Rome was not quite the budget challenge that London and Paris were. Our hotel was superb, food options were plentiful, and very little was spent on transit since we walked almost everywhere, thanks to the ancient city’s layout. Below are the places I most enjoyed during my visit. Of course these are the obvious choices, but I did figure out how to avoid crowds and make the most of visiting these sites. If going during the summer, it is best to get out early to avoid the heat (this was hard for me, as vacation to me is sleeping in and not being on a time schedule). The good news is that you can return to your hotel to relax and nap during the intensely hot hours of afternoon, then hit the streets for the evening festivities.
If you’re planning on visiting Rome in the near future, read on. If you have already visited, I would love to know your favorites for my future return visit!
Hotel: My friend and I stayed at the Navona Colors Hotel (it was named Excel Navona at the time), near Piazza Navona. Our room was absolutely huge (by European standards), with an elegant, modern simplicity that was a refreshing contrast to the ruins one encounters all over Rome. The hotel staff was exceptionally polite, helpful in everything from directions to booking airport transportation to even just answering (with much patience and kindness) the many questions my friend and I put to them over the course of our stay. The breakfast (included in the hotel price) was as tasty as it was beautiful, but I must confess that my hands-down, absolutely favorite aspect of my stay was the huge Nespresso machine in the dining area. Steaming, frothy espresso drinks any time I wanted one. Even better? The Nespresso machine in our room. (And any coffee aficionado knows that Keurig cannot hold a candle to Nespresso. Nope. Nowhere even close). Add in a/c (harder to find in Europe than you’d think), free wifi, robes, lots of area to store our stuff, and you have a nearly perfect, budget-friendly hotel ideally situated near Rome’s main attractions.
Eating: Since breakfast was provided at our hotel, we didn’t try any breakfast places. We did rely on take-out sandwiches, gelato, and cafes for afternoon snacking. At night we visited restaurants around Piazza Navona since it was near our hotel. I didn’t feel that I received great food here, and on a return visit will do more research to find quality, budget-friendly restaurants. If people-watching and bustling crowds is your thing, then you will probably be happy staying in the touristy areas for eating. The one restaurant that I truly enjoyed was a lovely pizza place near the Tiber. We met up with a local girl my friend had met in NYC who took us there, but sadly I can’t remember its name. I know that it was next to a cute cooking store, and in a less-busy area. The food was fresh and delicious, delivered in huge portions. For a budget traveler this is very important, so I suggest trying to find similar, out-of-the-way eateries during your visit. They will probably be more authentic and tastier than what is offered in the busier, touristy areas anyway.
The Rome Pass: I felt that I wasted my money on this pass. I purchased it before I realized that its incentives of free transportation wouldn’t really benefit me as I walked everywhere; additionally, the museum discounts didn’t apply as most of the museums I wanted to visit were not covered by the pass. Live and learn, I say. I did get into the Coliseum for free, as well as scoring a last-minute entry into the Borghese Gallery. Other than that, my pass went largely unused.
Coliseum: If the Rome Pass did nothing else, it allowed us to skip the hours-long line and get in with a minimum wait. If you can’t get up super early to be there when it opens, it may be worth your money to buy the pass in order to bypass the wait. While one can easily self-guide inside the Coliseum, if I return I will purchase a tour as I noticed that tour groups were allowed access to areas closed off for most visitors.
Vatican: My friend and I were in line to enter the Vatican at sunrise, and this was a decision far wiser than we realized (we were mostly trying to escape the heat). Not only was St. Peter’s Square stunning beneath the morning sun, but we didn’t have to wait for entry and we were able to roam the visitor areas and climb the Vatican cupola without the hordes of people who had shown up by the time we left.
La Catacomba Di San Callisto: Visiting the catacombs is perfect on a hot summer day, as the vaults beneath Rome are dark and very cold. Our guide was very informative and friendly as she guided our group through the labyrinthine cemetery. It was a sobering look at the lives of Romans thousands of years ago, and glimpsing their graves, much like seeing the ruins around Rome, was yet another emphasis on life’s brevity.
After the tour, I enjoyed walking around the Mediterranean landscape surrounding the catacomb entrance. The only hiccup in our day was an excruciatingly long wait for a bus back into Rome. Make sure you plan in time waiting on public transportation in Rome, as it is nowhere near efficiency.
Borghese Gallery: Not to be missed are collections of Caravaggio, Raffaello, and Bernini housed in a former villa, surrounded by a park lush with verdure, ponds, and sweetly cool walks beneath large trees. Book ahead for a guaranteed entrance, and book as far ahead as possible if you will be there during peak travel season. Everyone goes here, and after a visit, you’ll see why.
Pantheon: Free (one of the few things that are in Rome!), but crowded. You can see the tombs of Raphael, Vittiorio Emmanuel II, and Umberto I. I was awed by the stunning Roman architecture and spent much time walking around slowly, taking it in.
Perhaps my favorite activity was wandering around the streets, stopping to sit in a cafe for an afternoon espresso or hanging out in the gelato shops. And of course, the nights in Rome. Don’t miss seeing the fountains and bustling Piazzas at night.
Until next time… Happy Weekend! xo.