Rome is an open-air museum. In every corner there is a statue, a fountain or a building that exudes history; a history to which we must add the customs of its inhabitants and the exquisiteness of its gastronomy. A guided tour is the best way to get to know the city of Rome and as the large offer of tours can be overwhelming, I help you choose the best one.
1. Visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel with an expert guide
Leaving Rome without visiting the Sistine Chapel would (almost literally) be a mortal sin. The Chapel's frescoes are undoubtedly the biggest attraction for the millions of tourists who make the pilgrimage here every year, but you also don't want to miss St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square and the enormous amount of art you'll find in the Vatican Museums.
Knowing all this in detail could take you days at a time or you could make the mistake of visiting on your own and touring it without taking into account its context, its symbolism or the Vatican's best-kept secrets. Touring them with an expert guide will be essential to enjoy this area of Rome to the fullest. In addition, you will skip the access queues (something very important considering that there are hours of waiting at the ticket offices).
There are several options to choose from: from the most economical to the most Premium, accessing the Vatican early in the morning before it opens to the general public in order to enjoy the art in silence, tranquility and avoiding crowds. Always book tickets in advance and online to avoid falling into too high prices and above all to get tickets the day and time you want.
2. The Colosseum and the Roman Forum, better from the inside and with a local guide.
It is probably at the top of your wishlist of places to visit in Rome. And no wonder. What was during Ancient Rome the scene of the most mythical battles between gladiators, has gone down in history as the emblem, not only of Rome, but of the whole of Italy. If the outside leaves you fascinated, you should not miss its interior.
Today it is possible to visit the Colosseum inside and walk through its stands, even access the arena, as did the gladiators themselves and enjoy for a while the feeling of making a real trip back in time. In addition, next to the Colosseum are the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, well worth a visit.
There is the possibility of visiting the monument on your own, but you will get much more out of it if a local guide explains what you are seeing, how it was built and what the battles that hosted the Colosseum consisted of. Rounding off the visit with a guided tour of the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill will put the finishing touch to your tour of Ancient Rome.
Whichever tour you choose, you'll be able to skip the long lines at the ticket office every day. Here are the best ones:
3. Travel to the center of the Earth with a guided tour of the Catacombs
Rome's Catacombs are another of its best kept secrets. A little away from the center, following the ancient Appian Way, you will reach the Catacombs, incredibly well-preserved subway crypts where you can visit sarcophagi and tombs of popes and artistic remains more than 1500 years old.
Although there are more than 19 kilometers of catacombs tunnels, the visit takes less than two hours but you can only enter with a guide, so I recommend you book a guided tour of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus if you want to immerse yourself in this journey full of legend and mystery.
4. The most comfortable option: tour Rome by bus
Although Rome is a city to walk around, sometimes it is not affordable for everyone, if this is your case you have the option to do it aboard this tourist bus without giving up the company of a specialized guide. The area covered by the bus is wider than the walking tours, so I also recommend this option if you have little time during your visit.
Although it may seem a tour that detracts from the charm of the city tour, the tourist bus becomes a great idea for people with reduced mobility, with little time in the city or simply for visitors who come to the city in the summer and are looking for a practical way to move away from the heat.
In addition, you can use it as public transport to move from one place of interest to another, as it has free stops and runs through the main points of the city. Check prices, availability and routes here:
5. Discover also the surroundings of Rome
It is clear that Rome is the Eternal City and its name does not deceive: its streets, monuments and museums would allow us to be walking and discovering new things every day for years. But surely your time in the city is not exactly eternal and if you feel like taking advantage of your trip to explore also the surroundings of Rome and get to know a little more of the Italian culture, you are in luck.
There are plenty of excursions and guided tours you can sign up for if you feel like disconnecting from the chaos of the city and getting to know other incredible places like Pompeii, Florence, Naples or even the archaeological remains of Ostia or the Villa dell'Este and Hadrian's Villa.
You will see that there are options for all tastes and budgets, so dive into this list to choose the one that best suits your trip:
6. Enjoy the charm of Rome by bike
Exploring Rome by bike is one of the most fun tours you can do during your vacation in the Eternal City.
It is an activity that will allow you to see many interesting places in Rome in a short time, for example Ancient Rome, Villa Borghese, the city center or the Colosseum and Trastevere areas, among many other places.
The bike tours in Rome usually last about 3 or 4 hours but the advantage is that they can be done by any type of traveler, regardless of their physical condition because there are classic and electric bicycles. In addition, you will be accompanied at all times by a local guide who will take you through the most accessible places and during the route you can stop with flexibility to take the photos you want.
7. Learn about Italian food by taking a gastronomic tour in Rome
To think of Italy is also to think of its delicious gastronomy. A cuisine that has crossed borders and has conquered hearts all over the planet.
In addition to enjoying its great dishes in the restaurants of Rome, during your trip in Rome you will have the opportunity to take a gastronomic tour to discover the best local products in a tour of markets such as Campo de' Fiori and gourmet spaces in neighborhoods such as Trastevere or the Jewish quarter.
The best thing about this kind of tours is that they don't usually focus only on gastronomy, but they also dedicate time to get to know emblematic places in Rome (the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Campo de Fiori, etc.) and will give you the best recommendations on how to eat during your visit to Rome like a local.
If you choose the option, you can even take a tour of Rome that incorporates a cooking class with a professional chef to make an authentic Roman pizza.
8. Explore the bohemian Trastevere district of Rome
That's why you can't miss a tour of Trastevere during your vacation in Rome. If you have the chance, I advise you to choose a private tour because this way you can enjoy its wonders at your own pace and adapt the route to the places you want to see.
In addition, the private Trastevere tours create a very close and relaxed atmosphere with the guide that makes the excursion a very entertaining experience. In fact, you can even ask him for personalized restaurant recommendations that will come in handy during your visit if you feel like staying for dinner in Trastevere.
9. Hop on a Vespa to discover Rome
Do you dream of emulating Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the movie "Roman Holiday" and discover the Eternal City aboard a Vespa? This is one of the most fun tours of Rome!
The Vespa is one of the most famous symbols of Italian culture due to its numerous appearances in the movies and being able to explore the capital of the country with one of them is an unforgettable experience.
If you don't know how to drive a motorcycle, don't worry, because on this tour you will travel as a passenger and during the itinerary you will be accompanied by a private driver who will show you its main monuments and some mind-blowing secret spots. And there will be stops along the way so you can take all the pictures you want.
10. Have fun touring Imperial Rome by golf cart
Another great way to spend an unforgettable day in Rome is to get on a golf cart and let yourself go through the streets of Imperial Rome while the driver guide tells you the history of its monuments.
In a tour of about three hours you will enjoy the best views of the Colosseum, the Pantheon or the Circus Maximus while the guide tells you about the battles of the great Roman emperors.
Passing by the Trevi Fountain, you will be able to throw your coin and take the typical picture because this tour allows you to stop at the most emblematic places to walk through their corners and contemplate the beauty of the Roman monuments at your leisure.
11. Stroll through the streets of Rome under the stars
I am sure that a night tour of Rome will be one of the experiences you will enjoy the most during your stay and from which you will take a very special memory.
It can't be missing in your list of things to do in Rome! The city is wrapped in a romantic and enigmatic atmosphere and strolling through the monumental streets of Rome while you see its churches, palaces and squares shine becomes a very exciting experience.
Also, one of the advantages of doing a night tour of Rome compared to daytime tours is that at night there are usually not so many crowds in the streets and the walk is much quieter. I recommend you to do it especially during the summer nights, simply magical!
If you want to know more about this kind of activities, don't miss the post Best Rome night tours where you will find a lot of proposals.
Main stops of Rome tours
Roughly speaking, you can divide the city of Rome into four tourist areas: Ancient Rome with the Colosseum and the Roman Forum as main points of interest; the Vatican City State with St. Peter's Square as a landmark; the Trastevere neighborhood and the center of Rome with the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona as must-see spots. Unless the tour you are going to hire covers a specific neighborhood or area, it is normal for all of them to cover the following stops:
Fontana del Tritone
Usually the meeting point of the tour, it is located in Piazza Barberini and is a baroque fountain designed by Bernini. In addition to telling you about the myth of Triton, the guide will surely take advantage of this stop to tell you about the journalist Margaret Fuller since in the square there is a plaque dedicated to her figure.
The largest square in Rome with its baroque fountains is one of the areas that most enchants visitors to the eternal city. There are many legends forged around these statues that represent the great rivers of the time when they were built (mid-seventeenth century); the guide will explain several of them and tell you which are the most reliable.
The Trevi Fountain
Undoubtedly the most representative fountain of Rome as well as the largest. Bring loose change because you may have heard that the tradition is to throw them backwards: one to return to Rome and two to find love.
The guide will probably use this stop to tell you about the reunification of Rome since it is in the Pantheon where the mortal remains of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of reunified Italy, rest. Try not to lose the thread of the explanations when contemplating this marvel of Roman architecture; I warn you that it is not easy. Admission is free.
The church of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Baroque style and built between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this church houses a model of a temple dedicated to the religions of the world and a very special optical illusion that the guide of your tour of Rome will know how to reveal to you. Free admission.
This Corinthian style temple from the first century is the best place to tell you the history of the ancient emperors of Rome. Your guide will certainly not miss this opportunity.
Organize your guided tour of Rome
How to get to the meeting point
The meeting points for walking tours in Rome are usually central locations. Triton Fountain, Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza de Campo de Fiori, Via Labicana... I recommend that you take the metro to a central stop and then walk to the meeting point (you can ask your guide for a reference point to locate it when booking the tour).
Normally you will be able to choose from several timetables available when taking the tour of Rome. As for the days of the week, there are usually tours every day, but we remind you that on Mondays most of Rome's museums are closed, so visitors may take the opportunity to do some sightseeing in the center. As in any large city, weekends and holidays also tend to be more crowded in the tourist areas.
Duration of tours
They usually last between two and three hours, depending on the option you choose. The walking tours in the center of Rome are long enough to soak up the history of the most emblematic places and then walk around them at your leisure, but if you take the walking tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, keep in mind that the time you will spend inside the monuments may be short if you want to see them in depth.
Bring water and snacks. The longer tours usually have a 15 minute mid tour stop. Depending on where you end the tour, your guide will probably recommend places to have lunch or dinner away from the general hustle and bustle of the city.
Tours with children
If it is not a very long tour, children will be able to handle it because they are outdoors and can run and play (it is not like a museum where they have to stay still) while the guide shows them the places of interest. The distances covered on most tours (especially those in the city center) are quite manageable, but keep in mind that at most stops there will not be room to sit down.
Ana's Traveller Tip
If you can choose a date for your guided tour, avoid weekends and holidays, as this is when there are usually the most tourists in the center of Rome.
Tips for travelers interested in taking a tour in Rome
Locating the meeting point, choosing schedules and packing your backpack is important, but there are other details you'll want to know before taking a tour of Rome. Here are my top tips:
- Check the language. You won't have any problem because these tours are available in several languages (Spanish, Portuguese, English, German and French are the most common), but check the availability for the chosen time and language. Another tip is that a city tour is not the time to practice languages, you will enjoy it much more in your native language. 2. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking for several hours and standing for a long time, as sometimes there is no place to sit down during the tour. Make sure your shoes are not new and do not chafe (be careful with summer shoes). Just in case, take some band-aids with you. 3. Ask questions. Ask for recommendations to eat like a local or to go out to party and ask for the best viewpoints to take the best pictures, for the most original souvenirs you can buy in Rome, for hidden places you can't miss, for excursions to complement your trip... Ask as much as you want because you won't always have an expert guide in the city to answer you. 4. Take notes. Okay, maybe it's an exaggeration, but personally more than once I've liked the stories I've been told on walking tours so much that I've found myself taking notes on my cell phone. Lately I always go with a notebook and a pen to this kind of tours because I don't want to forget anything. It will also be an ideal practice if you are going to make a travel notebook later on.
If you are interested in Rome tours you will also be interested in
If you are one of those who enjoy the stories, details and anecdotes behind the main monuments, you can not leave Rome without taking the two most important guided tours: the Colosseum and the Vatican. Both places are wonderful to walk around and take a thousand pictures, but you don't fully understand them until you take a guided tour. Here are the guides I have written about The best guided tours of the Vatican ⛪ y Rome Colosseum Tours in case you are interested in organizing your own guided tour.
If you also want to get off the beaten track, I suggest you visit the incredible Borghese Gallery (which is also located in one of the most beautiful parks I've ever seen). This is the article I wrote about it, Borghese Gardens and Gallery Tours & Ticketswhich you can read to organize your visit.