Lush landscapes, stunning monuments, exciting history, beautiful art, mouthwatering food and free-flowing wine make Rome one of the most popular destinations in the world — and also one of the priciest. But a trip to the Eternal City doesn’t have to be expensive. Underneath the luxury hotels and vineyard tours is a city that runs on middle-class citizens who spend little, yet still manage to live la dolce vita.
So how can you live like a Roman while on holiday? Follow these 10 tips to keep your savings in check and still make the most of a trip to Rome.
1. Explore the markets
Rome has some of the best fresh food markets in the world, with vendors selling everything from porchetta to fresh mozzarella, and of course heaps of vibrant produce. Stock up on blood oranges for breakfast or hunks of cheese and fresh baked bread for a picnic lunch. The vendors bring their products straight from their farms, so you know it’s good. Plus, the price is much cheaper than restaurants or even the grocery store. The atmosphere, a bustle of bargaining and banter and a true taste of local life, is an added bonus.
If you’re staying in the city center, check out the open-air weekend market in Campo dei Fiori, or if you’re near the Vatican, head to Mercato Trionfale. Piazza Vittorio, Circo Massimo, and Trastevere host large markets as well.
2. Save at restaurants
Nothing beats an authentic Italian meal in a family-run trattoria. Generations of secret recipes and fresh tomatoes blend to create sauces your grandmother can only dream of (unless she happens to be Italian, and in that case lucky you!), and perfect pizza crust is a true art. That said, eating out every meal on vacation takes a significant chunk of your budget, so follow these tips to save money on every meal, without sacrificing the good stuff.
At restaurants, ask for tap water instead of bottled, and say no to bread, which can cost you €2-3 per person. If possible, steer clear of places where the menu is listed in more than two or three languages—one, because it’s less authentic, and two, because touristy places hike up their prices. As a general rule, most good restaurants list pasta for €8-11, and pizza from €6-10. Sides are usually less than €10. There are special cases, of course, but unless the restaurant has rave reviews or a Michelin Star to its name, you shouldn’t pay anything higher.
When it comes to wine, if you’re an enthusiast, you’ll probably want to try a few special local bottles while in Italy. To save money, alternate between a nice bottle and liters of house wine, which run from €6-10, and are often better quality than pricier bottles in the US.
3. Eat (and drink) on the streets
For inexpensive meals, grab something to go. Rome is full of amazing sandwich shops where a panini will cost about €5 or less, and take-away pizza, or pizza al taglio, is everywhere. Grab a slice and people watch from one of the many piazzas or parks.
The same goes for drinking. Act like a real Roman and buy a bottle of wine from a mini market (they’ll be happy to open it for you and provide plastic cups), then hang out on the Spanish Steps or the Fountain of Madonna dei Monti. You’ll get a taste of authentic Italian nightlife from the groups that gather in these areas every night, and the drinks will be half the price of a restaurant.
For a cheap coffee pick-me-up the next morning, drink your cappuccino at the bar. Table service at most cafes will cost you an extra euro or two.
4. Speak la bella lingua with language exchange
If you’re in Italy for an extended amount of time and want to learn Italian, or even if you’re visiting for a week and want to master some basic phrases, consider a language exchange. Instead of paying for lessons, you and an Italian native speaker will practice Italian and English over coffee or apertivo. It’s a nice way to learn the language and make friends at the same time. Your new language partner might even have local tips or show you an area of the city you would have missed otherwise.
5. Stay in independent hotels or bed & breakfasts
Often, the most expensive part of a visit to Rome is accommodation. Huge demand allows hotels to charge ridiculous prices for tiny rooms, especially if they’re in central locations. Luckily, the need for budget accommodation has caught the attention of many independent business owners, and Rome is now bursting with budget hotel options. Similarly, Italian families with houses or rooms to spare have turned their guesthouses into adorable bed & breakfasts.
These hotel owners put their hearts into their businesses and are proud of showing off their city, so by renting from them you save money and end up with a more memorable experience. At EuroCheapo, we’ve spent many years hunting down the best small and affordable places to stay in Rome—check out this list of our favorite budget hotels.
6. Shop vintage
Rome certainly has its share of high-end designer stores. All you have to do is stroll down via Condotti to find yourself in a sea of Armani, Bulgari, and Dolce & Gabbana. But with a little looking, you can find your own designer goods for a fraction of the price. Check out Rome’s array of vintage stores for steals on leather jackets, designer jewels, classic handbags, suits that never go out of style and a mix of funky t-shirts and other unique finds.
The Monti neighborhood has three vintage stores on via del Boschetto and one on via dei Serpenti. If you’re in the center, head to the Borghetto Flaminio Market, (Piazza della Marina, 32), for a treasure trove of clothing, accessories and household goods.
7. Be smart about sightseeing
Plan your trip ahead of time, so you can make the most of your time without spending a fortune. Take a few hours to walk through the city, a better way to see the sights than any paid tour. During your stroll, make stops at the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, all of which are iconic, beautiful and best of all, 100% free.
If you want to visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, buy a ticket that includes both, plus the Palatine Hill. It’s cheaper than buying separate tickets, and all three are equally impressive.
The Vatican is a must, but can be expensive and time consuming. Plan to get there early in the morning to beat the lines, and if you can, visit on the last Sunday of the month, when entrance is free.
8. La Notte dei Musei: May 17, 2014
Rome is home to spectacular artwork, but seeing it all can be costly. Once a year, Rome’s museums open up for La Notte dei Musei, or The Night of the Museums, an all-night affair where every museum is open to the public with free admission. In 2014, the event happens on Saturday, May 17. Find more information here.
9. Concerts at Castel Sant’Angelo
The Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, towers over the Tiber River, and a trip to the top provides staggeringly beautiful views of the city. From July 2 through September 8, on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs hosts classical music concerts in the courtyard. Listening to Vivaldi and Bach from an ancient castle on a warm summer night is a wonderful Italian experience. Entrance to the castle, a guided tour, and the concert is only €10. Check out the complete program of this summer’s concerts.
10. Take public transport
Taxis are expensive and almost guaranteed to try and rip you off at least once during your stay. A better option is is public transit like the metro, which covers the main tourist attractions, or the bus lines, which are more comprehensive. While you might spend a few extra minutes waiting for your bus to actually show up, the €1.50 fare is a much better alternative to a taxi. At night, for example, taxis start at €6, just for getting in the car!
Another option to get around town is the bike share program. If you’re willing to brave the streets, it can be a fun (and affordable) way to explore Rome.
Similarly, if you’re heading out of the city, consider taking the regional trains. The fast trains are Italy’s pride, and they are admittedly very nice, but they’re often two or three times the price of a regional train to the same destination. Build some extra time in your schedule so you can take the regional train, or if you want to take the fast trains, book online at least a month in advance to get a discount fare. (Tickets can be booked on trenitalia.com, or italotreno.it).
More ways to save
For even more Rome tips, check out EuroCheapo’s Guide to Rome and all of our Rome blog posts. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or Facebook.