Rome is undoubtedly one of the most touristy and most often visited places in Europe, so planning a trip on a budget may seem like an impossible task at first. I visited, for the first time ever, earlier this month, and was completely prepared to spend a fortune – I thought, it’s Rome, after all.
But, surprisingly, I ended up spending about a quarter of what I thought I would, thanks to a bit of research and a couple of tips I picked up along the way. So, to help you get the most out of your trip, I collected some of my best tips on how to visit Rome on a budget and still have an awesome time below.
1) Ignore insistent street vendors
One of the most frustrating things about navigating the city centre (apart from the insane amount of tourists everywhere) is the hordes of street vendors trying to sell their products – from umbrellas to cheap sunglasses and everything in between. Some of them are harmless – there’s always someone selling bottled water near major tourist attractions, and they usually leave you alone – but more often than not, they can be quite insistent.
Possibly the worst and most annoying type is the one offering roses to unknowing passers-by – which seems innocent enough. Until you actually accept the rose, thinking it’s a nice gift, and realise they want to charge you for it. Many people feel too embarrassed to give them back at this point, so they end up paying – but you shouldn’t have to. Don’t feel bad about giving them back – or better yet, just ignore them and walk away before they can approach you.
2) Avoid the Leonardo Express
One of the best tips we got from our Airbnb hosts pre-trip was to avoid the Leonardo Express (which connects Fiumicino Airport with the city centre and Termini station) and opt for one of Rome’s commuter trains instead. Unlike the Leonardo Express, these trains don’t go to Termini station, but stop at Rome’s secondary stations – such as Roma Tuscolana, Ostiense, Trastevere, and so on.
If your accommodation isn’t directly next to Termini station and you would have to take some form of public transport anyway, you might as well go for this option – and you’ll save €6 per person by doing so. While the Leonardo Express costs €14 one way, commuter trains are only €8. They run pretty frequently too (every 15 minutes), and the journey time is roughly 30-45 minutes, depending on your destination.
3) Invest in a Roma Pass
If you already did a bit of research, you’ve probably heard about the Roma Pass. It’s basically a plastic card – just like the London Pass – which gives you free access to two of Rome’s main attractions, a 20% discount in dozens of other museums and venues, and an unlimited use of Rome’s public transport, including metro, trams, and buses. Unfortunately, it’s not valid on the Leonardo Express but still, it’s a pretty good deal.
If you’re planning on staying at least 2 or 3 days and visit at least two places with an entry fee (we used it for the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo), I’d say it’s worth it. Even if you don’t save a massive amount of money (the costs might just be the same as if you paid for every ticket and daily travelcard separately), you’ll save a huge amount of time and frustration.
Roma Pass holders get priority access in most places (that accept the card), and the Roma Pass queue is significantly shorter than the normal, non-passholder one. Not to mention the insane amount of tourists queuing up at metro station ticket offices. I wasn’t entirely sure if it’s going to be worth it but, in hindsight, I’m glad we invested in these. Not having to wait in line every single time we wanted to get on the tube was a massive bonus!
If you’re still not sure whether you should get a Roma Pass or not, Romewise has a pretty useful guide.
4) Avoid touristy restaurants
I absolutely love Italian food, and Rome is brimming with amazing pizzerias and street food vendors. However, some restaurants are insanely overpriced, and it’s easy to spend a fortune just on eating out. If you want to save some money, avoid eating near major tourist attractions – not only are these places more expensive than others, but the food is often disappointingly bad.
On our third day, we were exhausted, freezing, and absolutely starving, so we ended up walking into a restaurant near St Peter’s Basilica – one of the most often visited places in Rome, and so one of the busiest and most touristy areas in the city. Even though it was convenient, I knew it was a bad idea.
On second inspection, the restaurant / café / bakery (I’m still not sure what it was exactly) seemed a bit tacky and didn’t even have a proper menu. The waiter shoved a laminated menu in my face (a sheet of paper with about 6 pictures of different food, without the prices) and I ended up ordering what turned out to be the worst pasta of my life. To make it worse, we paid €49 for the two of us, which would’ve literally cost €15 if we went somewhere else. Lesson learned!
5) Avoid the holidays
If you want to visit Rome on a budget, it’s also wise to plan ahead and choose what time of year you’d like to travel. The summer months, especially June and July, are always the most popular and most expensive, so if you want to save some money, try to avoid visiting in peak season.
Easter (as well as other public and Catholic holidays) can also be one of the busiest times in Rome, and accommodation and flight prices tend to go up considerably – so, again, they’re best to be avoided. If you can, book as early as possible and try travelling out of season. October is still quite busy, but prices go down a bit around mid-November.
6) Use Airbnb
Airbnb is one of my favourite travel websites, and it’s the first place I go to whenever I need a room for an upcoming trip. It’s not always cheaper than hotels (for example, Airbnb room prices in Istanbul were pretty much the same as hotel rooms, so I ended up going to a hotel as the location was more convenient) but you can find some really good deals on there. Not to mention the fact that if you’re going with someone else – or as a family – renting an entire place on Airbnb can often be cheaper, and much more comfortable.
Since Rome’s public transport is relatively good and easy to navigate, you could also consider staying a bit further away from the city centre. Rooms are much cheaper once you leave the historic centre, and as long as you’re not too far away from a metro station, getting to your destination should be pretty quick.
We were staying near Roma Tuscolana, about 5-10 minutes away from Furio Camillo station, and didn’t have any problems with the place. The centre was just a couple of stops away (the FL1 commuter train that took us to the airport was also a 10-minute walk from our house), and we managed to save some money by not staying in a more central location.
7) Enjoy what Rome has to offer… for free
In a place as massive and as historic as Rome, you don’t have to go too far to find amazing places to visit – and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. Although visiting the Vatican or the Colosseum can be costly (and with the accommodation and flights, costs can easily add up), there are so many brilliant places in Rome that are worth seeing – and are free.
In fact, most of my favourite places were free – the Altare della Patria and the view from the top is gorgeous, the Villa Borghese, Largo di Torre Argentina (a cat sanctuary!), the Pantheon, Parco Del Colle Oppio, the Trajan forum and market, Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria… there are so many great things to see, and the list is literally endless. Do a bit of research before you go, and you’ll see that dozens of places can be visited without a ticket. The Colosseum is still an absolute must-see, but you’ll find plenty of lovely places that won’t cost you a penny!
Have you been to Rome? Do you have any other tips on visiting the Eternal City on a budget? Let me know in the comments below 🙂