Martin: Student loan costs may rise £400/yr
27 September 2021
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.
The rules on holidaying are changing radically. Domestic trips are now allowed across much of the UK, while some overseas holidays have also resumed, with destinations categorised in a new ‘traffic light’ system.
Bookings with flexibility are key
If you decide to book a trip, remember things can change quickly, and you may not be covered by travel insurance for coronavirus-related claims. You should look for bookings which offer flexibility if you're unable to travel due to future restrictions.
See our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide for full help and information on overseas travel restrictions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our current top pick is the Barclaycard Rewards card, which has near-perfect rates, no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad and no interest on either as long as you pay it off IN FULL every month. Plus, you get 0.25% cashback on spending worldwide.
As an alternative, the Halifax Clarity card also has no fees on overseas spending and withdrawals but withdrawals incur interest even if you pay off the card in full – so it's better to spend than withdraw.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 Vinci. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mobile firms were banned from charging extra fees to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and data (subject to a fair use cap) in Europe while the UK was still part of the EU. But now the post-Brexit transition is over, these rules now no longer apply.
When we spoke to 10 of the biggest providers in June, all told us they had no plans to reintroduce charges, but EE has now broken ranks and become the first to reveal it will charge. It will introduce a £2/day fee for mobile roaming in Europe from January. See our MSE News story EE to bring back mobile roaming charges in Europe for full details.
Separately, O2 and Three have announced changes to their 'fair use' policies which cap the amount of your UK data allowance you can use for free while roaming in Europe. However, this is very different to EE reintroducing roaming charges - mobile firms were allowed to set fair usage caps even when the EU ban on mobile roaming charges applied.
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.
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.
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