How to do Rome on a budget

2 November 2023 | Updated 29 May 20247 min read

View across the River Tiber of the arched Victor Emmanuel II bridge and the huge St Peter's Basilica

Vatican City Stay in affordable Prati to be close to this iconic spot.

World-class art, evocative ruins and fantastic food has put the Eternal City on travellers’ wish-lists for centuries.

But there’s never been a better time for a city break in Rome – iconic sights have been beautifully restored over the last few years and trendy new restaurants and hotels pop up seemingly every week.

Luckily, Italy’s capital can still be done on a budget. From free sightseeing to cheap places to eat and sleep, here’s how to enjoy a Roman holiday without the price tag.

Where to stay on a budget

For a hotel stay in the heart of the action, look no further than Casa Santa Sofia. This three-star hotel is located in the elegant Piazza Madonna dei Monti, just 300m (984ft) from the Colosseum. A single room can be picked up from €86 a night in low season.

Alternatively, the lovely Maison Giulia couldn’t be in a better – or typically more expensive – location. It’s on the Via Giulia, one of Rome’s loveliest, most historic streets, just a short walk to Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, yet prices are surprisingly reasonable. Expect boutique-style rooms with modern amenities like free wi-fi and air-conditioning.

Although people usually think of the area around the Termini train station for budget accommodation, there’s another neighbourhood in Rome with plenty of cheap options, and that feels far less gritty: Prati, near the Vatican.

One good option here is the La Maison de Marta, where all of the rooms have their own mini-bar, private en-suite and television, plus you’ll be welcomed warmly by host Marta herself. Rooms start from €88 for two adults.

NH Roma Villa Carpegna

  • Rome, Rome Area, Italy
  • 12 August 2024
  • Room only
  • From Gatwick

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Where to eat on a budget

Pizza remains one of Rome’s best and cheapest food options – but you need to know where to go. Although it’s located a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona, known for its overpriced tourist traps, La Montecarlo has remained a neighbourhood favourite for years; expect to see plenty of Roman families and friends alongside guidebook-toting visitors, particularly if you go when the locals do, after 8pm or so.

As with Rome’s other sit-down pizzerias, pies are personal here, but don’t worry: the traditional, wood-fired thin crust and fresh ingredients mean you’ll want to eat every last bite. You can expect to have a pizza and wine for around €15.

It can be hard to find a traditional Roman trattoria in the centre, never mind one with traditional trattoria prices, but Hostaria Romana, around the corner from Piazza Barberini, fits the bill.

The heaped portions of pasta, which come in around €12, will be some of the best examples of traditional Roman food you’ll have in the city; the carbonara and amatriciana are especially good.

If artichokes are in season, order them – whether alla giudia (fried) or alla romana (braised), they’re among the city’s best.

What to see on a budget

As the city centre is an outdoor museum, you’re spoilt for choice for free things to do. Iconic landmarks such as the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps don’t cost a penny to see, nor does admiring the beautiful Baroque masterpieces that line public squares such as Piazza Navona.

All of the city’s churches, which are repositories of some of Italy’s finest art, sculpture and even ruins, are free to visit. While St Peter’s Basilica is the most famous of them all, it’s hardly the only one. Be sure to stop in some of the city’s smaller churches like San Pietro in Vincoli, with its Moses sculpture by Michelangelo. Or head to the Basilica of San Clemente, where for €10 you can go down to the two layers beneath the modern church to see early medieval frescoes and, even deeper, ancient Roman apartments and even a pagan mithraeum.

The Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple later turned into a church, is one of the city’s most important ancient sites. You won’t want to miss experiencing its stunning dome, made of concrete in 125 AD without any metal reinforcements from the inside. While visiting is no longer free (entrance tickets became mandatory in July 2023), tickets are still reasonable at €5 per adult, and only €3 for 18-25s. Admission remains free on the first Sunday of every month.

If you’re planning to visit multiple attractions and use public transport frequently, consider a Roma Pass. The 72-hour pass (€52) includes free entry to your first two sites (the Colosseum, Galleria Borghese and Capitoline Museums are included options), discounted entry to any further attractions, unlimited public transport for three days, plus useful perks such as ‘skip-the-line’ entry at the Colosseum and free access to toilets at P.Stop information points. The pass offers the best value when used for discounted tickets to visit several museums, archaeological sites and experiences. Note that the pass alone does not provide entry to the attractions – booking online in advance is essential.

Eurostars Roma Aeterna

  • Rome, Rome Area, Italy
  • 12 February 2025
  • Bed & breakfast
  • From Edinburgh

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How to get around on a budget

With its relatively compact historical centre and the gems hidden round every corner, Rome is a city to be explored on foot.

But for those with weary feet, the buses and metro are quite economical: €1.50 gets you 100 minutes of unlimited bus travel and a single metro ride. Or you can buy an unlimited day pass (€7), three-day pass (€18) or seven-day pass (€24). These can be bought via metro station vending machines, convenience stores or newsagent kiosks. Alternatively, the city’s Tap & Go system allows you to use a contactless card payment on the metro, trams and buses for the same price (€1.50 for one tap, then a flat rate of €7 for more than four taps in a 24-hour period).

Taxis in Rome are renowned for being expensive so stick to public transport for your airport transfer if you can, or consider ride-sharing apps like Uber.

Stay away from the tourist buses, such as the expensive hop-on hop-off routes, which don’t always drop you that close to the sights and aren’t particularly renowned for their audio guides.

If you’re not put off by the city’s traffic and hills, make use of e-bike and e-scooter schemes. Lime, Dott and Helbiz all operate here and unlocking fees typically cost €1, charging around 25 cents per minute thereafter.

Insider tips

  • Unless you prefer a city populated by tourists rather than locals, avoid Rome in August and early September. Although most of the city remains open every year during ferragosto, the August holiday, many small shops and family-run restaurants still close. And many locals still get out of town.
  • Hotel and airfare prices are typically at their highest during the summer months, so look to the shoulder seasons for better value deals.
  • A bottle of water at a stand outside a tourist sight can cost a few euros. Instead, buy a bottle of water from a café or, better yet, a grocery store. When it’s finished, don’t throw it out: refill it at one of the city’s more than 1,500 constantly flowing fountains, which provide water that is clean, cold and perfectly safe to drink.
  • Avoid the touts selling walking tours outside the Colosseum and Vatican museums; if you’ve just shown up and seen how long the line is, they’ll tempt you with their promise of skipping the queue. But the tours are often poor in quality and sometimes illegal. Instead, book your tickets in advance. You can reserve your Colosseum tickets online and your Vatican museum tickets too.

Marco Polo

  • Rome, Rome Area, Italy
  • 25 October 2024
  • Room only
  • From Gatwick

Prices and availability shown can change. Always check pricing with the provider before booking.

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Please note: All prices correct as of 29 May 2024.

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