Enjoy modern and ancient architecture for free.
Yesterday I recorded a segment with Pauline Frommer for her radio program “The Travel Show” on WOR 710. The theme was budget travel in Rome. I’ll link to the segment when it airs, but I wanted to share some tips for visiting Rome on a budget. Some of these tidbits will end up on the program, others will not, so here’s the whole shebang so you can maximize your euros in Rome.
My number one budget recommendation is The Beehive near Termini Station. They offer a clean, quaint environment from €25 a person (for dorm beds) and friends and clients who have stayed there always rave about the place. Also near Termini, La Casa di Amy has rooms from €50 and down in Monti, Hotel Grifo and Hotel de Monti have rooms from €45.
Airbnb offers some great self-catering apartments, though the chance of finding really cheap digs is much lower in Rome than in other European cities. Lots of the listings are actually not for apartments, but for B&Bs, so that’s not ideal if you are looking for a kitchen and some extra space. However, the testimonials for these venues tend to be more accurate than what you find on fraud-ridden TripAdvisor.
Rome has some really expensive sites (the Vatican Museums costs €20 per person with reservations and the combo ticket for the Palatine/Forum/Colosseum costs €12–and no discounts for kids and you pay the same fee wether you visit one site or all three!), but visitors can cash in on lots of free art in churches. Here are just a few highlights:
San Pietro in Vincoli houses Michelangelo’s Moses
Sant’Agostino contains Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto and Raphael’s fresco of the Prophet Isaiah
Santa Maria della Vittoria is home to Bernini’s Saint Theresa in Ecstasy
Santa Maria del Popolo is packed with artwork, including works by Caravaggio, Bernini, Raphael, Bramante, and Pinturicchio
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva houses works by Michelangeo, Filippino Lippi, and Bernini
There are also a huge number of mosaic clad medieval churches that are free to visit. Find some highlights here.
Visiting sites that are privately owned (that is, not part of the city or state museum circuit) is relatively cheap. The spectacular Villa Farnesina costs just €5 to visit and they offer discounts for seniors and students. The Palazzo Farnese has €5 guided visits in English every Wednesday at 5pm. Visit this site for booking and details.
There are a few multi-day museum passes that come in handy if you plan properly. Before you buy them, bear in mind that most state- and city-owned sites are closed Mondays, so if your 3-day Roma Pass includes a Monday, you may want to reconsider.
Roma Pass: This €30 three-day pass includes 2 free admission tickets (to get the most bang for your buck, use it at the pricey Forum/Palatine/Colosseum complex and Galleria Borghese), unlimited public transport access, and discounted admission to museums and cultural sites after the two free admissions have been used. Details here.
Roma Pass Piu’: This suped up version of the Roma Pass costs €32 and offers transport beyond the city of Rome and provides free or discounted admission to sites in the Provincia di Roma. Details here.
You get the most out of your Roma Pass if you use lots of public transport; a three-day pass alone costs €16.50. Familiarize yourself with the bus routes on the city transport website. The metro is pretty simple, but the buses and trams can be confusing and unreliable at times.
The Roma Pass is, theoretically, sold at all the sites where it is accepted. They often run out, so your best bet is to purchase the ticket online or at one of the tourist offices listed here.
Appia Antica Card: This card costs €6 and is vaild for 7 days. It includes one entrance each to the Baths of Caracalla, Tomb of Cecilia Metella, and Villa dei Quintili. If you purchase individual tickets to any of these sites, admission to the other two are automatically included, so there are no discounts for visiting a single site. This is one of the best bargains in town.
Museo Nazionale Romano: Like the Appia Antica Card, you get it automatically when you purchase a ticket at one of the four National Museums. It costs €7 (€10 if there is an exhibition in progress), is valid for three days, and provides access to the spectacular collections at Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, and Terme di Diocleziano. A steal.
Archeologia Card: This card is valid for 7 days and costs €23. This covers entrances to four National Museums (Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, and Terme di Diocleziano), the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Forum, and the sites on the Appia Antica Card. If you purchase online, you have to pick it up at the Colosseum and since there is a fee for online bookings, you end up saving only 50 cents! This card makes no sense.
One great thing about Rome is that it is a living museum and a stroll through any given neighborhood can reveal exceptional architecture and archeology. Everyone can enjoy it for free. Check out the Parco degli Acquedotti, the Coppede’ district, the Flaminio neighborhood, and Trastevere for proof.
There are lots of affordable wine bars in Rome, the best of which are listed in my app.
Bottled water is pricey (and terrible for the environment). Free spring water flows from fountains all over town. Bring a reusable bottle with you and fill up when needed.
Visitors to Rome often underestimate the expense of a trip to Pompeii. It is not close to Rome and is not a logical day trip, unless you have unlimited energy and love shlepping. I highly recommend visiting Ostia Antica instead. This amazing archological park is a 30-minute trip from Rome, costs €3 round trip using public transport and tickets to the site cost €6.50.
Book in Advance or Out of Season
The earlier you book, the more likely you can find a deal. Start planning now for a fall trip.
Rome’s high season begins at Easter and ends in mid-November, then returns from Christmas to the Epiphany. Traveling out of season can lead to big savings on hotels and apartments.
The city gets packed out with pilgrims and Italian tourists during public and Catholic holidays and hotels often raise prices. Here are some travel dates to avoid: January 1, January 6, March 17, Good Friday-Easter Monday, April 25, May 1, June 2, August 15, November 1, December 8, December 25, December 26.
View Visiting Rome on a Budget in a larger map