If I could add one item to everyone’s bucket list, it would be to see Rome. Just once. If walking in the steps of the first-century emperors and saints don’t make an impact on you, the food and fashion culture will.
The good news is that spending a couple of days or a week in Rome is very affordable if you determine to know a few ropes. In fact, living on a budget is a gift in disguise…it gives you the opportunity to experience the authentic Rome that you came to experience in the first place. Since I’ve had the good fortune of spending time in Rome on several different occasions, let me share just a few things that I have learned and used to keep me on budget and loving it.
Lodging: Where to stay
Convents are the absolute best way to go, in my opinion. Not only are they affordable, but I love the sisters. They are accommodating without being an interference. Just understand that few if any speak English. The rooms are usually quite spartan but clean. Often there is a simple breakfast served each morning which, bare minimum, consists of bread, butter, and coffee or cappuccino. Afterward, you are ready to go out sightseeing. However, there is often a curfew so be sure to check out the time you need to be back. They guard their keep quite religiously…and your bed will sound oh-so-good after a day in Rome. Check out Istituti Religiosi or Monastery Stays.
Airbnb is another option that many people have had great success with. Although I have not personally stayed in one in Rome, I have in other places with great success.
The small streets near the Vatican are a good choice for affordable lodging in a quiet and safe environment. I highly recommend the Guest House Sant’Angelo in the Borgo neighborhood near the Vatican. The rooms are clean and comfortable. Prices are good and the location is where you want to be if the Vatican, Trastevere, and Castel Sant’Angelo are on your agenda. I got lost here one evening searching for my room but I never felt vulnerable.
Food & Drink:
Neighborhood trattorias are a great option for some home-grown Roman fare. The owner is most often the chef as well, so the service is personable and prices good. You will likely run into more of the local residents here. I usually look for a place that is unassuming in appearance. It there is a big menu outside with photos of the food and prices, or if a waiter is standing there trying to call me inside, I will pass it by. Trastevere is one of my favorite neighborhoods for dinner. The evening ambiance is great. Remember, the house wine is locally produced and usually delicious.
Another option is, of course, pizza. Now you can buy a slice of pizza (pizza taglio) and a drink for 5 euros. Just keep your eyes open for a Pizza Taglio sign.
Another great option is to find a market and purchase the makings for a picnic such as cheese, prosciutto, bread, olives and wine or water. I suggest that you take it to the Villa Borghese Park in central Rome. It’s cool and shady with lots of statues, lawns, gorgeous plants and people watching. Not to mention views and a beautiful white marble art museum. If you think ahead, the marketer may supply you with a couple of plastic cups and uncork your bottle for you.
Inexpensive things to do:
Find an outdoor table in the late afternoon before dinner and enjoy a glass of wine or caffè while you people-watch. Another idea is to find a rooftop restaurant and go before the dinner crowd for a glass of wine and take in the Roman skyline.
If you need a refresher from the heat and crowds of tourists, step inside a church. It is free, quiet, peaceful and cool. I’ve used this reprieve many times while I enjoyed the fabulous architecture and artwork. Walk Rome after dinner with a gelato and enjoy getting delightfully lost. There is no better, or romantic, way to see Rome than this. Since Rome has its landmarks, being lost is only temporary. We ended up on the Janiculum hill once and caught a bus back down. Also, consider a stroll around the Colosseum at sunset and watch the walls reflect the sun’s soft orange glow.
My favorite way to see a place is on foot. Thankfully, Rome is a foot-friendly city at best. Since all of the major sites are within walking distance, this is very doable. However, the best deal Rome has to offer is the Roma Pass. It gives you 3 days of unlimited travel plus access to two museums for free.
The subway is cheap and efficient with only two lines: Linea A or Linea B. Depending on where you want to be, it is easy to figure out which line to take. It’s old and dirty with lots of graffiti, but a great way to get from point a to point b. Reserve cabs for essentials like long distances after dark and car rentals for outside of Rome since in the city parking can be a nightmare.
Have you been to Rome? What are your penny-pinching methods? Is Rome on your bucket list? I hope so…there is more than you ever imagined in the Eternal City to overload your senses. Rome is reachable for those who long to experience it.