How to Visit Rome on a Budget

Rome Italy – Best City Breaks in Europe – A World to Travel

Impossibly beautiful and drenched in compelling history that few cities could even dare to compete with, Rome eludes a certain charm like no other. 

As most of us know all too well, exploring the ancient sites of a former empire and indulging in local gastronomic delights can come with quite a hefty price tag, but visiting Rome on a budget may not be as out of reach as you might think.

In a similar vein to many European cities, Rome has garnered quite a reputation for its often costly eateries and iconic line-up of paid attractions. Nevertheless, I’ve found that choosing a hotel in an affordable enclave, steering clear of restaurants perched alongside key landmarks, and discovering the city on foot can do wonders for your wallet.

With some careful planning, you can unearth some cost-effective ways of experiencing the glorious sights, smells, and sounds of the Eternal City, all of which I’ve included in this comprehensive guide to exploring Rome on a budget.

Where to Stay

Among the most essential things to consider when planning a reasonably priced Roman getaway is where you’ll stay. Because of the Italian capital’s diverse and eclectic clutch of neighborhoods, securing budget-friendly accommodation was not as challenging as I’d assumed before my first foray.

While staying in luxury lodgings in Centro Storico may seem like the most convenient and comfortable option, several other districts are noticeably cheaper yet still within easy reach of the main tourist hotspots.

Below is an overview of some of the finest districts in Rome that will be slightly kinder to your bank account than most.

Esquilino

Regularly regarded as Rome’s most inexpensive neighborhood, Esquilino lies in the west of the city and is home to Termini, Rome’s primary train station. Full of character and famed for its local vibe, Esquilino is the best place to stay when exploring Rome on a budget.

Though it may lack the picturesque qualities of other districts, Esquilino’s public transport links, classic trattorias, and economical accommodations more than make up for it. 

Hotel Recommendation: Hotel Tito

Monti

Moving closer to the center from Esquilino, you’ll find Monti, a gorgeous area between Termini Station and the Colosseum. Slightly more upmarket yet affordable and a little alternative, Monti is among the top places to stay in Rome.

The likes of the Roman Forum and Monument to Victor Emmanuel II will be a mere walk away, while the area’s winding, narrow streets, and quirky bars are sure to cast a spell on you, as they do me with every visit.

Hotel Recommendation: Hotel Valeri

Aurelio

Lying close to the Vatican City in the north-west of the city is Aurelio. Although Aurelio is positioned along the outskirts of central Rome, the city’s excellent transport makes getting around simple and straightforward.

If you prefer having somewhere quiet and low-key to retire to each evening without sacrificing amenities, I think you’ll find Aurelio to your liking.

Hotel Recommendation: c-hotels Club House Roma

10 Free and Low-Cost Things to Do

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a surprisingly lengthy list of exciting things to see and do in Rome on a budget, some of which won’t cost you a thing.

Here are some of my top picks.

Wander Alongside the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill

Among the most recognizable landmarks on the planet, the Colosseum is an almost 2,000-year-old masterpiece that needs no introduction. The walls of this ancient amphitheater have seen thousands of gladiators battle to a brutal death, countless prisoners executed, and wild animals slaughtered for sport. 

There’s nothing quite like exploring the interior of this wonder of the world, but marveling at this remarkable structure from the outside has given me more pinch-me moments than I can count over the years. 

Alongside the Colosseum, you’ll find the Roman Forum, once the center of commerce. Many of the Forum’s ruins are visible from outside the complex, meaning you don’t need to purchase a ticket to catch a glimpse of this fascinating pocket of the ancient city. Looking closely, you’ll also spot Palatine Hill, the former site of palatial homes and temples.

If you’re keen to splurge on one attraction during your stay, consider exploring the Colosseum at night for a truly unique and spellbinding evening.

Join a Free Walking Tour

Highly worthwhile whether you’re a first-time tourist or a seasoned visitor to the Eternal City, signing up for a free walking tour is among the best ways to experience Rome on a budget.

With such a tumultuous past and rich culture to unravel, getting an insight into how Rome came to be from a local guide is the perfect starting point. Furthermore, it’s an ideal way to get your bearings and figure out where the city’s must-see spots lie in relation to one another.

As the title suggests, such walking tours are free of charge, though tipping your tour guide is generally encouraged and very much appreciated.

Visit the Magnificent Vatican City

While you’ll need to pay an admission fee to wander at the extraordinary Sistine Chapel and admire the treasures within the Vatican Museums, the grounds of the world’s smallest country are free to enter.

Start your explorations from the main entrance to the Vatican City at St. Peter’s Square. Here, you’ll cast your eyes on the 25-metre Egyptian obelisk that’s believed to have been around for 4,500 years. 

Beautifully designed by the revered architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the ornate statues and 284-strong collection of columns encircling the square are even more fantastical in person.

Lying towards the back of this expansive gathering area is St. Peter’s Basilica. A deeply meaningful church for Catholics and an astonishing example of Baroque architecture, this religious site is said to have been built upon the burial place of St. Peter. It houses some of the most breathtakingly stunning sculptures worth checking out while you’re there, including Michaelangelo’s La Pietà.

Explore Ancient Rome’s Best Preserved Monument

As many of you avid historians reading this may likely already know, no structure from Ancient Rome has stood the test of time better than the Pantheon.

The burial place of many distinguished Italians, with everyone from royals like King Umberto I to Marie Curie laid to rest here; the Pantheon was originally designed as a temple honoring the twelve Roman gods and goddesses.

Though striking inside and outside, I found the masterful engineering involved in the Pantheon’s construction the most fascinating aspect. Complete with its central circular hole, the Pantheon’s dome is the world’s largest unsupported dome, despite having been finished in the first half of the second century.

While previously it was free to enter, you must now pay a fee of €5 to go inside, which is still a low-cost outing if you’re visiting Rome on a budget. 

No matter how much time you spend in Rome, make sure to at least walk by the Pantheon at least once. 

Engage in Some People Watching at Piazza Navona

One of Rome’s many vibrant squares, Piazza Navona, plays host to some of the city’s most elaborate water fountains and examples of Baroque architecture. 

Fiumi Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Four Rivers, dates back to the 17th century and is the focal point of the area. The Neptune Fountain and the Fountain of the Moro bookend either side of the square. Each piece is captivating in its own right, and best of all, visiting them is entirely free.

As splendid as the surroundings are here, the bustling nature of the square – one of the most romantic spots in Italy – makes me fall in love with it even more with each visit. Watching the elegant cafes fill up with patrons seeking reprieve from the Italian sunshine and talented artists displaying their latest works is proof that the beauty of travel is often found in the simplest moments.

Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain

While it may be a tad cliche, making a wish and throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain is all part of a quintessential Roman experience. 

Designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini in the 1760s, the name refers to the fountain’s location, where three streets collide. Rich in symbolism, every statue and carving on the fountain’s facade is related to Roman history or mythology.

Once you arrive, like so many others, you may be taken aback by how compact the square surrounding the fountain is. When you factor in the volume of visitors who flock to this illustrious landmark each day, you’ll get quite a clear picture of how busy this spot can be!

Nonetheless, this is an unmissable pocket of Rome that won’t cost you a thing to visit.

Walk the Spanish Steps

Another of Rome’s most mesmerizing monuments that happens to be free to explore is the Spanish Steps. Completed in 1723, this set of 135 marble steps has been dazzling locals and travelers alike ever since.

Make your way towards the Piazza di Spagna and gaze at the Church of Santissima Trinità dei Monti, which sits perfectly atop the stairs at the Palazzo del Quirinale.

After you arrive, you might be tempted to rest your feet and find yourself a spot along the steps to recharge. However, a few years back, sitting or lying along the steps was banned, and doing so would cost you around €250 to €400, which is certainly not ideal if you’re trying to tour Rome on a budget!

If you’re going to spend that kind of money, it’s best to save it for the dozens of boutiques that line the streets at the foot of the steps.

Enjoy the Views From Capitoline Hill

Rome is said to have been founded on seven hills, the smallest but most important of which is Capitoline Hill. Situated close to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, this spot makes a lovely addition to a scenic walk past each awe-inspiring site.

Once standing as the center of politics and religion in Ancient Rome, Capitoline Hill was adorned with temples overlooking the Forum. In later years, Michaelangelo redesigned the area, creating the Senatorial Palace amongst other impressive Renaissance buildings. 

After you tackle 124 steps to the hill’s main square and take in the vistas of the surviving ruins, you’ll be simultaneously immersed in two of Rome’s most prestigious periods of history.

Escape to the Tranquillity of the Villa Borghese Gardens

Take a breather from the ever-hectic streets of central Rome and head to the north of the city to the Villa Borghese Gardens on Pincian Hill.

Initially formed to exhibit the excessive wealth of the Borghese family, these immaculately manicured gardens now serve as a serene spot filled with vivid greenery, a temple-clad lake, and quiet walking trails.

For just €4, you’ll have the chance to rent a quaint rowing boat to cruise around the lake. While you’re here, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the adorable turtles and ducks that frequent the waters.

Enjoy a Sunset With a View

Rome has an abundance of incredibly pretty viewpoints that offer amazing vistas at any hour of the day, but there’s something ethereal about watching over the city as the sun begins to set.

One such vantage point is the Pincio Terrace at the Villa Borghese Gardens, which sits above the Piazza del Popolo. However, Janiculum Hill, Rome’s highest, has been my most beloved sunset spot for some time now.

Witnessing the sky turn to warm shades of pink, orange, and purple behind the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica will stir up something in your senses every time.

Looking for some more inspiration? This insider’s guide to spending 4 days in Rome provides a detailed breakdown of the city’s must-do activities.

If you’re short on time, our straightforward itineraries for Rome in 3 days and Rome in 2 days offer tailored plans to make the most of your visit, ensuring you don’t miss any of the highlights.

Rome at sunset, a great destination for photography lovers

Cheap Eats and Street Food in Rome

There’s no denying that Rome has a myriad of expensive restaurants. While many of them prepare delectable dishes that showcase the best of Roman cuisine, you’ll probably notice that, in some cases, you’re paying a premium for the location. 

That’s not to say it’s not worth it to occasionally splash out on a meal at a high-end establishment (because it absolutely is!), but there’s exquisite food in every corner of the city.

I’ve included some of my favorite cheap eats and street food fare below to indulge in the best of Italian cuisine without breaking the bank. 

Il Pastaio di Roma: One of my go-to spots for affordable pasta, Il Pastaio di Roma serves a plethora of dishes for just €7.50 or €10 for a supersized portion. It’s all the proof you need that inexpensive eats can be every bit as tasty as their costly counterparts.

Pizza e Mozzarella: Sample one of Rome’s most revered street food classics, pizza al taglio, at Pizza e Mozzarella, which refers to pizza by the slice. The Roman take on this concept is thick, square cuts of pizza rather than the more famous Neapolitan style, and this casual joint has a stellar array of varieties starting from €1.70.

Supplì Roma: Not too dissimilar from arancini, supplì are deep-fried rice balls coated in crunchy breadcrumbs and stuffed with creamy mozzarella, among other fillings of your choosing. Supplì Roma offers a mouthwatering menu of these oblong-shaped snacks for less than €2 a piece.

Gelateria Fassi: Somewhat of an institution on the Roman culinary scene, Gelateria Fassi has been around since the late 19th century, and I’ve yet to find a finer gelato shop. A small cone or cup will set you back just €2, and their hazelnut and pistachio flavors are sensational.

Tips for Visiting Rome on a Budget

Below are some extra tips to help you save some cash during your Roman retreat.

  • Visiting during the low season, which typically runs from November to late March, is an ideal way to cut costs, particularly in terms of accommodation.
  • It’s best to purchase tickets to paid attractions directly at the ticket desk or official website, as third-party operators usually charge additional fees.
  • Take public transit rather than taxis to minimize transport costs. Moreover, you’ll likely find you can explore much of the city on foot, giving you a little more wiggle room in your budget for other activities.
  • Rome is celebrated for the quality of its tap water, so bring a refillable bottle and eliminate the need to stock up on the bottled kind.
  • BONUS TIP: Discovering Italy doesn’t always require a plane ticket. Check out this article for a taste of Italy from the comfort of your own home.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Some Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Rome?

Though there’s a plentiful supply of low-cost hotels throughout Rome, if you’re open to staying in guesthouses and B&Bs instead, you’ll have the opportunity to cut your costs even more. 

What Are Some Affordable Transportation Options in Rome?

Rome has a reliable public transport system of metros, buses, trams, and trains, making the city incredibly well-connected. Not only is public transport in Rome convenient, but it’s also relatively inexpensive, with tickets with 100 minutes of validity starting from just €1.50.

Are There Any Budget-Friendly Day Trips From Rome?

If you’re eager to explore the broader region beyond the confines of the city center, hop on the metro and venture out to the seaside district of Ostia Antica. Tivoli, an enchanting town around an hour west of Rome via public transport, is another fantastic option for a low-cost day trip.

For a deeper dive into history, board the train from Rome Termini to Pompeii via Naples Centrale. This scenic route offers the fastest passage to the iconic archaeological site, with the convenience of a direct train available once a week. Want to learn more about Pompeii’s allure? Check out our article on whether Pompeii is worth visiting or not.

Seeking further travel inspiration? Explore our selection of affordable Italian destinations and discover our handpicked list of top city breaks worldwide, where Rome is in great company, to start planning your next getaway on a budget!

Isabelle Hoyne founded Cultured Voyages, a travel blog for culturally curious travelers, offering detailed travel guides and itineraries for independent travel experiences.