Monday, April 4, 2016

How to Spend a Week in Rome {On a Budget!}

As you may have noticed, I have been absent from the blogging world for about a month and a half. This is because German schools have an awesomely long spring break, so Samuel and I decided to make the most of it the become world travelers. We've been in Rome, all around the US, and even in Paris for a day on the way back to Berlin.

You may be impressed that I'm writing this post so promptly after my return to Berlin while I'm still in a fierce battle with jet lag (What, five days later isn't impressive?), but the truth is, Samuel has decided that we were doing some spring cleaning today, so I needed a good excuse to escape for a few minutes. So here you go, a post about our amazing (and cheap!) week in Rome.


First, a few tips.

Tips for being a cheapskate in Rome:

1. Use Skyscanner to find your flight. I can't tell you how much money we've saved in the last year from using Skyscanner. If you are flexible with your dates, it's especially helpful. I've even made my own connecting flights by searching for flights anywhere in the US to any country in Europe for example and then found another cheap flight to get me to the right places. For this trip, we got two round trip tickets from Berlin to Rome for about $80.

2. Skip the Hotel, stay at Airbnb! Not only can it be way cheaper, but you'll also get to experience the locals. Plus, you can a $20 credit from me for Airbnb by clicking HERE. We stayed here and had an awesome experience. We got the whole bottom floor to ourselves, got to meet a Roman family, and spent less than $200.

3. Spend your time doing free things. You'll probably want to do things like tour the Colosseum and Vatican, which aren't too expensive anyway, but our favorite things were actually free. You can stroll around the charming streets of Trastevere (see picture above), walk in the parks, visit the Trevi Fountain (which I think is most beautiful at night), see the Pantheon, or walk into any of the hundreds huge, gorgeous churches for free.

4. Visit a grocery store and pick up some sandwich ingredients. We had a sandwich pretty much every day for lunch, so we didn't mind splurging a little on eating out in the evening. Stock up on some good olive oil, cheeses, olive paste, prosciutto, good bread, mini bottles of wine etc. If you're at an Airbnb where you can cook dinner too, then even better!

5. Stay in the touristy area so you don't have to deal with the public transportation. We actually didn't do this because we enjoy getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city at night, but the public transportation is terrible there. It only cost about $25 for a week of transportation, but if you stay in walking distance of the attractions, you'll never need it.

6. Don't buy tickets to the attractions online. It's hard to find the cheapest deal, and every time we looked it up online, the price ended up being cheaper than we thought when we bought the tickets at the location. If anyone is offering you tickets for guides or skipping the line while you are standing in line, don't give them the time of day. You can get cheaper guides inside and it's worth the huge price difference to stand in line and wait for the real price.

7. Go off-season so that the lines are shorter. This way you won't be as tempted by the those alluring salesmen telling you their great line-skipping deals as I mentioned above.

8. Water costs money at restaurants, but it's free in the public drinking fountains (more on that later). If you aren't one of those people who has to take a sip of water every two bites when you're eating, and didn't want to splurge on a glass of wine this meal, then skip the drinks altogether and chug some water out of your water bottle when you leave the restaurant (more on our water bottle later too).

Trevi Fountain

A park in Rome (with a statue of baby Moses and his mother I think)


Food and Wine

First of all, the food was awesome. There was pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine galore. The biggest street food I saw was chestnuts being roasted. We never did get around to trying any though (snap). My favorite thing about the food though, was that they are very gluten free friendly. Italy is even easier for celiacs than the US. Everyone seemed to know what gluten free meant, the grocery stores all had a gluten free section (and I believe pharmacies do too), and there are tons of restaurants that offer gluten free pizza, pasta, desserts, and even cones for your gelato! You can search for gluten free restaurants anywhere in Italy using the website HERE.

Things to do

There are endless things to do in Rome. I already mentioned some of the free things to do above (Trastevere, parks, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and churches). Just exploring and getting lost in the ancient streets was the most fun part of our trip. But we also did a few paid attractions.

1. The Catacombs

We visited the Saint Sebastian catacombs. You can't go in without a guided tour, but it's totally worth it to have the guide. We learned a lot about the early Christians. There are lots of catacombs to visit, and we chose Saint Sebastian randomly, but I'm glad we did. Peter and Paul were both buried there for a short time, and we loved learning the story of Saint Sebastian too. Plus, it's the only catacomb that is open during the lunch hours, which happened to be when we were visiting.

The Colosseum

2. The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill

Of course I knew about the Colosseum before we ever went to Rome, but I didn't know much about the Forum or Palatine Hill. The Forum was the ancient hub of social life in Rome, and is now a hodgepodge of beautiful ruins. The Palatine Hill overlooks the Forum. Palatine is where we get the word palace from, so you won't be surprised to find the ruins of a massive palace that housed the emperors of Rome on this hill.

You can buy a  ticket for all three of these sights for about $17 if I remember correctly, and even cheaper if you happen to be an EU citizen (unfortunately EU residency doesn't help you). You can use the ticket for two days (they don't have to be consecutive), so you should do the Colosseum one day and the Forum and Palatine another day. You can get a guide or an audio guide for either for an additional price. We got the audio guide for the Colosseum, but decided it wasn't worth it. There are signs everywhere (and all over the city for that matter) that you can read instead and having the audio guide just detracted from the experience of being there, if you ask me.

View from a window in the Colosseum

3. The Vatican

It's definitely worth it to walk over to Vatican city while you're in Rome. It's free to enter Saint Peter's Basilica which was hands down our favorite part of Vatican City. St. Peter's is the largest church in the world and it is gorgeous. However you do have to pay to get into the Vatican museum and lines are long (I think we waited two hours and we were there off-season). You will have to go through this line if you want to see the Sistine Chapel unless you pay an arm and a leg for skip-the-line tickets. The Sistine Chapel is cool, and of course you have to see it while you're there, but it actually looks much more big and impressive in photos (or maybe we just got spoiled seeing so many amazing things in Rome). We were actually much more impressed by the art gallery which is full of paintings by Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. If your time is limited in Rome though, I wouldn't definitely advise you to make St. Peter's Basilica your priority for Vatican City. No pictures could begin to do it justice.

The altar of Saint Peter's Basilica

When to go

We actually visited Rome in early February, but it really looked and felt like April or May. I would highly advise going off-season like we did to avoid uncomfortable heat, lines, and maybe get some lower prices too. You can check here what the average temps are for the month you want to go. Just make sure to bring an umbrella just in case. We did have a few sprinkles.

The Roman Forum in February

View of the Colosseum from the Palatine Hill

Getting Around


The public transportation in Rome stinks. Maybe I'm spoiled in Berlin where everything is punctual and tidy, but I just couldn't stand the public transportation in Rome. The buses were confusing and came sporadically with no schedule, their routes were out of the way and everything was totally unorganized. One time we were even in a caravan with three sparsely filled buses on the same exact route that arrived at the same destination within about two minutes of each other. The trains were overcrowded and uncomfortable. I can't say enough bad things about the whole system, but Samuel still insisted I give it one star, since it did get us from one place to another (eventually).

Renting a car may be a better option, but the traffic can get bad. I think the best way to go is to walk everywhere. I told Samuel we need to rent a motorcycle next time though.

Speaking English

Some people speak English, but a lot don't. This is another way I've been spoiled in Berlin, where anyone will start speaking English as soon as they detect an American accent. Most of the Italians, on the other hand, seem to think that the proper response to "we don't speak Italian" is to simply speak louder and and more deliberate Italian at you until somehow something will finally click in your brain and you'll be fluent in their language. Overall though, we got around fine. Just keep a map with you and you can point at it for bus drivers or people on the street and they can point you in the right direction.

Other Tips for Getting Around

Pick up a map at the airport and circle all the places you want to make sure you get to.

Watch your bags. There are pickpockets. The only thing we lost was my (favorite ever) water bottle. I think we must have just set it down somewhere, but we are still blaming the waitress for stealing it out of our bag because she was mad that we didn't order water.

Follow the tourists. They know where to go. Traveling off the beaten path will only take you to ugly littered areas. Rome isn't the cleanest city, but the tourist areas are kept nice.

Bring a water bottle with you. There are small water fountains throughout the entire city with streams of clean drinking water where you can fill up your water bottle. They all look a little different, but you'll know them when you see them.

One of the many drinking fountains in Rome

One of the hundreds of churches in Rome
Largo di Torre Argentina where Julius Caesar was assassinated
A view from of the city from Capitoline Hill

Well, I hope you enjoyed my second travel post. I don't know what will be next, but we have our eyes on Norway. Stay tuned and don't forget to follow Yammie's Noshery on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest or following by email by enter your email address in the top right hand sidebar!


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