Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck in Rome: Part One

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All roads lead to Rome. If you travel long enough, you’re bound to find yourself enchanted by the Eternal City, and budget travelers are hardly exempt. Italy, like most of Western Europe, can seem prohibitively expensive to those traveling on a shoestring. But as with all pricier destinations, flexibility and wise money management go a long way.

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Rome, Flickr © Mark Freeth

Where to Stay

When saving money is your prime object, you have to make a few sacrifices in your accommodations. We’re willing to bet that safety and cleanliness aren’t on your list of negotiables, so when you travel to Rome, be prepared to give up a prime location.

Hostel Lodi is located in the quiet San Giovanni neighborhood about a 15-minute drive from the city’s center. (Yes, Rome has quiet neighborhoods.) Getting around isn’t the easiest task, as the Roman subway is very much a work in progress. But the property is clean, the warm and knowledgeable staff put all other hostels to shame, and the nightly price under 20 euro can’t be beat.

Garden in hostel Lodi

If you’re willing to drop just a few euro more, the area surrounding the Termini metro station is home to many well-reputed hostels. This is an especially convenient location for getting to and from the airport, and the Colosseum is just a short walk away. The Four Seasons Hostel Rome has dorms starting at just over 20 euro a night and welcomes guests with a complimentary glass of champagne. Funny Palace offers dorms under 25 euro a night and private rooms starting at about 85 euro per night. It often gets mentioned in guidebooks like Lonely Planet and Frommer’s for its convenient internet and laundry service.

Where to Eat

As a country that prides itself on its food and wine, Italy is a very easy place to dine on a dime. No matter where you turn, you’ll always be able to find a decent slice of pizza for just a few euro.

If you prefer to treat yourself to a sit-down meal, keep in mind that Italian restaurants commonly charge a couple extra euro per person for table service. This might appear on your bill as “coperto” or “coperto e pane,” but since tipping isn’t necessary in Italy, the total cost of your meal will probably balance out.

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Trattoria in Rome, Flickr © David McKelvey

When looking for a place to dine, keep an eye out for any place marked as an “osteria” or “trattoria.” These are more casual eateries than the traditional “ristorante” and are more likely to have affordable prices. Da Cesare al Casaletto is a well-loved trattoria for its hefty pasta servings.

It may be surprising, but the streets surrounding the Colosseum – particularly the Monti area – are  chock full of decent, non-touristy, inexpensive places to eat. Try the “enoteca” or wine bar Al Vino Al Vino for a glass of wine with some cheese and charcuterie before dinner. Slice into an authentic Roman artichoke at Osteria della Suburra or load up on hearty spaghetti carbonara at Da Robertino.

Finish up your Roman meal with a gelato. Ciampini, between the Spanish Steps and the Parthenon, scoops up creamy, classic flavors like coffee or dark chocolate. If you’d like to try something more creative, head to the foodie hotspot Il Gelato near the Circus Maximus for unusual flavors like chocolate chile or even gorgonzola. You can get the best of both worlds, both old and new, at Giolitti, between the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona. This is the oldest gelateria in the entire city, but still serves up modern flavors like marsala custard and champagne.