Rome on a budget

Beat Colosseum & Vatican queues plus 10 free things to do

Heading to Rome? We've legions of MoneySaving tips to make sure your finances aren't Roman ruined, from beating queues at the Colosseum to unlimited buffets for the price of a drink. And as the pound now buys fewer euros, it's more important than ever to get Maximus value for your money.

Bookings with flexibility are key

If you decide to book a trip, consider that you might not be covered by travel insurance for any Covid-related claims. Look for bookings that offer flexibility if you're unable to travel due to illness or any possible future restrictions.

See our Coronavirus travel rights guide for full help and up-to-date info.

Let us know YOUR tips. Please add your tips and feedback to the Cheap Rome forum thread. Also see our MoneySaving guides to LondonParisAmsterdamBarcelona and the Costa del Sol.

  1. Grab bargain flights to Rome

    A number of airlines, including Easyjet and Ryanair, fly direct to Rome from the UK – meaning you've a very good chance of hunting down a bargain. Most flights to Rome from the UK arrive at Ciampino or Fiumicino airports – see getting from the airport below for more.

    To find a flight, use comparison sites such as Kayak*Skyscanner* and Momondo* – for a full list, see our Cheap Flights guide, which is chock-full of tricks to slash prices.

    Easyjet flies to Rome Fiumicino from various UK airports, including Gatwick, Luton and Bristol. The airline releases seats five times a year; its prices are fluid and move based on demand, so if you can pounce when they're launched, you're often getting the very cheapest deal. See our Easyjet Tricks for more on this and other ways to save.

    Plus, Ryanair flies from Stansted and Manchester to Ciampino. To help keep costs firmly on the ground with this budget airline, check out our Ryanair Tips.

  2. Visiting two or more attractions? Consider a 72-hour Roma Pass... and use it the right way

    If you're hitting a lot of sights, and don't fancy too much walking, consider the Roma Pass. A 72-hour pass costs €38.50, a 48-hour one €28.

    Roma Pass

    The 48-hour pass covers entry to the first sight you visit, out of a choice of 50 (the 72-hour pass includes entry to the first two sights). The pass also gives discounted entry to other sites (typically €2 off) and unlimited travel on Rome's metro, buses and trams. Airport connections are excluded.

    The pass allows you to bypass the queues – especially handy at the Colosseum, though do note that the Vatican Museums are excluded. There's more on beating queues below.

    How to work out if it's worth it

    The trick's choosing the priciest attractions as your 'free' options. To give an idea of value, a ticket for the Forum/Colosseum (€12), plus a two-day bus pass (€12.50), would set you back €24.50, compared with the €28 cost of a 48-hour pass – so in that case, the 48-hour pass is definitely not worth it.

    Yet it depends on where you're visiting – sometimes the 72-hour pass can be better value. Tickets for the Forum/Colosseum (€12) and Borghese Gallery (€20), a €2 discount on another sight and an €18 three-day bus pass total €52. This compares with €38.50 for the pass.

    The more sights you cram in, the better value it is – so do the maths. You'll also need to think about how much you'll use the bus pass, as you may decide you can walk between sights. You can pick the passes online or at various stations and tourist offices in the city.

    … but give the 'Omnia Vatican & Rome' card a miss

    The three-day Omnia card gives the benefits of the Roma Pass, but adds wait-free entry to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

    It costs a whopping €113, but a Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel ticket bought online in advance is usually €21 and also lets you jump queues, so check which ticket is best for you.

  3. Beat two- or three-hour queues at the Colosseum or Vatican by booking online first


    You can legitimately queue-jump by booking ahead online for some of Rome's biggest attractions. (This isn't technically MoneySaving, as there's a small reservation fee, but we know a lot of MoneySavers will consider it a couple of euros well spent.)

    • The Colosseum. Rome's 2,000-year-old gladiator arena often attracts two-hour queues. Booking online in advance allows you to bypass these. Online tickets cost €14, compared with €12 on the door.

      Alternatively, if you're buying on the day, the ticket also covers entry to the Roman Forum, a sprawling series of ruins, including remains of buildings constructed by Julius Caesar, and Palatine Hill, where the emperors lived. Buy your ticket at the entrance to one of these and the wait can be much shorter.

    • The Vatican Museums. For the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, featuring Michelangelo's famous frescoes, you can face three hours in line. Again, book online and avoid the scrum; tickets are €21 instead of €17 at the door. Note the dress code, too, if you're planning to visit the Vatican Museums: you shouldn't wear shorts or show bare shoulders.

    For other attractions, try Google's free Popular Times feature, which predicts when places will be packed (or not). It uses anonymous data from people who opted to share their mobile locations to find busy times. MSE Jenny's legit queue-skipping blog explains how to use it.

  4. Get max euros to the pound whether you pay by plastic or cash

    Most cards add a 3% cost to the exchange rates banks themselves get. You can avoid this by packing a specialist card that doesn't add this 'load', meaning you'll get near-perfect exchange rates which beat even the best bureaux de change. Pocket one just for spending overseas (always repay IN FULL to avoid interest). Generally you'll need to apply between one and three weeks before you go.

    - Top-pick credit card: Credit card Halifax Clarity (check eligibility chances) gives £20 cashback when you use it to make your first purchase (even 1p) within the first 90 days. Be aware though, you'll be charged between 23.94% and 29.94% interest on ATM withdrawals, so it's best suited for spending on, rather than withdrawing cash. ONLY get it if you'll repay IN FULL each month to avoid interest, or it defeats the purpose. See Travel credit cards for full info.

    - Top-pick debit card: The debit card from app-only Chase Bank* has no overseas fees on spending and the first £1,500/month of cash withdrawals (be careful if you'll need more). You can also get 1% cashback on most purchases.

    You'll need to apply for a new bank account, yet here it's only a 'soft' credit check, so there's no permanent mark on your credit report. You can use it as a second account without switching, but unlike a credit card, you will need to load cash into the account before using it.

    Full options in Travel debit cards or, for a similar method, see Top prepaid travel cards.

  5. The Spanish Steps, Renaissance masterpieces and a cat sanctuary – the top 10 FREE things to do

    You could easily spend €100s ticking off Rome's attractions, but there are countless places to go and things to do that don't cost a cent.

    • See hidden Caravaggio masterpieces. Entry to see the Borghese Gallery's collection of Carravagios will set you back €20. Yet many churches in Rome are artistic treasure troves, so you can peruse paintings by the Renaissance master for free. 

      The Church of St Louis of the French is home to a trio of Caravaggio paintings, known collectively as the St Matthew cycle. The basilicas of Sant'Agostino and Santa Maria del Popolo also house work by the artist.

    • Visit a cat sanctuary. A must for moggie lovers is a visit to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Well looked-after by volunteers, 150 stray cats roam the ruins. It's free to enter, though you can make a donation if you wish.
    Spanish Steps
    • The Spanish Steps. Head over to one of Rome's most romantic landmarks, the Spanish Steps, in the heart of the historic centre, to read a book or simply contemplate life.

    • Take a 'free' walking tour. Get to know Rome with a free tour from New Rome Free TourVeni, Vidi, Visit; or Ultimate Free Walking Tours. At the end they ask you to pay what you think it was worth – the typical tip for a two-hour tour is €15. So while 'free' is stretching it, feedback is fab. Reservations are recommended.

      There's even a Free Bike Tour, which gets good reviews on TripAdvisor, though you'll need to rent your own bike for €10.

    • Marvel at the Pantheon. Entrance is free to the famous Pantheon, one of the best-preserved buildings from ancient Rome. The huge domed temple was converted into a church in 608 AD.

    • Roam around Rome. The city's compact size and ancient car-unfriendly roads make it perfect for pedestrians. 

      Some of the best times can be had just ambling around spots such as the quaint winding alleys of Trastevere, the classy Centro Storico (old town) and the Quartiere Coppedè with its Gaudi-like architecture. Head to Villa Borghese, Rome's loveliest city park, for a picnic under the trees.

    • Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that flipping a coin into the Trevi Fountain over your shoulder ensures a return visit. OK, there is the small cost of the coin involved, but we're told it doesn't matter what denomination you use, so a cent should do it. 
    Trevi Fountain
    • An audience with the Pope. The Pope's weekly audience is held every Wednesday when he's in Rome, and usually starts at 10.30am in St Peter's Square. You can pick up free tickets on Tuesdays from 3pm to 7pm (summer) or 6pm (winter). Check the website for full details. As with the Vatican Museums, there's a dress code to observe.

    • Peek through the keyhole. Climb the Aventine Hill, then join the queue of people waiting to look through the famous keyhole of the Knights of Malta in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. You'll get a stunning view of the dome of St Peter's.

    • Free outdoor concerts and cinema. If you're heading to Rome between June and September, check out Estate Romana (Roman Summer), a citywide programme of open-air concerts, cinema, dance and theatre. Many events are free in parks and gardens.

  6. Tuck in to an all-you-can-eat buffet for the price of a drink

    Don't miss aperitivo time – when some bars offer pre-dinner drinks that come with 'free' snacks and even unlimited buffets. The drinks usually cost slightly more than usual, between €5 and €10, but it still works out cheaper than shelling out for dinner.

    Aperitivo usually runs for a few hours between 6pm and 9pm – times vary and it's not at all bars, so do check. At a minimum, participating venues might give a selection of snacks, but some places offer a sumptuous buffet of canapés, cheeses, olives, cold meats and pizza.

    Top spots include Freni e Frizione in Trastevere (aperitivo is daily 7pm to 10pm), Momart Café near Piazza Bologna (daily 6pm to 10.30pm) and Rec23 in Piazza dell'Emporio (daily 6.30pm to 9pm, or until 10pm Sun). If you know of any others, please let us know in the Rome Tips forum thread.

    Some places let you go back as many times as you want. Former MSE Jessica, a Rome native and aperitivo aficionado, said:

    My favourite aperitivo place is Momart Café. You pay €10 for a cocktail/glass of wine/beer, but you get an amazing buffet of homemade pizza, pasta, cheese, salad and desserts. You can go up to the buffet as many times as you like, but make sure you arrive early to avoid long queues.

  7. Get unlimited bus and metro journeys for €7 a day

    Give expensive taxis a miss. Rome's Atac bus and metro network is much more reasonable – a trip anywhere costs a flat rate of €1.50.

    For starters, it's well worth downloading the free ProBus Rome app for iPhone or Google. It locates you on a map, shows the nearest bus stops and has live departure info for them.

    If you're staying centrally and walking between attractions, a few single tickets will probably suffice. But if you need to hop on and off transport, a ticket offering unlimited bus and metro travel over a certain period may be worthwhile. 

    The tickets and passes below are sold at metro stations, most newspaper stands and tabacchi (cigarette shops – look for the blue 'T' sign). They all exclude the express services direct to airports.

    • Single tickets at €1.50 each. These are valid for 100 minutes from the moment you board and stamp them, no matter how far you travel. You can use these on any combination of buses, plus one metro ride. 

    • Making more than five journeys in a day? Get a 24-hour pass. A 24-hour unlimited ticket costs €7, again valid on all buses and metro services. You need to make five or more journeys in that time for this to beat buying individual tickets.

    • Two (€12.50) and three-day (€18) passes. These work just like the 24-hour pass. The 48-hour pass (€12.50) beats buying individual tickets if you'll make nine or more journeys; the 72-hour pass (€18) if you'll make 13 or more.

    • A week's unlimited travel for €24. Staying for longer? A week pass is good value at €24. It beats buying individual tickets if you'll make more than 16 journeys on it (roughly at least two per day).

    Visitors are often steered towards the Roma Pass, which includes unlimited travel. But do the maths – unless you're visiting pricey attractions anyway, it's not usually worth it.

  8. Fill up on free water at drinking fountains – but don't expect it at restaurants

    There's no need to pay for water while out and about – grab a bottle and fill it with free ice-cold water from Rome's ubiquitous drinking fountains.

    To help, there's even a Rome Water Finder app for Apple and Android that finds nasoni, or fountains, near you. 

    Sadly, free H20 is not so plentiful in restaurants. When ordering at a restaurant in Rome, asking for tap water is simply not the done thing. The waiter will instead offer a choice between still and sparkling mineral water.

    It's always worth a try (ask for 'acqua del rubinetto'), but you may find your request gets declined or 'forgotten'. 

  9. Caravaggios, gladiators, Dan Brown sights and more – all FREE on certain days

    Previously all state-owned museums were free on the first Sunday of every month, but this has been replaced with various different free days spread across the year. You'll need to check each museum's website to find out when you can visit for free.

    Get there just before opening and prepare for a bunfight at more popular attractions. If you have the Roma Pass, you can usually skip to the front of the queue of included attractions even on free days.

    Here are some examples of what's free when:

    • Borghese Gallery - second Weds of the month, plus some Sundays. Art lovers shouldn't miss the Borghese Gallery, home to masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. You'll still need to book, even on free days.

      On the second Wednesday of each month, you can go for free at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. When we checked in July 2019, the next free Sundays were 6 October, 3 November and 1 December. 

    • Colosseum - 9 May, 5 June. Also free on certain days is the Colosseum, used for gladiatorial battles in Ancient Rome, though we've heard it gets chocka on free days (and you can't book this one in advance).

    • Vatican Museums - last Sunday of every monthThis includes the Sistine Chapel. Again, long queues are likely. 

    Consider seeking out free days at lesser-known attractions such as the Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum, which features in the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons. Or stroll around the atmospheric ruins of the Baths of Caracalla.

  10. Drink your coffee at the bar to save €4

    In Rome, coffee is cheaper taken standing up. Drink your espresso or other hot drink at the counter and you can pay just a third of the price you would sitting down at a table.

    For example, an espresso might cost €1.50 at the bar, but €4-€5 at the table. In the flashiest areas of town, the difference can be even bigger.

    Look for a list behind the counter showing the banco (bar) and tavolo (table) prices.

  11. Service IS included in the price when eating out – but you may want to add a euro or two on top


    Service is usually included in the menu price, so you don't need to stick rigidly to the 10% you'd leave at your local Pizza Express. 

    Assuming you're happy, the standard reward for decent service is to add just a few euros as a token – perhaps €3 on a €50 bill.

    As in restaurants, service is included at cafes and bars. There's no need to tip when buying drinks at the bar, but if staff bring drinks to your table, the same rule applies as in restaurants. 

    Aside from that, tipping etiquette is similar to the UK, so consider a euro or two for a hotel porter and 10% for taxi drivers.

  12. How to get to or from the airport – it's €5 by bus

    Most flights from the UK to Rome land at Leonardo da Vinci Airport (aka Fiumicino), 16 miles to the west of the city centre, or Ciampino, about 10 miles southeast.

    While it's tempting to just jump in a cab, that can cost €40 to €50 from Fiumicino or €30 to €40 from Ciampino. So check out the alternatives:

    • By bus from Leonardo da Vinci/Ciampino. Airport bus operator Terravision charges €5.80 (€9 return) from Leonardo da Vinci Airport to Rome Termini train station for the 55-minute trip. From Ciampino Airport, it's €5 (€9 return). You can book online to guarantee a seat.

    • By train from Leonardo da VinciThe Leonardo Express is a non-stop service which runs between the airport and Rome Termini train station. Trains leave every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes if you're travelling before 7am or after 9pm) – see times. A one-way ticket is €14 per person and takes about half an hour.

    • By train from Ciampino. Getting the train from Ciampino is trickier. First you need to get a bus to the nearest rail station, Ciampino, which costs €1.20 each way and leaves every 30 mins. From there, the train to Rome Termini station takes 15 minutes and costs €1.50 each way.

  13. Hostels can be winners – bed down in a private room from £22 a night

    hostel private room

    No, don't think smelly dorms. Many hostels are clean and well-kept – and some even have private rooms, which we've found for as little as £22 per person per night.

    For more help, see our cheap hostels tips. If you're a hostel fan, we'd love to know your hidden hostel gems in Rome tips.

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  14. Apartments can smash hotels, eg, £400 not £845

    For Ferrari accommodation on a Fiat 500 budget, our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide shows how apartments (and villas, if you're staying further out) can massively undercut similar-quality hotels. This is especially the case if you're going with a group of family or friends.

    For example, we found a modern two-bed Rome apartment near the Pantheon at £400 for three nights in September, compared with £845 for two rooms in a three-star hotel nearby.

    Alternatively, rent rooms in private homes via Airbnb or Wimdu, eg, £36/night for a room in Rome's Trastevere neighbourhood, compared with £101/night for a nearby hotel. Read our renting rooms info for more help and safety warnings.

  15. Just point your camera to translate Italian menus with a free app

    Google translate app

    The Google Translate app's free for Android and iPhone. Hold your phone over text and it auto-translates Italian within the image (like on the right – very cool).

    You can use your camera to translate text in 38 languages or type to translate 103 languages.

  16. 'Do you want to pay in pounds or euros?' ALWAYS SAY EUROS

    When paying or even withdrawing cash, you're often asked if you want to pay in pounds or euros. In general, always pay in local currency. 

    If you select pounds, the Italian shop/bank will do the conversion, and rates can be awful. There's more info and a full explanation in Martin's 'Pay in euros?' blog

  17. Booking a hotel as well as a flight? Get extra protection with a flight broker

    Travel brokers (eg, Expedia*Opodo**) often offer discounts on flights and hotels when you book them together.

    Better still, if you book a flight plus separate hotel or car hire together from the same travel website in the same transaction, you get full ATOL financial and legal protection, just as with a traditional package holiday (ie, you're covered if a firm goes bust or you don't get the holiday you paid for). See Cheap Flights for more.

  18. A warning... don't book your holiday naked

    Mamma mia! OK, 'naked' is hyperbole, but it got you reading. The point is, don't wait to get travel insurance. Without an active policy from the day you book, in the event of cancellation, injury or illness, or death in the family, you're uncovered and have no recourse.

    It's these eventualities that cheap travel insurance is there to protect you from – and you can often massively undercut holiday firms' policies.

  19. Remember to pack your GHIC or EHIC

    A Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) give you treatment at state-run EU hospitals and GPs at the same cost as a local. So if they pay, you pay – if it's free for them, it's free for you.

    If you already have an EHIC, it will continue to cover you for the entire time it's valid, so you MUST check it's still in-date as they expire after five years.

    If you need to renew, or apply for the first time, you'll receive a GHIC instead – but it does the same thing. For full help, including how to get one for FREE (never pay), see our Free GHIC or EHIC guide.

  20. EE's bringing back mobile roaming charges in Europe, including Rome

    Mobile phone firms were banned from charging customers extra fees to use their UK allowance of minutes, texts and data (subject to 'fair use' limits) when the UK was in the European Union. But since Brexit, that has changed. 

    Virgin Media O2 (which owns O2 and Virgin Mobile) has said it still has no plans to follow the other big networks and reintroduce roaming fees – though of course, that could always change.

    Even with 'free' roaming, you need to keep an eye on your allowance. If you're likely to hammer your data allowance – for instance if you'll be streaming or uploading lots of holiday snaps – try to use Wi-Fi instead.

  21. Munch a Roman picnic in your hotel room

    Rome is heaven for foodies who love pasta and ice cream, but you'll need deep pockets to eat out all the time. So cut costs by having a delicious picnic in a park or even your hotel room. You can pick up olives, salami, mozzarella, pizza slices and wine from supermarkets and delis.

    Rome also has a plethora of outdoor food markets. Two of the best are Trionfale market near the Vatican and Testaccio market in Via Galvani/Via Alessandro Volta.

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