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Eating in Italy - Costs

Hi guys,

New chowhound here - wouldn' t exactly call myself a foodie, but maybe an aspiring one. Anyways, I'm hoping someone can answer a pretty basic question about eating internationally. I'm a college student, and I'm planning on traveling to Europe - either Italy or Spain (I crossposted there - hope that's okay) over spring break for 8-9 days, and I'm trying to figure out if I can afford to eat decently over there. Most of my friends, when they did a Euro-trip, ate as cheaply as they could, meaning that they often shopped at grocery stores and ate bread and cheese 2x a day, and then breakfast in the hostel. Problem is, I don't want to do this. One of the primary reasons for my trip is to experience the cuisine of Italy/Spain, so I don't want to eat bread and cheese just to get by.

On the other hand, I never eat at expensive restaurants, and have no desire to change things and go eat gourmet over there, either. I'd like to eat as the locals do - meaning mom & pop places, inexpensive to mid-range restaurants...basically what "normal" Italians eat. I'd like to experience "authentic" culture as much as possible.

Can anyone help me estimate how much this will cost me? Obviously I will do more in-depth research once I decide for certain on a location, but I'd appreciate ballpark estimates to get an idea whether I can afford the trip or not. I'm estimating $25-30/night for hostel lodging, $10-15 day for transportation/miscellany, and am really unsure how much to budget for the food as I have described it. Any help appreciated!

BTW, if I decide that Europe is not affordable my other option is Mexico/Central America, which I know will be cheaper, so comments/comparisons between the two, food or otherwise, are welcome as well!


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  1. Luke,

    I'ts been two years since I was in Italy, so I'm not current as some. If you are in a big city, it's hard for me to imagine that you could eat a meal out for less than $25. There are plenty of good things to eat for less, but not sitting down in even the most modest restaurant.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bropaul

      slowfood.it specializes in locating great traditional restaurants at moderate cost - in general 35 euros or less, excluding wine (house wine in italy is cheaper than water) This would be for a full multicourse meal. Unfortunately they have redone their website so that you have to join (I dont think it costs anything) to access the full data from their 2007 osterie guide. In the past they only provided full data in the Italian language edition.

      On an earlier trip we found the book Great Eats Italy (formerly Cheap Eats) useful for Rome-Venice-Florence - I cant vouch for the current edition but the author concentrates mainly on less pricy options. She susses out some good fixed price meals, especially lunches. Some in Rome we like are Volpetti Piu, Sora Margherita and Osteria d'Angelo (the last in Prati) Some neighborhoods have more economical options, like Testaccio or the rome university district (San Lorenzo) - here's a link to a Frommer review of one of the slowfood picks over there, Tram Tram that give some cost indications
      bty The San Lorenzo basilica is magnificent, little visited by tourists, and right on a tram line that swings through many roman neighborhoods

      Id say a good strategy would be one restaurant meal a day and pizza or picnicking for the other. many (not all) of the restaurants discussed on this Board would come in more like 25 euros per person, especially if you had only a couple courses and skipped dessert (usually disappointing)

    2. Folks, a gentle reminder that Chowhound's purpose is to seek deliciousness. Please recommend appropriately priced suggestions in Italy if you have any, but refrain from general travel advice for hotels, transportation, etc. That's beyond our scope. Thanks for keeping us a focused food resource.

      1. Hi, I am new to this site and need some help. I was in Sorento last Nov. and loved the pasta. We purchased several bags of dried seasoning and thought we were going to other
        stores where we could purchase some pasta but we ended up going back to the ship. Can anyone tell me where, on line, I can purchase authentic Italian pasta? I remember the pasta was small and thick and great. Thanks

        1. Luke - I just picked up a book called PappaRoma 100 Ristoranti di Qualita' a Buon Prezzo. Do you read any italian? It has 100 rome restaurants, trattorias, take aways, etc. where you eat for 25 euro or less, not including wine. I got it at Feltrinelli's book store at largo argentina.

          1. We just picked up two books by Fromer's - Paris for $95 a day and Italy for $95 a day (this includes lodging and 3 meals a day-even mentions best youth hostels). I believe they have Spain too. It gives plenty of great places, where locals go and tips on how to keep your costs down, etc. Even how to book the hotel to get the best price, rather then go through an on-line service. We are staying at a cute little place in Paris paying 69 euro a night when through expedia it's $199. for that same room. Great tips. And finding great restaurants in Italy, cross referencing by googling and getting awesome reviews that back it up with comments like "great price for homemade, local meal, where all the locals go". etc.

            1. One of the pleasures of traveling in Italy is shopping at the open-air markets, buying food for the evening, stopping off for an inexpensive lunch (at a tavola calda, say) and picnicking on the cheese, bread, salumi, and fruit you bought that morning. The larger cities have markets most weekdays open all morning (check schedules, tho), such as the Campo dei Fiori in Rome and the smaller villages often have open-air markets once or twice a week in the vicinity. You can picnic, usually, in parks, piazze, and even in cafes or bars that don't serve much food (ask first, if you wish to eat there; you shouldn't have a problem if you're buying wine/beer/coffee there and it's not particularly crowded).

              1. I found good food in Naples and Puglia - especially Lecce - like Italy of old - much lower prices for dining at all levels and lots of good cheap street food in Naples - very few chains so one feels they are eating like the Italians. Naples has cleaned up its act and is a fairyland now to visit slowly and in depth.

                Lecce has a Univesity in a jewel box of a preserved gorgeous town in the heart of tomato and olive oil country - well off the typical tourist beaten path in Italy. Lots of local specials and fish here too. This is the next "Tuscany" in my book so get there soon before it is ruined.

                1. Here are some general tips.

                  order house wine, red. "vino de casa rosa", it's usually inexpensive and usually better than a house that you'd get in the states. if you're eating alone, a half litre will do you well.

                  salty foods aren't usually eaten before noon - that pretty much means no standard breakfasts of eggs and bacon. a typical italian breakfast consist of a sweet pastry, like a bignè (eclair) and an espresso. an espresso is very inexpensive here as opposed to the states, my breakfast this morning was under 2 euro for a pastry and a cappucino.

                  in italy, pizza is pretty common. most pizza places are bars, where you can get a slice for 1-2 euro. there, you'll eat standing up.

                  that said, there are a lot of decent sit down restaurants that fire up their ovens too. i live in siena, and near a place that arguably has the best pizza in the city. my wife and i shared a pasta dish, two pizzas and a half litre of wine for 17 euro. eating alone, pasta, a pizza and wine wouldn't cost you more than 10 euro. you can't get much better than that.

                  in terms of finer dining, you'll do well to venture around. the best meal i've ever had was in siena, it was mildly spendy, at about 20 euro, but that was also three courses, and dining with a few friends, we went through 2 liters of wine. 20 euro might seem like a lot, but this was well worth it.

                  if you're on the cheap, consider eating modest meals like pizza and pasta dishes, and splurge a few times to get a real taste of italy.

                  there are also different types of dining venues. a bar is a stand up, take out kind of restaurant. often, you'll see people standing outside eating a slice of pizza, or sipping an espresso. an osteria is a smaller restaurant, small sitting space, small kitchen, but attentive service, and usually a rotating menu. a trattoria is larger than an osteria, but smaller than a restaurant. a restaurant is a larger dining venue. i don't think these venues really have an impact on price, but certainly on the dining atmosphere and experience you'll have.

                  if you're travelling in a city that sees a lot of tourists, wander off the beaten path, and seek out a smaller place. here's an important lesson that i'm sure other chowhounders have learned as well - stand outside a dining spot, look around and listen. if you hear a lot of english speaking folks, walk away and find another place. if you hear a lot of native tounge, there's a good bet that locals eat there.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: thetodd

                    Could I also add that there is a large price difference between eating the exact same food seated OR standing at the bar. My Italian friends have told me that the price of "stand up" coffee is regulated by the government and cost no more than 80 cents and can cost less. I did not know this and automatically sat down to order my coffee and paid almost 6 Euros for the exact same cup! Expensive lesson but one I learned quickly so to never repeat my error. It is the same for ice cream or other "small" foods.

                    I have always had great luck asking people where they eat, especially if you are close to a market (public market, not the "super" variety). Explain that you are short of cash and plan to be pleasantly surprised. My husband and I were often treated to something extra because, in the words of almost everyone we met. "you are a guest in our country and we want you to feel welcome".

                    Have a great trip!

                  2. I travelled around Europe this summer after finishing grad school, staying in hostels and travelling with a Eurail pass. Like you, I wanted to experience the local cuisine as much as possible.

                    In Italy, I spent on average about 25 Euros for dinner. That included house wine, appetizer (shared), first and second courses. You could spend less by not eating so much food. You definitely don't need 3 courses, I just wanted to try everything. In France, it was about the same, I usually got the set-price menu for around 20 Euros, then wine. I saved money by not getting dessert in restaurants - usually not very good anyway.

                    Lunch is best enjoyed by shopping for bread, cheese, meat, and fruit at the market and having a picnic. That might cost 5 euros. However, if you like to eat at a restaurant, I'd budget about 10 euros for a main dish and a glass of wine.

                    If you budget 20-25 euros for dinner, 10 for lunch, and 5 for breakfast, you will eat *very* well.

                    1. I just got back from Italy, yesterday (Rome) and I can tell you right now, ask immediately and before you order if they have a "cover charge" or "service charge" because if they do, it could easily double the cost of your meal. I found several good places in Rome that we ate for under $25 Euro for the both of us with drinks included. (Do not order soda in Rome, trust me) if you order at the bar and eat "to go" you will save a TON. NEVER order a coffee while sitting down, and always get house wine. (hey you are in Italy....house wine is cheap and wonderful) If you ever get sick of pasta, cheese, bread and bad service I would definately recommend getting Cinese food, it is authentic and very cheap and they never seem to have cover or service charges.