Fellini dreams on a Lizzie McGuire budget? Even if your budget is 50% pocket lint and 20% winning smile, it’s possible to make the most of Rome on a budget… and we’re here to show you how.
If you’re looking to make the most of your trip to Italy without breaking the bank, we’ve got you covered with this handy guide, which compiles some of the top spots, experiences and places to eat for the cost-considerate traveller in Rome.
Given the ever-changing context of covid-19, we can’t guarantee all of these sites will be open to the public at the time of your visit, but rest assured there are plenty of ways to carpe diem in Rome whilst still remaining proactive about your health. Slap on a mask, practice your double-cheek-air-kiss at a distance and grab your preferred brand of hand sanitiser (consider it extra incentive not to touch the centuries-old artworks you’re bound to encounter!) to make the most of the abundant pleasures awaiting you in the Eternal City.
First thing’s first: Is Rome safe?
In a word: Absolutely! Romans are some of the most welcoming people you’re likely to meet, and they’re more than happy to indulge you as you fumble your way through a ciao or two (though we don’t recommend doing the pinched fingers whilst you say it).
Of course, no city is immune to its usual hiccups. Pickpocketing and bag snatching are a problem in many parts of the world, and Rome is no exception. Ensuring you exercise standard safety precautions will go a long way in protecting yourself.
You may encounter people who ask for money, either begging directly, offering you a blessing in exchange for some cash, or providing a photo opportunity in exchange for a fee. There’s nothing wrong with engaging with canvassers, but don’t be reckless. Pay attention to your surroundings, don’t engage someone if you’re not interested in what they’re offering. The key is to assume nothing comes free and act accordingly – not even if the sweet-looking Nonna offers to read your palm. The chances of being the victim of a violent crime are low, but just to be safe, refrain from pulling out fat wads of Euros when you’re out and about. Just because the cost of living is lower in Italy than other parts of Europe, it doesn’t mean the allure of money is any less than elsewhere!
Though not as hard-hit as other parts of Italy, Rome has suffered its share of the covid-19 pandemic. Right now, the best way to ensure your safety – not to mention the safety of others – is to practice the World Health Organisation’s recommendations for health, hygiene and social distancing. Make sure you have travel insurance for your trip (which was good advice long before coronavirus came on the scene) and try to avoid big crowds wherever possible. Admittedly, it can be a little challenging in one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world, but the added benefit of staggering your sightseeing is that you can enjoy some of the best sites in Rome without the crowds.
Getting around Rome
Big cities can be overwhelming, but you might be surprised at just how easy Rome is to navigate on foot. Of course, if you’d prefer a little more instant gratification on how to hop from site to site, check out the transport tips for getting around Rome in this 48-hour guide to the Eternal City.
If there’s one thing you must do when in Rome, it’s taking the time to walk through the historical centre of Rome at night to enjoy all the stunning sights in a new palette. Of course, make sure to keep alert of your surroundings; stick to well-lit streets and squares. The key is to do whatever you can to not look too glaringly like a tourist – although fanny packs are well and truly back in fashion, consider rocking a more retro style rather than one that screams “Passport inside!”
Hang your hat here! Where to stay in Rome
If you’re looking to cut costs on the roof over your head, hostel accommodation is an ideal way to stay in the centre of the action at a fraction of the price. With most hostels these days offering both dormitory-style options and more hotel-style private rooms, Rome hostels range in style for every kind of travelling: for those looking to put their feet up after a long day of sightseeing, or party in the hostel bar until sunrise. Best off all – they’re equipped with full kitchen facilities for guests who want to try making that authentic pesto at home.
Some of the top hostel picks are below for every kind of traveller. Which one ticks your boxes?
Find your peace at the ethical oasis of The Beehive
If you’re looking to step away from the hustle and bustle of Rome and into an inner-city sanctuary, The Beehive is the spot for you.
With a tranquil interior courtyard brimming with lush plants and pastel-coloured murals, and an eco-conscious café serving organic and vegetarian meals, The Beehive is the ideal haven to rest your head at night and wake up feeling rejuvenated for the next day of Roman exploration.
Though The Beehive’s offering of services is currently limited to adhere with regional health guidelines, its usual offerings of yoga classes, communal dinners and other social events remain staples of its weekly schedule. If, for whatever reason, the perk you’re looking for is not available, the staff will happily recommend other places that can provide what you are looking for. And with The Beehive situated a stone’s throw from Rome Termini Station, you won’t have to go far to do it all.
Dance all night: YellowSquare Hostel
YellowSquare’s reputation is renowned across Europe as the place to go to party. Boasting one of the best bars in Rome in its very own lobby, YellowSquare offers guests so many perks, freebies and additional paid events that you might have trouble getting out the door to actually see Rome.
Start your morning with yoga classes on the rooftop, rock out to a live show from a range of local bands, take a cooking class to learn how to cook some of the traditional food in Rome, or take a shopping tour with local guides.
Because of its wide array of events and its location just a few blocks from the central Termini Station, YellowSquare books out fast. If you’re looking to stay there, make sure to book ahead.
Vintage cool: Generator Rome
For the traveller who refuses to sacrifice style just because they’re watching their budget, then this hostel is exactly where to stay in Rome!
Generator Rome is located in Esquilino District, renowned for its old-school, authentic Italian vibe. The hostel décor fits the theme: retro Chinese lanterns glow over a dark-wood bar, leather wingback couches are scattered artfully on the retro mosaic tiles and proscenium arches curve over the hallways and around the beds.
We all can agree that there’s much more to life than snapping the perfect pictures of your holiday, but with 67 intricately-detailed private and en-suite rooms across 7 floors, it’s hard not to want to pop on an A-line skirt or wingtip shoes and splay around this gorgeous site with a Campari in hand.
Once you’ve made the most of the Generator Rome café, bar and chill-out lounge, duck across the street to Mercado dell’ Esquilino to purchase a wide variety of fresh, local Italian produce.
Low-cost (but nonetheless dazzling!) places to visit in Rome
Rome – arguably more so than any other city – embraces the simple pleasures in life. A busy square with grandparents peppered on the benches as their grandchildren run and play around the fountains, the warm-orange glow of streetlights on a stroll along the Tiber river, vibrant gelato on a warm summer afternoon – what could be more quintessentially Italian?
We’ve compiled some of the most beloved sites around the city so you can bask in la dolce vita without having to sink a fortune into it.
Visit the oldest building in Rome: The Pantheon
Everybody’s heard of the Pantheon, yet even after some 2,000 years it still more than earns its prestige. So stunning that even Michelangelo himself said that surely it was the work of angels rather than man, the Pantheon is an architectural wonder that was (and remains) spectacularly ahead of its time.
With 16 massive Corinthian columns at the front topped with the kind of portico front that many millennials could potentially associate with the cartoon series ‘Hercules’, it’s not unheard of for people to mistake the Pantheon’s classic Ancient Roman architecture for design styles a nudge further eastwards along the Mediterranean. Thankfully, any confusion is instantly quashed by simply gazing a little higher, towards the pristine domed cella of the roof.
This dome – known as the oculus – is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world to this day, but that’s not all that’s special about it. Considered one of the most beautiful ceilings in the world, the depressed cube patterns in the oculus encircle the star attraction: A circular hole directly in the dome’s centre that fills the space with natural light and makes moving shadow-patterns on the squares. No matter the time of year, this hole is never covered, so bear that in mind when you visit: Plenty of rainy-day visitors drawn to the perfect spotlight have found themselves in need of some dry clothes after succumbing to its call.
Entry to the Pantheon is free, but we recommend investing a little spare change to truly understand how this magnificent building has persisted throughout the ravages and triumphs of human history. Taking an audio tour will teach you all about how the Pantheon survived barbarian raids to become a Pagan temple, amongst other fascinating events that led to today, where it now stands in dedication to St Mary of the Martyrs.
Insider tip: If the crowds aren’t too crazy, it’s worth visiting Pantheon at the stroke of midday, when the beam of the skylight rebounds directly through the doors and illuminates the square outside.
Ring in the good times at the Trevi Fountain
The largest Baroque fountain in the world is calling your name.
Standing 86 ft high and 161 feet wide, the Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762 but more recently underwent a 2.2-million Euro restoration, making it one of the most well-preserved free tourist attractions in Rome.
People frolic here at all hours of the day to toss a coin over their shoulder into the fountain, in homage to the not-so-imaginatively-named film: Three Coins in the Trevi Fountain. According to the legend, each coin carries its own significance. The first ensures your future return to Rome, the second for new romance, and the third for marriage. But you (as with just about everyone else) can get by throwing in just one before calling it a day. But don’t worry about the fountain being somehow short-changed: Almost 1.5 million Euro gets thrown into its crystalline shallows annually, which is then donated to Catholic charities to aid the impoverished and the homeless.
Insider tip: If you’re looking for attractions in Rome with good repeat value, the Trevi Fountain is what dreams are made of (what, you thought the Lizzie McGuire references were over?). Pass by during the day and again when you are exploring Rome at night to drink in the changing seasons of the fountain, thanks to the 2015 refurbishment’s addition of some 100 individual lights that illuminate the scene.
God bless this mess (and other things you won’t hear the Pope say) at Vatican City
There’s a reason even non-Catholics find themselves drawn to Vatican City: The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are an unmissable attraction for any art-lover. Or art-admirer. Or even just art-non-haters (no, really – the city is so beautiful it can make an enthusiast out of anyone.)
Over a sprawling 5.5 hectares of white marble, the Vatican Museums are home to the multi-century collection of paintings, statues, frescoes owned by the Catholic Church – including some of the most important Renaissance masterpieces still in existence today, and the famous Sistine Chapel.
Don’t be mistaken by the sanctity of the Vatican: The entire place, particularly the Sistine Chapel, comes with its own dangers, and not in the way you expect. Because the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is adorned with some of Michelangelo’s most breathtaking frescoes, people who walk-and-stare at the same time have been known to crash into other onlookers. One can only hope this is an entertaining spectacle for the Swiss Guards who watch over the Museum, but we can only speculate: these elite military men are perfectly composed, we’ve never managed to catch them as anything less than stoic.
If you’re desperate to check out the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, but also weighing your options against some other top attractions in Rome, consider seeing both for a fraction of the cost with the ultra-good-value Roma Pass.
Insider tip: If you decide to check out the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, do a little home research on Michelangelo’s tiff with Biagio de Cesena, the right-hand to the then-Pope. Spot Michelangelo’s snarky homage to his nemesis, hidden somewhere in the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Explore Roman ruins (and fight some imaginary lions) at the Colosseum
Because of its rich history, Rome is an open-air museum that can be experienced from any street without needing to pay admission. However, to get a real sense of the millennia of history that make Rome the Eternal City, there’s no better investment to make than to check out the Colosseum, one of the most storied and admired of Rome’s Roman ruins.
Construction of the Colosseum began in 70 AD and ended in 80 AD, with a capacity of 50,000 people who convened to embody the demand for panem e circo (bread and circuses) – a phrase that remains as relevant today as it did back then.
The history of the Colosseum is bloody and bleak. Gladiators battled against wild animals and each other, which led to staggering fatality rates – today estimated to be up to 1 million people during its 390 years of use. The demand for animals led to the extinction of several North African animals, from North African elephants to Nile River hippos.
Despite the bloody past of the Colosseum, its architectural excellence and fascinating insight into Ancient Rome makes it well worth the visit. You can bundle your admission to the Colosseum with the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel for the price of one with this Duo Deal.
Mangia mangia! Feast on traditional food in Rome
You’ve seen the sites and worked up an appetite commensurate with your efforts. Congratulations – it’s time to stop thinking about Italy and start thinking about Eat-aly!
It’s hard to go wrong when you’re dining in the gastronomic capital of Europe, but finding the ideal spots at a comfortable price point is oftentimes more art than science. To take the guesswork out of your culinary adventures, we’ve selected the places that will leave you wanting a-more!
Food like Nonna used to make at Gino al Parlamento
If you’re looking for an authentic Italian feast, Gino Al Parlamento (also known as Trattoria dal Cavalier Gino) is the ideal place to go.
Situated close to the Pantheon, Gino Al Parlamento is quintessentially Roman in all the best ways. Beneath some of the kitchiest décor known to man (ceiling of the Sistine Chapel these murals ain’t!), waiters who kinda remind you of your favourite uncle banter and crack jokes with guests as they sling some of the most delicious, affordable dishes you’re guaranteed to taste in Rome.
With primo piatti (first courses) clocking in around 10 euros a dish, you can’t afford to miss any of traditional Roman pasta dishes such as cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana, and more. For mains, enjoy other local dishes such as rabbit in tomato sauce with potatoes, or pollo a la Romana (chicken with peppers). For the more adventurous eaters, offal options are plentiful and delicious.
This place is beloved by Romans and tourists alike, so take the extra time to book your table – it’s well worth effort.
Savor the best pizza in Rome at Pizzeria Emma
Deep dish or New-York style? It doesn’t matter your stance – your first taste of authentic Roman pizza will put the debates to rest forever and cement Italian pizza as the One. True. Pizza.
Though the world’s favourite Italian dish originates from Naples, the entire country can be praised for the expert regional adaptations on this most beloved dish. There are entire scribes on the internet detailing what constitutes the perfect pizza, but you don’t need to know all about that – you just need to know where to find it.
Some of the best pizza in Rome can be found at Pizzeria Emma, just south of the Pantheon. This authentic brick restaurant combines attentive service, high-quality and varied dishes, and price points well-suited to any budget. One of the top picks would be the basil and buffalo cheese pizza, as well as the deep-fried zucchini flowers that make a delicious and crunchy appetiser. Book in advance to snag a seat in the modest outdoor dining area.
Dive into a sea of gelato flavors at Torcè
A relative newcomer on the Italian gelato scene, what Torcè lacks in history it makes up for in quality. This bold enterprise proudly identifies as the point where ice cream meets high gastronomy.
A pioneer of experimental and artisanal gelato in Rome, Torcè brings a new level of quality to the gelato flavours you know and love, whilst expanding on the usual suspects. Some ambitious (and delicious) gelato flavours include eggnog, Himalayan pink salt and habanero chili.
With three sites scattered around the city, stroll by for a scoop after a meal, between meals, or under any other flimsy pretext… after all, you’re on a Roman Holiday!
Congratulations – now you know the best places to visit in Rome, where to stay in Rome and the best spots in the city for traditional food. You’re ready to take on Rome on a budget!