It’s well known that we Brits don’t like to queue! Visiting the beautiful museums, seeing the architecture and learning about the history of a city can often mean long waiting lines, and hours spent moving between locations. In this post, I’ll talk about my favourite “skip the line” tours in Rome.
If you want to make sure you see the most important parts of Rome, while still having time for other important pursuits (shopping and a bottle of bubbly!), read on!
Colosseum Night Tour with Exclusive Underground Access (Walks of Italy)
When researching tours in Rome, Walks of Italy frequently pops up, as one of the most popular and well established tour companies. They’ve been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 4 years in a row, and have close to a thousand 5 star reviews on their website, so I was confident in booking this tour, even though our usual preference would be a more private one (website and full details in the link above).
We met around 8pm, just in time for sunset (we did this tour in August 2016). The website says that the tour will have a maximum of 24 people, which is a relatively small size. There were around 15 on ours (an interesting mix of all nationalities – mainly couples & families). You are given headsets to hear the guide the whole way round.
The initial walk around Piazza Venezia and up to the Capitoline Hill is a route I’ve walked before, but with a knowledgeable guide, it’s given a more interesting and historical context. The climax of the tour, and my reason for booking, is of course, being able to walk under the Colosseum at night. I won’t ruin your experience by describing this too fully, but in my opinion it’s a must do.
Because of the special access required, and small size of the tour group, it creates a very quiet atmosphere, which allows you to enjoy the majesty of the actual arena at night, and the macabre history of the tunnels underneath. You’ll see where the tigers in the movie, Gladiator, would have come up through the trap doors!
Overall – highly recommended and one of the best ways to experience the Colosseum. The tour finishes around 10:45pm (in the summer) – just in time for a late supper and a glass of vino 🙂
Visits to the Tomb of Saint Peter and the Necropolis under the Vatican Basilica
This tour can only be arranged through the Excavations Office (Ufficio Scavi) at the Basilica of St Peter’s, Here
The tours are set by the office at specific times when they have been granted the required permissions, so it seems to be hit and miss as to whether you will be able to do the tour during your trip.
We were lucky to get to do the tour in December 2016, after I emailed the office ahead of our trip. I was very flexible, and was prepared to do the tour on any day of our trip. If you have an idea of when you want to travel, and can book your travels around the tour, even better!
The tour size is maximum 12 people, which is quite small. The meeting point is at the Excavations Office, and you need to show your confirmation of your visit to the colourful Swiss Guards nearby.
The guide we had for the tour of the Necropolis is an archaeologist, who has specifically worked on this project, so was obviously very knowledgeable! The mausoleums have remained incredibly well preserved since the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with beautiful frescoes & mosaics, and the experience really feels like a walk through time.
Towards the end of the underground tour, you are given the opportunity to look through to what is known as the “graffiti wall” and view the glass case holding what are believed by many to be the bones of St Peter. You can have a look at a virtual tour of the Necropolis on the Vatican website before you go here: Virtual tour of the Vatican Necropolis
The total tour of all levels of the Basilica is around 1.5 hours – a fantastic experience which literally walks you through centuries of buried history, coming up through the Grottoes and finishing on the main floor of the current Basilica, for you to explore as you wish.
- as per the note on the Scavi website, if you are at all claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend this tour! One lady who came down to start the tour with us was too uncomfortable even in the initial underground area, and decided wisely not to continue. The tunnels get a lot smaller as you go along!
- It gets warm in the tunnels of the Necropolis, so wearing layers you can remove, and carrying some water would be a good idea
- This is an excavation – so the ground is uneven! Wear walking or flat shoes. One lady on our tour did it in heels, which, while impressive, isn’t recommended!
Private tours of the Vatican Museums & The Galleria Borghese
On my first ever visit to Rome, In October 2015, we had a private tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. We booked it through Rome-museum.com (link & full details Here)
In November the same year, we did an incredible private tour of the Galleria Borghese, booked through City Wonders, Here (€199 for 2 adults)
For both tours, we had very knowledgeable female guides, who spoke fluent English, were well-travelled, and of course had a degree or two in Art History!
If this is the first time you are visiting the above locations, I think its well worth doing a private tour. They are quite expensive, but can’t be beaten for the detailed descriptions of the artworks and history, and being able to learn alongside someone who is so passionate about the museums and art. Aside from this, you will be skipping the lines for tickets, avoiding crowds, and moving a lot more quickly between locations.
Even with some history of art behind me, I would have found the Vatican Museums & Galleria overwhelming if we hadn’t been expertly guided through them. Having gained a better understanding of the art & artists I’m now be more confident going back to these locations and exploring them more in my own time.
Apparently if you stood in front of each single exhibit in the Vatican Museum for a certain number of seconds, the vast amount of objects would mean that you would be lost in there for years! (I can’t remember the exact amount, but I would rather have an interesting tour, see the most important art, and be finished in time for lunch :))
I hope this gives you some inspiration for fantastic tours to integrate into your next trip to Rome. Feel free to contact me Here for any more info
Travel safe : )