Rome, Where to Eat, What to See & Where to Stay on a Budget

Nicknamed the Eternal City, Rome is one of Italy's most popular and expensive destinations. Where to stay, what to see and eat in Rome, on a budget.

Rome

Rome is the capital of Italy. Ancient Romans believed no matter how many empires rose or fell, that Rome would go on forever thus the nickname the “Eternal City.” 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 famous for being home to the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Trevi Fountain. As of 2022, nearly 4.3 million people live in the metro area and with 25 million foreign visitors a year, Rome is the most visited city in Italy.

Information About Visiting 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Tourism Office of Rome | Italian Tourism Board | News from Rome (in English) | Average Weather in Rome | Daily Costs to Visit Rome

Map of Attractions & Restaurants

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

  • Pretty Side of Rome Metro
  • Nothing to Fear but my Shoes
  • Accident Waiting to Happen
  • Go Ahead, Park Anywhere!

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.

Video morning stroll in Salario

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.

Matricianella

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.

  • Corte dei Papi Colle Ticchio
  • Fritto Romano
  • Jewish Style Artichoke
  • Jet Lagged so bad my hands barely worked... but I ate it all!
  • Bello and the Wine Bible
  • Can You Say Wine Encyclopedia

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 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.

  • Cacio e Pepe
  • Fresh Ricotta & Bread
  • Cheese & Charcuterie
  • The Barry White of Chocolate

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).

  • Oxtail
  • Trippa

Eaters 38 Essential Restaurants in Rome | Time Out 19 Best Restaurants in Rome | CondéNast Traveler 42 Best Restaurants in Rome | The 5 Best Cheap Eats in Rome | 10 Places to Eat Under 10€ in Rome

What to Do for Free 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.

  • Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”
  • Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”
  • William Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”
  • Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”
  • Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”
  • Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”
  • William Kentridge's “Triumphs and Laments”

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.

Villa Borghese, Pincio Promenade & Piazza del Popolo

The largest and arguably the most beautiful park in Rome Villa Borghese is a lush green space consisting of over 100 acres of lush landscape and manicured greenery.

At the foot of Villa Borghese heading towards Tiber River is Pincio promenade. High on Pincio hill this historic promenade offers sweeping views of Piazza del Popolo and all of Rome below.

  • Explore Italy Rome Piazza San Pietro
  • Eating in Italy Tap Water is Safe to Drink

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, Forum of Augustus, and 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, 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.

  • Via dei Fori Imperiali Outside the Gates
  • Roman Colosseum
  • Uncrowded Viewpoint of the Colosseum
  • Outside the Colosseum

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.

The Vatican

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.

  • Outside the Vatican
  • View down Via della Conciliazione from the Vatican
  • Art inside The Vatican

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.

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.

The Spanish Steps

The same goes for the second most popular free attraction in Rome, the Spanish Steps. Built between 1723-1725

References

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