Visiting Rome on a budget is easy, if you know the secrets!
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!
I used to own and 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
Low season is 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!
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.
Low season in Rome is pretty much during winter. But even then, there are some high-season dates which can make hotel and flight prices go up. If you are planning to visit Rome on a budget, you may want to avoid these dates:
Spring is already the start of high season, but if you want to visit Rome on a budget and avoid high airfares and hotel prices, in particular watch for these dates:
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!
Some of the suggestions 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:
Normally you will pay for water if you order it in a bar or restaurant, but it’s pretty cheap, 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.
Beers are also
quite affordable, even now that there is a whole new craft-beer craze
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. If you are visiting Rome on a budget, and love soda, buy it at the grocery store and drink it on your own.
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 cafe has to have their prices posted by law. And they’ll have two: bar and table. So check this before you sit, especially if you are in Rome on a budget.
Gelato for 4 for 64€? Yep, it happened in Rome and it was legal.
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. Are you visiting Rome on a budget? I'd skip this one!
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€. Definitely not a great idea if you are visiting Rome on a budget.
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.
Every time I am walking around Rome with a visitor, and we are near some attraction, there is a food truck/cart.
And someone inevitably
says while bee-lining it towards said food cart "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. You just want that cold drink.
But if you are visiting Rome on a budget, avoid these, and bring drinks with you!
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, below are some tricks:
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.
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.
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:
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.)
On the first Sunday of every month, state museums and archeological sites are free for everyone.
If you are visiting Rome on a budget, and want to visit Ancient Rome on the free Sunday, just know there will be long lines at the Colosseum. Try visiting the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum first, and waiting until after lunch to visit the Colosseum.
One way to visit the Vatican if you are in Rome on a budget is to just visit Saint Peter's Square, and/or St. Peter's Basilica, both of which are free.
If you want to visit the Vatican Museums (and Sistine Chapel) , it normally costs 17€ without pre-booking, or 21€ if you pre-book.
On the last Sunday of the month, 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 super long, and on this day, you cannot pre-book, 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.
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. And if you are in Rome on a budget, these are some really easy things to avoid:
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 look 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. (Bonus tip! Check out these collapsible travel water bottles! Good for the environment and good for your wallet!)
If you really want to buy 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€ for one little bottle.
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.)
Maybe you are not thinking of shopping if you are visiting Rome on a budget. But it's often part of anyone's visit to Rome. So here's how to make it cost-effective!
Doing some shopping in Rome? Did you know you can get back from 11-13% of your purchase of 155€ or more, if you are not an EU citizen?
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.
In Italy, we have government-regulated sales.
They happen twice a year. In winter, they begin the first weekend of January. In summer, they begin the first weekend in July. (The exact dates can differ from region to region).
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. Whether or not you are visiting Rome on a budget, be aware of these:
Most Rome taxi drivers are honest.
Unfortunately, those few who are not have given a 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.
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 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 ask the price if the waiter just “tells you” about them.
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, 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.
If you are in Rome on a budget, you may not be thinking of eating seafood anyway, since it can be pricey. But there are affordable seafood restaurants in Rome. If you go, just be aware that often fish is listed on the menu by weight. For example, "sea bass for 7€ per 100 grams".
That refers to the weight of the WHOLE fish they will select, not the fish you get on your plate.
Let's say you are sharing this fish with one other person.
In order to give you a decent sized portion of fish on your plate, which for the server may be about 300 grams per person (even if in your mind, it should be less), they will need a fish weighing at least a kilo. Once they get rid of the head, tail and bones, then you are left with (what the server thinks is) an edible piece of fish. But you will pay for a kilo. At 7€ per 100 grams. So that's 70€ for one fish. 35€ per person, JUST for the fish, not including any other plates or drinks.
(And I hate to mention that sometimes you will pay for more fish than it actually weighs. Make sure you see the whole fish before they go ahead!)
My suggestion - order shellfish (which usually costs a bit less). Or order a dish with a set price. But if you do order fresh fish, make sure to tell the waiter HOW MUCH fish you want to buy. Like, "I want a fish that weighs half a kilo." And if they argue that it's not enough food, than you can say, "that's all I want and I won't pay for more."
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, 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.
I used to work as a waitress while in 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.
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.)
So if you are in Rome on a budget, one way to save money is not to tip at all. It's not rude or inconsiderate. If you want to tip, here's how not to over-tip:
Rome is best seen 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 traveling with small children especially in hot weather.
But if you are in Rome on a budget, and 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.
Yes this page is about visiting Rome on a budget, so it may seem contrarian of me to tell you to spend a little extra to buy tickets when you don't have to. But with skip-the-line pass, you can save you hours of waiting time. And for me at least, I also budget my time!
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 some planning ahead. Here are ways that planning ahead will save you money:
You may not be sure yet what time or even what date you want to leave Rome and head to Florence (or Naples or wherever). And yes, it's usually pretty easy to buy tickets even on the same day you want to travel, even right in the train station (although in high season, you may not find seats together, or tickets available on the trains you want to go on.)
But booking ahead can save you a lot of money. There are often deals like "round-trip in one day", or 2-for-1, or super saver specials. And once those get booked, they are gone.
So if you are coming to Rome on a budget, and think you can plan ahead, you can usually get a great deal on train travel!
As with train travel, you can often lock in excellent hotel deals if you book ahead.
Be prepared for non-refundable bookings, but if you are ok with that, you can often get excellent deals in advance. And, if you use booking.com, they guarantee you get the best rate possible so even if the rate goes below what you paid to get your bargain rate, they will let you know. But if it goes up, and you locked in your bargain rate, well then you've saved a bundle!
I have seen this over and over - a traveller comes to Rome, hoping to visit the Sistine Chapel (which is inside the Vatican Museums.)
They don't book in advance, and then it turns out, there are no tickets left through the Vatican website.
Options include just showing up (which means waiting in long lines), or booking through an third-party reseller, or taking a tour. I am a big fan of taking a tour of the Vatican Museums! But it should not be your last resort when all you want to do is get inside on a regular entry ticket.
So while booking a tour is great if that's what you want to do, you should book your ticket entry to the Vatican Museums ahead of time if that is a priority with you.
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