The Eternal City on a Shoestring

Tips for an Inexpensive Visit to Rome

Rome, (Zenit.org) Edward Pentin | 3568 hits

Rome can be an expensive place to live, but visiting the Eternal City doesn’t have to break the bank.

With the arrival of low-cost air tickets, many tourists come to Rome every year and manage to enjoy an extended weekend or longer on a shoestring. The key, as in most places, is knowing where to stay, the best value tickets to buy, and the most economical way to travel.

In terms of accommodation, if the traveller is looking to stay in hotels, the best method is to look on the internet and search sites such as kayak.com or hotels.com. But most of these can be relatively expensive and if you’re looking for rooms under 30 or 40 euros a night, you’re not likely to find them there.

The alternative, especially if you’re a pilgrim, is to visit the website Istituti Religiosi (www.istitutireligiosi.org). This is the only web site promoting accommodation in religious institutes, shelters, holiday homes, monasteries and convents throughout Italy. The site has 800 facilities on its books, over 100 of which are in Rome, and many are reasonably priced.

Like other travel sites, this one asks visitors to key in their dates and number of guests, and the availability of the cheapest accommodation appears along with photographs. The company says its inventory of places to stay is “constantly changing” as new places come online.

It says its aim is to provide visitors access to Italy’s vast heritage, “linked to ancient traditions of hospitality and spirituality that have developed on the great religious itineraries of Christianity.” It also believes that religious institutes and shelters “contribute to the renewal of religious tourism, arts and culture, thanks to a very high standard of quality and an exceptional quality to price ratio.” A “last minute” service is also offered and visitors can sign up for a periodic newsletter.

A spokesperson for Istituti Religiosi told me the rates are very low at the moment, possibly partly because of the recession, but that they vary according to the standard of the accommodation.

Aside from religious institutions, The Beehive near Termini Station is regarded as cheap and cheerful accommodation with very good reviews. Prices are €25 a person for dormitory beds. Other hotels near Termini are also on the budget end of the scale, though bear in mind parts of the area can be quite sleazy.

Airbnb offers some self-catering apartments, though these can be overpriced compared to other European cities. But it also has some reasonably priced bed and breakfast rooms. These can also be found at the Bed and Breakfast Association of Rome (http://www.b-b.rm.it/) which offers over 100 bed and breakfasts and apartments located in the historic center of Rome, as well as other areas of the city.

Rome is full of restaurants, nearly all of them good quality, so it’s not difficult to find some good value places. Fodor’s has a selection of some of the cheapest (http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/italy/rome/restaurants-nam_price:2.html) but there are many others. One tip is to steer clear of the tourist areas, so those nearest the Vatican or other major sites. You’ll probably want to skip a drink in the piazza in front of the Pantheon which is notoriously expensive.

For a cheaper option, Rome also has many “pizza taglio” outlets where you can buy just a slice of pizza and a drink for around €5. A few supermarkets have now sprung up in town, especially around the Pantheon area. And if you’re really trying to save the pennies and need a drink, Rome has many drinking fountains around town where good quality water is always on tap.

For budget pilgrims, a major advantage is that most Church-related sites are free except to visit some of their cloisters, museums or archaeological areas which require a small fee to enter.

This applies to the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome – the city’s ancient and major churches – which comprise the basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, St. Sebastian and the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. All the other 350 or so churches in Rome are also free to enter, though of course they appreciate donations.

Museums tend to be relatively costly, as do the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, though the costs can be reduced by taking a tour, which can sometimes combine a group of sites and be cheaper than individual entrance tickets.

The price of a ticket to the Vatican Museums is €16, €8 for reductions and €4 for students. The last Sunday of every month, from 9am to 12:30pm, the Museums are free. For the last three months of this year, these dates are Oct. 27th, Nov. 24th and Dec. 29th. The Museums recommend that you prepare to be “extremely patient” as queues outside the entrance “can get rather long!”

Money can also be saved through transport tickets. Public transport in Rome is considerably cheaper than most metropolises. A single ticket costs €1.50, lasts 100 minutes and is valid on all the city's buses, trams and metro. Daily tickets cost €6, while a three-day tourist tickets €16.50, and a weekly €24. The Roma Pass card for €34 http://www.romapass.it/p.aspx?l=en&tid=2 offers transport with various discounts to museums and other attractions. Coach transfers to and from Rome's airports are relatively cheap (under €10). The train is also reasonable to and from Fiumicino, though bear in mind that the Leonardo da Vinci Express to and from Termini station takes roughly the same time and costs more than the standard train from Roma Tiburtina.

The 110 Open ticket is a hop-on hop-off tourist bus that takes passengers through all the major historical and artistic sights of the city, including archaeological ones. Prices range from €12-€20. There is also the Archaeobus which stops at all the most famous Roman archaeological sites and costs €13. For a more Christian-oriented excursion, Roma Cristiana, operated by the Vicariate of Rome’s pilgrimage office, offers tours throughout the center of Rome. Prices range from €15-€33 http://www.operaromanapellegrinaggi.org/en/romacristiana/openbus

If you’re in a group, pro-Catholic tour companies (surprisingly there aren’t that many) that are reasonably priced are Eternal City Tours: http://www.eternalcitytours.com/ or Your Roman Holiday http://kiron.us/home.

But if money is tight and you’re happy not to have a guide, you can simply rely on your own two feet. One particularly welcome aspect to Rome is that all the major sights are within walking distance. You could, for example, see the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Venezia in one afternoon as they are all within a mile of each of other. And walking to the Vatican from that area only takes about half an hour.     

The other obvious tip in visiting Rome on a budget is to avoid peak holiday times, and around April-May and September-October when the weather is at its best. Hotels also often raise prices during public holidays, so better to avoid January 1, January 6, March 17, Good Friday-Easter Monday, April 25, May 1, June 2, August 15, November 1, December 8, December 25, December 26. Hotels will also already be raising their prices around April 27 for the canonizations of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II so if you’re a budget traveller, you’ll probably wish to steer clear of Rome at that time.

But whatever the season, Rome has so many invaluable and beautiful treasures even off-peak seasons are a good time to visit. And as an added bonus, you don’t need a large bank account to do so.