Once upon a time there was a wonderful currency called the lira. It made millionaires out of paupers and assured a cheap and cheerful stay in the Eternal City. Then came along the sinister Euro and evil exchange rates, and suddenly Rome became comparable to London and New York in terms of prices.
However, there do remain some traces of the ‘old’ Rome and, if you know how, you can have a great value stay in one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world.
1) Hallowed be thy Euro
Rome is brimming with churches which secretly house stunning works by world-famous artists. From Michelangelo and Bernini at St Peter’s Basilica to Caravaggio and Raphael at Santa Maria del Popolo, churches offer a great way to get yourself some free culture.
2) Timing is everything
Try to coincide with Rome’s cultural week (in 2009 it is18-26 April) and you can visit any state run monument or museum for free! Alas, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel don’t count but if you head there early on the last Sunday of the month you can wander completely gratis (but prepare yourself for some truly spectacular crowds).
3) When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie……
If you’re searching for a good value lunch option look no further than one of the city’s many ‘pizza al taglio’ shops. Huge trays of pizza with a wide array of toppings sold by weight. Pick out your favourites, head to a nearby bench or park and enjoy a cheap and tasty ‘al fresco’ lunch.
4) Get outta town
If you want a break from the tourist crowds hop on a train and take a trip to one of the enticing areas outside the city. In just 30 minutes you could be taking a stroll by the beach in Ostia or sampling the local wine in Frascati. The little towns of Lazio will give you a great value glimpse of the real Italy.
5) Take a hike
Just walking around the city is a great way to get a sense of Rome. Many monuments such as the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps cost nothing and are always open. Who knows which other secrets you might stumble across while getting lost in the back streets? (remember to take a map though!)
6) When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Hotels in Rome are notoriously expensive and often not the most economic option for groups or families. Why not get a real taste of the lifestyle and rent an apartment? Leisure in Rome (www.leisureinrome.com) has a great range of properties all over the city which start from as little as €100 per night.
7) Sample the local produce
Italy is famous for its food so take on a DIY attitude and go grocery shopping! Head to a fruit and vegetable and stock up on interesting salads and succulent fruits. Then find the nearest ‘alimentari’ or supermarket and pick out some local meats and cheeses. After all that effort you will definitely deserve a gelato for dessert.
8) Aperitivo baby!
A relatively new social event in the city, the ‘aperitivo’ can be found in many of the capital’s bars and pubs around 6-7pm. Order a drink (usually €6-10) and help yourself to the wonderous selection of free nibbles laid out on the bar. A kind of Italian tapas which, if done well, can save you the cost of dinner.
9) Water, water, everywhere…..
There is a water fountain on every street corner which is perfectly safe to drink and lovely and cold. Simply buying one bottle and then filling up at the fountains is a fantastic way to save those precious centesimi.
10) Wander the alleyways
We all know how lovely it is to have pizza overlooking the Colosseum or gnocchi by the light of Piazza Navona but how much lovelier it is to find that quaint backstreet trattoria where grandpa brings you rough wine in jugs and mamma is kneading pasta in the kitchen. Few places like this still exist in Rome but the best way to get a great dinner at a great price is to wander off the beaten path. Tourist attractions do indeed attract tourists and you’ll pay through the nose for a sub-standard meal. Walk a few blocks and follow your instincts instead of opting for the obvious.
Above all, have fun! Rome is a vibrant, noisy, fun-loving city which will surprise you at every turn. Embrace the chaos and you will have a fantastic time.