The internet is full of travel deals. But what if you want to jet somewhere that has been a tourist destination for generations, such as Rome? Even as one of the world’s premiere travel spots, the Eternal City is easy to navigate on a budget while still hitting the must-see attractions. In fact, food and lodging in Rome are downright cheap when compared with those in Europe’s other great cities, such as London and Paris. So if you’re determined to visit the Bel Paese without breaking the bank, follow this guide.
Flights to Italy hit their lowest point in the tourist off-season, which typically runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 14 and Dec. 24 to March 31. With chilly temperatures and high winds, especially when walking along the Tiber River, it’s easy to understand why crowds thin during this time. But winters in Rome are a breeze when compared with Baltimore’s; the temperature rarely dips below 46 degrees. So if you’re looking to save cash (and enjoy the smaller crowds), it’s well worth some shivers.
Skip the Museums
Before you balk at this suggestion, bear in mind: Rome is known as an open-air museum and for good reason. Almost every turn along its cobblestone streets reveals a photo-worthy sight. From the more famous stops, like the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps, to tucked-away treasures like the Garden of Oranges or the Fountain of the Turtles, Rome’s greatest historical and artistic attractions can be admired sans ticket. So if you’re willing to trade museum halls for Roman alleyways, you’ll certainly cut costs. But if not, all museums, including the Colosseum, are free the first Sunday of every month and the Vaticans Museums are free the last Sunday, so plan accordingly.
Rome’s basilicas are splendid enough to be museums in themselves. Architecturally stunning and filled with ceiling paintings, mosaic panels, relics and more, it’s a wonder there’s no entrance fee. Even the iconic Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City are free to enter. Some lesser known (but jaw-dropping) churches include Church of the Gesu near Piazza Venezia and Santa Maria in Trastevere. Wander in at your leisure any day of the week, or for a more immersive experience, attend a Sunday mass. But be aware: Almost all services are in Italian, of course.
Cheap Travel 101 dictates that if you can walk from Point A to Point B, then you should do so — especially when you’re walking around a city as beautiful as Rome. That said, the city is huge, and with missing and uneven sidewalks, foot travel isn’t always the way to go. Your best budget-friendly alternative is Rome’s public transportation. Though notoriously slow, the bus system is extensive and reaches stops in the historic center that the metro does not, not to mention, it’s ideal for sightseeing out the window. Be it bus, metro or tram, a trip is only 1.50 euros, and weekly passes are sold for 24 euros. Either way, it’s far cheaper than a taxi and gives you a peek into how the locals get around.
Happy Hour, Italian-Style
Vacations are time to indulge — which means splurging on drinks and appetizers. But in Italy, there’s a way to get two for the price of one. Seven to 9 p.m. is aperitivo time when restaurants and cafes offer deals that include one
cocktail and a host of savory snacks, sometimes even served buffet-style. It’s a ritual meant to stimulate the appetite before dinner, but in practice, it’s just an excuse to gather and chat with friends. Instead of your go-to drink, opt for a traditional Italian cocktail: a Negroni, Spritz or Americano. You shouldn’t pay more than eight or 10 euros for a good aperitivo, so say arrivederci to any tourist trap that charges more.
Skim for the Sunset
Rome has a host of rooftop bars and restaurants from which you can enjoy its skyline of domes, arches and steeples — before you’re handed a sky-high bill. Instead, take advantage of Rome’s many hills for an equally spectacular view. If you’re feeling ambitious, try to hit all of the proverbial Seven Hills of Rome, which legend claims were occupied by the settlements that would eventually become the Eternal City. Or opt for the Janiculum, the second highest hill in the city, to enjoy its gorgeous terrace, featuring a fountain, a monument and a series of busts of prominent Italians. In need of a refreshment? Pack a picnic or just a bottle of wine — you can get them for as low as two euros at most markets. Ah, Roma.
Now, the fun part …
Here’s what to splurge on in Rome.
Diners will rejoice at this tip. Don’t skimp on one of the most important cultural experiences that Rome has to offer: eating. The city is home to a long list of legendary restaurants, some of which are in choice locations near the city’s iconic landmarks, such as the storied Armando Al Pantheon, for example, or the Waldorf Astoria’s three Michelin-starred La Pergola. While you’re there, do as the Romans do, and order the traditional five courses: an antipasto, or a starter; the primo, often a pasta dish (try one of the three Roman classics: cacio e pepe, carbonara or amatriciana); a secondo, fish or meat; a contorno, or side dish; and of course, the dolce or dessert (you can’t go wrong with tiramisu).
When it comes to clothing, Italy has a monopoly on luxury. You can find flagship stores for the highest of high-end Italian brands, Gucci, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, along Via dei Condotti, the posh shopping street leading up to the Piazza di Spagna. Sure, you can always window shop, but there’s nothing better to splurge on than a souvenir with a designer logo. And while you’re in the area, take a stroll down bustling Via del Corso. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in volume, boasting a mix of international brands, such as Zara and Nike, with small local boutiques.
No trip to Italy is complete without an evening of opera, and Rome has no shortage of breathtaking shows. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, the city’s primary opera house, puts on prestigious shows in its stunning theatre. Choice seats for the most in-demand performances can cost upwards of 150 euros each, but it’s worth it for this piece of Italian romance. For a more heavenly experience, you can opt to book seats at the Church of St. Paul Within the Walls, or for a truly spooky show, catch a performance at the Opera Omnia in the bone-filled Capuchin Crypt.