Rome for less

Posted on: 15 April 2010 by Mark O'haire

Which? Holiday's Paula Bonetti does the Grand Tour of this ancient capital city - without blowing the budget.

Rome, once the Caput Mundi (Capital of the world), is an exhausting and chaotic, yet exhilarating place to visit. A tale of two cities, its rich history spans nearly 2800 years.

Easy to navigate on foot, the River Tiber flows through the centre - separating the ancient, renaissance and baroque city to the east, from the religious city of the Vatican to the west. It is a great device from which to orientate yourself.

City Facts

Why Go? Fascinating history, impressive architecture and some of the world’s greatest masterpieces.

When To Go? A year-round city, but best in the cooler months of January to March and September to November.

Highlights Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, curbside cafes, riverside walks.

What To Avoid? Early morning and national holiday crowds, lengthy queues - to avoid buy tickets in advance, or use a Roma pass or tour guide.

Sightesee & save

With a wealth of art and historical treasures on offer, sightseeing doesn’t always come cheap, but it needn’t cost a fortune. If visiting several museums, buy a Roma pass for 25 Euros (£22) - cash only or online at This intergrated museum and transport card gives you free access to two museums or sights in the city (excluding any Vatican-owned property) and unlimited travel on public transport. receive up to 30% off entrance to any other participating museums and attractions visited thereafter. It is valid for 72 hours.

Tip - To maximise your savings with the Roma pass, use it wisely. Some of the most expensive entrance tickets are the Galleria Borghese and the combined ticket for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hills. Use your pass to gain free entry to these sights first - they are both worth it. Entry to Galleria Borghese requires minimum 24-hour advanced booking - 2 Euros fee (£1.75). Both of these sights are free for over 65s, excluding booking fees.

Walk the city

Rome offers many spectacular sights for free, with most landmarks linked by piazzas. Walk around to explore them at their best witout breaking the bank.

Spend a few hours strolling from the Spanish Steps at Spagna, passing the Trevi Fountain (stop to throw in a coin). Then take in the Pizza Colonna and the Temple of Hadrian, all for free (and a sneaky ice cream at Giolitti’s), before arriving at the Pantheon, a must-see. The famous Bernini fountain at the Piazza Navona is also worth a look.

Grab an espresso for less than a Euro and save by drinking at the bar with the locals instead of taking a seat. It’s also worth a slight detour to see the Vittorio Emanuele II monument - the huge Mussolini monstrosity. It also houses a free muemeum below.

Continue south, through the lively and non-touristy  Jewish ghetto; the synagogue and museum warrants the 7.50 Euros (£6.50) entrance fee. Follow the river’s embankment along Aventino for fantastic views of the Vatican from the Parco Savello, ‘the Garden of Oranges’, before crossing the bridge into medieval Trastevere.

Travel Essentials

Flights from the UK - Direct flights depart from most UK airports to Ciampino and Fiumicino airports in Rome.

Organised Tours - Hop-on hop-off buses cost approx 18 Euros (£16) a day. Walking tours with local guides are a good way to learn about the city’s history. is excellent.

Airport transfers - The Leonardo Express goes from Fiumicino airport to Termini station for €11 (£9.50) one way. Or, the FM1 local train costs 5.50 Euros (£4.80) one way to Trastevere, from there take the #8 tram (1 Euro) to Largo di Torre Argentina. There are no direct rail services from Ciampino airport . Buses travel to Termini station – approx 4 Euros (£3.50) one way.

Tip: No trip to Rome is complete without seeing some art. Exhibitions are detailed online at A visit to the Capitoline Museums is a must (use a Roma pass or, if over 65, entrance is free). It is home to two major works by Caravaggio, and 2010 marks the 400th anniversary of his death.   

Alternatively, visit some of the 957 churches dotted around Rome, all of which are free. Many are home to priceless art collections, but you may need to pay a few cents to illuminate the works. Our favourite for Caravaggio was the Sant’ Agostino Church at Via Sant’ Agostino. The Madonna di Loreto hangs in the first chapel on the left; there is also a Raphael fresco. Other churches for Caravaggio include the San Luigi dei Francesi, Via Giustiniani and Santa Maria Del Popolo, Piazza Del Popolo. For medieval churches, don’t miss the Santa Maria in Trastevere, which houses marvellous mosaics.

The Vatican

The Vatican is a nest of complexes, parts of which are free to visit, namely St Peter’s Basilica (the largest church in Christendom) and the crypt. Although it costs €15 (£13.20), the Vatican Museum (approx 10 minutes from the Basilica) is worth the entry fee to view the estimated five miles of exhibits on show, including the spectacular Sistine Chapel.

Tip: The Vatican gets very crowded first thing in the morning, so go in the afternoon when it’s not as busy. You will need at least four hours to get the most from your visit. Taking an organised walking tour or booking in advance at for €4 (£3.50) may be worth considering, as you will skip the queues at the entrance.

5 Top Tips

  1. Enjoy the free views - The picture perfect ‘keyhole’ vista of St Peter’s dome visible at Via di Santa Sabina, high on the Aventine Hill, was our favourite city view.
  2. Visit on the last Sunday - Visiting the Vatican City on the last Sunday of the month entitles you to free entry into the museum 9am-12.30pm (except on national holidays).
  3. Free entry for visitors over 65 - If over 65, carry your ID and access public transport and most city and state-run museums and archaeological sites for free.
  4. Remember extras are not included - Don’t forget that bread and water are not free in restaurants in Rome. It may
    offend to turn these away though.
  5. Fill up for free - Take a plastic bottle with you on your travels, and fill up with Roman spring water gushing from drinking fountains throughout the city.

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