Rome - To Tour or Not to Tour


Aug 27th, 2015, 12:45 PM
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Rome - To Tour or Not to Tour

We (3 adults) are headed to Rome in May for 9 days - I've been there before (20 years ago), my companions have not. I am trying to figure out what tours I should pay for and what sites we should guide ourselves through.

On our list are sites like the Vatican, Coliseum and Forum, Pompeii and hopefully Herculaneum, maybe Villa Borghese, maybe a day trip to the Uffizi... all the stuff you'd want to see if you've never been to Rome before! There are tours for everything with groups like Through Eternity, Dark Rome, City Wonders - I'm just not sure which ones everyone would consider 'unnecessary' where we could guide and explore ourselves, and which ones are a must.

I found a couple of early entry Vatican groups that get you in to the Sistine Chapel before everyone else and then let you loose in the Vatican collections, which sounds more than reasonable to me, as well as 'skip the line' tours of the Coliseum and underground, but I am looking for opinions/insights. I didn't think 2-3 hours would cover the Vatican, or Pompeii for that matter!

Thoughts anyone? I know I have plenty of time to plan, just not sure how structured we should be as far as the sights go!
AmyInLancaster is offline  
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Aug 27th, 2015, 01:41 PM
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I took an underground tour of the Colosseum in 2011 and really enjoyed it. We did the Forum without a guide, and if the Forum were ever on my itinerary again, I'd want a guide - it's hard to know what you're looking at otherwise.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 02:00 PM
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It's really a matter of personal opinion. We tend to not take tours because we prefer more flexibility in our schedules; if you book a tour on Day X, you have to go, regardless of the weather or anything else.

Also, we really like art, so tend to spend far more time than any tour on particular pieces of art that we like.

I take printed guides; I like Rick Steves, sometimes Cadogan or a Michelin green guide, but to be even more detailed, the Blue Guide. We have bought tickets in advance for the Vatican Museums, so we can skip the ticket line.

One tour group that we have used several times is Context Travel. The groups are small, and the guides are very knowledgeable. We used them for a tour of the Palatine Hill.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 02:30 PM
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Last year I downloaded all the Rick Steves audiotours (free) to my MP3 player and used those to guide me around the sights of Rome and Pompeii. They were excellent tours and allowed me to go at my own pace and spend more time exploring some sights (and less in others) depending on my interests--something you can't do with a regular tour guide.

His tours can also be downloaded as an app to your smartphone or as a podcast to your Ipod.

Here's the link:
longhorn55 is offline  
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Aug 27th, 2015, 02:51 PM
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I notice you have 9 days which is a decent amount of time and should allow you to get beyond the typical sites. The scale tour under the Vatican was the best tour we took in Rome. Personally I enjoyed taking a tour of the Forum and the Coliseum and I'd recommend Context. For me this helped put the ruins into context and brought the place to life. I have done a tour of the Vatican but we went mid afternoon when there was no line, why does everyone go first thing in the morning? However, even a a museum person the the Vatican collections are overwhelming and frankly one of the things I was least interested in in Rome. To be honest given the crowds I'm not sure when I'd bother to go back.

I'd also recommend a self guides walking tour book to take you into different neighborhoods and churches. It's nice to have one or two guided events but also to explore on your own. Fyi, one year we very much enjoyed a walking tour of the ghetto which we did from the main Synagogue.

It seems all the tourists in Rome are at the same places and you'll find many of the other museums blissfully quiet. Wonderful places like the Palazzo Massimo

Here's a link to all the Rome posts on my blog

In addition to the places you mention I'd consider places like the fabulous Etruscan Museum, The Villa Giulia.

The Villa Farnese and the Villa Farnesina. FYI The Villa Farnese is the French Embassy but they do offer guided tours.

The Palazzo Colonna is a must visit for me and I love the quirky off beat Mario Praz Museum.

Of course different travel styles work for different people but whatever you do I'm sure you'll have a good trip!
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Aug 27th, 2015, 03:38 PM
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We (4 friends) did a private tour of the Forum, Palatine Hill and Coloseum with Agnes Crawford of Understanding Rome and it was worth every penny (and pretty reasonable). We NEVER would have understood a 10th of what we saw without her interesting explanations.

Instead of Pompeii, we had a guide take us out to Ostia Antica and then had lunch at a fantastic seaside restaurant. Very enjoyable and only took 1/2 day.

Early entrance (or a late Friday entrance) to the Sistene is totally worth it.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 05:32 PM
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We used Walks of Italy for the Colisseum to visit underground and the top tier. They take small groups and it also included The Forum. Worth it to avoid the line to get into the Colisseum but truly informative.

We used them also for Pristine Sistine...also very excellent and worth the money.

We did Villa Borghese on our own. We loved Villa d'Este in Tivoli. We also enjoyed the scavi tour at the Vatican. Our guide there was so-so but we enjoyed it.

We spent a day in Orvieto and had a great time there...easy train ride.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 05:59 PM
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I find that tour guides really add value to the visits to these Italian sites. A lot of the plaques in some of these places are few and far between and don't do the monuments justice.

That being said, I'm guessing you'd rather not get guides for every place you visit, so you could pick a few. Pompeii would be my first choice (dearth of information in the grounds otherwise). One of the Colosseum or the Forum/Palatine Hill would be my second.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 06:07 PM
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Personally, I'm not fond of guided tours, so of the places you list, the ONLY one for which I joined a tour was the Colosseum. (At the time, it was the only way I could identify to avoid a VERY long line. ;-) ) I found it easy to visit each of the other places you list on my own, with either an audioguide or printed info. BUT it really depends on what YOU prefer!

FWIW, you might want to consider skipping a guide for the Borghesi, even if you generally prefer working with guides -- your time there is limited, and there is SO much to see, that you might want the freedom to pace myself. YMMV.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 06:08 PM
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If you're not familiar with ancient Roman history, culture and politics agree that a guided tour of esp the Form and Palatine would be great. (When we were there one american woman on a tour went into a fit over the Temple of the Vestal Virgins because it was "disgusting" for her teens - apparently she thought they were hookers and not priestesses.)

Also a guide for Pompeii is really helpful - but this is a very long day trip and you should get there as early in the day as possible since there is NO shade and it gets very hot. We were coming from Sorrento and just picked upa guide at the gate.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 06:11 PM
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Oh and if you want to see the Scavi underneath St Peters it's done only as a guided tour and you need to reserve tickets fairly far in advance.
nytraveler is offline  
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Aug 27th, 2015, 06:24 PM
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We had the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide for the Forum. Her name is Daniella Hunt. She engaged both my 21 year old and me and held our attention for the full 3 hours.

I've been to Pompeii with a tour and didn't find it interesting. We had a private tour in Capri and the Blue Grotto that we'll never forget.

Mix it up a bit.
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Aug 27th, 2015, 10:59 PM
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I think I remember a very good audio guide at the Borghese...
welltraveledbrit is offline  
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Aug 27th, 2015, 11:43 PM
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@ welltraveledbrit -- I also thought the audio guide to the Borghesi quite good.
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Aug 28th, 2015, 12:26 AM
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Thanks, all, some great info and things to think about. Glad we have a couple of months to figure this all out! I love the downloaded audio tour idea,and I think the limited access and skip the lines tours are also worth looking at seriously. Honestly I d love to have private guides for almost everything but we do have to watch the wallets too! We are staying in an apartment right at the Ghetto area, so I also thought of doing a food tour of Tratavere.... So much to see! Anyway thank you to everyone for your comments!
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Aug 29th, 2015, 10:10 AM
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Welltraveled Brit has given some wonderful suggestions for hidden gems of Rome, and has mentioned several of my favorites. I'd add the Barberini Gallery, and the Doria Pamphilj Gallery (where the beautiful period furnishings appeal even to people who aren't much interested in art.)

I'd like to make one little correction, though, in case it creates problems with a search, since the names are so similar. It's the Palazzo Farnese (site of the French Embassy) and the Villa Farnesina. The former was the town residence of the Farnese family (until it became property of the Vatican) and the latter was their suburban villa.
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Aug 29th, 2015, 12:03 PM
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Thanks so much for the correction, I'm hot footing it over to the blog to make the change. I've managed to subconsciously (although incorrectly) Frenchify the building, lol!

The Barberini Gallery and the Doria Pamphilj Gallery are still on our MUST do list!
welltraveledbrit is offline  
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Aug 29th, 2015, 12:27 PM
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here's another vote for the Doris Pamphilij - which unlike many of the top attractions in Rome is usually blessedly uncrowded. The audio-guide to the family's apartments [free] is remarkable for the wonderfully cut-glass english accent of the scion of the house who narrates it, and there is an excellent english-style tea-shop on the ground floor.

I would also second the suggestion of the Scavi tour, and doing the underground tour of the colosseum which I haven't done myself but which gets consistently good reviews here - and can be booked through the official Colosseum website.

Finally, do have a guide for the Forum - I have seen it three times without one, and it still looks like a pile of rubble to me.
annhig is online now  
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Aug 29th, 2015, 06:40 PM
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I've used Context for two tours in Rome, the Vatican museum and the Colosseum, Forum, Palantine Hill. I found both to be excellent.

Two wonderful day trips, add my vote for Tivoli, with the Villa d'Este and its fountains, as well as the very interesting and relaxing Hadrians Villa.

Orvieto is still one of my very favorites in Italy, but it's so special that you really should stay overnight to fully enjoy. We were there for 3 nights and did driving daytrips from there.

Buon viaggio!
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Aug 29th, 2015, 08:03 PM
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I'm not fond of a day trip to Pompeii as I think it's too far and too tiring. I would substitute Ostia Antica. In several trips to Rome, it remains one of my favorite days.

I love Rome and every thing we do or have done there, but a huge favorite is Palazzo Valentini. For me, it was the most interesting way I've experienced what life was like for ancient Romans.

We had printed information for Ostia Antica and I didn't miss having a guide.

Palazzo Valentini is a multi media, guided experience. Reservations needed.
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