8 of My Favorite Things To Do In Rome (When I’m Broke AF)

Bella Roma. The eternal city. Where Julius Caesar perished and mythological gods reigned. It’s the figurative and literal locale of La Dolce Vita. It’s the biggest, most powerful, and one of the most important cities in the history of the world. It is my second home.

I had the pleasure of living in Rome for 3 months this year as an au pair for an Italian family. It is one of the best life experiences I’ve had (having an awesome family as hosts definitely helped!), and if you’re young, fresh out of high school or college, and looking to travel and experience another culture in the most authentic way possible, I encourage you to look into becoming an au pair.
During my time in Rome, I made a bunch of friends who were au pairs from all over the world. We were all young, broke (an au pair’s wage is seriously laughable, which is why we don’t do it for the money), and just wanting to have fun and frolic around this exciting ancient city. Thus, we were all incredibly thrifty and loved sharing new, cheap things to do in Rome with each other.
Thankfully, Rome is a city where it’s greatest sights are seen outside and on foot. Besides the typical tourist destinations, these are some of my favorite things to do in Rome on a budget.
rome on a budget
Thrift gold

Go to the Porta Portese Market on Sundays

If you’re looking for cheap, kooky, and, INSANELY MASSIVE, this is the flea market for you. Porta Portese takes place every Sunday in the Porta Portese neighborhood near Trastevere (trust me, if you’re taking the tram or bus to the market, you can’t miss it–it’s where the massive herds of people are piling off). It runs super early from about 8 am to 2 pm, so if you want a chance at scoring the best (and cheapest) vintage clothes, the best leather bags, or a unique piece of antique furniture, I would advise you get there early–MAD EARLY. I’m talking, you-ain’t-getting-NO-sleep, early. I’m so manic about this market that one Sunday I came home home from the club around 5am, slept for an hour and a half, and got back on the bus to head to the market at 7:30am just so I could score the best finds. Yes, I’m about that life.

quirinale rome on a budget
Gotta love the blur

Go to Piazza Quirinale At Night

Quirinale once was a royal house where some wealthy Italian family lived and now its a government building. Anyway, you’re not there to look at the building. You’re there to look directly opposite of the building at the gorgeous view of St. Peter’s Basilica. Sometimes its not lit up which is a bummer, but when it is it’s a magical view!

rome on a budget cappucino

Get a cappucino at Tazza D’Oro

Tazza d’oro is my favorite place to grab a cappucino in the city center. If you’re coming from the Piazza Navona side, keep walking past the Pantheon directly into that first alleyway and you’ll run into Tazza D’Oro (or, Google Maps, but whatever). This famous bar serves up a damn tasty cappuccino for a mere €1.10. WHAT?! Yeah. Pretty unheard of in the city center where a mediocre cappuccino can easily go for €2.50-€3 That’s all I’ve ever ordered from here, but I’ve heard great things about their pastries as well.

rome on a budget
A city within the city


Ostia Antica

One of Rome’s best kept secrets is also hands down my favorite thing to do in Rome. The old harbor town of Ostia was abandoned back in the 8th century once the Roman empire fell, however, its preservation is so pristine that it still looks like a functioning city. It only costs about 8 euros to visit, and you’re going to spend about 2-4 hours there, so it’s definitely a bang for your buck. Download Rick Steve’s free Ostia Antica audio guide and you’re on your way. I could go on and on about Ostia Antica, but I’ll leave it to you to discover the beauty of this hidden gem!


rome on a budget
The madness of Freni e Frizioni

Get aperitivo in Trastevere

If you’re ballin’ on a budget in Roma, and you want to eat like royalty but pay with peasant money, look no further than the greatest Italian idea ever had: aperitivo. L’aperitivo is slightly similar to what we call “happy hour” here in the states, but it’s so much better. When someone invites you to grab an aperitivo or you see a sign at a restaurant, or bar, advertising “Aperitivo! 10 EURO!”, it means that when you a buy a drink it comes with food. Most restaurants and bars have aperitivo between the hours of 5 pm and 9 pm. They’ll set out a buffet of food, which is usually a bunch of different mini Italian dishes like stuffed sausage, pasta, roasted potatoes, etc., and when you order your drink you will be granted access to the array of food (no limits!).

My favorite place for aperitivo? Why, that would be Freni e Frizioni in Trastevere, of course. They serve fresh vegetarian/vegan options, and although I’m not in the slightest way vegan or vegetarian, the food is SO bomb! Their cheapest wine is 6 euros meaning you can eat all organic, delicious, and hipster-like on the super low. You’re welcome.

Eat pizza al taglio

This is how true Romans eat their pizza, therefore, so should you. If you truly want an Italian pizza experience, head to a local pizzeria (preferably one not around a major tourist attraction) and ask for “un euro di insert pizza type of your choosing, per favore.” Since pizza biancha and pizza rossa are the cheapest, I usually go for a one euro slice of those to get more bang for my coin. When you’re dirt poor, this is definitely a key way of saving money on food and still eating like a local. And who doesn’t love pizza?

villa borghese rome on a budget

Wander around Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese is everything frugal Roman dreams are made of. It’s free, it’s full of history and art, and it’s big enough to spend a whole afternoon in. This pace is Huge with a capital ‘H’. On my visit, I don’t even know how I got in or where I exited, but I was walking for a good 15 minutes and probably saw about 1/24th of the park. This park is where the famous Galleria Borghese, is but we’re not going there because, ahem, we’re broke (and you need una prenatazione)! Instead, we’re going to skip through the perfectly manicured park fields to Museo Pietro Canonica which is free.99. There you will find the works of late Italian architect Pietro Canonica, who was also a sculptor, and since the museum was also his studio/apartment, you get to see both of those kept exactly how they were when we died. It is definitely creepy being in his apartment, let me tell you, but it was an awesome little free museum nonetheless. If you’re not feeling the museums, take a picnic on a sunny day and sit out in one of the open fields. Villa Borghese is your oyster.

Take a free language class at the library

And fail miserably at speaking the local language. If you’re planning on spending at least 2 weeks in Rome, I would highly recommend making an attempt at learning a bit of the local Italian language. Whether that is by doing a language exhange with a local, switching all of your technology languages to Italiano, or (my favorite) taking a free language class at an Italian library, learning the basics of the Italian language is not only going to enhance your experience of actually being in Italy, but you’ll also be more culturally aware.

While I was in Rome, I took free language classes at the library twice a week for 3 months. I made some local friends, and I learned how to properly say “che” (not chay, its keh). Even if you just go once, I’m sure you’ll learn something!

I hope you find this guide for exploring Rome on a budget useful! Have you done any of these things while in Rome? What are your favorite things to do in Rome that won’t break the bank? Let me know the 411!



7 Comment

  1. Awww! Great post! I have been to Rome twice but need to get back and spend more time there. All these things and food look amazing!

    1. admin says:

      Haha I would go back to Rome over and over again. It’s an amazing city!

  2. Paulett Jones says:

    Great post!! I have been to Rome and know that it can be expensive. .so I appreciate the frugal take.

    1. admin says:

      Thanks for reading Paulett! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Perfect! I will be there next week and I look forward to grabbing that cappuccino!

    1. admin says:

      I’m jealous!

  4. […] I didn’t feel impoverished. In fact, I felt like I was living in abundance and prosperity. Of course there were times I was scrambling.  When my student loans and credit card bills […]

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