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 and as the wide range of tours can be overwhelming, I will help you choose the best one.
1. Vatican City Tour with a local guide
Leaving Rome without tasting its pizza or its famous 'prosecco' wine is an unforgivable sin. This tour of the Vatican gives you the opportunity to do it privately (you will go alone or with the group you are traveling with) with the company of a local. The historical Rome is left aside in this tour that shows you the most human and actual face of the city focusing on the Vatican area and how people live there.
2. Night walking tour of the center of Rome
This is one of my favorite options because you will discover Rome at sunset. If during the day the city is impressive, don't miss to see it at night. I recommend you to do this night tour of Rome.
3. Tour of Rome by bus
Although Rome is a city to walk around, sometimes it is not available to 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 larger than that of the walking tours, so I also recommend this option if you have little time during your visit.
4. Tour of Rome by bike
If you are fit and want to cover even more ground in Rome during your guided tour, I highly recommend this tour of Rome by bike. Includes the use of the bike, you will be accompanied by a specialized guide who will take you to the most accessible places, you can stop flexibly and, in addition to the center, you will see the Trastevere and Colosseum areas.
5. Gastronomic tour of Rome
Of course, there are also gastronomic tours in Rome and the food in this city deserves it. In this gastronomic tour you will have no less than ten stops to taste pizza, pasta, ice cream and many other typical dishes of the city. The best part is that the tour is not only focused on gastronomy, but you will also visit Rome's landmarks and you will be given the best recommendations to eat like a local during your visit to Rome.
6. Tour of Trastevere in small group
If you want a more intimate atmosphere, you can choose this guided tour of Trastevere in which you will be a maximum of 12 people accompanying the guide. As the name suggests, the main point of the tour will be the Trastevere neighborhood, one of the most authentic in Rome, Campo de Fiori, where you can meet with local merchants, and the Jewish Ghetto. The best thing about this tour? It stays away from the more crowded areas and includes tastings along the way.
7. Walking tour of Ancient Rome
For three hours and in a small group you will visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. The guided tour of ancient Rome includes entrance tickets to both sites, but unlike the guided tours of the Colosseum, it is designed to explore the area in general. If you like the stories of emperors and gladiators, you will enjoy this tour like a child.
8. Private tour of Rome
In this private tour of Rome you will have a guide for yourself or for those who travel with you and the tour is perfectly adaptable to what you want to see. It is a unique experience that is twice as worthwhile as a normal tour because all the explanations and recommendations will be personalized according to what you are most interested in. This tour lasts about two and a half hours and is ideal for visiting areas away from mass tourism: such as the neighborhoods of Little London or Monti.
9. Main tour stops in Rome
Roughly speaking, the city of Rome can be divided into four tourist areas: Ancient Rome with the Colosseum and the Roman Forum as the main points of interest; the Vatican City State with St. Peter's Square as a reference point; the Trastevere district 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:
La Fontana del Tritone
It is usually the meeting point of the tour, is located in Piazza Barberini and is a baroque fountain designed by Bernini. In addition to telling you the myth of Triton, the guide will surely take advantage of this stop to tell you about the journalist Margaret Fuller as there is a plaque in the square 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 coins because you may have already 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 San Ignacio de 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 reveal to you. Free admission.
This Corinthian style temple from the first century is the best location to tell you the history of the ancient emperors of Rome. No doubt your guide will not miss this opportunity.
10. Organize your guided tour of Rome
How to get to the meeting point
The meeting points of the 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 between several schedules available when taking a 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 the museums in Rome are closed, so visitors may take the opportunity to sightsee in the center. As in any big 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 stop in the middle of the tour. 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, the children will be able to handle it because they are outdoors and can run around and play (it is not like a museum where they have to stand still) while the guide shows them the sights. The distances covered on most tours (especially those in the city center) are quite manageable, but be aware that at most stops there won't 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.
11. Tips for travelers interested in the tour of 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 will not 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.
- 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 that the shoes are not new and do not chafe (watch out for summer shoes). Just in case, take some band-aids with you.
- 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 everything you want because you won't always have an expert guide in the city to answer you.
- Take notes. Okay, maybe it's an exaggeration, but personally more than once I've enjoyed 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.
12. If you are interested in tours of Rome you will also be interested in...
If you are one of those who enjoy the stories, details and anecdotes behind the main monuments, you cannot 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 Best Vatican guided tours and 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 & Tickets, which you can read to organize your visit.
Frequently asked questions
What's the average city tour length?
Most of the city tours are between 1h30m and 3h long, so plan the rest of your activities in the city bearing this in mind.
What is the best way to move around Rome?
Most of Rome's landmarks are packed within the old city centre, so walking is usually your best bet to get around Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. But here's the pro tip: rent a bike or book a bike tour. It will let you explore more of the city's hidden gems and make the most out of your time.
What are the most common tourist mistakes I should avoid?
First and biggest mistake: not buying tickets in advance. Make sure to plan ahead and skip long waits under the Roman sun. Also, don't try to hail a cab in the street, there are designated spots for taxis. Coffee-wise, keep in mind that cappuccinos are reserved for breakfast, so instead try ordering un caffè or un caffè macchiato after noon (if you ask for a latte, you'll get a cold glass of milk).