Rome is well known for being expensive and popular, especially in peak season. But it is also extremely beautiful - and if you know how to manage it, costs almost nothing to enjoy to the max. I just spent two days on my way to my poetry residency with a budget of very close to zero.
There are massive differences between how I travel now, with a focus on spending, and when I had cash to burn. I can say with total sincerity that I enjoy travel much more when aiming to spend (and waste) as little as possible. Money gives us the easy way out — taxis, tour buses, buying crap we don’t need… all eliminated when we have less to spend. Ultimately, we figure things out for ourselves and experience new places from ground level. As a local would. It’s just beautiful.
Go Everywhere Early
In the below video you see me sitting on the famous Spanish Steps writing poetry on my typewriter, with not another soul in sight. This is because I was there at 7:30am. Just 1.5 hrs later, the place swarms with tourists. Tourists never leave their hotels before 9 (after breakfast), so while I jostled with the locals for space on the metro, there wasn’t a tourist in sight. Heavenly.
Also, the sign showing 37 degrees celcius was from 9am. Another great reason to see things early!
Forget Tours: See Things Your Way
I loved seeing the Colosseum, but was super happy to crawl up a little hill around the oldest side and sit alone under a bush of magenta flowers and gaze. Joining the endless line of ants paying to head inside didn’t seem like it would enhance my experience. It was glorious to just quietly be with it.
The Pantheon, with its amazing history, is completely free and you can wander in and out all day if you like. I saw the Vatican from the Aventine Hill (below), and many of the other famous sites just by wandering.
Rome is one of the easiest cities I’ve visited to just wander as everything is so close. With a decent map, it’s a piece of cake.
I spent a lot of time in Rome looking up. And the things I saw were so beautiful that yes, once or twice, I had a tear in my eye. We are so used to looking down at phones, maps, the pavement, GPS, our clothes, other people etc, that I am fairly certain our next evolution will include a hinged neck hump. But looking up, ohhh. It’s always such a beautiful surprise. A new perspective in a new place can change everything.
Low Cost Luxury: Hotel De Russie
Literally a 5 min stroll from the Spanish Steps, Hotel De Russie is one of the most exclusive hotels in Rome and is easily the most beautiful. Staying overnight costs upwards of 800 euros, but the stunning gardens café are always open to the public. It is so green, cool, peaceful and beautiful at lunchtime that it’s hard to believe you are in the same city (after 5 is crazy busy). Best of all, you will be greeted at the door by a man in a top hat and tails, whatever the weather.
Cost: 9 EUROS for the best cup of tea I have ever had.
The Aventine Keyhole
Once the grand entrance to the priory of the Knights of Malta, this is a gorgeous little creation that even most locals don’t know of. It is situated on top of the Aventine Hill (Aventino), with no signs or fanfare, just a green door in a carpark. When you look through the keyhole, you see the dome of St Peter’s perfectly framed by a leafy green avenue. It has an amazing history; but mostly, it is super gorgeous and well worth the 10min walk from Circo Massimo metro station (bring a map and follow the hill up).
This was my favourite site!
Borrow a Bike
Rome isn’t actually that big. I borrowed a bike and could ride to most places very easily. It’s also a super bike friendly city with many bike paths, and the ability to ride on the footpath, bike path or road it meant I had no trouble zipping around. It saved me loads of time and meant I crammed in heaps of exploring with much less effort.
Check out my little vid below for my favourite moments.
I stayed in Rome for two nights and therefore had some other costs, which I also kept minimal. Here is how I did it.
Accomodation: I rented a gorgeous apartment (including breakfasts) from Airbnb.com which was 2 metro stops from the centre. This meant there were no tourists and the food was excellent and super cheap (dinner for around 2 euros!). It cost me less to stay there than a cab ride from the airport would have.
Food: The small pizzerias and cafés near my apartment were amazing and cheap, and when I was out wandering I bought bananas and fresh coconuts from street vendors for less than 2 euros for the day. I took water with me.
Travel: I bought a 2 day metro card which cost around 18 euros for unlimited travel. It was all I needed for the entire time as the metro stops everywhere, and the bike got me the rest of the way!