Teatro di Marcello in Rome, Italy

How to get the best of Rome on a budget

How to get the best of Rome on a budget

With beds in hostel dorms going for up to €70 a night, plates of carbonara regularly coming in at €14 and up, and a slew of new luxury hotels opening up in the last few years, the pleasures of Rome might seem to only be available to the well-heeled and wealthy these days, especially during the high season.

Budget travelers preparing for a visit might be fretting about making their centesimi stretch, and wondering if it’s even possible to enjoy the Eternal City without wads of cash. The answer, luckily, is yes. 

In this budget guide to Rome, I’ve got fifteen tips on how to save money on your visit without skimping on all of the experiences one should have on a visit to the Eternal City: taking in her great beauty, many masterpieces, and a whole lot of good food.

Teatro di Marcello in Rome, Italy
All this beauty is free!
  1. Book tickets to the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum in advance through official websites

If you’ve got your heart set on seeing two of Rome’s most well-known sights, you’re going to want to book directly to avoid having to pay extra fees through a third-party vendor.

Owing to high demand, this isn’t always straightforward. Let’s take a quick look at getting the cheapest tickets to the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum. 

How to get the cheapest tickets to the Vatican Museums

Although I haven’t tried this method myself, I have read in various travel groups that the key is to buy tickets at midnight Rome time 60 days in advance on the official website of the Vatican Museums. This may only apply to high season, but honestly, it kind of feels like high season all the time now. Even winter feels busier than it used to.

Booking directly will save you a lot of money. A skip-the-line ticket to the Vatican Museums costs €25. If you book through a third-party website like Get Your Guide you’re looking at €31 – €80 for the same ticket. 

Sometimes, third-party vendors also cancel bookings, leaving people out of luck. This is because the tour companies who offer services on the sites of Get Your Guide, Viator, etc., don’t actually have the tickets when you “purchase” them – they just sell them and then try to buy as many as they can once the tickets go on sale. 

How to get into the Vatican Museums for free

If you’re on a serious budget and happen to be in Rome on the last Sunday of the month, you might be in luck – you can try to visit the Vatican Museums for free. Yes, it’s possible!

The window for free entry is only from 9:30 – 12:30. If you’re an early bird, this could work for you. I have no idea when people start lining up – my guess would be hours before the opening time. 

How to get the cheapest tickets to the Colosseum

It appears that being online at midnight Rome time 30 days in advance is the best way to buy tickets directly on the official website of the Colosseum. The ticket costs €18 and gets you into the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. 

Last year, the city changed the ticketing system for the Colosseum, a move made to specifically fight back against the gouging of third-party vendors. Now, every ticket has to be associated with the name of the visitor. More recently, the management of the ticket website changed hands – for years, it was headed up by CoopCulture, now it’s being run by the Ministry of Culture. 

I browsed the offerings for the Colosseum on Get Your Guide and Viator, and it seems that there are a few options for buying tickets, but again, bookings with these companies can be cancelled.

This website has some more tips for getting tickets. 

How to get into the Colosseum for free

Just like the Vatican Museums, there’s one day a month in which you can visit the Colosseum for free – it’s the first Sunday. You can read about the initiative here.

Note that only the arena qualifies for this visit – you can’t visit the upper or lower levels, and a few other things that are listed on the site above. 

  1. Take the bus from the airport

Rome has two airports. Fiumicino is the larger of the two. The other, Ciampino, caters to low-cost airlines.

Taxis are expensive – €50 to get from Fiumicino to anywhere inside the Aurelian Walls and €31 from Ciampino to anywhere inside the Aurelian Walls (outside, the ride should be metered). 

Fiumicino

From Fiumicino, you can take the high-speed Leonardo Express train to the Stazione Termini, which costs €14. The ride lasts just over 30 minutes. 

There’s another Regional train that only costs €8, and could be convenient if you’re staying near the Trastevere, Ostiense, Tuscolana and Tiburtina stations, because it stops at all of them.

That said, the cheapest option is taking the bus.

There are several bus companies that run between Fiumicino and Termini. I’m linking to a few here so that you can find the one that best suits your timetable. 

Terravision costs €6 for a one-way ticket.

Rome Airport Bus comes in at €5.90 and offers a discount if you book round trip (€9.90). 

The SIT bus costs €7.

I believe the tickets cost an additional Euro or two if you buy them at the airport, so booking ahead of time is how you can get the prices above. 

If you’re staying near the Vatican, the SIT bus may be the best option for you because it also stops in Via Crescenzio, and a bit further out on the Circonvallazione Aurelia.

Ciampino

You can also take the same buses from Ciampino to the city center. Terravision and SIT also come in at €6 for this, and the Rome Airport Bus costs slightly more – €6.90 – but with the same fare of €9.90 if you book a return ticket. 

There’s an even cheaper way of getting from Ciampino to the city center – public transportation. For the cost of a regular ticket, which is €1.50 but increasing to €2 over the summer, you can take the 720 bus from the airport to the Laurentina metro stop, and then get on the metro (note that this is the B line). Need the A line instead? No worries, you can take bus 520 to the Cinecittà stop and hop on there.

You don’t need to worry about buying a ticket, either – now you can just tap on with your debit/credit card. Tap again when you switch from the bus to the metro, but you won’t be charged twice – the ticket lasts for 100 minutes.

  1. Use public transportation

Public transportation in Rome is cheap. It’s not always reliable, and there’s LOTS of work being done right now to prepare for the 2025 Catholic Jubilee, but it generally gets the job done. 

As a budget traveler, it’s definitely the best way for you to get around, especially if you follow tip number 5 and stay in a lesser-known area. 

Like I said above, the tickets currently cost €1.50, but the price will go up to €2 over the summer. It’s still a very good deal.

There are some passes that you can buy that might be a good deal if you’re planning on using public transport a ton while you’re here. Check out my thorough guide to Rome’s public transportation system for more.

  1. Visit the city’s free sights

Rome is full of free architectural masterpieces – you can see a lot of them simply by strolling around the city. Here, I’ve compiled a walking tour that hits some of the center’s most well-known sights. Note that at the time of writing, everything was free, but now, there is a small charge to visit the Pantheon. 

There’s lots of free art in the city’s churches as well. My favorites are San Luigi dei Francesi (where there are three paintings by Caravaggio), Santa Maria della Vittoria (where you can see Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa), Saint Ignatius of Loyola (for the trompe l’oeil dome), and next on my list is Michelangelo’s Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli. 

I also love Rome’s fountains – the turtle fountain in the Jewish Ghetto, the frog fountain in Quartiere Coppedè (where you should also go to see the Alice in Wonderland-y architecture), and of course, the Trevi and the fountain of the four rivers in Piazza Navona. 

Campo de' Fiori in Rome, Italy
My walking tour starts here, at Campo de’ Fiori

Free-entry Sundays

As I mentioned above, you can get into the Vatican Museums for free on the last Sunday of every month, and into the Colosseum for free on the first.

What I did not yet mention is that, on the first Sunday, there are tons of other museums and sights that can be accessed for free, too, and if you decide to go for one of those, you probably won’t have to battle huge crowds!

Note that, for some of these sights, you have to pay a small booking fee of €1 – €2, but hey, you’re still getting a great deal. 

Check out the list and start planning your free Sunday now.

  1. Stay in an off-the-beaten path neighborhood

Like I said above, hostel beds are going for SEVENTY EUROS A NIGHT this summer, so if you can somehow spend less than that AND have more privacy, I’d say it’s a win-win. 

I recently read a statistic that something like 90% of visitors to Rome stay in the city center, which means demand is extremely high in a relatively small area. Increased demand and smart algorithms mean that when more people search  for accommodation in the same area, the higher the prices go.

I’ve done a few fast, unscientific experiments for this post. 

In a search for one week of accommodation in July for less than €100/night for two people, Booking had 58 listings, and Airbnb had 47, however, many of them are in areas that would be hard to get to, or had low ratings. That should give you an idea of how rare good, affordable accommodation is.

Next, I looked at AirBnb so you can have a kitchen and follow tip #9 to do some cooking and save even more money.

I searched on AirBnb for a week of accommodation in peak season for two people in the historic center without a price filter, and then used the same search criteria in a few other neighborhoods that – here’s the key – are still on a metro line, and that I know and love. Here are the approximate numbers I found:

Historic center: starting at €1,000

Pigneto: starting at €693

Garbatella: starting at €778

Ostiense: starting at €777

Re di Roma: starting at €775

Quadraro: €605

The further you get from the center, the better the prices (DUH MOLLY). You’d be paying less to stay in any of those neighborhoods than you would to stay at a hostel near Termini. 

You could probably find even lower numbers the further out you go – just make sure to read up a bit about the neighborhood before booking to make sure it’ll make a good base for you. 

  1. Bring a water bottle

Rome is full of free fountains where you can fill up a bottle. Sure, it’ll only save you a euro or two here and there, but that’s a metro ticket, supplì or a small slice of pizza.

  1. Eat street food

Speaking of supplì and slices of pizza, here’s my post on Rome’s absolutely stellar and affordable street food scene. You can eat well here with just a few bucks – very well. 

Pizza alla Diavola at Farinè la Pizza in Rome, Italy

  1. If you want a night out, go where the students go

There’s nothing like an aperitivo after a day of sightseeing, possibly followed by a pizza or a plate of pasta, and maybe a few more drinks. If you want to enjoy an evening or two like this, I have a pro tip for you: Go to San Lorenzo.

San Lorenzo is the student neighborhood near Rome’s largest university, La Sapienza. It also happens to be where I live.

I LOVE this neighborhood. It feels like its own little village. I love the park full of kids and dogs, I love the old men who sit at the coffee bar chit-chatting, I love the odd hipster who finds their way out of the Soho House, I love the murals, the excellent restaurants, the history, the trees along Via Tiburtina. I could go on and on.

But I won’t. I will say this: divey student bars (Bar dei Brutti, Pigmalione, Celestino, or anywhere in the piazza along Largo degli Osci) = divey drink prices, and you can get a classic Roman pasta or pizza for a few bucks less than you would in the center (try Osteria Dei Colli Emiliani or Trattoria Pizzeria da Armando for pasta and Formula 1 or L’economica for pizza). 

  1. When in Rome, grocery shop as the locals do

So much travel talk these days is about feeling like a local, or having a “real” experience of a place. Why not do one of the most everyday things you could possibly do and go grocery shopping? 

I love going to grocery stores and markets anywhere I go – I think it’s so fun to see what items are available, the flavors of chips and sweets and stuff like that. Not only is it fun and a truly “authentic” thing to do, cooking will save you big bucks. 

  1. Shop for souvenirs or gifts at a second-hand store

Rome has some amazing second-hand stores. Search Google Maps for “Il Mercatino dell’Usato” and find the closes one to you, or you can go to my personal favorite: Affare Fatto.

I’ve lost count of the number of hand-painted ceramic housewares I’ve gotten there – you just have to look at the bottom for the “handmade in Italy” stamp. The decor in my house is mostly from Affare Fatto. They have adorable sets of drinking glasses and all kinds of other cool, vintage things. I recently got two carafes there for €20 each that had the name of the company painted on them. When I got home I Googled the company and found the carafes for sale online for €100 a pop! You can get all kinds of great souvenirs and gifts at second-hand stores in Rome.

A doll at Affare Fatto in Rome, Italy
You can also buy a second-hand cursed doll for your enemies

11. Have your breakfast standing up

You should definitely experience an Italian breakfast while you’re in Rome, but note that if you sit down, you may have to pay extra. Most locals stand at the bar and have their cappuccino and cornetto anyway, so not only will you save a few bucks, but you’ll also be doing as the locals do.

Italian breakfast in Rome, Italy
Disclosure: I ate this sitting down

12. Order the house wine (if you dare)

Another way to save tips at a restaurant is to order house wine if you want to have a drink. I can’t promise that it will be good, but it will be cheap(er than a bottle).

Glass of wine in Rome, Italy
Disclosure: This is not the house wine

13. Don’t eat at tourist traps

I just read a post on social media written by someone who recently paid FOURTEEN EUROS EACH FOR TWO BRUSCHETTE WITH TOMATOES somewhere near the Vatican. Another woman said that she asked for sliced tomatoes to accompany something that she had ordered (I have no idea what it was or why), but there was a TWENTY EURO CHARGE FOR TWO TOMATOES ON THE BILL. This was also near the Vatican.

I HATE reading posts like this, because it leaves people with such a bad impression of the city. And I hate tourist traps even more – most people scorn them because the food is bad, but THEY’RE ALSO A MASSIVE RIPOFF! Luckily, it’s not hard to find good restaurants in Italy, you just have to know where to look.

14. Save money on roaming charges

If you’re coming from outside of the EU, you might be able to use your phone plan in Italy, but it might be expensive. Consider buying a local SIM or an eSIM – especially if you’re coming for weeks or more.

I hope this guide to Rome on a budget helps you save some pennies. If you’ve got any tips or questions, share them in the comments! 

15. Skip the rooftop bars and see the city for free instead

Rome’s rooftop restaurant and bar scene is great, buuuut it’s also generally expensive (although I have a tip or two for budget travelers in there). If you want to get a great view of the city minus the splurge, head to one of these free viewpoints instead.

Rome on a budget pin
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Want more Rome tips?

The ultimate guide to Roman pasta

Where to eat in Rome

The best non-Italian food in Rome

Rome off the beaten path

Where to eat and drink near Campo de’ Fiori

Where to eat in San Giovanni

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