Want to travel to Rome on a budget? We made it to Italy for pennies on the dollar. Here's how we did it, plus a recap of our trip (complete with photos)!
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Italy on a Budget (Part 1): Rome and Capri

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As many of you know, we recently got home from a week-long, credit card rewards-fueled trip to Italy. I shared the details of exactly how we paid for our trip here and here, but suffice it to say that we didn’t spend much on the main components of our trip. Our airfare, for example, cost us just 80,000 American AAdvantage miles and $109 for airline taxes and fees. Meanwhile, we paid for all of our bed-n-breakfast stays with cash back from a handful of point-earning credit cards.

Although we used some of the best credit cards for travel rewards for the bulk of our travel expenses, that doesn’t mean our trip was free. In addition to airfare and hotel stays, we had to pay for trains around Italy (less than $150 total between Rome, Florence, and Venice), some souvenirs, and food. And – oh my goodness – it wasn’t always cheap. We did the best we could, but still spent around $1,000 on museum entries, excursions, food for seven days, lots of wine, limoncello all the time, cannolis, a mandatory Aperol Spritz like everywhere, tips, city taxes, and miscellaneous. Still, for a week-long trip to Italy, that’s a super sweet deal!

3 Resources for Seeing Rome on a Budget

Before we get to the details of our actual trip, here are 3 resources that can help you save money in Rome.

  • OMNIA CardSkip the Lines – Even during off-peak times, lines can be extremely long in Rome and Vatican City…like up to 4 hours long. So, unless you want to spend your day waiting in line, you better find a way around it. For us, that’s reason enough to try the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Card, which gives you “Fast Track Entry” at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and The Coliseum! Plus, you’ll get free entry to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and 2 out of the top 6 attractions in Rome. (Hot Tip: If you go to The Coliseum first, you’ll also get free entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.) The OMNIA Vatican & Rome Card also comes with a free guidebook, a hop on hop off bus tour, free access to public transportation, and discounted entry to another 30 sites. We used it on our trip and we HIGHLY recommend it! Learn More Here!
  • Flight and Hotel Discounts – If you want to save money in Rome, try using points and miles.  Our favorite card to earn points is easily the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. With this card, you’ll earn 80,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. You can redeem them for $1,000 in travel when booked through the Chase portal. Plus, Chase Ultimate Rewards® Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to 11 top loyalty programs – including Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and more. There’s no foreign transaction fees, so you can use it while you travel too. Learn how to apply.
  • Get $200 Cash Back Bonus – Want to earn some quick cash for your trip? Try the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. You’ll earn an easy $200 signup bonus when you spend only $500 within the first three months. That’s real money just waiting for you to claim it. Take that money and book a hotel stay, use it as spending money, or pay for some pasta and a bottle of wine. You’ll also get an impressive 5% unlimited cash back on travel booked through the Chase portal, 3% unlimited cash back at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% unlimited cash back on everything else. There is no annual fee, and the card also offers a 15-month introductory 0% APR on all purchases. Learn how to apply.

Italy Day 1: Rome

Since we flew overnight from Philadelphia to Rome, we arrived in the “Eternal City” at around 9:00 a.m. I braced myself for long lines in customs, so I was completely shocked when we walked right through without waiting at all. I was even more shocked when the customs agent didn’t look at our passports. She simply stamped them, smiled, and handed them back. Welcome to Italy! To be honest, that was a great start to our trip. After an eight-hour flight, the last thing I wanted to do was wait in line for several hours.

Since I booked private airport transportation for around 5,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, a driver was waiting, holding a sign with our name on it right past the baggage collection area. Again, that was a huge relief. And then we were off!

After picking up our OMNIA Vatican and Rome cards, we headed to ancient Rome for a day of sightseeing. And it was absolutely beautiful. Here are some pictures of my favorite sights in ancient Rome. I’m pretty into Roman history right now, so this part of our Italy trip was a special treat.

Skip the Lines, Save Money! Get Your OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass Here!

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After walking around ancient Rome for a day, my feet started hurting! And by the time we saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and many of Rome’s ancient landmarks, we were absolutely spent. We took a bus to Trastevere and had an awesome dinner of greasy, rustic garlic bread, baked eggplant, and fried artichokes. Then we went to bed – and it felt awesome.

 

Omnia Rome Guidebook

 

Italy Day 2: Vatican City and the Vatican Museums

On our second day, we got up early to see Vatican City and the Vatican Museums. The entire experience was amazing! From St. Peter’s Basilica to the Sistine Chapel and the amazing statues and busts from all throughout history, we experienced art on a whole ‘nother level. In all honesty, it was almost too much. The Vatican Museum itself is 4 miles long. We tried to see it all, but I think we missed at least one wing of the museum. It was exhausting! Here are some of my favorite pictures:

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Get Find Your OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass Here!

Italy Day 3: Capri and Anacapri

During our third day in Italy, we took a City Wonders day trip to the island of Capri. We’re going to write an in-depth review of our journey in the next few weeks, but suffice it to say that Capri is the most beautiful place I have ever been. From its breathtaking cliffs to its sparkling turquoise waters, the landscape in Capri is like something from another world. After spending a day here, it was also easy to see why Caesar Augustus loved Capri so much he traded a neighboring island in order to make it his private playground.

To get to Capri, we had to drive two hours past Mt. Vesuvius and into Naples, Italy. From there, we took a 50 minute, high-speed ferry ride to the Island of Capri.

Some pictures I took:

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With lemon trees, bakeries, and perfume and soap stores all around, Capri smells amazing! Everywhere we walked, it smelled like a combination of waffle cones, lemon candy, and refreshing sea air. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would love to go back to Capri and spend a few days in the future. Even though it’s a vacation spot for billionaires, they did have a Best Western! Our tour guide also said there are several bed-n-breakfasts on the island that offer specials as low as $100 euros per night.

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Stay tuned for part two of our Italy trip recap!

What is your favorite part of Italy? Have you ever had an Aperol Spritz?

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39 Comments

  1. Wow, it’s all so gorgeous! I love looking at the architecture, but I’m sure I’d avail myself of the food — far too much of it — as well.

  2. Sounds amazing! We were in Italy a few years ago and had so much fun, but we did not get to Capri. Sounds like we are going to have to go back! 🙂

  3. Your photos are stunning. What a fantastic trip. I’ve heard that no amount of time in Capri ever feels like enough. It’s super to know a trip like this is possible with travel rewards!

  4. Caught you guys on periscope a few times. Looked like an amazing trip and photos sure back that up. I have never been to Italy. Ireland is out first international trip we want to take.

  5. Great pictures! Sounds like you had so much fun and for so little expense. We visited Rome, Venice, Florence, and the Cinque Terre years ago, and the Cinque Terre was probably my favorite but it was all awesome. Thanks for sharing your travel hacking tips.

  6. Looks like you guys had a great time, Holly! We have a bunch of United Airlines points from two credit cards and Italy is a place we are considering visiting. Would you say Rome would be the place to go if you were going to just one city?

    1. Yeah – probably Rome or Florence. There is a lot to do in and around Rome, but Florence is a good spot for day trips since it is in the middle of Tuscany. Either would work great! But you could always fly into one city and fly out of another. That’s what we did. Trains around Italy are easy to use and cheap.

  7. Sounds and looks like an awesome trip Holly! Not too bad on the overall expense either. I’ve been to most of western Europe but not much of southern Europe. Italy is definitely on our list of places to go.

  8. Are you secretly reading my mind??? Either that or your travel ideas and mine are always seems to be in sync!!! My wife and I were just talking about Italy over the weekend. This article series would be so helpful! Thanks Holly!

  9. I would love to go back to Italy and see places like Capri. We did Rome, Florence, and Venice several years ago. It would be nice to have a month to see the whole country. Glad you had fun!

  10. Looks like a great trip…I’d really like to visit Italy too. It’s great when credit card rewards help you defray some of the costs. I didn’t even know you could use Chase Ultimate points to book ground transportation.

  11. Wow, that’s awesome! Not paying the “full price” for a trip is great and makes you to enjoy the trip even more. I’m from Europe and I love Italy! Your post brought back many great memories 🙂

  12. It looks like this was the trip of a lifetime! I love seeing your photos and all the adventures you took. Very cool!!

  13. Love seeing your photos! Italy is one of my top locations I want to visit next.

  14. How did your book your private transportation with Chase Points (5,000.)

    1. Hey Hilde!

      You can book transportation where you book travel by choosing “activities” instead of hotels or airfare. That’s where you can book excursions, too! Let me know if you have trouble finding it!

  15. Beautiful pictures, Holly! Sounds like you and Greg had an amazing time. We spent a day in Rome as part of our Disney cruise but didn’t get the chance to explore the sites as deeply as you did. I hope to get back there in the near future so we can really experience it.

  16. Yes I’ve been to Italy once and loved it. I’m happy to hear you spent money on food and indulged yourselves. I haven’t had the spritz you mentioned so I will have to look it up. Love the pictures, which transport me back to Roma!

  17. Glad you guys loved Italy. I am also glad you warmed up to it instantly unlike Paris. Great pictures too!!!

  18. Seeing your Facebook posts and now reading this post makes me miss Italy SO much!!! We went when I was 24 years old and it was such an amazing trip. There is so much to love, but Rome was probably my favorite city because of how seamlessly ancient and modern times intersect. It’s amazing to ride in a high speed taxi only to be dropped off at the Coliseum. We were also big gelato eaters and stracciatella was my favorite flavor. Can’t wait to read more!

  19. Woohooo for points & miles! Can’t wait to go to there too – maybe next time!

  20. Rome looks amazing! I’m glad you didn’t have to wait long in customs. After a long flight that can be a buzz kill. When I flew to Ireland I had to take almost everything out of my bag during the security check and it was pretty annoying.

  21. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor says:

    Sounds like a wonderful trip, and at a great price. I loved Rome, but we didn’t make it to Capri. I’ve heard it’s so gorgeous, but didn’t know there was anywhere affordable to stay there, so I’m glad you found out.

  22. Ah Rome…I loved it so much there. Took my husband for his 30th birthday – I expect it was much cheaper from us as we are in England, so much closer! A great tip we found was the people selling tours in the street – we thought they must be dodgy, but the ones we got weren’t, and it was amazing!

  23. Such a detailed review, it’s so awesome. I REALLY want to see the Colosseum. Is that the Trevi Fountain in one of the pictures for Day One? I’ve heard Rome can be a bit hectic with the lines and since it’s so massive. It’s good you guys got to lessen your time waiting in lines.

  24. Hey Holly, congrats on having such an awesome trip so far! My favourite part is the Forum (showing how important trade was, even then), all the Italian pizza places (that’s some real pizza for you).

    But Florence in-particular. It is a beautiful city, I can’t wait to go there.

    Tristan

  25. Wow, those are some really great pictures! Many people think traveling always has to be super expensive; however, there are ways to travel frugally. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  26. Those pictures taken at Italy are jaw-dropping and stunning. Italy is indeed a great place to visit! You proved that travelling to Italy can be not that expensive.

  27. Awesome pictures really appreciate the trip review. We’ve been looking into an Italy trip and I’ve also heard it’s pretty expensive once you get there. But we also plan to have the flights and hotels paid for with points so that should take a lot of the sting out of it.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  28. Thank you so much for sharing the trip and tips with us. May I ask if you can send me your trip itinerary (if it is possible)? I would love to plan a trip like that for our upcoming annivesary. Thanks.

    1. Nguyen! Thanks for writing!

      Let me know what you need in terms of itinerary.
      Basically, we spent the first two days in Rome:
      Day One – Historic Rome, and all the sights, Roman Forum, Colosseum, etc.
      Day Two – Vatican and Vatican City, more historic Rome
      Day 3 – We took a day trip from Rome to Capri Italy
      Early the next morning, we took a one-hour train ride to Florence
      Day 1 in Florence – Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, then enjoyed our evening
      Day 2 – We took a bus trip to surrounding cities – Pisa, San Gimignana, Sienna, and drove around Tuscany – loved it
      The next morning, we got up early and took another short train to Venice
      Day 1 Venice – Dinner, shopping walking around
      Day 2 in Venice – we splurged for a legit gondola ride (totally worth it!) and just enjoyed ourselves and some really good food before we flew home

      So we flew into Rome and out of Venice. That helped so we didn’t have to backtrack.

      1. Holly, Thank you so much for a quick response since it helps me to understand more about the structure of your trip. We have never been in that part of the world. 10 days should be ok for for this trip? Follow your lead, I will plan to fly from CA to Rome, and back from Venice. Thanks again.

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