Where to Stay in Rome and Feel Like a Local

Rome is definitely one of my top 5 all-time favorite cities in Europe. Who doesn’t love Italy? But where to stay in Rome that won’t break the bank is a good question.

Piazza Fiume neighborhood is a good place where to stay in Rome.
One of the local streets in Piazza Fiume, alongside Hotel Fiume.

Where to stay in Rome and feel like a local

More times than not, I travel on a budget. I also like to stay in local neighborhoods. While luxury hotels are wonderful when the price is right, where to stay in Rome and not break the bank can be a challenge.

On a recent visit to Rome, I decided to expand my comfort zone. I wanted to stay where locals lived and not near a major crazy and busy tourist center.

If I wanted to pretend I was Italian for a week, it had to be where Romans ate amazing pizza, sipped steaming cups of espresso and where they went home to sleep. Here’s where I chose to stay in Rome according to my self-imposed guidelines. Piazza Fiume.

Map of Piazza Fiume Rome
As you can see from the map, it’s a short 15 minute walk from Piazza Fiume to three of Rome’s many iconic sights.

I chose this quiet neighborhood so even if only for a week, I could feel like I was Italian. If you stay at a hotel in Piazza Fiume, you’re walking distance to almost everything that is in the Rome guidebook; Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, landscaped and quiet Borghese Gardens and the lively Piazza del Popolo.

Not to mention of course, famous Harry’s Bar on the glamorous Via Veneto. When you want to feel like a tourist.

Harry's Bar on Via Veneto
A must-see tourist spot on Via Veneto, an easy walk from Piazza Fiume. With my friends Simone and Pepito.

What to do and why I like Piazza Fiume

Piazza Fiume is a terrific neighborhood, filled with the sights, smells and sounds you’d expect from Rome. It’s a working class-meets-upscale neighborhood dotted with cafés, casual and fine restaurants and shops. All are centered around the bustling partially open air and enclosed fruit and colorful flower market in Piazza Alessandria.

To my surprise, it was a short, 10-15 minute walk to Via Veneto and the famous Harry’s Bar. Go a little further in a different direction and you’re at the entrance to the serene Borghese Gardens and Museum. Want to visit the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain? No problem. Just add 5 more minutes.

Where to eat with the locals in Piazza Fiume

Restaurants abound in Piazza Fiume. From Ham Holy Burger (for the best burgers in town, I’m told) to Gigetto for a really thin crusted pizza. Try their pizza Capriciossa (hard boiled egg included). Looking for a taste of Naples? Try Pizza Napoli for the traditional chewier-crust pizza Margherita.

For a really great cup of coffee, head to the corner to Moka. Inside or outside seating, it’s your choice. Their caffe Americane is superb. Grab a coronetta (little Danish) with or without filling to accompany.

Want your check? “Il conto” is what to say. Don’t expect to get it without asking. Italians love to linger at their table and it’s considered rude for the waiter to ask customers, “are you finished…do you want your check?”

4 Best Hotels to stay in Rome for price and convenience

I spent my first afternoon walking around Piazza Fiume, stepping in and out of three little bed and breakfast places and last on the list, one actual “hotel”. They’re not fancy accommodations, but in a real Roman neighborhood, surrounded by ancient architecture, fabulous restaurants and very few tourists.

1. San Michele a Porta Pia

With two B&Bs on the same street, Via Messina, it was easy to check out both of them within minutes. San Michele a Porta Pia was welcoming and nice, the hotel staff at reception were friendly but knew very little English. I quickly learned that in neighborhoods where very few Italians spoke English, it’s a good idea to learn a few lines of Italian.

Hotel San Michele in Piazza Fiume neighborhood.
Lovely double bed room at San Michele. Unfortunately, not available.

From the looks of things, B&B San Michele would be fine. I especially liked the outdoor seating for breakfast. Unfortunately, all of the single rooms were sold out for the days that I needed.

Hotel San Michele outdoor breakfast area.
Looks very inviting. They’ll even prepare dinner with advance notice.

When a solo traveler inquires about a hotel in Rome and really anywhere in Europe, the hotel always suggests a less expensive double room. Single hotel rooms are not plentiful, sometimes in sad repair and not always easy to find. I didn’t want to pay nearly twice as much for a double room as a single. I later learned differently about this issue.

Note:  Keep in mind that almost all of these small B&Bs are not located on the ground floor of old buildings. Instead, you must step into a teeny-tiny iron-gated elevator that can barely accommodate two people and luggage. Then ascend at least three floors.

READ ABOUT my favorite luxury B&B at the top of the Spanish Steps

2. Hotel Porta Pia

San Michele no longer an option it was onto the next stop. On the same street and only steps away was Hotel Porta Pia. It looked adorable. From the bright, sunlight rooms to the cozy breakfast buffet room, I immediately liked this place.

Hotel Porto Pia small room in Piazza Fiume
A range of room sizes at Hotel Porto Pia and almost all have a large window that opens.

Once again, even though it was the middle of October, their single rooms were sold out. Matteo, a very polite young man at reception, spoke fairly good English.

Given that there were only two solo rooms out of 19 total, odds weren’t in my favor. I was tempted to reserve a double room but I still had one more B&B to check. Matteo offered to put a courtesy hold on a double room for an hour for me. Plenty of time to walk just a few feet to the next and last B&B on my list: Hotel Versailles.

3. Hotel Versailles – but check your room before paying for it

After a 5-floor creaky elevator ride, I pulled open the elevator’s metal gates and entered Hotel Versailles. A woman was busy vacuuming the lobby so I patiently waited for someone to come to the front desk.

After about 10 minutes, I searched the hallway for the vacuuming person and asked if someone would show me around the hotel. She made a phone call and within minutes, someone appeared, smelling like cigarettes. It was her break time.

Reception desk at Hotel Versailles and that strange little Roman helmet statue.
Reception desk at Hotel Versailles and that strange little Roman helmet statue. Reminds me of what Marvin the Martian on Bugs Bunny wore.

The only single room was in the process of being cleaned and she couldn’t show it to me. I’d later know the real reason why. Instead, she showed me a very nice double room, down the hall from reception desk.

When staying at hotels, whether fancy or basic, I prefer a room close to the elevator or front desk. If my room was near this location, it seemed okay as was the price. The deal was closed, sight unseen.

I walked back to tell Matteo at Hotel Porta Pia that I’d be staying elsewhere and thanked him for the courtesy hold on the room. Keep in mind that I’m wheeling two small suitcases with me the entire time as well as my security purse. A quick sit-down coffee at the corner MOK Café helped me revive.

Back to Hotel Versailles and a very disappointing room

When I returned to Hotel Versailles (I laugh every time I think of the name, it’s so not Versailles), an Eastern European woman with a thick accent booked my accommodation. Then she stuck her finger out to point in the direction to my room. It was one floor up, at the very end of a long, dark hallway. Back into the creaky elevator, down the hall and I found my room. Yuk.

Hotel Versailles
Single room at Hotel Versailles. Though it looks clean, it was not. Apparently it was a room that was not supposed to be sold.

Let’s just say that this was the first time I ever slept in my clothes. I spread clean towels that still smelled of bleach, over the bedspread and single pillow. Bare wires were exposed in the bathroom where light fixtures would one day be attached. A moldy shower curtain completed the ensemble.

Hotel Versailles window
It was nice to have a window to open…however the view being a garbage area required the window to remain closed.

I checked out of Hotel Versailles the next morning. Since my two first hotel choices were still not available, I walked another hundred feet and found a gem: Hotel Fiume. A real hotel in a real neighborhood. Yes, it was more expensive, though not nearly as much as a comparable hotel in the touristic zones. 

4. Hotel Fiume

Right in the middle of Piazza Fiume was Hotel Fiume. There in the doorway was a proper luggage cart, which I cheerfully used. Even the elevator had real doors. I had to settle on a double room, but the front desk manager was kind enough to discount it a bit as their solo rooms were also taken.

Cruise Maven Insider Tip: If you want a solo room in Europe, don’t wait until the last minute.

Here’s a quick tour of Hotel Fiume:

Piazza Fiume neighborhood
Located on Via Brescia, a very quiet, residential street.
Hotel Fiume Reception Desk
Meet Alessandro, day manager at Hotel Fiume.
Hotel Fiume Lobby in Piazza Fiume
With a red velvet decor, the lobby was a bit of a throwback but welcoming and comfortable.
Hotel Fiume Bar in Piazza Fiume Roma
Open at happy hour and through the evening.
Hotel Fiume double room
My room. A double bed, nice view of the street and all the comforts of a big hotel on a smaller scale, at 1/3 the price.
Hotel Fiume view from my window
View from my window.
More of my room at Hotel Fiume in Piazza Fiume
Nice to have a mini bar again, even if I never use it.
Though small and dark, it was a welcome relief from the disastrous bathroom at Versailles.
Though small and dark, it was a welcome relief from the disastrous bathroom at Versailles.

The breakfast buffet dining room was spacious and was many notches better than that of your typical American chain hotel.

A beautiful complimentary breakfast buffet.
A beautiful complimentary breakfast buffet.

Ready to stay in Piazza Fiume? There’s so much more for show and tell, but you’ll have to find out for yourself.

How to get to Piazza Fiume from Termini station

Your best bet is to take a taxi. It’s a very short ride between Termini train station and Piazza Fiume. If you happen to be traveling with only a small carryon bag, it’s indeed walkable, probably 20 minutes, along very, very busy and wide boulevards. Watch for Rome’s crazy drivers and taxis AND scooters.

It is not a good idea to walk if you have more than one small suitcase or if you are a single woman on your first visit to this area in Rome.

If you’re looking for a luxury hotel, try the famous Hotel Hassler, or the once-palazzo Grand Hotel de la Minerve. But for now and for me, where to stay in Rome is a careful, not carefree, decision.

Where you stay in Rome probably won’t make or break your experience. But if you’d rather spend your money on fabulous food and exceptional tours, then Piazza Fiume is perfect. 

Wishing you joyful travels!

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Piazza Fiume Rome at night text over image.


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