Scholars date the founding of Rome to 753 BC and in 1980 the historic center of Rome became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rome is the capital of Italy and the most visited city in Italy with over 25 million foreign visitors a year. It’s no wonder given the fame of its many attractions including the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Trevi Fountain.
Still, Rome is a very liveable city with 4.3 million people living in the metro area, one of which was Paolo! As with any big city in the world, the secret to visiting Rome on a budget is to explore it like a local. Having lived in Rome, Paolo was able to guide our itinerary into the perfect three days in Rome.
What’s listed below is just a taste of what Rome has to offer, with tips from a local on how to get around and still see the highlights without going broke in Rome.
- Best Time to Visit Rome
- Is Rome Expensive to Visit?
- Rome Attractions Map
- Getting Around Rome
- Where to Stay in Rome
- Where to Eat in Rome
- Free Things to Do in Rome
3 Days in Rome on a Budget
Best Time to Visit Rome
Wondering what the best time to visit Rome is? According to Rick Steve’s Europe travel guide, the best time to visit Rome is April through June or September through early November. However, keep in mind in Rome, these months are peak-season due to pleasant weather. Introverted travelers or those wishing to skip tourist crowds might consider visiting Rome in winter. Being a large city in Southern Italy, Rome stays vibrant year-round with mild temperatures into December the mid-40s. Back to top.
Is Rome Expensive to Visit?
Curious if Rome is an expensive destination in Italy? Yes, with a high number of tourist attractions, Rome is one of the most expensive tourist cities in southern Europe. The average overnight staying a hotel in Rome runs 177€ a night. This is why our guide to Rome is focused on tips to see the best of Rome on a budget! Plus, see our tips on where to stay in Rome below to save on hotels. Back to top.
Rome Attractions Map
The best things to see and do in Rome? When in Rome, if you have the budget to spring for the 82€ Rome Tourist Card do see the classics including The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, The Palatine Hill, The Pantheon, The Vatican Museum, and St. Peter’s Basilica. For more frugal travelers see our list of free things to do in Rome below including Villa Borghese, Pincio Promenade, and Piazza del Popolo. Plus get tips on when to visit the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps to avoid the crowds and where to walk to get a free look inside The Colosseum and Roman Forum. Back to top.
Getting Around Rome
While many Romans have Vespa, scooters, and tiny cars tourists should be leary of renting a car to get around Rome. The traffic is terrible in Rome and parking is unorthodox, to say the least. While I too had dreams of zipping around Rome on a Vespa like Audrey Hepburn, budget travelers should consider public transit including the train and the Metro as the most cost-effective way to get around in Rome.
Airport to Rome City Center: Skip the Taxi, Rome’s traffic is notorious and you’ll spend at least 48€ and double your commute time. Getting from FCO airport to Roma Termini train station in the heart of downtown Rome is much faster and cheaper. Express Trains depart frequently, take 32 minutes, and only cost 14€ per person. Trenitalia Tickets & Information
Called Metropolitana di Roma in Italian, the Metro is Rome’s main form of public transport and in general, it’s safe. As with all forms of public transit around the world, daily commuters and tourists alike need to be aware of their surroundings as pickpocketing happens. Official Website of Metropolitana di Roma.
Download a Map of Rome on Google Maps: Save on data charges by downloading from the Google App directly to your phone.
Where to Stay in Rome
One of the tricks to traveling on a budget in Italy’s big cities is staying outside historic city centers. As the capital of Rome, a vibrant commuter population relies on public transit including the Metro. Staying just a mile outside Rome’s historic center means finding three-star hotels for just over $100 a night. So rather than give a hotel name for where to stay in Rome on a budget, we recommend looking for accommodations in Salario one of Rome’s most underrated neighborhoods. It’s safe, transit-friendly, and full of youthful shops, restaurants, and bars. Here’s a look at a morning stroll in Rome ending in Salario to give you an idea. Back to top.
Where to Eat in Rome
Ever been in a big city and had the menu-waving waiters calling you over? “Pasta, pizza, burgers!” Tourist trap every time. The best plan, is to have a meal plan in Rome. That way, as zombie jet lag hits and anything that moves gets your attention, you don’t acquiesce to those pushy menu wavers. I had the great fortune of eating in Rome with Paolo, a man who once called Rome home. The following restaurants are where the locals eat in Rome. Back to top.
Hailed by locals for traditional Roman cuisine, Matricianella is tucked away down a skinny street off Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina. The restaurant was founded in 1957 by a family from Amatrice: hence the name Matricianella. During our visit, we rubbed elbows with Roman politicians, marveled at the extensive wine list, and devoured Fritto Romano (Roman fried sweetbreads, brains of lamb with zucchini), Jewish-Style Artichokes, and Rigatoni con Pajata d’abbacchio. Back to top.
La Salumeria Roscioli
Right in the heart of the capital just steps from Campo de’ Fiori is La Salumeria Roscioli a lunchtime favorite of working Romans. Part cheese and deli counter, part gastronomy shop, it’s easy to miss the full restaurant in the back, but don’t! Their selection of cheese and salumi graces is both the deli counter and restaurant dishes. This is also where I learned to properly pronounce Cacio e Pepe, the must-have pasta of Rome. Back to top.
Da Enzo al 29
A local favorite of the Trastevere neighborhood is Da Enzo al 29. Loved by Romans for its unfussy delivery of traditional Roman dishes try the Oxtail or the Amatriciana and Trippa (Tripe). Back to top.
Free Things to do in Rome
There is a side to every city that Tourists miss. Often it’s a side Locals spend time commuting, biking, or running through. In New York City, it’s Riverside Park in Rome, the Tiber River. Paolo having once called Rome home guided us down to the Tiber riverwalk after our stop to see the Vatican. Along the Tiber is a free art exhibit that’s larger than life by William Kentridge called “Triumphs and Laments.”
“Triumphs and Laments” Mural in Rome by William Kentridge
Artists Kristin Jones and William Kentridge partnered with Non-profit TEVERETERNO to create a free Art Exhibit Alfresco aimed at revitalizing Tiber River’s Urban waterfront park. Stretching 500 meters (about the length of 5 football fields) the Contemporary Art Exhibit is a free delight in Rome. Each image was created through “reverse graffiti” or power-washing over a stencil. Back to top.
Gardens in Rome
When in Rome, enjoy the life of modern-day Romans and explore the many parks and fountains in Rome, for free starting with Villa Borghese.
The largest, arguably most beautiful, and most popular park in Rome is Villa Borghese. A lush green space Villa Borghese is the “green lung” of Rome consisting of over 100 acres of landscape and manicured greenery. The Villa Borghese Gardens are located on Pincian Hill, close to Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo, and are a magnificent way to spend the day feeling like a modern-day Roman without spending a scent.
At the foot of Villa Borghese heading towards the Tiber River is the Pincio promenade. High on Pincio hill, this historic promenade offers sweeping views of Piazza del Popolo and all of Rome below. Back to top.
See the Colosseum & Forums Free Outside the Gates
No guide is going to tell you this, but for those on an extremely tight budget in Rome, you can see the Colosseum, parts of the Forum of Trajan, the Forum of Augustus, and the Forum of Nerva for free from the outside. Before opting to take on massive tourist lines, crowds and ticket prices start by exploring the historic parts of Rome on foot. Walk Via dei Fori Imperiali road through Rome’s city center from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum.
Directly across the street from the Colosseum sits the gated entryway for the Temple of Venus and Rome, Basilica di Santa Francesca, and Arch of Titus. You can’t walk right up to the Arch of Titus or go inside the temples without paying, but you can get free views of the Forum that are rather priceless. Walk up Via Sacra for free elevated views. The further you walk up, the fewer tourist you’ll find. The walk itself is part of the Seven Stations of the Cross. At the end is a church with layers of paint that remind you just how old Roman life is. Back to top.
Altar of the Fatherland, Rome’s Layer Cake Building
Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) is a national monument built to honor the first king of unified Italy. Completed in 1925 it’s one of the newest large structures in the historic city center of Rome. Romans call it “the layer cake” thanks to a bright white facade and layered architecture. Tourists can pay 7€ to get to the top for a panoramic view of Rome but, the elevated view from the stairs is gorgeous and free. Back to top.
The Vatican is filled with some of the most amazing Art Rome has to offer. The Vatican Museums normally cost €17 to visit but on the last Sunday of each month, the entrance fee is waived from 9am to 2pm except on holidays (Easter Sunday, St. Peter and Paul day, Christmas, and St. Stephen Day.) Get more information on tickets to the Vatican Museum and when entrance is free. Back to top.
The Trevi Fountain
There are more fountains in Rome than in any other city in the world, among them the famous Trevi fountain where tourists often get arrested for swimming. Standing 98 feet tall and 65 feet wide, the Trevi Fountain is a stunning beast of a fountain. As a romantic setting in countless films from like La Dolce Vita to Three Coins in the Fountain, the Trevi fountain is one of Rome’s most iconic sights. Back to top.
As one of the top free sights to see in Rome, the Trevi Fountain is seemingly always crowded. It is however worth seeing first thing in the morning (before 8am if possible) or late at night (10 pm or later) when the crowds have thinned. Back to top.
The Spanish Steps
The same goes for the second most popular free attraction in Rome, the Spanish Steps which were built between 1723-1725. Back to top.
Ancient Romans believed no matter how many empires rose or fell, that Rome would go on forever thus the nickname the “Eternal City.” Today, no first trip to Italy is complete without a few days in Rome. For ideas on where else to head in Italy after a few days in Rome, see our Italy Trips page.
We’re Paolo and Brandy. Together we have been traveling across Italy for over a decade. After becoming dual Italian American citizens we moved to Italy to live out our early retirement dreams. Now we travel to Italy’s most popular destinations and explore hidden gems full-time from our home base in the Italian Alps.
ALOR Italy is where we share personal travel stories, Italy travel recommendations, and important tips about Italian culture for travelers. Explore the map of Italian travel destinations or hop down to the featured destinations section to find inspiration for your own Italian adventure. Planning your first trip to Italy? Here are a few of our most popular resource articles with tips on navigating some of Italy’s unique cultural quirks.