Hack the Hidden City: Roam Rome on a budget

Hack the Hidden City: Roam Rome on a budget

Travel hacks


By |

Discover unique things to do, unusual places to visit, hidden gems, and how to see Rome like a local in our off-the-beaten-path guide

In our latest guide to low-cost city travel, we look at Rome. It is, of course, massively popular, but we’ve got a few ideas on what not to miss, where to hang out, and how to have fun on a budget. Join the locals as we Hack the Hidden City!

Budget: the basics

Local currency: euro

Coffee: €1.45

0.5l local beer: €5.00

Lunch: €7

Dinner in a mid-range restaurant: €15 – 20

24-hour public transport ticket: €7

Hostel for one night: €50

3-star hotel for one night: €70 – 80 with breakfast

DAILY BUDGET (excluding accommodation): €60 – €80

Unseen areas

So, you can spot the tourists a mile off, but where in Rome do the locals hang out? These are the spots you’ll want to be in.

Quartiere Coppedè

Rome's Quartiere Coppedè — ShutterstockThis might be the most architecturally unusual area of Rome — Shutterstock

We’ll start in the Quartiere Coppedè, northeast of the city center in the Trieste district. It exists purely as somewhere to wander around and look at; there are no restaurants, no cafés, no other distractions. Built by architect Gino Coppedè between 1913 and 1927, the area is simply a mad mix of architectural styles and structures, around 40 of them, ranging from ancient Greek to baroque, from medieval to art nouveau, and everything in between. See the Fountain of the Frogs, the Palace of the Spiders, the Fairy Houses, and other bizarre structures whose names give you a clue to what oddities you’ll find there.

Piccola Londra

Ground view down a street in Piccola Londra — ShutterstockRome or London? — Shutterstock

Another unexpected area is Piccola Londra, a street in the Flaminio neighborhood which is styled (supposedly) after residential streets in Central London. The street is cobbled, the fences are wrought iron, the street lights are Victorian, and there are even UK post boxes on the gateposts of the houses. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s certainly striking, and the pastel shades of the buildings are very pretty indeed.


Vintage motorbike parked outside of a trattoria — ShutterstockFor a cute mix of picture-perfect Italy and lively hipsterdom, head to Trastevere — Shutterstock

For a great view of the city, head to the western side of the River Tiber and to Trastevere. This formerly working-class area is now the perfect mix of traditional Roman and lively boho, with the usual marks of 21st-century hipsterdom: brewpubs, tiny coffee shops, artisan galleries, boutiques and cake shops. It’s a great place to eat and drink (as you’ll see below), accommodation isn’t quite as pricey as in the very center, and it’s still rocking when the rest of the city has gone to bed. Head up the Gianicolo (Janiculum) Hill for views north to the Vatican City, east over Trastevere, and across the river to the city center.

Largo di Torre Argentina

Sleeping cat at v=Largo di Torre Argentina — ShutterstockGet a look at the cats’ digs — Shutterstock

One final curiosity back in the center can be found on the Largo di Torre Argentina, a large square only a couple of streets from the Pantheon. Below street level, you’ll see the remains of four temples and a theater (upon the steps of which Julius Caesar was killed in 44 BC). The site was excavated in 1929 and the cats moved in. That’s right — a bunch of street cats decided that if the place was good enough for Caesar, it was good enough for them. A cat sanctuary was opened up in one corner of the square, and to this day, cats still live in the ruins. Visitors can’t access the ruins, so the cats are undisturbed and left to play and prowl around as they wish.

What to eat and drink

When in Rome, eat as the Romans do. That means avoiding very tourist-heavy areas (the food will still be good, but prices will be higher), so choose areas like Trastevere or Testaccio which, although still busy, are more like places locals will go.

We’ve picked three street foods, three traditional dishes, and three desserts for you to try, all of which will give you a true taste of Rome.

Street food

Supplì — ShutterstockSupplì — Shutterstock

It’s Italy, so pizza, duh. However, in Rome they have a very specific type of pizza: it’s baked in large, rectangular trays, meaning the slices are square. It’s known as pizza al tagliom and was invented in Rome. The most basic varieties — and the most delicious many people would argue — are the classic Margherita, pizza bianca (olive oil, rosemary and garlic), and pizza rossa, which is just tomato sauce.

Next up, we have supplì. These are balls of tomatoey rice stuffed with mozzarella, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. These little balls of delight are found at vendors all over the city, and are as traditional as it comes.

Finally for street food, how about a porchetta sandwich? Slow-roasted pork that’s moist, seasoned with salt and a variety of herbs, and stuffed into a large, crispy bread roll. Delicious!

Traditional choices

Carciofi alla giudia — ShutterstockCarciofi alla giudia — Shutterstock

We’ll start this section with something you might not think sounds that appetizing: tripe. Not bothered about munching on a cow’s stomach? Good for you, it’s surprisingly tasty! When the meat is simmered in a rich tomato sauce, seasoned with mint to give it an extra bit of zip and topped with generous amounts of pecorino cheese, the flavor is mild, delicate and delicious.

If you can’t quite face that, try cacio e pepe. This dish also uses pecorino, mixed in with tonnarelli pasta and seasoned with pepper. Simple, Roman, classic. Another well-known dish to finish this section off is artichokes, served two different ways. Carciofi alla Romana are split open, filled with garlic, mint and parsley, and steamed in olive oil, white wine and water. Split them apart gently, and eat with your fingers. The other method, which you’ll find served in Rome’s historic Jewish ghetto, is carciofi alla giudia; here, the artichoke is flattened, fried in hot oil, and comes out both crispy and soft. Be sure to try both types!


Maritozzo and iced coffee — ShutterstockMaritozzo — Shutterstock

If you’ve still got room, grab yourself a maritozzo, a sweet bun stuffed with whipped cream. The cream can be pepped up with pine nuts, raisins, or candied peel, but the basic version is tasty enough. Crostata ricotta e visciole is another product of Rome’s Jewish tradition: it’s a sort of cherry cheesecake with a zingy hint of lemon, and finally you can’t visit Italy without getting gelato. Okay, it’s not necessarily Roman, but a great gelato is as Italian as sweet treats come, so tuck in!

Mystery masterpieces

There are so many great works of art to see in Rome — the Sistine Chapel, the Pietà, the Trevi Fountain, and thousands more — but how about stuff you might miss? Well, try these for size…

The lock of the Knights of Malta

Keyhole view of St. Peter's Basilica — Shutterstock Rome’s least obvious view — Shutterstock

Climb the Aventine Hill, which is a beautiful area of mansions and gardens, and find your way to the Giardino degli Aranci (the Garden of Oranges). It’s free to go in, and it’s here that you’ll find a big green door on the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. You can peek through the keyhole and get a view down an avenue of trees all the way to St. Peter’s Basilica. This is known as the lock of the Knights of Malta, and is one of the most unexpected views in the city. The door and the lock are becoming more well-known, so get there early in the morning to avoid the busy afternoons. Even if you don’t see the hidden view, the orange groves are a lovely place to walk.

The Borromini Perspective

The Borromini Perspective — ShutterstockThis fun illusion was created by the architect Giovanni Borromini — Shutterstock

Another odd view is the one known as the Borromini Perspective. Another place surrounded by orange trees, this time in the courtyard of the Palazzo Spada, it’s an eight-meter-long gallery dedicated to the god Mars. The curious thing is that it seems much longer. The architect, Giovanni Borromini, designed it with a descending ceiling, ascending floor, and columns that get smaller as they approach the statue of Mars at the end of the gallery, giving the illusion that it’s much further away than it really is. Weird, eh?

Centrale Montemartini

Finally, for all the wonderful works of art in their similarly ornate galleries and palaces, there’s one that mixes the old and the industrial in an amazing way. The little-visited Ostiense neighborhood is home to the Centrale Montemartini museum. It’s an old power station, with all the massive industrial machinery that comes with it; interesting enough, you’d think, but it has the added bonuses of Ancient Roman statues, mosaics and sculptures! Walking around an industrial complex and encountering 2,000-year-old works of art is an unusual experience, and one you can only get here.

Day trips from Rome

You might want to get out of the city for a day, and there are quick, easy and cheap transport links to the places below.

Ostia Antica

Ruins of Ostia Antica — ShutterstockIf ancient ruins are your thing, Ostia Antica is a must — Shutterstock

Train, €1.50 (free with travel pass); 20 minutes from Piramide station

The modern town of Ostia used to be Rome’s seaport, although it’s now around two miles from the sea due to a drop in water levels. The well-preserved ruins (if that’s not an oxymoron) nearby were once home to around 100,000 people, and the layout of the city can still be clearly seen. The main thoroughfare has arcaded buildings along each side that used to be shops, taverns and houses. There’s also the remains of a theater, public baths, a basilica, a synagogue, and 18 different temples.

To get there, take the local commuter train from Piramide towards Cristoforo Colombo. Get off at Ostia Antica, and the town is a well-signposted 10-minute walk away.


Orvieto Underground — ShutterstockUncover the very literal hidden city of Orvieto — Shutterstock

Train, €7 – 15 (depending on connection); 1 hour 20 minutes from Tiburtina station

For a very different day trip, consider the charming Umbrian hill town of Orvieto. Situated high on a rocky bluff, you’ll get amazing views over the surrounding countryside, but it’s by ducking into its labyrinth of streets that you’ll find the real secrets.

The magnificent Duomo di Orvieto seems like it should be in a city, rather than located in a small, regional settlement. But that’s the beauty of Orvieto: the unexpected. Head to the Orvieto Underground, a network of caves and tunnels carved out into the rock below the town. Centuries of constant digging three millennia ago have created an entire city below ground, with over 1,200 caves and passageways, used and improved upon from Etruscan times, through the medieval period, and beyond. The guided tour (€7) will give you the history and show you where people lived, worked the mills, traded and survived in this underground world.

Civita di Bagnoregio

Bus, €1 from Orvieto Scalo; 40 minutes plus a 30-minute walk

And if you’re going to Orvieto, consider putting Civita di Bagnoregio on your itinerary. It’s slightly annoying to get to (a rambling bus ride to Bagnoregio’s Via Garibaldi bus stop, plus a walk), but the scenery on the journey is worth it, and once you’ve got to Bagnoregio the walk up the hill and across a long pedestrian bridge to Civita is rewarding.

The town itself is eerie. The hill on which it’s built is slowly eroding, leaving the town stuck out on its own. The bridge is the only means of access, and you’ll have to buy a ticket to visit the town (€2 – 5, depending on if you’d like to visit the museum or have an audio guide). The town is home to (at the time of writing) 12 human residents and a bunch of cats, and due to its perilous surroundings, it’s known as “the dying town”. There are a handful of cafes catering to tourists, but overall, it’s just an ancient, beautiful, slowly fading place.

So, that’s how you Hack the Hidden City of Rome!

Turns out there are some hidden gems in Rome after all! Whether it’s art, architecture, history, food, or just exploring to see what you can see, Kiwi.com helps you to Hack the Hidden City.

Do you want more travel articles? Visit Kiwi.com Stories.

Related articles