An affordable Roman holiday.
here’s nothing quite like Rome. Basilicas and big bowls of cacio e pepe. Statuesque fountains and affordable bottles of wine. There’s Gianicolo Park, with its whimsical umbrella pines and panoramic views, just above the heart of now-trendy Trastevere, where cobblestone lanes and dimly lit tavernas still serve a great neighborhood vibe. Monti has too many boutiques to visit in a day–especially considering the obligatory stops of cold gelato and hot espresso–and Villa Borghese offers a green space unlike anywhere else on Earth, where history, famous artworks, and the beauty of Mother Nature come together.
This is a prime time to visit the Eternal City. A budget of $200 per day for a solo traveler is a delicious amount, allowing for entry fees, great meals, petite purchases, and accommodations.
Related: The Best Free Things to Do in Rome
Staying for Less Than $150/Night
Rome’s hotels are famously expensive and famously cramped. However, there are still deals to be had. Search just outside of Rome’s center, and rates drop significantly. Consider neighborhoods like Pigneto (cafes, flower markets, street art), Testaccio (a photo-worthy, industrial-chic food market), and Esquilino (sweeping boulevards and admirable architecture). Also, consider an apartment rental rather than a hotel. Here is a prime example that sleeps four people for $85 per night during the low season.
Wake up to the crazy-loud gulls of Trastevere. Less of a coo and more of a cartoon car horn–it’s an amusing but effective alarm clock. Trastevere is far from the off-the-beaten tourist track, local neighborhood it was ten years ago, but the rates across the Tiber are still great, from hotels to apartment rentals. The name Trastevere translates to Beyond the Tiber, as it was the first neighborhood inhabited on the western bank. In ancient times, sailors and travelers arrived eager for vice. This was a place of gambling and debauchery in the oldest days, then became a thriving Jewish quarter, and today has a delightful, bohemian vibe, with plenty of cobblestone streets and ancient churches.
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Source an espresso (1 euro) at Caffe Della Scala Roma, with cases of fresh croissants (3 euros). Take your espresso quickly, three sips, like the Italians do, and explore the neighborhood. Basilica di Santa Maria opens at 7:30 a.m., and inside, 22 granite columns separate the nave from the aisles, and the impressive 12th and 13th-century mosaics are ample. The Madonna Della Clemenza panel painting dates to the 6th century C.E., one of the five oldest existing Marian icons from Medieval times.
The mile uphill is a nice cardio burn to Orto Botanico–Rome’s Botanical Gardens–and Gianicolo Park. Visit the greenhouses, the Japanese bamboo grove, and the park’s panoramic city views. The masterpiece fountain, the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, was constructed in 1612 as one of Rome’s first clean drinking water sources.
Museo di Roma opens at 10 a.m. (6 euros) with a permanent collection of modern and ancient watercolors depicting the transformation of Trastevere, as well as a range of rotating photography exhibits from global and Italian masters of the art form.
Cross the Ponte Sisto Bridge, admiring the Tiber and the picturesque tree-lined banks. The Ponte Sisto is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj, advisor to Pope Innocent X. When the Pope passed in 1655, she fled the city with papal gold. Just before dawn, people swear they’ve seen a spectral carriage charging the bridge.
Ghosts aside, the shopping just after the bridge is excellent, from estate jewelry to handmade, affordable leather bags at T-Nobile Roma Srl. Campo di Fiori–Rome’s most charming outdoor market–has dozens of stalls selling flowers and linen tops. Tiny artisan jars of pesto, vinegar, and olive oil make ideal souvenirs (5 euros).
Lunch nearby at La Fiaschetta. Shelves of wine bottles, brick floors, and stone archways add a rustic backdrop to a menu of Roman classics, like the rigatoni all’Amatriciana, (12 euros) with fatty, crispy guanciale and thick red sauce that clings to chewy noodles. Pair with a glass of house wine (7 euros).
The Pantheon is a breathtaking Roman temple and subsequent Catholic Church as of 609 AD. It’s one of the city’s most strikingly preserved pieces of ancient architecture, and admission is free. Book tickets in advance, especially in high season. In 2013, more than 6 million people visited the site.
Piazza Navona, mere blocks away, is staggering in scope, built as a stadium by Emperor Domitian. Half the size of the Colosseum, it held 30,000 for chariot races and gladiator fights. It showcases the city’s impressive Baroque architecture and fountain sculptures. Tours of the underground levels of Piazza Navona debuted in 2014. This UNESCO site can be visited via several companies, including Viator (10 euros).
After such a packed day, dinner in Trastevere is relaxing and soulful. Once under the radar, Trastevere is now swimming in a mixed crowd each evening, so reservations are advisable. At Ristorante Il Ciak, a bounty of bright-red ribeye decorates the front window case. Expect charming, checkered tablecloths, soft candlelight, and a bill of around 20 euros with wine.
THE DAY’S GRAND TOTAL: 59 euros
It’s a 10-minute taxi (13 euros) to the stone gates of Villa Borghese, where birdsong and fragrant pine quickly envelopes you. Spend a half-day at Galleria Borghese–the party home of the Borghese family, now home to one of the world’s most impressive private art collections, with sculptures, mosaics, and bas-reliefs dating to the 15th century–and the free, Carlo Bilotti Museum. It has a permanent collection of works, including a few Warhols. Borghese also has a Zoo and multiple cafes, making it very family-friendly. Advance tickets (23 euros) are money well spent.
It’s a gorgeous, 45-minute, mostly downhill walk to Trattoria Da Danilo. This tiny tavern’s walls are lined with photos of celebrities who no doubt chose the massive, famed Cacio e Pepe (14 euros). It’s served tableside from a stone bowl, with Parmesan showered till you beg for relief. After, it’s in the Esquilino neighborhood that you’ll find striking, broad avenues, big piazzas, ancient architecture, and one of Rome’s most impressive churches, The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Ornate is an understatement. Built in 432, the interior is jaw-dropping, with 13th-century gold mosaics on the ceilings and towering marble columns supporting the city’s tallest bell tower. Entrance is free.
Monti is an adjacent, upscale, trendy Roman neighborhood, great for people-watching and enchanting cafes. The boutique shopping is second-to-none and should include Mercato Monti, a vintage emporium on the weekends, where you’ll find local makers, art prints, and accessories.
From here, it’s an easy visit the Colosseum, but one of Rome’s most delicious splurges is pre-booking a sunset cocktail table at The Court at Palazzo Manfredi. Each booking is two hours, where you enjoy unstoppable views of the Ludus Magnus, giving way to the Colosseum, romantically lit at night. Cocktails are a staggering 23 euros each. However, the reservation includes an impressive spread of sandwiches, bruschetta, cheese, and Castelvetrano olives. You won’t even need dinner.
THE DAY’S GRAND TOTAL: 60 euros
Splurge on Rome
Speaking of splurges, if your budget allows for one over-the-top expenditure, here are our suggestions:
Purple skies, with the black silhouettes of Roman buildings and towering pine trees, are seen 280 degrees out of the windows surrounding this Michelin-star dining room, with its lively, open kitchen. Chef Fabio Ciervo plates delicate and inventive artwork with whimsical touches, like bursts of liquid nitrogen smoke and gelatins that shock the palate. Each creation is almost tough to eat–almost. A lavish tasting course event you won’t ever forget. 110 euros for a five-course meal
Testaccio Market Tour
Born in Arizona but a long-time Rome resident, Maurizio Di Franco has a passion and a knowledge of the city rarely matched. As the owner of VinoRoma and a sommelier, he teaches wine courses in addition to his exceptional, customizable private tours. If you’re a food lover, a trip to the Testaccio Market is a terrific option, where you graze on guanciale pizza, fresh desserts, and salty olives while learning about this old and esteemed working-class area. 100 euros for 2 people
The Golden Hour Tour with Access Italy
Just before sunset, your driver/tour guide arrives in a three-piece suit and invites you to slide into the passenger seat of a 1960s Alfa Romeo. Or, a 1950s American Cadillac, your choice. You cruise through the darkening streets of Rome, stopping at ten different locations, from Gianicolo Park to the Spanish Steps, from the Trevi Fountain to the Forum’s ruins. It’s hard to say whether this car tour is best to start your trip or to end it, but if you have the funds, you’ll never find a sexier way to learn about this town. (1,100 euros for three people)
After a strenuous run through the neighboring Villa Borghese, visit the adjacent five-star Hotel Baglioni Regina’s Caschera spa. You can book a package of treatments last two hours, from a Princess Package of pampering to a Moroccan-influenced, refreshing, desert-heat body treatment. (240 euros)