Decent accommodation in the Eternal City doesn't have to be expensive. All these carefully vetted options are centrally located and offer doubles for less than €125 a night – one for as little as €68
Being a tourist in Rome doesn't have to be expensive. Fill up on pizza and pasta, avoid taxis and concentrate on the plentiful free sightseeing – the Piazza Navona, Campo de' Fiori, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, St Peter's and any number of sublime Baroque churches – and it's easy to keep day-to-day costs low. What isn't so simple is finding a pleasant, well-located and inexpensive place to stay. Granted, there are plenty of cut-price Rome hotels near the Termini station, but you don't want to be based up there. It's a charmless area, requiring a ride by metro or bus to visit most of the sights.
Below, I have picked out five enticing budget hotels and b&bs that are in or very near the centro storico – the historic centre of the Eternal City. Accommodation rates in Rome vary considerably depending on what timeof year you go. In low season (November to February, excluding Christmas/New Year), prices are as much as a third less than in the spring and autumn. I have given a range of rates, per night per double room, depending on time of travel.
Al Colonnato di San Pietro
Small-scale b&b lodgings in private apartments have proliferated in Rome in recent years. Though they can be excellent value, finding a good one can be hit-and-miss. I've stayed at Al Colonnato di San Pietro and was bowled over by the fulsome welcome and service offered by owner Rosa Maria Chirico (who stands out in the street ready to greet you, if she knows you are about to arrive) and her housekeeper Meldi. The three bedrooms are spruce, modern affairs, with boarded floors, good mod cons and bathrooms with powerful showers. Two are fully en-suite, the other has its own bathroom across the hall. Breakfasts, served in your room on pull-out tables, include warm croissants and fresh fruit salad. From the 19th-century apartment block, it's a three-minute stroll to St Peter's Square. Rosa Maria, by the way, is a mine of information on avoiding queues for the Vatican Museums. €80-100 b&b.
Casa di Santa Francesca Romana
With its picturesque cobbled streets and host of enticing trattorie, Trastevere is a lovely area in which to base yourself. This ochre-hued medieval palazzo, tucked away on a quiet backstreet, is one of the neighbourhood's best-value budget lodgings. Home, in the 15th century, to a saint called Francesca Romana, Casa di Santa Francesca Romana is run by a religious group as a hotel for believers and non-believers alike. For the former, regular services are held in a chapel on the first floor. Bedrooms are a little on the austere side – be prepared for simple wooden furniture and iron-framed beds – but are a good size and en-suite. You'll want to spend more time sitting out amid orange trees in the gorgeous courtyard. The flat year-round price for a double room is €123 b&b – a particularly good deal in high season months.
The grid of semi-pedestrian Tridente streets immediately below the Spanish Steps is the dolce vita writ large: fashionable boutiques, tempting cafés and all that. The Hotel Panda, a few-frills pensione spread over two floors of an old palazzo, lies on one of these streets – and given the location, its rates are a steal: €68-78 for a double with shared bathroom; €85-120 if en-suite. What you get in return for your limited outlay is a small, simple room which may have a decorative flourish such as a faux-classical statue or a painted ceiling. If you are lucky, you might bag one of the rooms with a balcony overlooking a pleasant courtyard. No breakfast is available, but there is no shortage of enticing places nearby for a cappuccino and a croissant. If staying in the summer, bear in mind you will probably want air conditioning. This costs €6 extra.
The Okapi Rooms offers a similar formula to that provided by its older sister, the Panda – namely, a characterful old building in a good location, just off the Piazza del Popolo; compact rooms with a few bits of neo-classical decoration (bas-reliefs, statues in niches); but no public areas or breakfast. The rooms are a bit fresher than the Panda's, some with a terrace or balcony (such as room 62, a pleasant attic space). Air conditioning is included in the rates. €85-120.
The high-quality, well-run Daphne Inn set-up occupies converted apartments in two locations just off Piazza Barberini, a short walk from the Trevi Fountain. At either address, you get a lot for your money. The tasteful, modern cream-and-brown bedrooms function well; many have a fetching mosaic-tiled bathroom and all come with tea/coffee-making facilities and a fridge. Buffet breakfasts are top-notch, and include pastries from a local bakery and fresh fruit. There are computers for free internet access and you are even provided with a mobile phone for making cheap local calls and contacting the very helpful Italo-American owners. The two rooms with shared bathroom cost €100-150 b&b; en-suite doubles cost anything from €130 to €220. Prices are very keen in the low-season winter months, but they do shoot up during peak periods.