Tips for Visiting Rome, Italy for Cheap
Saving Up to Go!
I visited Rome, Italy for New Years 2010. I am not super rich, I do not make a lot of money (I was a full time student and a part time bartender), nor do I have a wealthy family to pay for it. I also did not put it on a credit card!
A little back story: New years is my favorite holiday. I am not sure if it is because there are no family obligations, or because it feels like fresh start, or if its just because everyone is in a good mood. Maybe its because I love any good reason to have a couple of drinks and cut loose.
So, how do you save up money for the so called "Trip of a lifetime"? With a change jar, and lots of patience. As I said, I was a bartender at the time. So, I spent a whole year saving my change at the end of every shift and throwing it in a jar. (Ok, so I also raided my boyfriends pockets....) When I could, I threw in a couple of ones or big bills after particularly good shifts. In one year, I managed to save $1000, which was our spending money. I bought our plane tickets with tax return money and a little savings. Everyone has different ways to save that work better for them, this is just what worked for me. The most important thing to do is to set up a savings plan and stick to it.
Here's the real money part: We spent $2500 (I know, it sounds like a lot!) BUT we got a packaged deal through Hotwire which included 2 round trip plane tickets from Miami International Airport to Rome, PLUS 7 nights in a pretty nice hotel. I don't worry much about hotels, as long as the sheets and bathroom are clean, I am good (Hey, I'm in Rome, I don't plan on spending too much time in the hotel!). With that said, the hotel we got was very nice. The bathroom was spotless, the bed was clean and comfy and they had a sit down continental breakfast (score!) Hotel/airfare packages are the best deals I have found, but I do recommend looking at where the hotel is located. Sometimes they throw you out in the middle of no where. We were actually really close to a bus stop, and within walking distance to most of the sights we wanted to see.
Random Tips to Save More!
Eating and going out in Rome is quite cheap, if you know what to do (Some of this is what I did to spend as little as possible, some of it is what I should have done!)
- Bring refillable water bottles. I used metal ones that I can carry any where. They will save you money no matter where you travel. The trick is to bring them through airport security empty, then fill them up once you are through. In Rome, carry them with you filled with tap water (their water is perfectly fine to drink) to save while you walk about.When you go out to eat DO NOT order water....they bring you bottled water that costs 2 to 4 euros. You can save nearly 25 euros by (or 37 USD by todays exchange rate) by drinking your own water.
- For a cheap lunch, eat on the streets. There are a ton of street vendors everywhere selling amazing authentic paninis (its just a pressed sandwich, if you are wondering) for around 4 euros. My favorite is the tomato and fresh mozzarella.
- Look for specials at restaurants, they are usually posted on a chalk board on the sidewalk. Try not to get so hungry that you just walk into the first place you see. When you are traveling on a budget, it is important to look for cheap prices and nightly specials. Hey, if you had a ton of money to blow, you wouldn't be reading this. Also, bring snacks with you like trail mix or crackers to help tide you over if you get hungry and cranky.
- Getting around. I found that the buses in Rome were nearly free. I say nearly because we didn't pay...even though I think we were supposed to! We got on the bus expecting to pay ....and no one ever asked for money or a ticket or could tell us where to buy them. I saw one sign on the street where you could buy 50 hours of riding the bus for 1 euro. If you are worried, my suggestion is to have a few euros on you, then get on the bus and look a little confused and see if anyone says anything (they probably won't). I was there for a week and used the bus two or three times per day and no one ever asked for money.
Where to go
One of the reasons Rome is so cheap is because most of the most awesome art and architecture you want to see is located in churches, which are FREE. One of the coolest things I saw while randomly in Rome I found because it was raining and I ducked into a nearby church. I looked around and it was like "HOLY CRAP, that is the Ecstasy of St. Theresa!" Just keep in mind that people are worshiping and be respectful of that.
Here is just a few places you can see for absolutely FREE.
- The Pantheon. Houses the grave of Raphael, plus lots of awesome art. There is a McD's across the square from the Pantheon. A bit more expensive than US McDonald's, but they cook their fries in olive oil and have lots of options you cannot find here. Bring cash, that is all they accept. (one of my favorite memories is eating McDonald's on the portico of the Pantheon in the rain. Epic)
- The Coliseum. If you want a tour the building you have to pay, but you can see quite a bit from the outside.
- The Arch of Constantine. It is right by the Coliseum out in the open.
- The Trevi Fountain. Designed by Bernini. We actually had a travel buddy we met propose to his wife there...too cute.
- The Roman Forum. To have actually see it up close, you will have to pay a fee, but it is pretty cheap. But (again) you can see a ton from the streets for free. Also, don't get suckered into to paying for a tour or head phones for a "digital" tour...save that money by studying up or taking an Art History graduate (that was me!) To actually tour the site, we paid 12 euros each, but it was good for two days and included the Coliseum.
- St. Peter's Square. This is the huge square in front of the Vatican. You can see the Pope every Wednesday, but expect a crowd. I paid to see the Vatican Museum, but last I heard it was free on the last Sunday of each month.
- Spanish Steps. This has a great view, and great architecture. Also, there is a couple of awesome coffee shops right in front.
That is the last of the tips I have for tricks to save money visiting Rome, Italy. I hope it inspires you to go somewhere you have always wanted to go, where ever it is! Life is about your experiences, stop making excuses and just go!
Planning on going to New York City? I have tips to save money in NYC, too!