Rome, Italy: five stylish places to stay for €150 or less

by Lee.Marshall

Rome isn't known for its cheap hotels, but internet bookers are driving down prices while a new crop of boutique b&bs is offering style on a budget. Here are my tips on where, and when, to stay

Rome is one of the most expensive cities in Europe when it comes to accommodation. The average daily room rate here is higher than it is in London – and until fairly recently, the budget hotel scene was less than inspiring. However, the niche in the market for stylish yet affordable places to stay is at last being filled – partly by enterprising home owners who are taking advantage of Italy’s relatively new bed-and-breakfast category, partly by hoteliers who are realising that, with the majority of clients now using the internet to compare options, read hotel reviews and shop around, full occupancy will only be achieved by getting the service and décor right and varying rates according to demand.

A lot depends on when you come. In high season – which in Rome means April to mid-July, September to early November and the two weeks around Christmas and New Year – the smaller, b&b-style places are your best bet, as these tend to guarantee lowish prices year-round. Outside these times, there are bargains to be had even in some fairly upmarket hotels in Rome. Shop around, but don’t take pot luck: there are some infernal dives in the Eternal City. The following five places are among the best affordable options – though, with some, you need to be flexible on dates to get the best prices. 

Hotel Fontanella Borghese & Hotel Due Torri

Fontanella Borghese: largo Fontanella Borghese 84. Due Torri: vicolo del Leonetto 23

Under the same management, these two centro storico charmers are a five-minute walk from each other and the Spanish Steps – and they apply almost identical room rates. They’re only really a bargain in winter or high summer, when doubles come in at €150 – with the last night free if you stay for more than three nights. For that, though, you get the services and opulent décor of two very assured, very stylish Roman three-stars. Entered via the courtyard of a Borghese family palazzo, the antique-decked Fontanella Borghese feels like you’ve just walked into some marchese’s Roman pied à terre; a little closer to piazza Navona, the Due Torri is a tad more homely – but here, too, the tone is upped by cut flowers, antique prints and rich fabrics.

Relais Palazzo Taverna & Locanda degli Antiquari

Via dei Gabrielli 92

These twin hotels share a quiet cul-de-sac right in the heart of the centro storico, just off via dei Coronari with its classy antique shops. Outside, the Rome of Caravaggio and Bernini is stuck in a glorious 16th-century time capsule; inside, all is warm modern design, with ochre bedspreads, funky wallpaper and whitewashed oak beams overhead in the rooms, which range from cozy to spacious. There is little to choose between the two adjacent locales, which in practice function as a single 11-room hotel. Double rates go from a very reasonable €100 to over €200 according to room and demand. Service is friendly, continental breakfast is served in one’s room, the air-con works a treat, and there’s free Wi-Fi. The downsides? No lift, and the street can be hard to locate – even for Roman taxi drivers. Seclusion, though, is all part of the charm of these two sisters.


Via Modena 5

On the outside, Suitedreams is an imposing late-19th-century block like so many of those in the area around Termini station. Get the lift to the first floor, however, and you are in a chi-chi minimalist locanda with rooms on both sides of the landing. To the right is the tiny reception area and a corridor – dominated by a huge panel that provides a quick introduction to the history of Rome – leading to a small but light-filled breakfast room. The bedrooms are an exercise in elegant contemporary minimalism, with warm parquet floors, crisp white linen sheets and bedspreads, and bathrooms with designer fittings and dark slate walls. Free perks include Wi-Fi, all-day coffee- and tea-making facilities and a DVD library. It’s all very efficiently run, and makes a great base for exploring, with via Veneto, the Forum and piazza Venezia all within easy walking distance, and the station so close that you should save on the taxi fare unless you have a pile of luggage. If you book a couple of weeks in advance, you can usually secure a double here for about €130 a night.

Arco del Lauro

Via dell’Arco dei Tolomei 27

One of the most endearing of Rome’s new crop of boutique b&bs, this six-room home from home inhabits a picturesque lane in the quieter southern part of Trastevere, not far from the Tiber Island. Rooms are not exactly cluttered, but while a splash of colour on the walls might be nice, the mix of contemporary fixtures and bathrooms with unshowy antique furniture works well – and the lighting is particularly well planned. The simpatico owners are generally around in the mornings, but otherwise Arco del Lauro is a come-and-go sort of place with generous free extras – internet access in the lobby, soft drinks, biscuits and home-made limoncello, even free local calls. There is no breakfast room; instead, guests are given vouchers for coffee and cornetti (sweet croissants) at a bar in a nearby piazza in Piscinula – a perfect Roman start to the day.

Hotel Parlamento

Via delle Convertite 5

This cosy two-star just off Rome’s main shopping street, via del Corso, makes up in eclectic charm what it lacks in cutting-edge design. The 23 rooms are spread out over the third and fourth floors of a 16th-century palazzo – far enough from street level for the double glazing to cut out most of the traffic noise. The décor is comfortably antique, but by no means gloomy; some rooms even have hydromassage tubs in the well-appointed bathrooms. But Hotel Parlamento’s real trump card is its lovely plant-edged roof terrace, where breakfast is served in fine weather. Double room rates start at €90 with breakfast – though air conditioning, should you need it, costs €12 a day extra.

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I've lived in Rome since 1984. For the last fifteen years, I've made a living as a travel writer specialising in Italy (I'm a contributing editor for Condé Nast Traveller UK and the US travel and lifestyle magazine Departures). But that's really just an extension of the way I live in places and the way I travel: I've never been the kind of person who always goes on holiday to the same place, or who settles on one favourite trattoria and never eats anywhere else. So if I have any authority as a Rome expert, I suppose it's because - in addition to my passion for my adopted hometown – I'm just plain curious.

I arrived in Rome with my partner in September 1984, fresh out of university in England and with no clear idea about how long the stay might last (was it a holiday or a serious move? Neither of us were sure). It was touch and go at first, and fate took a hand in our decision to stay: on the day the money ran out, we both found jobs teaching English. Then came the sheer effort of finding somewhere to live, assembling all those bits of paper that Italian officialdom is so fond of, getting to grips with a new culture, a new language, a new job. All of this gave me an unusually intense and untouristy introduction to Roman life.

I’m ashamed to say that it was four years before I got around to looking inside the Colosseum – by this time I was an honorary Roman, and so I had the same slight resistance that a New Yorker might have to visiting the Statue of Liberty. But it was probably also something to do with the obviousness of the attraction – by this time my wife and I (we got married in the Rome registry office on the Campidoglio in 1988) had visited most of the city’s Medieval churches, toured the lesser Etruscan sites of Lazio, been to Ostia Antica (easily my favourite Ancient Roman site in Italy) three or four times. It’s the richness of Rome that I’ve always loved: ten different visitors could spend ten days in the city and not overlap once.

Not long after the birth of our daughter Clara in 1990, I gave up English teaching and became a freelance writer, soon specialising in two of my great passions – film and travel. In between the major film festivals, my wife and I worked on updates of the Time Out Rome guide and I wrote article after article on Italy for Condé Nast Traveller and other publications.

But it has always been a special treat to be able to write about Rome – I think I put more or myself into these pieces, because I'm working out on paper how it was that I came to think of this city as home. It’s difficult to analyse one’s love for a place. There’s the food, and the wine, and the weather, and the sheer beauty of the city – all those things are important. But the draw for me has a lot to do with Rome’s air of theatricality – all those Baroque stage sets that just happen to be piazzas and churches; and all those locals who walk and talk and gesture with the innate confidence of people who are always on camera. After more than a quarter of a century and plenty of run-ins with reality, I have never quite got over the feeling that my life in Rome is one long film (shot, or course, in golden evening light).

These days I divide my time between an apartment in the Testaccio district of the city and a house in the Umbrian countryside, but for all the charms of la campagna umbra it’s still Rome that really stirs my soul. I hope I’ve been able to communicate something of this passion in my Rome Expert guides and blog for Simonseeks. Personally I don’t think anyone can ever claim to be a real Rome Expert: there’s just too much to see, do, eat, study and drink. But I’ve built up a decent Rome radar in the last couple of decades – and I’m going to give it my best shot.

My Rome

Where I always grab a coffee
My local is a buzzy place called Linari (Via Zabaglia 9) in the down-to-earth Testaccio district. They know just how I like my cappuccino (in a small glass, with less milk than usual), and their cornetti (breakfast pastries) are some of the best in Rome.

My favourite stroll
Rome backstreets in general. I love working out routes across the city that take me down Medieval lanes and across Renaissance piazzas, avoiding the traffic. It makes you realise that there’s a secret city out there that those in cars never see.

Fiction for inspiration

The great Rome epic novel has yet to be written – but I enjoyed When We Were Romans, written by my friend Matthew Kneale, which gives a very evocative and dramatic child’s-eye-view of the Eternal City.

Where to be seen this summer
The hot ticket will be Zaha Hadid’s new MAXXI contemporary art and architecture museum (, due to be inaugurated towards the end of May. It should breathe new life into the rather sleepy Flaminio quartiere north of Piazza del Popolo, where cool bar/restaurant chalet Tree Bar (Via Flaminia 226) currently gives a taste of how the area might evolve.

The most breathtaking view
Rome spread out like a 3-D diorama from the main terrace of the Gianicolo hill above Trastevere.

The best spot for some peace and quiet
Rome’s Orto Botanico, or Botanical Garden, is perhaps not the world’s best kept, but it is a lovely green oasis on the edge of Trastevere (Largo Cristina di Svezia 24, tel +39 06 4991 7108, entrance €4, closed Sun).

Shopaholics beware!
I love the quirky mix of shops in the lanes that lie just one or two blocks north of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Artists’ supply shops, designer chocolate, creative jewellery and accessory boutiques, vintage clothes stores, shops selling modernist antiques, my favourite no-brand jeans brand, SBU (Via San Pantaleo 68-69, tel +39 06 6880 2547) – this is a great area for alternative shopping.

City soundtrack
Load Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on your MP3 player, and use it as your background music. It’s pure Baroque drama – just like Rome itself.

Don’t leave without... looking through the keyhole of the gate into the garden of the Knights of Malta HQ on the Aventine hill (Piazza Cavalieri di Malta). The cupola of Saint Peter’s is framed at the end of the rose walk, with the rooftops of Rome on either side. Where else in the world can you see three sovereign states through one keyhole?