulled to the sea takes center stage.
Legend has it, if you throw one coin into the water, you will return to Rome, two coins and you’ll fall in love and three coins will have you marrying the next person you meet. For 15 cents, this isn’t a bad deal. You’re no longer allowed to throw coins below the statues, but the front pools are dedicated to offerings and are actually relied upon to fund local nonprofits. So toss it at your will and this attraction still won’t cost much more than a few pennies.
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum are emblems of the city and important parts of Rome’s monumental past. The Colosseum was chosen as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and visiting is a bucket list feat. It costs €13 to enter without an EU passport, but just €7.50 if you’re branding the 12 gold stars. The entry price includes the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill, and you can even come back the next day to split up the sites since the ticket is valid for two days.
The amphitheater hosted gladiatorial games in Roman times. It was actually built during the reign of the Flavian emperors and bestowed on the Roman people as a gift. The Colosseum has some obvious battle scars, unsurprisingly given its more than 2,000 years of existence. An earthquake devastated much of the structure and bronze clamps and materials have been hacked off over the years for other uses, but what remains is still a spectacular example of Roman architecture and history.
Buy your tickets at Palatine Hill to avoid the queues at the Colosseum, and save the iconic amphitheater for last since the crowds start dissipating after 3 pm.
With an area of less than half a square kilometer and a population of under 500, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world but an independent city-state nonetheless, encircled by a 2-mile border with Rome. Vatican City is one of the most unique attractions in Rome and it’s home to the Pope as well as a trove of landmark art and architecture.
It might be its own mini-nation, but you don’t need a passport to enter Vatican City and it is completely free to walk around. It has an open-border policy with Italy and you can simply walk inside and revel in the circular piazza before St Peter’s Basilica with its double colonnade. The intricate Renaissance church is also completely free to look around, but to enter the Dome is €6 on foot and €8 via the lift.
If you want to complete the trip, head to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel for a full price of €17 if you book on the day. However, children under the age of 18, religious professionals, and seniors can all enter for a reduced price of €8, and if you visit on the last Sunday of the month entry is completely free – but it can be extra busy.
The Pantheon and The Spanish Steps are also completely free sites to tick off your list. And if you’re after something different, consider a free evening walking tour of Rome and discover all the magnificent churches that often get overlooked (you pay only a tip to your guide), or head to Borghese Lake where you can pay just €3 for a 20-minute boat ride. Renting bikes to explore the gardens is also affordable at around €12 an hour.
How to eat in Rome on a Budget
Food and drink is what can really break the bank in Rome. You can definitely eat on a budget in this city, and it is one of Italy’s premier destinations for iconic food like pizza and pasta, but the popular sites are surrounded by “tourist trap” restaurants waiting to lure you in.
Avoid places where a waiter is standing outside and trying to persuade you to sit and eat. Popularity is the best indicator of good restaurants in Rome. Even if you end up spending a little more, at least the food will be worth your money. Little hole-in-the-wall haunts with long queues outside are your best bet. Don’t go anywhere that lets you eat dinner before 7.30 pm and avoid English menus, this is an obvious sign of a tourist spot.
You might be tired and starving after walking around Vatican City all day, but don’t head to places in direct reach of the main landmarks either, as they’re bound to be the most expensive.
There are plenty of places to grab a cheap slice of pizza if you’re looking for something to have on the go, or head to a Mercato and DIY your lunch, buying bread, cheese, and salami – it all tastes much better in Italy anyway. Just be careful where you eat it. Italians never walk and eat at the same time, with the exception of gelato, and eating near the fountains in the city is forbidden.
We also recommend Romolo E Remo on Via Pannonia, a local trattoria serving farm-to-table food and Roman specialties like tripe, coda all vaccinera, tonnerelli all scoglio, and ossa buco. You can eat for €20 per person with drinks included. Or check out Trattoria Dal Cavalier Gino behind the Parliament building. It can be difficult to get in for lunch since it’s popular with Romans, but you can expect authentic pasta carbonara, amatriciana, and gricia, as well as cuttlefish specialties for €25 a head.
Lastly, it doesn’t get more rustic than the appropriately named, Cacio e Pepe, reputed among locals, effortlessly stripped back, and a real Roman dive. The menu is limited, which is always a good sign. You have to try the cacio e pepe or carbonara when you’re there. The pasta is already affordable but you can opt for an even cheaper “mezza-porzione” meaning half portion if you’re after something lighter – and cheaper.
You should try and reserve a table as this place gets very popular when the weather is nice. You’ll eat at rickety wooden tables, rammed in with other diners, but plates of pasta go for as little as €6.
Places to stay in Rome on a Budget
Accommodation is another thing that can really burn a hole in your pocket in Rome. The average price for a double room is more than €150 a night and finding a centrally located hotel for a good price can be near impossible, especially in the high season. The average price per night for a vacation rental in Rome is as much as €345.
Still, there is cheap accommodation to be found in Rome. You can find the best deals by heading to booking.com and looking out for off-season discounts and flight packages. Check out some of our recommended cheap stays in the city:
Hotel Desiderio ($) – Three-star accommodation just 15 minutes by train from Vatican City but set within a peaceful location just outside of the city center. All the rooms are air-conditioned with ensuite bathrooms and basic amenities. Prices start at €75 a night with breakfast included.
The Brand ($) – Located in a peaceful suburb of Rome, this four-star hotel is a steal for the amenities on offer. A public bus running every 30 minutes takes you straight to Baldo Degli Ubaldi Metro Station for direct access to the center of Rome. Each room comes with free toiletries, flat-screen TV, a minibar, and an ensuite bathroom. Rooms start at €80 a night with a very good breakfast included.
Generator Rome ($) – Located minutes from the central station, this elegant and modern hostel is set over seven floors in a 19th-century building with free-wifi, 24-hour reception, stylish dorm rooms as well as private twins, and a café and bar. One bed in a 6-bed dorm starts at €90 a night.
Hotel Desiderio ($$) – Situated in the Vaticano Prati district, this convenient hotel offers large clean rooms, with stylish decor and marble bathrooms in an excellent location. There’s a communal area with free finger food served from 12:00 to 17:00 daily. Family rooms start from just €120 a night.
Al Viminale Hill Inn & Hotel ($$) – This quaint, three-star hotel in the Termini area is located in an elegant 19th-century palace and just a 10 to 15-minute walk from all of the sites, with comfy rooms, city views, and a free coffee bar. Rooms start from €130 a night.
Rome on a Budget: Our 7 Top Money-Saving Tips
Invest in a Roma Pass – If you want to hit more than one or two sites, and even better if you’re staying in a not-so-central location, consider the 72-hour Roma Pass that costs just €38.50, or €28 for 48 hours. It covers entry to the first site of your choice and discounted entry to countless others. The best part is that it comes with unlimited metro, bus, and tram travel within your chosen time frame, excluding airport connections.
Get a travel credit card – Most banks charge three percent just for you to make foreign transactions. Avoid this by getting a specialist card for fee-free transactions and the best exchange rates.
Indulge in aperitivo time – the ‘free’ snacks that come with your pre-dinner aperitivo in Italy are always extremely generous. Complementary olives, bread, and even cheese and charcuterie boards are much the norm even when you just buy one alcoholic drink. Don’t miss aperitivo hour from 6 pm to 9 pm at any alfresco bar for a free dinner. Look out to see what other people are snacking on to figure out which establishment is most generous with its snacks.
Fill up on water at drinking fountains – since table water isn’t usually free in restaurants in Italy, bring a refillable bottle and stock up at the plentiful fountains in Rome where the water is potable and deliciously cold. Although, we wouldn’t recommend trying to drink from the Trevi unless you want to face a scolding or a hefty fine.
Visit on the last Sunday of the month – this is a great time to find entrance fees completely wiped for a number of famous landmarks including the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. This is a state-run initiative to encourage visits to Rome’s cultural sites on one of the week’s quieter days so make the most of it and get there early to avoid the queues.
Drink your coffee at the bar – you’ll almost always get faced with a cover charge for your table in Italian restaurants. If you want to save money, and fit in, enjoy your coffee standing at the bar like a local and avoid the €4 table fee for a €1.50 espresso.
Always pay in Euros – when given the option when paying by card, always pay in the local currency, no matter where you are, for the best rates. The same goes for cash. If you only have dollars or pounds to give your taxi driver from the airport, you’ll get a bumped-up rate. Visit an ATM or exchange bureau before paying.
How much does the average trip to Rome cost?
The average traveler spends around €450 in Rome over three days, not including flights, while couples can get by on €700 in the city. A family of four should budget around €1,000 for a comfortable long weekend in Rome, but you can get by on a lot less if you use our tips and tricks.
How many days do I need in Rome?
You should dedicate at least three to five days to Rome, and more if you’re not doing a multi-city Italian journey, in order to see all of the best sites and savor the wonderful local cuisine. That said, if you’re coming from Europe, Rome is also a wonderful choice for a weekend away and you can pack a lot into just three days.
When is the best time to visit Rome?
Rome experiences its best weather in summer, but the city is busiest between June and September, not to mention, more expensive. For fewer crowds, and cheaper deals on flights and hotels, consider visiting Rome between October and April. You might need to pack a warm coat but temperatures start to pick up in the spring and the city is more pleasant without the hoards of tourists.