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Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Rome

Visiting Rome and want to stick to a budget? Check out all these great budget-friendly ideas of things to do!

Welcome to my series on our 10-day trip to Rome and India where I’m sharing a peek into our trip — where we went, what we learned, and how we saved money. For details on why we went to Rome and India, read this post. For more information on where we stayed in Rome, read this post.

We only had one full day to see the sights in Rome and we wanted to make the most of it — and we also wanted to keep our expenses down as much as possible. So we ended up deciding to only spend money on a few things today — the tickets to the Vatican Museum, lunch out at an outdoor cafe (we ate snacks we had brought with us on the trip for breakfast and then grabbed some inexpensive sandwiches for dinner), and gelato. We also stopped once at a convenience store to re-stock our water bottles since they were selling them for around $0.75 USD each and that was half the cost of anywhere else we found.

We opted against paying for any transportation and instead just walked everywhere. It was a LOT of walking (maybe 10-12 miles?), but it meant we got great exercise and we got to see a lot more of Rome very up close and personal!

As we were walking, we kept seeing signs advertising “American Breakfasts”. I found it interesting that this is what they consider an American Breakfast… and the price is kind of crazy high! (Scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee and orange juice for around $17 USD with the exchange rate. Say what???)

They day could not have been more perfect weather-wise. I wore comfortable shoes, leggings, a tunic top, and a heavy long sweater and that was the right outfit choice as it was cozy, and I found that when the sun was behind a cloud, I needed my sweater.

But when the sun was out, it was warm enough that I didn’t need my sweater during the middle of the day. (I also brought a lightweight scarf in the backpack and ended up using it when it cooled down in the evening.)

It was fun to pop into McDonald’s and see what they offered in Rome. It was definitely somewhat different than America!

We started the day off by visiting the Pantheon (it’s completely free to get in). I had visited here back in 2016 so it was fun to get to take Jesse here to experience it!

Jesse went around and read almost every plaque and sign and absorbed all of the historical significance. I love watching him hungrily lap up anything history-related!

Next, we headed to the Trevi Fountain (it’s free to visit). Even though the fountains were off because they were being cleaned, there were still mobs of people taking photos.

The sun was so bright and the crowds were so packed that we struggled to find any place with decent lighting to get a photo. But after multiple tries, we finally got this one.

It was a long walk to Vatican Museum and it took us over 30 minutes to get there, but it was a beautiful walk. There were a LOT of people outside St. Peter’s Basilica, and we we had to almost push through the crowds to get to the museum.

(We found out later that the pope has his general audience to the people on Wednesdays so that’s why it was so crazy crowded at St. Peter’s Basilica! I’d recommend not going on a Wednesday unless you want to get to see the pope. We didn’t realize we could have seen him… I somehow missed that in my research!)

We had purchased our tickets online in advance for the Vatican Museum. It was 4 Euros more per ticket to do this, but when we saw the huge crowds, we were glad that we had.

In the end, it didn’t save us an hour or two of extra time waiting in line to have booked our tickets ahead of time, but it definitely saved us some time and also gave us peace of mind that we would be able to get into the museum!

(I had read online that you’ll sometimes have to wait in line an hour or two just to get your tickets. And there’s a possibility that there will be so many people there that you won’t get to get tickets at all.)

The one place we knew we wanted to see for sure in the museum was the Sistine Chapel. You end up walking through a lot of the museum to get to it!

I had been to the Vatican Museum before, but it was fun to see it again (this time in a less sleep deprived and hungry state!)

The ornate-ness of everything can almost feel overwhelming! It’s inspiring and beautiful and just so much — everywhere you look!

This was one of my favorite photos from this day. It aptly captures the essence and beauty of the Vatican Museum.

And of course, Jesse stopped to read a LOT of signs and take it all in… and then he’s been telling me so many interesting tidbits from what he learned over the past week!

You’re not supposed to take any photos in the Sistine Chapel… though so many people were anyway! But I stood outside the chapel and took this photo looking in to give you a little peek!

We made the mistake of not looking for the secret passageway to get to St. Peter’s Basilica from the Vatican Museum so we didn’t end up getting to go into it because the line to get in was massive and we likely would have waited in it for 2-3 hours (it’s free to get in but because it was Wednesday and it was the day that the pope does the general assembly there were SO many people waiting in line!) But we did get some great photos outside!

By the way, on the Vatican site, it says you can’t bring backpacks in to the museum — that you’d have to check them for free at the coat check. But we were able to bring our backpacks in and they didn’t ask us to check them.

We ate a late lunch a cafe and then made our way to the Coliseum. On our way, we saw this — I guess it was a restoration of this site that had been dug up in an archeological dig? It looked like painstaking work but it was fascinating to watch!

I hadn’t gotten to spend time at the Coliseum last time we went to Rome, so I was thrilled to get to spend some time there this time! It’s so massive and impressive!

The gates were closed by the time we got there so we couldn’t go in it (you have to pay to do so), but we got to walk around the entire thing and take our time soaking it all up and being pretty awestruck by how massive it was.

On the back side of the Coliseum, there was hardly anyone and it kind of felt like we were having our own private tour! Also, if you don’t actually go inside, it’s completely free to walk around it for as long as you’d like!

After spending time at the Coliseum, we headed to the Spanish Steps. I’d not been to this area on my last trip (at least I don’t think so!) and it was so beautiful and upscale. (There were so many high end shops around here I almost felt like we had better leave because we weren’t dressed nicely enough to be walking down these streets with Gucci shops!)

We sat on the Spanish Steps for quite awhile to take a breather and to just take it all in!

Drew, Jamie, and their two kids — our fellow travelers and good friends!

On the way back to our apartment, we knew we wanted to find a gelato shop. We decided to look for one that had a lot of people at it as we’d been told that was the sign of a good shop. We found Giolitti and it had people all around and was bustling inside, so we decided to go with it!

I’m more of an ice cream person than a gelato person, but when it Rome, you need to buy gelato and then eat the entire huge cone yourself since you walked so many miles! 🙂

I’m so grateful for Jamie’s friendship and that it worked out for us to go on this trip together. Jamie has loved me so wholeheartedly and poured into me so much this past year.

We’re so different and yet we complement one another so well. Also, it’s such a gift when you can just be yourself in a relationship and you don’t have to try to be “on” or to even worry about what the other person is thinking.

We’ve experienced so much crazy together on this trip and we were talking about how much you really get to know people when you are in close quarters and experiencing long days and short nights and weird schedules and challenging circumstances (like racing through airports and barely making some of our flights because of different flight delays, spending 3 days in a hotel in India that only had primitive bathrooms, learning to eat interesting and unique foods with our hands only in India, language barriers in India, luggage that didn’t make it on our flight, many unexpected delays, jet lag, hotel rooms that wreaked of mold and smoke, days that were so hot we were dripping with sweat for hours… and so much more! I’ll be sharing about all of this in my upcoming posts!)

Trips like this bring out the best and worst in people and it’s only served to further strengthen our friendship to experience all of this together! I’m so grateful!

Have you been to Rome before? If so, what are your favorite budget-friendly recommendations? Tell us in the comments!

Next up: Our rather eventful flight from Rome to London, almost missing our flight, all of our bags not making it on the flight, and more about our first day in India. Stay tuned!

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  • Jennifer says:

    For a budget friendly but amazing tour check out New Rome Free Tours. We did the free walking tour of Rome in January and it was the best tour I have ever been on. Our guide was from Rome and had a ton of knowledge to share. The tour is free but the guides accept tips at the end (we tipped well and it was worth it).

  • Alicia says:

    This looks amazing! How fun to get to share it with your husband. My husband and I can’t wait to visit Rome someday, too!

  • Ann Petersen says:

    We have gone to different cities in Europe and have found the free downloadable tours from the Rick Steves Europe App super helpful. His videos and PBS show make me want to experience more of Europe. We made sure everyone had the tours downloaded before we went out for the day, and we would all start the tour at the same time. We have really appreciated them for tourist areas where you had to pay extra for the audio tour.

    I saw that you walked through the Roman Forum as well as the Coliseum. Did you know that the jail where Peter & Paul were held is right there. A friend told us and it was a fun side trip.

  • Laura says:

    I am struggling to find affordable flights to Rome. If anyone has any tips on that, I am all ears. I’d like to take our family of 4 next summer, but one round-trip ticket is $1,420.92 on Kayak. We can use miles, but it still cost each person $355.23 and 62,500 miles!

    Last fall my husband and I flew on miles to Barcelona. We had a “bad” flight that included a 24 hour layover in London. What a treat. We were exhausted, but had a great time exploring a few highlights.

  • Rya says:

    Our favorite budget saving tip to share with people is to do the free walking tours guided by the Rick Steves app. It made walking through Rome and Florence even more meaningful for both me and my husband. We both downloaded the app and listened on our own phones as we walked together, pausing here and there to share comments and excitiment. Trust me, download the app and get the book.

  • Kristi Brockberg says:

    My husband and I were in Rome this summer and went went to the same places! We “spread it out” over two days though so I can only imagine how tired you were packing it all into one. We did take a guided tour of the Colesseum and Roman Forum and it was over 90 degrees while we were there so it was exhausting but such a memorable trip. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos to let us relive it!

  • Jen says:

    Paying for a tour of the Coliseum is worth every penny, in my opinion. I’d actually pay for this over the Vatican. The Coliseum is amazing!!! To walk inside of it and take it all in and learn the history, it’s a must see of Rome!

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