More so than other major European cities, Rome has a glut of centrally located, affordable short-term rentals. Here's why: In the Jubilee Year of 2000, when Rome was inundated with religious pilgrims, many property owners renovated their large centro storico apartments and cut them up into small, self-catering flats for rental to tourists. As a result, the city now has a huge supply of quaint little one- and two-bedroom, even family-friendly duplex apartments all over town -- and they have become an absolute godsend for budget travelers. A centrally located, "economical" hotel room in Rome goes for about €120 per night. It may be cramped and dark, with no amenities beyond a telephone. For the same price or less, you could have your own spacious one-bedroom apartment with a terrace, washing machine, A/C, and a fridge to keep your wine in! Kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? Properties of all sizes and styles, in every neighborhood and price range, are available for stays of three nights to several weeks.
Apartments in Rome vary greatly by neighborhood. In the Vatican area, rental apartments tend to go to religious pilgrims so the décor will be Spartan with little decoration beyond a crucifix on the wall and serviceable, but not very comfy furniture. It's a newer neighborhood, so white marble will replace the quaint terra cotta found in Trastevere and the historic center. On the plus side, though, these apartments are generally larger and you may even score air conditioning. Apartments in Trastevere tend to have more personality, with lived-in feeling furniture and lots of pieces of art on the walls. In the neighborhoods between these two, expect a blend of elements.
Nearly every rental apartment in Rome is owned and maintained by a third party (e.g. not a rental agency). That means that the décor, amenities and flavor of the apartments, even in the same price range and neighborhood, can vary widely from property to property. It is very important, therefore, to book your apartment through a reputable agency (we've listed three below) that will be responsive should you encounter maintenance issues, and one that will make your check-in and key pick-up as smooth and hassle-free as possible. Every reputable agency puts multiple photos of each property they handle on their website, so that you'll have a sense of what you're getting into. Look for lists of amenities as well, and if you don't see what you're looking for be sure to ask.
Roman Reference (tel. 06/4890-3612; www.romanreference.com) is the best all-around apartment rental agency in Rome. Their no-surprises property descriptions (with helpful and diplomatic tags like "better for young people") practically read like insurance inventories, and even include the "eco-footprint" for each apartment (how much energy they consume). You can expect transparency and responsiveness from the plain-dealing staff. I recently stayed in apartment 366 (€85-95 per night), a cozy studio on Via del Corso, near Piazza del Popolo, and it transported me back to my full-time Roman resident days like no hotel could ever do. The kitchen was narrow and the shower ceiling was low, but I loved being able to keep prosciutto and mozzarella in the fridge, listen to Italian pop radio on the stereo, and sip wine on the tiny rear balcony, overlooking the courtyard of a trendy women's clothing boutique. Mel Gibson stayed in a complex they handle during the filming of The Passion of the Christ.
Rental in Rome (tel. 06/6990-5533; www.rentalinrome.com) has an alluring website -- with videoclips of the apartments -- and the widest selection of mid-range and luxury apartments in the prime centro storico zone (there are less expensive ones, too). Like Roman Reference, this agency gets glowing reviews for its friendly and attentive service in the pre-arrival communications department. In an old patrician palazzo near the Pantheon, the Monthioni Palace (€120 per night for 2 people) apartment is lovely Roman cliché of ochre-washed walls, exposed wood ceilings, and terracotta floors. The Bevagna Garden (€100-120 per night for 2 people) is a modern apartment in the Collina Fleming quarter, a well-to-do suburb that's conveniently connected to the centro by public transportation.
Bed & Breakfast Association of Rome (www.b-b.rm.it) handles both self-catering apartments and rooms for rent within private apartments, some of which charge as little as €30. It's a difficult site to peruse, but if you can sift through the dizzying listings, there are some great accommodations options here. Pauline Frommer used this service on her last visit to Rome and reports that "our apartment was a charmer, right in the old Jewish Ghetto area on a street where tourists rarely ventured. From our balcony in the evenings, we'd look down on our neighbors feasting in the garden below, and it became a nightly ritual for them to toast us after we toasted them and wished them a good evening. We had two large rooms and a kitchen for less than €150 a night, perfect for my husband and our two small daughters." Pauline's experience points up the hidden value of these types of accommodations: Not only will you spend less, but you'll also be much more likely to meet actual Romans and see what the life of the city is like.
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This article is an excerpt from Pauline Frommer's Italy, 2nd Edition, available in our online bookstore now.
Find out more about the Pauline Frommer Travel Guide series, read articles by Pauline, and listen to Podcasts at Pauline's page on Frommers.com.