Visit Rome: Tips for Guided Tours? Tips in General?

Hello Cosmopolitan Dopers - I have a favor to ask:

My wife and two kids (13 and 11) are going to Italy in April over Spring Break. This will include a few days - 5 I believe - in Rome. I remember visiting Rome during college and finding it big, fascinating and hard to get a feel for.

We would like to see things like the Vatican, the Roman ruins, the Catacombs - probably a day trip to Pompeii as well.

I found these threads, and will get them to my wife for review:

So -

  • Any tips for guided tours in Rome for the types of sights I list above? I assume we are thinking of picking off one 2-to-3 hour guided “sight tour” a day, balanced with cafe downtime and more casual sight-seeing. But if you have a tip for an “all day see the Vatican” type tour you love, please let me know.

  • What is a reasonable price to pay for these types of tours? Any good websites you’d recommend to research and compare?

  • Best approach to planning? Our assumption is to book now, well in advance, vs. try to set something up there.

  • Any other tips about Rome?

Thank you all in advance!

I highly recommend the guided tour of the Colosseum underground and upper level. The whole tour takes maybe an hour or two and includes everything that the average visitor sees in addition to going under the stage, into the underground walkways, and on the upper levels.

I was in town for another tour and decided to add this one on for some free time right after I arrived in town. Another girl from my tour signed up for the same Colosseum tour so we went together and waited around for our group. Eventually our tour guide arrived and we found out that we were the tour. No one else had signed up for that time slot! So it was just the guide and the two of us wandering around deserted underground passages. The guide told us that it was our time - she would tell us about everything, we could ask anything we wanted, and we could take pictures for as long as we wanted, as well. It was amazing.

We ended up buying our tickets through this site. It’s a little pricey but it includes the tour, all the free time you want to spend in the open (i.e. not underground or upper level) areas of the Colosseum afterward, and entrance into the Forum. From what I’ve heard, you might be able to get tickets for significantly cheaper by calling the office at the Colosseum itself.

Regardless, if you do go the Colosseum, either get tickets beforehand or buy them at the office on the Palatine Hill. Waiting in the long line at the Colosseum itself is a waste of time - there are plenty of ways to get tickets that get you in immediately. Our tour allowed us to just walk right past the line.

A few years ago my group of 6 adults took this tour of the Vatican and it was spectacular.

Since you’re looking for a more in depth tour I’d highly recommend this company. Our guide was an American who was in Rome as an art history PhD student, and so very knowledgeable. When we booked the tour they sent us emails to ask us about what we were most interested in, to tailor the day for us and ensure we got to see the things we were most interested in. For us the time and money spent were worth.

When we went to the Colosseum a few years ago our guidebook advised us to buy tickets at the Forum - they are good for both places. It worked very well - the Forum line was very short and we could walk past the Colosseum line which was very long. The Forum included an audio tour which was pretty bad - due to the tour not really being related to the markings. We didn’t have time for a guided tour, but what we saw makes me think it would be a great thing.

I would recommend some kind of guided tour to the Forum, as well. It’s easy to not know what you are looking at when walking around the Forum - there are a lot of things that just look like piles of rocks unless you know what they are.

Rome is the worst city in the world I’ve ever been to for locals trying to take advantages of tourists. Do not trust people there. If they offer you something for free or at low cost there is a catch. If you get in a cab, know where you are going unless you want to go around the entire city before getting there. On any hand written receipt add it up yourself to confirm. If something is un-priced find out the price before considering ordering it.

70 Euro Jack and Cokes… Then had the nerve to try and justify the charge…

Last time I was there, it was on business, if I were to go for pleasure I would arrange tours and such before going so I’d be able to confirm them being reputable before purchasing.

It is a beautiful city with lots to see, you will not be able to see everything so make a list of the things most important to you.

The Colosseum and forums are an experience only from a historical point of view, the sheer longevity of their existence makes them impressive. Looking at the Colosseum without that perspective it’s not all that impressive and far smaller then what people imagine. Children are often disappointed so don’t be discouraged if yours lack excitement.

The Vatican is extremely impressive. Saint Peter’s Basilica massive, it is much more impressive on the inside. To climb to the top is a small fee and bit of exercise but well worth the view. If anyone’s claustrophobic you might want to avoid it. You can get in the Basilica pretty quickly if you avoid any major religious event. Dress like your going to church, because for them it is and they will not let you in if you show up in sandals and short shorts.

The Sistine Chapel is also impressive but requires better timing. The line can be long and they funnel people though a very slow moving path. I had no plan and it easily killed an afternoon.

I’ve been to Rome as a tourist many times (and am also now dating a Roman, but that’s a coincidence).

It’s a huge city, but pretty much everything of historical note is within walking or Metro-plus-walking distance. Get a map and plan a couple of routes - you really don’t need a tour guide, unless you’re looking for insight that a good guidebook can’t give. I’ve also taken the bus on my own and the other people on the bus were really helpful to me when I said where I wanted to get off - even though I didn’t have a word of Italian nor they English.

I recommend the Lonely Planet city guide. In fact I’d say buy it today and read it cover-to-cover to help you plan. Really great historical explanation and detailed breakdown of the historic sites. It also has many suggested itineraries and walking itineraries.

Allow half a day for the Forum, with a guidebook. It’s astonishing. It’s also right next to the Colloseum so after your exploration you can have lunch at the little trattoria over the street and then visit the big C, which is also staggering.

Re. pricing: if you eat or drink in the tourist areas they will gouge your wallet with extreme prejudice, then put their arm up your arse and pull out your 401K. However, just a 5-10 minute walk away from the hotspots will get you realistic prices - and probably better food.

The one thing I’ve never seen is the Sistine Chapel, mainly because there are such ridiculously long lines. Cannot be bothered. Apparently there are tour groups that can skip the lines.

To get to Pompeii I would imagine you should find a coach trip. Personally I would rent a car but then I’m fearless in Roman traffic… the key to driving there is to pay huge attention only to what’s in front of you, and realise that nobody will help you out in any way so you need to push. Pay extra for zero-excess insurance and relax about fender benders.

I absolutely love Rome. Round every corner is something that if there were just one of them in your city, it would be the centerpiece of the entire tourism industry - but in Rome there are thousands of them.

Personal highlight: the Pantheon. It’s been standing there for 2,000 years and it’s still perfect, with no mortar on the brilliantly constructed roof. It also has 2,000-year-old corporate logo on the front. The piazza in which it sits is one of the few places I’m prepared to pay full tourist price, just so I can sit with a coffee and a beer and marvel at the thing.

Lonely Planet guide to Rome. Seems to be on special at the moment - $13.29 is an astonishing price for an LP publication - and there’s also an option to e-book it for even cheaper.

We were in Rome for a day and a half this summer before we went on a cruise. It was supposed to be 2-1/2 days but our flight was delayed a day.:mad: So we tried to do as many highlights as possible. We missed our reserved time to see the Vatican Museum (tickets have to be bought in advance for a reserved time). Anyway we took a taxi to the Cololesseum, did a tour and started walking. What is amazing is how close many of the famous sites are to each other and how many cool things we just stumbled on. Beautiful artwork, churches and ruins.

We took in the view (recommended, we did the free version. If you pay you can go the very top) from the Monument to Victor Emanuel II and were walking out the back way. We saw a rather non-descript from the outside church and decided to go in. It was a beautiful church with a wedding in progress. Amazing statues. As we walked down the steps there were the ruins of a very early church next door. All right next to each other and within a block of Roman ruins. This happened again and again.

We had a hotel room in a residential area close to the tourist areas. We did take the time to walk through the residential area to get a feel of modern Rome. Great food in the Mom and Pop corner joints.

So my advice is take some time to just explore on your own as well as the tours. Most people , if not exactly friendly, were nice and spoke English in the tourist areas. Outside of those areas, we got along by pointing and a few Italian words. :o Do try to learn some Italian phrases. Everywhere we went on the cruise we tried to learn a few words in the local language. It made a big difference in attitude and service if you at least try. We tried not to be overtly American but were picked out all the time. :slight_smile:

Enjoy your trip. I definetly hope to get back.

I live near Rome, please PM me with any specific questions!

I would recommend the Hop-on-hop-off bus tours. You buy a ticket for a day or 2 days and they take you all over the city to different sights. It’s also a great way to move around the city. You get off where you want, look about and then just jump on the next bus that comes along when you are done.

You can get to Pompeii by car, coach or train, depending on what you feel most comfortable
with. Looking into it online before you come is much easier than trying to sort it out once you are here. although your hotel staff could help with that.

As you are travelling with teenagers I would heartily recommed this. It is a ‘time machine’ that takes you (in 3D, I think) from Rome 3000 BC to today. I haven’t been, but everyone I know who has, including several groups of 4th and 5th graders, has just loved it.

Stay away from anywhere that advertises a ‘tourist menu’ and do try go off down little side streets where you will discover beautiful things!

One ‘warning’, you are coming in April. Easter Sunday is the 8th. Rome is jam-packed for Easter and seeing St Peter’s or the Vatican Museums could be very difficult. There will be queues and queues of the most persistent and patient pilgrims and nuns with sharp elbows… If you are coming towards the end of the month things should be different.

We spent 3 days there in June and were really surprised how walkable the centre of Rome is. Good shoes are a must as the cobbles are hell on the feet and you do need to pre-book for the major attractions such as St Peters, The Coliseum and the Vatican Museums / Sistine Chapel as the queues can be 2-3 hours.

But to walk from St Peter’s Square past the fort, over the Tiber and stroll through to the Piazza Navona, stopping for a coffee of course, and on to the Pantheon stopping in at Churches as you pass is just wonderful and does not take long. We took a couple of hours because we kept stopping to look at things.

Yes there are crowds (mostly of tourists) and yes it can be expensive (carry water bottles, all Italian cities have free public drinking fountains to fill up at). Once in the downtown you have easy walks to Trevi, various markets and museums and just the fun of the back streets.

Don’t miss Bellini’s crazy elephant with an obelisk on its back just beside the Pantheon. And don’t miss the Pantheon - it is a must see just to get a taste of what the power of the Roman Empire felt like.

Oh and enjoy the street theatre of the Algerian beggar ladies and reward them accordingly… they work hard for their money and they are up to the minute, they will loudly give you the blessing of God and Pope Benedict (a little presumptuous on their part but hey) and one of them fixed me with a beady eye when I looked amused said “Dawkins” and chuckled as she pocketed a euro

This is all great stuff. jjimm, Arian, **moldmonkey **(:)), **Butterscotch **and everyone coming before - thanks!

My wife is the Master Planner - she is the one who asked me to check with Dopers because “you ask them things and they usually have answers, right?” - so I have linked her to this thread and she is digging in. I will follow up with posted questions - or a PM, Butterscotch, thank you for the offer - based on her inquiring mind. She has been focused on the types of issues you are speaking to - what to plan for, what to expect when you’re there, which guides to use - so this is all great…


I get that. Saw it the first time I was there and was equally moved.

Hijack: Butterscotch I’m planning on moving in with my girlfriend in Rome next spring. Are you a Brit? Any pointers?

You will have to re-learn how to cross streets. The traffic in Rome is continuous and FAST, and you could spend hours waiting to cross the street. So do what I did: Just start crossing, and have blind faith that the cars will stop. Miraculously, they always do.

Or find some nuns waiting to cross, and go in their slipstream.

Too funny! That’s exactly what I was thinking…but didn’t have the speed and wit to capture it the way you did…

One thing I really enjoyed when I went to Rome recently - though it might be a bit too much of a history geek thing, so feel free to ignore the suggestion - were the Roman ruins at Ostia Antica. They are well preserved and I found it easy (much easier than in Rome itself) to imagine people living and working there way back when. It’s a bit of a trek to get to, but if the weather’s nice, I’d definitely recommend it - it was less crowded than it should have been, even with the tour groups!

I completely disagree with this statement. For me, the Colosseum was amazing. I took a bus to the Colosseum and Forum, and when we rounded the corner and I caught my first sight of it, my jaw literally dropped. I just sat there like a slack-jawed yokel for a minute or two. It’s even more impressive as you get closer, but don’t bother paying for a tour - any good guidebook will do just as well. And get tickets for both at the Forum, the line is shorter.

Public transportation was great and took me almost everywhere I wanted to go (I got day passes - but I imagine that could be harder with children) and I loved just walking around the city. It’s a lovely place.

We went Easter Sunday, and it wasn’t too bad, but the train schedule was reduced which nearly gave me a heart attack about getting back to the ship on time. People we met on the cruise, who were Catholic, went to St. Peters and somehow timed it to get in when everyone was leaving, and said they had no problem. But the Forum was not especially crowded, at least not from the perspective of a New Yorker.

The signage is awful - at least 4 years ago.

Now I must admit we had just been in Berlin, where the audio tour and signage in the museums was of course precise and perfect.