Rome Travel Guide
Few places allow you to walk in the footsteps of history quite like Rome. From the ancient architecture to the old-world flavors, a visit to Rome feels more than a bit like traveling through time. While some aspects feel more like a Disney attraction than a historical city (expect to be pestered to pay for photos with guys wearing gladiator costumes a few times per hour), it doesn’t put a damper on Rome’s otherwise amazing offerings.
Beautiful, sophisticated, and just the slightest bit high-maintenance; Rome is everything you’d expect from an Italian fling.
Let’s dive in.
What to Budget
€15-50 per night
As always, depending on your desired location and whether or not you’re traveling alone, options for accommodations will vary greatly. If you’re willing to stay a bit outside the city center and travel via bus or subway, you can find hostels for as little as $15 per night or Airbnb’s for around $30.
I highly recommend searching for places around Termini Station; Rome’s primary transportation hub. Prices are a bit lower around here and it’s a great spot for getting around the city quickly. Check out some of the options at Hostel World.
Going out to Eat
€5-20 per meal
One of the best things in Rome is the massive variety of options available to you. Not crazy about the restaurants in a certain area? Don’t worry, turn the corner and you will undoubtedly find dozens of other places to try.
I’d recommend having at least one proper sit-down meal while here, but the rest of the time, you can save quite a bit of money by grabbing a slice of pizza or a sandwich to-go. Alternatively, one of my favorite budget meals is picking up bread, cheese, meat, olives, etc. from a grocery store and having a backpacker’s picnic in a scenic area like Villa Borghese gardens.
The subway system in Rome is quite good (though often under construction in summer, so be sure to check the schedules) and will get you most anywhere you want to go. A single ride ticket is €1.50, but if you plan to using the train frequently, you can save some money by buying a pass. They offer 24, 48, and 72 hour passes starting at €7, or you can buy a full week pass for €24.
€15-25 per day
Unfortunately, rich history tends to come with a hefty price tag. Most museums and attractions in Rome will end up costing you between €15-25 per admission. That being said, there are ways to save (see below!) as well as many historical sites you can visit for free.
How to Save
Plan Mealtimes Carefully
The trick to getting incredible food on a backpacker’s budget in Italy is not planning where to eat, but rather, when to eat. Many restaurants will offer selections from their dinner menu for a discounted price during the afternoon. Make your big meal of the day lunch rather than dinner and you can get an authentic (and filling) taste of Italy for a fraction of the normal cost.
Also, skip the bread. As I mentioned in the Italy overview guide, the restaurants here love to try to trick foreign travelers who are accustomed to complimentary bread being served. If your waiter brings bread to the table after you order, unless you want to pay an extra €5 or so for it, send it back.
Many hostels offer free breakfast during your stay. Typically, these breakfasts consists of just cereal and toast, but hey, a free meal is a free meal. If need be, you can pick up some eggs for just a euro or two and cook those at the hostel to help hold you over until lunch.
Free Walking Tour
One of the first things I do when I get to any new city is check out the free walking tours. Not only is it priced to fit my budget; I find the tour guides tend to go above and beyond as well, as their income comes entirely from tips. Yes, the tour itself is free, but if you enjoy it, be sure to reward your hardworking guide for their efforts.
One piece of advice before your afternoon is inadvertently ruined; be sure to dress appropriately. Since the tour will visit several churches, they will insist that hats, shorts, etc. not be worn, and that ladies keep their shoulders covered. It seems silly, I know, but I’ve seen tour guides kick people out of the group for it.
Use The Bathroom Wisely
You know the saying, “Don’t sh*t where you eat”? Well when in Italy, break that rule. Free public bathrooms are next to impossible to find around the major cities (this is the case in a lot of Western Europe), and restaurants won’t let you use theirs unless you’re a customer. When you do come across a public restroom, you can almost guarantee someone will be sitting in the entryway, waiting to collect a couple euros as your admission fee.
What you need to do is strategize your bathroom breaks. Getting lunch somewhere? Use the bathroom. Stop for a coffee in a cafe? Use the bathroom. Even if you don’t really have to go, USE THE BATHROOM ANYWAY, otherwise you might regret it later.
The other thing you can do in case of emergency is head to a touristy area and look for a crowded bar with a lot of people standing. In places like this, no one is going to notice you sneaking through the crowd without paying like a bathroom ninja.
Visit the Colosseum on Sunday
Looking to visit the Colosseum but don’t want to pay the €12 entrance fee? Well if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time, the first Sunday of every month is free admission. However, with free admission comes massive crowds, so be sure to plan out your visit and get there early to avoid waiting in line for hours.
As is only right, my first recommendation will be about food. Yes, there is of course amazing pasta and pizza to be found throughout (though avoid the really touristy areas. They tend to serve frozen garbage at an exorbitant price), but let’s talk about indulging your sweet tooth.
The best gelato in Rome, if not all of Italy, is at Frigidarium. I’ve always felt that you can determine the quality of a restaurant by the patrons who frequent it, and here you will find everyone from young children to full-grown men in business suits waiting in line for this little scoop of heaven.
For around €3, you get two scoops of your chosen flavors (you should definitely mix and match), which is then topped with a cookie and dipped in chocolate sauce. The end result looks a little something like this.
What you can’t see is me drooling on the other side of the camera. To this day, I’ve yet to have an ice cream experience live up to this place.
Tucked away in a quiet back alley, you’ll need to do a bit of walking to get here, but the reward is more than worth the endeavor. The address is Via del Governo Vecchio, 112, 00186 Roma RM, so plug that into Google Maps and you’ll be on your way to frosty paradise.
Villa Borghese Gardens
While Rome offers seemingly endless activities for visitors, every now and then, it’s nice to get some space from the throngs of tourists. Whenever I start to feel burned out in Rome, my favorite place to head is Villa Borghese Gardens. The gardens stretch on for miles and are dotted with many beautiful sculptures and fountains. Just before nightfall, there is a point in the gardens that overlooks Piazza del Popolo that is fantastic to watch the sunset from. Get there a little early to get a good spot!
If you’re looking to add another country to your visited list, it doesn’t get much easier than the world’s smallest country; Vatican City. Thankfully, there is no tricky border crossing and no visas required. Just walk right on in.
The Vatican museum is interesting to check out and has some beautiful pieces of art, but if you’re planning on visiting the Sistine Chapel, set aside your entire day for it. You’ll be herded like cattle, shoulder to shoulder in a sea of other sweaty tourists, slowly making your way to Michelangelo’s legendary work. It really is amazing to see, but be sure to manage your expectations. You will be packed into the surprisingly small room where eagle-eyed guards prevent anyone from taking photos, and will quickly hurry you out in an attempt to keep the line moving.
I fully realize how cynical I sound here. It is without a doubt an incredible artistic achievement and not to be missed, just prepare to be uncomfortable during the process.
This is probably an obvious one, but you can’t come to Rome without stopping for a visit by Trevi fountain. You’ll have to be patient if you want a good photo, as it’s usually swamped with tourists. Otherwise, plan to get there early in the morning or late at night for a bit more peace and quiet.
Campo de’ Fiori Market
If you’ve read any of my other guides, you may have noticed that I’m a big fan of open air markets. Campo de’ Fiori is no exception. If you want to try your hand at cooking up your own Italian cuisine, stop by the market in the early morning (every day but Sunday!) to stock up on the freshest produce around.
Watch the Sunset from Gianicolo
While not the tallest hill in Rome, Gianicolo does provide some of the best sweeping views of the city. If you want truly breathtaking photos of Rome, head up here at least an hour before sunset and find yourself a good spot. OR combine two of my favorite activities and get here even earlier and have yourself an Italian picnic while waiting.