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How to Visit Rome on a Budget
Top 10 Tips

Visiting Rome on a budget is easy, if you know the secrets! 

great views of the rome colosseum even from the outsideVisiting Rome on a budget? You don't have to go inside the colosseum to get a great view! But I have lots more tips below...

How to Visit Rome on a Budget

Take it from someone who has helped thousands of visitors with their trips over the years.

I know all about how and where to eat for less, stay for less, get around for less. Follow my top 10 tips!

  1. Know when to come to Rome for the best deals (just below)
  2. Watch out for stuff that costs more than you think
  3. How to save money seeing the sights in Rome
  4. Don't pay for things you can get for free
  5. How to spend less when shopping in Rome
  6. Don't get scammed!
  7. Don't (over) tip
  8. How to save on getting around in Rome
  9. Decide when time is money
  10. Plan ahead where possible

The biggies all have their own pages, so check them out here!

Cheap Flights to Rome

Cheap Accommodations in Rome

Cheap Rome Restaurants

1. Rome on a budget - When is Low season?

I take it for granted that I know when low season in Rome is. I run a B&B, so of course I see firsthand what the crowds (or lack thereof) are like throughout the year.

I have come to realize that many visitors to Rome have no idea when low season is, and often think it will be at a time when it definitely is NOT.

The obvious - come in low season

It should come as no surprise that accommodation rates drop in low season. Same is true for flights.

But be aware of when low season is in Rome. It's not very long, in part because of our mild climate and in part because... it's Rome! People want to come year round. And no, October is not "shoulder season." It's one of the busiest months of the year in Rome!

Visiting Rome in high season means you will spend a bit more on flights and accommodation, so you can save in other areas!

If you come in truly low season, the world is your oyster. You could either spend very little for accommodation, or, you can splurge and stay in a nice hotel, but for a lot less than the rest of the year.

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Know when the holidays are

I don't just mean Christmas and Easter. There are some local holiday dates to be aware of, and to avoid if you are trying to visit Rome on a budget. Rome tends to be pretty packed then, and accommodation and airfares will go up.

In fall/winter, these include:

  • The very first week of January (The Catholic holiday of January 6, called Befana in Italy), traditionally ends the Christmas holiday season, so until then, Italians are still on holiday. And, winter sales start the first Saturday in January...so trust me, it is a busy time here!)
crowds in st peter's square in early januaryVatican Square on January 2 - This is NOT low season yet!
  • December 8 if it falls near a weekend (December 6 is a holiday in Spain, and December 8 is the Immaculate Conception, so these dates, especially if they fall near a weekend, can be quite busy in Rome.)
  • Before you book your winter weekend getaway to Rome, check the schedule for the Rome Marathon and Six Nations Rugby games.
  • November 1 if it falls near a weekend (All Saints' Day is a major holiday here.)

Spring is already the start of high season, but in particular watch for these dates:

  • The week BEFORE Easter, but not so much Easter weekend
  • April 25 if it falls near a weekend (A major Italian holiday - Liberation Day)
  • May 1 if it falls near a weekend (A major European Holiday)
  • The 2 weeks surrounding the BNL International Tennis Tournaments held every May in Rome

At the top of every page, you can see a menu that shows my pages of what to expect in Rome, month by month. Check there too!

2. Be Aware of Things You Think Should Not Cost a Lot But Do

Some of the items on this page are just about helping you not over-pay for things that should cost less or even be free. 

You may of course want to do these things, and they may leave you with special memories of your trip to Rome.

But you should also know how costly they are.

If you are looking to visit Rome on a budget, you might want to avoid these:

Ordering a coke or diet coke in a restaurant

Usually you will pay for water if you order it in a bar or restaurant, but it’s pretty cheap, usually about 2€ for a large bottle.

Wine is also surprisingly affordable in restaurants in Rome, with house wines starting at under 10€ a jug/bottle and even fairly good bottled wines starting at around 16 Euros a bottle. 

jug of house wine in romeAffordable house wines are often surprisingly good in Rome

Beers are also quite affordable, even now that there is a whole new craft-beer craze here. 

But order a Coke or Diet Coke and you will get a small can or bottle, and at least 5 Euros on your bill. It’s not a rip-off, it’s just that it costs the restaurant a lot so they pass it on to you. If you really want a soda in a bar or restaurant, just know it’s going to cost you.

SiTtING down at a bar/cafe

In many countries, if you get a coffee at a coffee house, and sit down all day and work at your laptop, or just read the paper, you pay exactly the same as if you get your purchase to go, and leave.

In Italy, it doesn’t work that way.

At most bars and caffe’s, especially in the touristic center, if you consume anything at the bar, you will pay bar prices, and when you sit down at a table, you will pay table prices.

This is not a scam.

It’s legal and it’s standard practice. You will be charged for having a server bring you your order, and for the privilege of sitting there. You can sit as long as you want. And you do not need to tip (service is built into your cost. See below on over-tipping.)

And of course, you may want to splurge and spend an hour sipping a 10-15 Euro glass of wine while gazing at the Pantheon (most of us who live here, including me, do this sometimes.)

Just know before you do it. Any bar or caffe has to have their prices posted by law. And they’ll have two: bar and table. So check this before you sit.

Gelato for 4 for 64€? Yep, it happened in Rome and it was legal.

HAVING your picture taken with a Centurion soldier/Gladiator

These guys are not dressed up in lace-up sandals, leather skirts and metal hats just for fun. They expect people to want to have their picture taken with them. 

There is no set fee for this, and you will be asked to spend anywhere from 10€ and up for the privilege.

TakING a horse and buggy ride through Rome

It may seem like a charming thing to do, but Rome is best seen on foot, and these cute rides through Rome will cost in the hundreds of Euros. Typically a one-hour ride for 2 will cost from 150-200€.

And it goes up from there if there are more people, or for more time. If you really want to do this, set the price before you get in. 

The end of the horse and buggy ride in Rome?

At the time of this writing in fall 2017, there is a decree in place that will eventually move all these horse and buggies into the parks, and off the streets.

It has not been implemented yet, and this is Rome, where anything can happen, or not.

Stay tuned.

Getting crazy expensive drinks at the food carts by the sights

I guess there are so many food carts around Rome because they do make money. A LOT of money. Every time I am with a visitor, and we are near some site, there is a food truck/cart.

And someone inevitably says "Hey, anyone want a drink? I'm getting something." I want to shout "no! don't do it!" because I know it's a ripoff.

But I realize when you are a tourist, and you are hot and thirsty, and there's a food cart, you are not thinking about how expensive it will be.

But if you are visiting Rome on a budget, avoid these, and bring drinks with you!

3. How to save money seeing the sights in Rome

One of the best things about Rome is that is an open-air museum.

You can just walk around the city and see stunning art, fountains, sculptures and ancient Roman buildings, and much more, for free. 

Not to mention how many churches in Rome are works of art in their own right, plus some of the art inside (Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio and Michelangelo works can be found in churches all over Rome. For free.)

But, if you want to visit the sites in Rome on a budget, here are some tricks:

Skip Pompeii, head for Ostia Antica

Pompeii is unique, amazing, and well-worth the time and money to get there. But it DOES cost a lot to go to Pompeii from Rome as a day-trip.

Even you go on your own without booking a Pompeii tour, train tickets to Naples can cost from 50€ and up R/T per person. (Or, there is a Rome-Pompeii shuttle you can take as well.)

Then there is a local train to the ruins, plus entry fees, neither of which cost much but it adds up, and without even having a guide, you spend close to 100€ per person for this day.

On the other hand, Ostia Antica, just outside of Rome, will cost far less and is perfect for visiting Rome on a budget. Ostia is another example of a bustling ancient Roman city. Unlike Pompeii, which was obliterated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Ostia was simply abandoned over time.

Ostia not have the drama (or bodies of people and animals) of Pompeii, but it IS a fascinating place to visit and costs far less than Pompeii. You can get to Ostia in about half hour, by taking the train from Piramide metro station, spending 1.50€ per person for a one-way ticket. Entrance fees are 8€ full price per adult. Anyone under 18 gets in free.

Take your discounts

I am often surprised by how often people go online to book Vatican tickets, and just book for the number of people in their group, without booking reduced or even free tickets. Perhaps it just seems easier, or maybe people don't really notice the fine print, or figure it does not apply to them.

Whether or not you are visiting Rome on a budget, you should take the discounts you are entitled to:

  • Children 10 and under (accompanied by an adult) ride Rome public transportation for free.
  • At the Vatican museums, children between and including 6-18 years of age pay a discounted rate (8€), and children under 6 are entitled to free entry.
  • At the Colosseum, Europeans between 18-25 are entitled to a reduced entry fare, and everyone under 18 is entitled to free entry.

Always check if you are entitled to discounted or free entry, and be prepared to show proof of eligibility (age of children, clergy, journalists etc.)

How to visit Ancient Rome for free

On the first Sunday of every month, state museums and archeological sites are free for everyone. Lines at the Colosseum are usually crazy long, but there are plenty of other sites to visit!

How to save money visiting the Vatican

One way to visit the Vatican on a budget is to not go inside the Vatican Museums. That's where the Sistine Chapel is, and it's where you have to pay to get in (16€ without pre-booking, 20€ if you pre-book.)

If you just visit Saint Peter's Square, and/or St. Peter's Basilica, you don't pay any entry fee.

If you do want to visit the Vatican Museums (and Sistine Chapel) you can go on the last Sunday of the month, when entry is free (hours are reduced - 9:30 - 14:30, last entry at 12:30.) I usually discourage people from doing this, as the lines are crazy long, and you cannot prebook, and no tours go.

But if you are visiting Rome on a budget, and are here when there is the free Sunday, give it a shot! Just be there by 8am or you risk not getting in.

4. DON'T Spend Money for Stuff That Should be Free

These are about conveniences. You do not need to pay for these things but if it makes life easier for you, by all means, do so.

But just know you don’t have to shell out money for these things if you don’t want to.

Avoid buying bottled water, especially near a tourist site

You can drink free, clean delicious water all around Rome in the fountains you will see everywhere (not the Bernini fountains; the little ones that like fire hydrants, or that are in a wall.)

In summer, I always recommend you carry a bottle with you and fill up when you see these fountains.

If you really want bottled water, try to stock up on some at a grocery store (under .50€ per bottle), or buy one in a bar (usually about 1€ per bottle). If you buy a bottle of water from a street vendor near a tourist site, you will spend from 2-5€ per little bottle.

As I said above, when you order water in a restaurant, they will ask if you want flat or fizzy, and bring you a bottled water, which will usually cost about 2-3 Euros a bottle.

But you can also ask for tap water, which is perfectly safe to drink. Italians prefer bottled water, so it's the default. But ask for tap water, and you shall receive.

In Italian, the phrase for tap water is acqua dal rubinetto, pronounced "ah-kwa dal roobeenetto."

You can also try asking in English. Many servers will understand.

Don't pay when you can get free entry

Time is money. So sometimes, you just want things to be convenient, or take less time. I am one of the first to tell you that you might WANT to pay for these conveniences (more on this below.)

But don't feel you have to. The following are always free, and you do not need to pay (unless as I say, you want the convenience.)

  • Papal Audience tickets are free. You can book them yourself. There are agencies who will do this for you, and have the tickets delivered to your hotel (time is money.) But, if you are visiting Rome on a budget, you simply request your tickets and pick them up on the day of the audience, right at the Vatican.
  • Entering Saint Peter's Basilica is free. You CAN buy tickets to "skip the line." Or, you can use other methods of skipping the line to get in, such as coming at 7am (it's so beautiful then, and there is nobody!) Or, getting into the Basilica after another visit on Vatican grounds, including the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel; the Vatican Gardens; and Saint Peter's Tomb.

5. How to spend less when shopping in Rome

Don't leave money on the table - get your tax refund!

Go shopping in Rome and don’t bother with the tax-back forms. Did you know you can get back from 11-13% of your purchase of 155€ or more, if you don’t live in the EU? It’s really not complicated and you should take the time to get the form filled out and do it right. I find many people just ignore this because they don’t know how. So here’s how.

Come When the Sales Are

6. Avoid Getting Scammed

Yeah I know, that's not a very nice headline. And I don't mean to imply that everyone in Rome is out to scam you!

However, there are a few scams I know about in Rome, and I want to share them with you here, just so you stay vigilant and don't allow yourself to become victim to one of these.

Don't OverPay for any taxi ride!

Most Rome taxi drivers are honest.

Unfortunately, those who are not have given a very bad rap to the rest of them. And taken some tourists for a lot of money over the years. I’ve seen it happen too often and know all the tricks. Here’s how to pay the right fare for any taxi in Rome.

Don't Order a hyped “special dish” in a restaurant without asking what it costs

This is a bizarre scam that I’ve also seen too often.

You may find a nice little trattoria, sit down and start looking at the menu, and the server will come tell you about how today they have very special mozzarella fresh up from Naples that morning…you won’t hear the cost but when you get your bill, you will find you were charged 15€ for one mozzarella ball. Or porcini mushrooms, or truffles. These are all special foods and when fresh and available, can add great enjoyment to a meal in Rome. Just make sure to ask the price if someone comes to just “tell you” about them.

Ditto for wine

Logic would tell you that if you ask for a bottle of wine in the 20€ range, and they don’t have it, they will then suggest something else, but in a similar price range. Unfortunately, I’ve had the experience that some servers may suggest a bottle of wine 50-100% more expensive. Always ask the price of wine if it’s not on the menu, or suggested only verbally.

Being charged a “service charge” just because you are a tourist

No restaurant I suggest on this site will do this (let me know if they do!)

But some in Rome engage in this unscrupulous practice. Service (which is actually a tax, it’s not a tip to the server), should be built into the cost of the meal. ONLY if you see printed on the menu something like “there will be a 10% service charge added to your bill”, is it ok for the restaurant to do this. If it’s not on the menu, and if it’s hand-scrawled onto your check, ask them to remove it.

Take a tour with an unlicensed guide

This is not a scam per se. But there are a lot of people who stand outside the Coliseum and the Vatican, and offer to give you “cheap” tours. If these people are not licensed, and they get caught, nothing will happen to YOU. They will get taken away and questioned and probably fined. But you will be stuck having paid for a tour, with no way to get your money back, and no tour.

7. Don't (Over) tip

I used to work as a waitress during and after college in the US. I even supported myself that way for a while. So believe me when I tell you I am very much into tipping your American server, for doing their job well. And it’s hard for me here in Italy, not to tip a lot, especially after a sit-down meal.

But tipping is not, or was not, that big a part of the economy here. It has become more so, as some Italians have gotten used to getting tipped by foreigners, and even expecting it. But, you should know that is not what they depend on to make their living. Servers in Italy tend to have contracts, or at least make a living wage. They get a month paid vacation, sick time, and usually year-end bonuses. Here, being a server is a profession, and can be lifelong in the same restaurant. Also, in many small restaurants, you may be served by the owner.

Nobody will mind being tipped, hey it’s free money. But they are not counting on it and in a way you are wasting your money by doing this (unless you really feel that generous and want to do it.)

In any case, the bottom line on tipping is this:

Tipping At a bar/caffe

If you stand at the bar, you might leave your leftover change, like 10-20 cents. Or nothing. Really, this is fine.

If you sit down, you will pay for the privilege.

2) At a sit down restaurant, where someone waits on you, you do not need to leave anything at all. However, it’s become sort of customary to leave 1-2 Euros total if it’s a casual meal, or even 5-10€ for a more special meal or with more people. Generally 1€ per person is sufficient.

3) There is no need to leave any tip at all for a city taxi. Just pay what’s on the meter. That said, I typically round up to the nearest Euro. And I am always thanked with surprise by the driver who does not expect it.

4) If you take a private car service, and the driver helps with luggage, then you may want to tip 5-10 Euros.

5) Likewise if you take a paid tour, you may want to give the guide a little something extra but it’s not expected and not necessary.

8. How to save on getting around in Rome

Rome is best soon on foot. At least in my opinion.

Yes, you can take the Hop-on/Hop-off bus. It's not a bad way to get an overview of the city, and can be a great idea especially if you have any walking issues or are travelling with small children especially in hot weather.

But if you can walk, you should! You will see Rome as the Romans do, and will not only see the main sights, but also lots of great little surprises as you go.

9. Decide when time is money

Two of Rome's most popular sites, the Colosseum and the Vatican, both have long waits to get in, particularly during mid- and high seasons. You can purchase a skip-the-line pass, which does not save that much money, but can save you hours of waiting time.

10. Plan ahead!

In my many years helping visitors to Rome I've seen the gamut from super-planners with tabbed binders, to totally last-minute, take each day as it comes itineraries. I get it! Everyone is different, and everyone has different life schedules. Sometimes you don't plan because you are just too busy. I do understand.

I am here to tell you that if you want to visit Rome on a budget, one way is to do as much planning ahead as you can. Here's how and why:

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