A Travel Guide for How to Visit Rome on a Budget

Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere
Huw Jones/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The Eternal City of Rome is among the world's best-loved travel destinations. Those who haven't visited multiple times probably have the city on their travel bucket list. From ancient wonders to the modern art and fashion scene, Rome provides a memorable experience. This travel guide offers suggestions for visiting the city on a budget.

When to Visit

Summer is a popular time but​ you should dress for very hot weather.

Some prefer the winter months, which can be windy and cold but generally free of ice and snow. The best bargains often are found in Winter and early Spring, with Autumn becoming more popular, too. If you go for the Christmas Eve Mass at Vatican Square, book airfare and other arrangements well in advance.

Where to Eat

Enjoy at least one meal in a neighborhood trattoria, the kind of place where the owner is also the chef and thinks nothing of coming out of the kitchen in his apron to ask about your meal. These places are usually very reasonably priced. It's your best way to see how the average Italian enjoys a meal.

Where to Stay

The area surrounding the main train station (Termini) is known for its budget hotels and, unfortunately, levels of crime that make many visitors uncomfortable. An alternative to the standard hotel rooms is booking in a convent, where you'll find large, clean rooms and friendly service at a fraction of the price of a hotel.

Romeguide.it provides a listing. You should be prepared to pay cash and respect the fairly early curfew most convents observe. If you would rather book a standard room, check out links to 10 cheap Rome hotels.

Getting Around

Rome's rather small subway system is good for trips across town from the main (Termini) railroad station, but it is not as complex as London's underground or the Paris metro.

Fortunately, many of the top ancient sites can be seen on foot because of their proximity. Likewise, the Vatican is mainly an indoor, foot-powered tour. Parking and driving can be frustrating here, but car rentals can be good for touring outside the urban area. Cabs are a necessary evil, especially late at night.

Rome Attractions

Vatican City is a place most people see in one day, but it merits several days to truly appreciate. The same could be said of the ancient sites, but many will find a way to see each in compressed time frames and come away awe-struck. If you can allow a minimum of three days to see Rome's major sites, you will be far happier than those who try to do it in two or less. Don't laugh--it's far more common than most travelers imagine.

Beyond the Legendary Wonders

You won't often hear a lot about the Catacombs, but they are fascinating and humbling for Christians and non-Christians alike. The trip just outside of Rome includes some views of the ancient viaducts you probably saw in those elementary school history books. Look for a bus that says "Saint Calixto." On the other end of the spectrum, Rome is a style and shopping mecca. The place to see and be seen is the Via del Corso.

Always remember that window shopping with imaginary dollars is free!

More Rome Tips

Roman Eating Habits

Here, as in many European capitals, the evening meal is a multi-course, slowly enjoyed affair that begins as late as 9 p.m. If this does not appeal to you, it's possible to arrive as early as 7 p.m. and enjoy no-wait service in a nearly empty restaurant. One more thing to consider when ordering: portions here tend to be very, very large. I found pizza here (and throughout Italy) to be an inexpensive meal but frankly a bit disappointing in terms of quality.

More About Convent Stays

Some non-Roman Catholics shy away from this economical alternative to the hotels, but they should make themselves comfortable. The sisters do not require you to be a church member. You will also find many of the sisters do not speak English, but that simply adds to the experience of being in Roma, right?

Don't Focus Solely on the Sistine Chapel

Many travelers anticipate this incredible sight and then are hurried through it in a crowd of pushing, boisterous visitors. Breathtaking as it is, there are other ceilings, tapestries, paintings and art objects that are worth your attention, too.

Keep Close Watch on Your Valuables

This is standard advice anywhere, but Roman tourist sites tend to be very crowded and it's easier here to lose track of your valuables. There are criminals out there who are well aware of this and will take advantage.

Do Some Reading Before you Go

Spending $20 on a good history book will enhance your experience more than any four-star hotel or gourmet meal.

Take Time to Relax

This is one of those cities where there is much to see. In those situations, we sometimes feel pressured to see and do everything. Build in time each day to sip your favorite beverage in a park or sidewalk cafe. Drink in the atmosphere above all else. If you don't, you'll regret it after you arrive home.