Considered the center of the western world for centuries, Rome is the birthplace of Caesar and home to the Catholic Church. It’s also bursting at the seams with ancient historic ruins and heaps of delicious food (I particularly love Trastevere for 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.
It’s a city filled with life, beauty, and charm that appeals to travelers of all stripes. Backpacking here is popular with budget travelers on Eurotrips, history buffs come to explore the ruins, couples visit Rome on honeymoons, and the jet-set splash out on the city’s upscale dining and nightlife.
No matter your interest, Rome won’t disappoint.
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 most expensive cities in Italy!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Rome
1. Explore the Colosseum
2. See the Forum and Palatine Hill
3. Tour Vatican City
4. Admire the Trevi Fountain
5. Eat your way around Trastevere
Other Things to See and Do in Rome
1. Take a free walking tour
Walking tours are a wonderful way to learn about a city. I recommend Rome’s Ultimate Free Walking Tour or New Rome Free Tours. Their tours cover all the highlights and can introduce you to the city on a budget. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
If you’re looking for a paid guided tour that goes above and beyond, check out Take Walks. They have expert guides and can get you behind the scenes at the city’s best attractions. They’re my go-to walking tour company!
If a bike tour is more your speed, Fat Tire Tours offers fun and insightful bike tours around the city. Their guides are knowledgeable, their tours are affordable, and you can see all of the main sights (they also have some amazing food tours and cooking classes as well!). Tours start at 35 EUR.
2. See the churches
Rome has a ton of churches so don’t hesitate to wander into them as you pass by to take in the art, sculptures, decorations, and stained glass. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, dating back to 440 CE, 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 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.
3. 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 to 60,000 people. Now you can wander the ruins of the docks, apartments, mansions, baths, and warehouses. You should plan at least a half-day for this trip. Entry is 12 EUR.
4. Tour the Pantheon
The Pantheon looks today much like it did nearly 2,000 years ago before it became a church (it was originally a Roman temple). Hadrian built it over Agrippa’s earlier temple, and it has been around since 125 CE. As soon as you walk through the heavy bronze doors and across the marble floors, you can look up and marvel at the largest unreinforced dome ever built. It’s by far one of the best-preserved buildings in the world. Entry is free.
5. Hang out on the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps, built in the 1720s, are a long and grand staircase in Rome with the Piazza di Spagna at its base and Trinità dei Monti looming at the top. The Spanish steps have become a social hub for both tourists and locals to hang out and people watch. Come here to relax and take in the feel of the city.
6. Check out the art museums
If you enjoy art museums, Rome will not disappoint. There are a ton of great ones here, several of which are some of the highest-ranking in the world. The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna is a good starting point as it is home to several Italian masterpieces. The Galleria Borghese is also excellent as it boasts a garden villa filled with Bernini sculptures and artwork from Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and other masters. 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.
7. Partake in La Settimana dei Beni Culturali
This is a 10-day event that occurs every May. During this cultural heritage week, 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 get really crowded so arrive early.
8. 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. Ticket prices vary but expect to pay at least 25 EUR.
9. Visit Castel Sant’Angelo
This structure was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian at the end of the 1st-century. 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. You can visit the castle and look around the exhibits; there are seven levels in total. The Terrace of the Angel has some amazing city views. Admission is 14 EUR.
10. 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 19 kilometers (12 miles) long and 20 meters deep. Admission to each catacomb is 8 EUR.
11. Take a cooking class or food tour
If you’re a foodie, taking a cooking class or food tour is a must. I like Take Walks as the offer some my favorite cooking classes. They also do excellent food tours. Their tours/classes are around 3 hours each and are super insightful. You’ll not only have fun but you’ll learn a lot too. Prices vary but expect to spend around 80 EUR.
12. See the Roman Appian Way
This ancient road connects Rome all the way to Brindisi. It was finished in 312 BCE 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. A lot of people rent 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. It’s 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, you’ll find Via della Pace, 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, admire 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 offers the best views over Rome. It’s a famous spot for young lovers and tourists and 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 during the day, prepare for the cannon firing at noon (it has been happening daily since 1904).
For more information on other destinations in Italy, check out these guides:
Rome Travel Costs
Hostel prices – For a bed in a dorm with 6-8 beds, expect to pay 17-30 EUR per night. Private rooms go for 50-90 EUR per night. Free Wi-Fi and self-catering facilities are standard and many hostels also include free breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – Two-star budget hotels start at 75-100 EUR per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, AC, and a coffee/tea maker
On Airbnb, you can find private rooms between 40-95 EUR per night and entire apartments for 100-150 EUR per night.
Average cost of food – Italian cuisine is beloved around the world, though every region in Italy offers its own distinct flavor. Tomatoes, pasta, olives, and olive oil form the backbone of most meals, with meat and fish and various cheeses rounding out the menu. Gelato is a must also. You can find dishes from across the country in Rome, as well as tons of international fare; it’s the best foodie city in the country.
Most casual restaurant meals with wine cost around 15-20 EUR. In tourist hot spots, add another 10 EUR to that.
Quick eats like pizza, paninis, and sandwiches cost 3-7 EUR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) is around 8 EUR for a combo meal.
If you want to splash out, a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant starts at 30 EUR.
Beer costs around 5 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is around 1.25 EUR. Bottled water is less than 1 EUR.
For cheaper food, head to Trastevere, the student neighborhood, or hit a market and buy your own ingredients.
If you plan on cooking your own food, expect to spend around 55-65 EUR per week on groceries. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Rome Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget in Rome, you’ll spend about 55 EUR per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel, cooking all of your meals, limiting your drinking, taking public transportation to get around, and doing mostly free activities like free walking tours and visiting free sights like the Parthenon and Spanish Steps. If you plan on drinking, add another 10 EUR to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of 140 EUR per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for a couple of meals, enjoy a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like touring the Colosseum and visiting the Vatican.
On a “luxury” budget of 255 EUR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink as much as you want, take more taxis, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
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 EUR.
Rome Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
It’s easy to blow a lot of money in Rome as it’s one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to cut costs. Here are some ways to save money in Rome:
- Stay outside the center – If you are open to staying on the outskirts of Rome, 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 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 and can save a good amount of money in the process.
- Pass on the bread – Some restaurants charge you extra for bread they leave on the table — but they won’t tell you about it until the check arrives. Send it back if you don’t want to be tempted.
- Drink the tap water – When eating out, ask for tap water or you will automatically get expensive bottled water included on your bill.
- Buy your wine at supermarkets – You can buy a great bottle of wine for 6-10 EUR at the store. It’s much cheaper than the bar.
- Stay with a local – Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds or couches for free. It’s the best way to save money while connecting with a local who can share their insider tips and advice.
- 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. Just don’t forget to tip your guide!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Rome
Rome has tons of affordable hostels. My recommended places are:
For more hostel suggestions, check out my list of the best hostels in Rome.
And to find out exactly where in the city you should stay, here’s a post that breaks down the best neighborhoods in Rome.
How to Get Around Rome
Public transportation – Rome has an extensive public transportation network consisting of buses, a subway (metro), trams, and trolleys.
The metro is the fastest way to get around the city. There are three lines and a single journey ticket that’s valid for 75 minutes is 1.50 EUR. You can pick up tickets from local tobacco shops, newsstands, and vending machines at the stations.
The bus can 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 jams of Rome. Tickets are 1.50 EUR.
You can purchase a one-day pass for unlimited travel for 6 EUR. A one-week pass costs 24 EUR.
If you’re going to be using the public transportation system a lot, you can get a three-day pass tourist for 16.50 EUR. It’s valid on all forms of public transit.
Taxis – Taxis are very expensive here so I don’t recommend taking them. The meter starts at 4 EUR and then goes up 1.20 EUR per kilometer. Avoid them at all costs!
Uber is available in Rome and their prices are usually cheaper than taxis. That said, they’re still not super cheap so skip Uber too!
Bike rental – Bicycling around Rome may seem a little scary with the high volume of traffic (and the hills), but there are bike lanes around the city center that make it possible. Bike rentals start at 14-20 EUR per day.
Car rental – The traffic in Rome is absolutely terrible so I would avoid renting a car here. Even if you’re leaving the city, it will still be a nightmare to get around and find parking.
When to Go to Rome
Peak season is during the summer, from June through August. You’ll be constantly competing for views at Rome’s main tourist attractions, but the weather is also fantastic during these months (although sometimes it’s unbearably hot and humid). Temperatures during this season average around 27°C (81°F), but in August, temperatures soar above 32°C (89°F) per day.
If visiting in the summer, wake up early to beat the heat and the crowds.
I recommend visiting during the shoulder season, which is from April-May and late September-October. It’s slightly less chaotic than the summer months, and the temperature is pleasant, often around 18°C (64°F).
Winter is from November to March. This is the off-season in Rome but the city is never quiet. Although there are fewer travelers around, you can still expect a bustle of activity everywhere you go. Temperatures during this time range from 4-15°C (39-59°F).
How to Stay Safe in Rome
Rome is a very safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo and even as a solo female traveler. However, petty theft is definitely a problem here so keep your valuables secure and out of sight. 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. Also, always make sure your taxi driver is using the meter.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about common travel scams to avoid right here.
As in any city, never leave your drink unattended when at the bar, and avoid walking home alone if you’ve been drinking.
If you experience an emergency, dial 113 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you wouldn’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.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- 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 in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share 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 the booking websites.
- 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 Italy, 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 a discount when you click the link!
- 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.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR. Their buses include Wi-Fi and electrical outlets too.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by paying a small fee. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to 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!
- Fat Tire Tours – Fat Tire Tours offers fun and insightful bike tours around the city. You’ll get to see all the main sights with the help of a local guide and you’ll get to see the city in a whole new light. They’re a great alternative to your standard walking tour.walking tou!
Rome Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
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 different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 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
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 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 also incredible. This version is a beautiful translation 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
Crowley explores Venice’s fascinating 500-year-old journey to become a city unrivaled 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 become the preeminent naval power in the Mediterranean. You’ll also learn 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, detailed 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 (who wrote The Da Vinci Code) 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 life in rural Tuscany. Mayes is a poet, gourmet cook, and 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 before visiting Italy.
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
This is a funny, satirical read that takes the English notion of respectability and turns it on its head. 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. Yet somehow, she 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, creating a good amount of chaos in the process. This is Forster’s most beloved book!
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: