Rome. Considered the center of the world for centuries, it’s the birthplace of Caesar, home to the Catholic Church, full of ruins, history, and some delicious food!
Rome is like no place else on earth. You’ll walk down the street and see modern buildings next to ruins dating back thousands of years.
Visiting Rome is like stepping back in time and it’s a wonderful experience that will show you the history of the modern world while giving you some of the best food you’ve ever had in your life (I particularly love Trastevere for food).
Everyone comes through Rome! Backpacking here is popular with travelers on Eurotrips; budget travelers make it their base; history buffs come here to explore the ruins, couples visit Rome on honeymoons, and the glam set take part in the high life here!
Rome is a city filled with life, beauty, and charm.
This budget travel guide to Rome can help you plan your trip, navigate the endless amount of sites and attractions, learn how to get around in the chaos, and save money in one of the more expensive cities in Italy!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Rome
1. Wander the Colosseum
2. The Forum and Palatine Hill
3. See Vatican City
4. See the Trevi Fountain
5. Explore Trastevere
Other Things to See and Do in Rome
1. Overload on churches
Rome has a ton of churches. Wander into each as you pass by and take in the great art, sculptures, decorations, and stained glass. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, dating back to 440, is one of the most impressive. It’s covered in 5th-century mosaics which display 36 scenes from the Old Testament. Other noteworthy churches include the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, one of the few Gothic churches in Rome and well known for its deep blue vaulted ceiling, and San Giovanni in Laterano, the official cathedral of Rome which apparently is home to the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul.
2. Explore Ostia Antica
The ruins of the ancient Rome port of Ostia Antica are well worth a visit. About 2,000 years ago, this place was a bustling commercial center and home for 60,000 people. Now you can wander the ruins of the docks, apartments, mansions, baths, and even warehouses. You should plan at least a half day for this trip. To get there, take the Metro Line B to Magliana, and take the Ostia Lido train from there. Entry is €10 ($11 USD).
3. Enter the Pantheon
The Pantheon looks today much like it did nearly 2,000 years ago when it was first a temple before it became a church. Hadrian built it over Agrippa’s earlier temple, and it has been around since AD 125. As soon as you walk through the heavy bronze doors and across the marble floors, you’ll get an appreciation for the largest unreinforced dome ever built. It’s by far one of the best-preserved buildings in the world. Better yet, entry is free.
4. Hang out on the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are a long and grand staircase in Rome to the Piazza di Spagna at the base, with Trinità dei Monti looming at the top. The stairway was built in the 1720s. The Spanish steps have become a social hub for both tourists and locals to hang out and people watch. This place is also a popular place for pub crawls too, so watch your step. Really, it’s just a place to hang out and soak up the Rome experience!
5. Check out the art museums
If you enjoy art museums, you are in for a treat. There are a ton of great ones here, several of which are some of the highest ranking in the world. The Galleria Naionale d’Arte Moderna is a good starting point as it is home to several Italian masterpieces. The Galleria Borghese is also excellent and is a garden villa filled with Bernini sculptures and artwork from Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and more. This collection was originally commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. For something different, check out MAXXI, Rome’s first national museum devoted entirely to contemporary art.
6. Partake in La Settimana dei Beni Culturali
This is a 10-day event that occurs every May. During this time, all governmentally owned and operated landmarks, museums, and archeological sites offer free admission. There aren’t any other deals better than this! (Be forewarned, these sites can get really crowded!)
7. See a show
Aside from beautiful auditorium complexes, Rome often hosts world-class operas and concerts performed by international musicians. The Olympic Stadium is a hotspot for summer concerts and the Auditorium in Viale Pietro de Coubertin and at Parco della Musica holds events year round.
8. Visit Castel Sant’Angelo
This structure was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian at the end of the 1st-century, C.E. During the course of history, it has also served as a papal residence and a prison. As you may know from The Da Vinci Code, there’s a passageway here that runs into the Vatican. It was designed as an escape passage for the Pope in case of an emergency, and it was actually used in 1527 by Pope Clement VII as a refuge from sieges in the city. You can visit the castle and look around the exhibits. There are seven levels in total, and the Terrace of the Angel has some amazing city views. Admission is €7 ($7.85 USD) and it’s open daily (except Mondays) from 9am-7:30pm.
9. Explore the Catacombs
Rome has three major sets of catacombs that are open to the public – the Catacombs of Praetextatus, the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, and the Catacombs of San Callisto. Some of the underground crypts are adorned with sculptures and frescoes. San Callisto is the most popular, with a labyrinth of galleries extending about 12 miles (19 kilometers) long and 20 meters deep. Check out the crypt of nine popes and some of the early Christian paintings. Admission to each catacomb is €8 ($9 USD).
10. Take a cooking class or food tour
If you’re a foodie, take a cooking class or food walk. I mean the food in Italy is amazing. Food tours are a great way to eat and learn about something about what is central to Italian culture: food. I like Take Walks as the offer some my favorite cooking classes. They also do excellent food tours. Their tours/classes are about 3.5 hours each for a maximum number of 14 people. Prices will vary depending on what you want to cook and how many meals, but expect to spend at least €80 ($88 USD).
Eating Europe’s Rome tours are also excellent. Try their Trastevere Street Eats tour.
11. Take a walking tour
Walking tours are a wonderful way to learn about a city. There are lot of free tours, but I recommend Rome’s Ultimate Free Walking Tour or New Rome Free Tours. If you’re looking for a paid guided tour, again use Take Walks. They have specific tours in the city that focus on art, food, and history and they are pretty affordable too.
12. See the Roman Appian Way
This ancient road connects Rome all the way to Brindisi. It was finished in 312 BC, and it’s so well preserved you can see the ruts in the stones left by chariots. There are lots of interesting highlights along the way, including the Catacombs of San Callisto and a huge mausoleum for Cecilia Metell, a Roman noblewoman. You can take the 118 bus from the Piramide metro station all the way to the Catacombs of San Callisto stop, and you’ll already be on the road. A lot of people hire a bike to pedal the path, but I think walking is the best way to go. You’ll be following in the footsteps of the ancient Romans!
13. Hang out in the Park of the Aqueducts
This large, green park is home to some ancient aqueducts that once carried millions of tons of water into the city from the mountains. Although the park is located on the outskirts of the city, it’s a really great place to go and just hang out with the locals. Pack a lunch and a bottle of wine, and enjoy a lazy afternoon in the shade of some 2,000-year-old monuments.
14. Visit Piazza Navona
This is one of the most beautiful public spaces in Rome, and is home to Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi with its stunning statues representing the great rivers of the world. The entire oval-shaped piazza is lined with restaurants, gelaterias, shops, and the Museo di Roma. Nearby Via della Pace is one of the city’s most photogenic streets. Pull up a chair at a sidewalk cafe, and take it all in.
15. Wander around Centro Storico
Spending an afternoon getting lost in the maze of cobblestone streets in Centro Storico is one of the best free things you can do in Rome. Wind your way through the narrow alleyways and streets, check out the churches filled with Baroque art, pause for a coffee, and do some shopping at the many boutiques.
16. Climb Gianicolo
Gianicolo (or Janiculum) hill has the best viewpoint over all of Rome. It’s a famous spot for young lovers and tourists, but that doesn’t disrupt the panoramic views over the city. From here you can see some of the city’s best attractions, including Palazzo Venezia and the Spanish Steps. It’s beautiful at dusk, but if you come in the morning, prepare for the cannon firing at noon! It has been happening daily since 1904.
Rome Travel Costs
Hostel prices – You can expect to pay as low as €13 ($14.50 USD) a night for a 4-6 bed dorm room and around €45-50 ($50-56 USD) for a private room that sleeps two (though you’ll pay double in the main season). Private rooms are not a good deal here, and I’d recommend going to a hotel if you want a private space.
Budget hotel prices – A night in a 2-star budget hotel in a room that sleeps two starts around €38 ($43 USD). Renting from a local is also becoming very popular. I’ve stayed in some of the most beautiful local apartments using Airbnb. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting around €13 ($14.50 USD) per night and you can rent entire apartments starting around €40 ($45 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – Italy is known for its cuisine – fresh pasta, bread, tomatoes, pizza, gelato, and wine. Most restaurant meals with wine will cost around €25 ($28 USD) per person. In tourist hot spots, add about €10 ($11.25 USD) to that. Also, add €3 ($3.40 USD) for the “coperto” (sit down fee) that covers service and the bread at the table. Quick eats like pizza, paninis, and light snacks will cost €5-7 ($5.60-7.85 USD). Fast food will cost €9 ($10 USD) for a value meal. For cheaper food, head to Trastevere, the student neighborhood, or hit a market and buy your own ingredients.
You’ll pay about €60 ($67 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods. Great places to buy your groceries (besides all the local food markets) are Eurospin, In’s Mercato, LD Market, Lidl, or Penny Market.
Backpacking Rome Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget in Rome, you’ll spend about €46 ($52 USD) per day. This will get you a bed in a large hostel dorm, cheap takeaway like paninis, free hostel breakfasts, a few cooked dinners, a few cheap bottles of wine, free activities, and public transportation. You won’t live large but you’ll be able to get a feel for Rome on this budget.
On a mid-range budget of about €105 ($118 USD), you can stay in a decent two-star budget hotel/Airbnb/private room at a hostel, enjoying fine dining a few times, visit paid attractions, and maybe take a tour or two. You’ll be able to do whatever you want within reason.
Visiting Rome with luxury in mind will cost you at least €235 ($265 USD) per day. You’ll get a 4-star hotel, all the meals and bottles of wine you want, taxi rides, any attractions as well as things like food tours or in-depth tours. Rome does luxury, well so consider this the floor for luxury. After this, the sky is the limit. Spend as much as you want!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Rome Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
It’s easy to blow a lot of money in Rome! It’s one of the most expensive cities in Southern Europe. But, luckily, there are plenty of ways to cut your costs. Here are some high impact ways to save money in Rome for your trip:
- Stay outside the center – If you are open to staying on the outskirts of Rome or in the countryside, you can save a lot of money on accommodation. Food outside of the city is much cheaper as well, and it’s easy to take the train into Rome for your sightseeing.
- Eat cheap – When eating in Rome, opt for good sandwich and pizza places as opposed to touristy restaurants. For really good, inexpensive food, visit Trastevere across the river.
- Get a tourist card – If you are going to see a lot of museums, consider buying one of Rome’s many budget cards such as the Roma Pass, Archeologia card, or the Biglietto 4 Musei (Four Museum Combination Ticket). You pay one flat fee for all the attractions.
- Pass on the bread – Some restaurants will charge you extra for bread or breadsticks on the table but not tell you about it until the check comes, and you’ve polished it off. Send it back if you don’t want to be tempted.
- Drink the tap water – Ask for tap water or you will automatically get expensive bottled water included on your bill. Moreover, you can refill your bottles of water at any of the drinking fountains throughout Italy. The water is fine to drink, and you’ll feel like a local as you drink from their ancient Roman city monuments.
- Buy your wine at supermarkets – You can buy a great bottle of wine for €4/$4.50 USD.
- Couchsurf – Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. I use the service a lot and find it not only saves me money, but I meet great people too. Lots of people use this site for the city so inquire as early as possible.
- Go on a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and get your bearings. Rome Free Walking Tour has a few tours that can show you what the city has to offer.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Where To Stay in Rome
Rome has tons of hostel options. My recommended places are:
How to Get Around Rome
Rome has an extensive public transportation network consisting of buses, a subway (metro), trams, and trolleys. Here’s how you can get around Rome:
Subway — The metro is the fastest way to get around the city. There are just two lines: Line A and Line C. A single journey ticket that’s valid for 75 minutes is €1.50 ($1.70 USD). You can pick up tickets from local tobacco shops, newsstands, and vending machines at the stations.
Bus – The bus will get you into the areas not covered by the metro system, but it’s a lot slower than the subway due to the constant traffic of Rome. Tickets are €1.50 ($1.70 USD). You can find maps online or from your hostel or hotel.
Tram – Like the subway and bus system, tickets cost €1.50 ($1.70 USD).
However, you can also purchase a 1-day pass for unlimited travel, which costs €6 ($6.75 USD). A one-week pass costs €24 ($27 USD). If you’re going to be using the public transportation system a lot, you can get a tourist 3-day pass for €16.50 ($18.55 USD). It’s valid on all forms of public transit.
Taxis – Taxis are very expensive here in Rome and I don’t recommend taking them. The meter starts at €3 ($3.35 USD), and then goes up to €1.10 ($1.25 USD) per kilometer. Avoid them at all costs.
Uber is available in Rome, and their prices are usually much cheaper than taxis so you should take them if you aren’t going to take public transport. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
By Bike — Bicycling around Rome may seem a little scary with the high volume of traffic, but the city center actually has lots of bike. Bike rentals start at about €11 ($12.35 USD) per day. Two great companies with bicycl rentals are:
- Easy Bike Rent Rome
- TopBike Rental & Tours
When to Go to Rome
Winter is from October to March, and this is the off-season in Rome. But the city is never quiet. Ever. Although there will be fewer travelers around, you can still expect a bustle of activity everywhere you go. Temperatures rarely drop below 39°F (4°C).
Peak season is during the summer, from June to September. You’ll be constantly competing for views at Rome’s main tourist attractions, but the weather is also fantastic during these months (although sometimes unbearably hot). In August, temperatures can be as high as 89°F (32°C) per day.
I recommend visiting during the shoulder season, which is from April to May. It’s slightly less chaotic than the summer months, and the temperature is a pleasant 64°F (18°C) most days.
How to Stay Safe in Rome
Rome is a very safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo or even as a solo female traveler. But petty theft is most definitely a problem here. Pickpockets are very active around Rome’s main attractions such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Square.
It’s also not uncommon to get ripped off in this city. You should never buy tickets from unofficial ticket offices. If you are approached by someone selling skip-the-line tickets, ignore them. If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones, so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Rome!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Rome Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Rome. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- ItaliaRail – A great resource to use when planning your trip via train around Italy is ItaliaRail. You can compare prices, routes, and schedules and save up to 60% on your tickets.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Vayable – I enjoy this site because it allows you to experience niche, offbeat, and interesting tours that bigger tour companies might not run (like a street art tour in Berlin). Plus, the groups tend to be very small, making for a more intimate experience.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low €5 ($6 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- Take Walks – This day tour company will give you inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock too! They have lots of excellent Rome tours, including a Rome in a Day tour and a food tour.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Rome Gear and Packing Guide
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack when you visit Rome.
The Best Backpack for Rome
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something a different backpack, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack with more tips, advice, and backpack suggestions!
What to Pack for Rome
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier.)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Rome Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
Inferno is the first part of Italian writer Dante’s 14th-century epic poem, The Divine Comedy. It tells the story of Dante’s journey through Hell, guided by the ancient poet Virgil. Here, Hell is depicted as nine circles of torment located within Earth – it’s a dense read, but it’s pretty incredible. The book mentioned here is the beautifully translated version of Dante’s masterpiece. You can also get your hands on the full volume with all three epic poems. It’s been inspiring people for 700 years!
City Of Fortune: How Venice Ruled The Seas, by Roger Crowley
Roger Crowley explores Venice’s fascinating 500-year-old advance to the pinnacle of power to become a city unrivalled for drama and majesty. City of Fortune traces the Venetian imperial saga, from the Fourth Crusade to the fall of Constantinople, to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499-1503, which eventually led the Ottoman Turks to becoming the preeminent naval power in the Mediterranean. You’ll also learn about how a small city of “lagoon dwellers” became the richest place on the planet. This isn’t a boring history book – it’s a vivid, beautifully written account of Venice and its people through the ages.
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
Robert Langdon is summoned to an assignment at a Swiss research facility to analyze a symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist – and discovers the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati. Then the brotherhood announces they’ve left a time bomb inside Vatican City, and Langdon must take off to Rome to find it. Even if Dan Brown isn’t your thing, this book will get you pumped to go sightseeing in Rome.
Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
Have you ever dreamt of buying up a crumbling villa in Italy and restoring it to its former glory? That’s exactly what Frances Mayes did 20 years ago with an abandoned property named Bramsole in the Tuscan countryside. This story recounts her restoration journey, along with what it’s like adjusting to live in rural Tuscany. Mayes is a poet, gourmet cook, and a travel writer – you will literally be drooling over her prose and evocative language. Mayes paints the dreamiest picture of life in Italy. You have to read this book.
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, by Beppe Severgnini
Written about Italians by an Italian, Beppe Severgnini wants you to forget all the romantic notions of Italy and its people. This laugh-out-loud book takes you beyond the historical attractions and scenic areas, and into places where Italians are at their best and worst: including the highway, the airport, and the small town. Severgnini describes the chaos of the roads and the “theatrical spirit of the hypermarkets” in a way that will give you some deep insight into the Italian psyche.
A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster
Well-bred Lucy Honeychurch sets out on an adventure touring Italy with her overbearing cousin, and soon falls in love with the handsome (but entirely unsuitable) George Emerson, and yet somehow becomes engaged to Mr. Cecil Vyse. Lucy is easily lured away from the upper-middle-class Edwardian society by her longing for the man she left behind. This is a funny, satirical read that takes the English notion of respectability and turns it on its head. This is Forster’s most beloved book!
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Rome
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Rome Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Italy and continue planning your trip: