This tour company gave me the A-list treatment at the Vatican, and hosts incredible adventures all around the world.
I’m not a big fan of walking tours. Nine times out of ten, it feels like the guide is a makeshift chaperone, wrangling a group of errant schoolchildren, disinterested in whatever they have to say about some storied relic. If it’s not that, it’s an obscene or exhaustive amount of walking, and if it’s not that, I typically end up feeling like the guide relayed information I could’ve discovered on my own.
But that was all until I went on five incredible, fun, and unforgettable City Experiences tours. The City Experience difference? Tours are led by expert guides vetted to give you an immersive and unique experience in your chosen city.
In my case, I was visiting one of my favorite cities, Rome. Even though I’ve traveled to Rome many times over, there’s always something new to discover, a new street to wander, a new layer to peel back. They don’t call it The Big Lasagna for nada!
It all started with a very VIP tour, the VIP Key Master’s Tour: Open The Sistine Chapel, where our group got to literally open the Vatican for the day. We met with the Vatican Keyholders and got behind-the-scenes access, literally switching on the lights, hearing the slow creak of centuries-old doors, and watching the Italian sunrise dawn over the breathtaking Vatican gardens in glimmering shades of amber and Italian citrus. Our tour even included a pretty solid breakfast spread. Wanna be able to say you ate eggs from the Pope’s chickens?
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Aside from the incredibly unique experience, including a private viewing of the Vatican’s galleries, grounds, and artwork, we got to escape the notoriously sweltering Roman summer heat by visiting at dawn and beating the notoriously dizzying and overwhelming crowds.
Fun fact: There are over 2,700 keys to the Vatican–except for one room, the Pope’s!
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Fun for Foodies
Those hungry for a taste of classic Roman cucina need not fret, City Experiences offers a number of de-lish foodie-centric tours that not only quelled my carb-monster cravings but gave us unique insight into Italian drinking and eating culture.
Our guide for the Devour Trastevere Rome: Gourmet Food & Wine Tour, Fernanda, was a true local. So much so that we ran into her friends and neighbors at multiple stops on our tour.
The historic, working-class neighborhood of Trastevere (Pronounced trast-eh-vhere-ray) made the perfect hub to experience the thrilling and vibrant aperitivo hour. It’s the divine lull between getting off work and heading to dinner, where you can savor a spritz and some small bites. Lights twinkle along the Tiber, students, friends, and lovers commingle on the streets, and delicious smells linger throughout the squares.
My adopted motto for this tour, as Fernanda reminded us, “You haven’t had too much to drink, you haven’t had enough to eat.” And eat (and drink) we did!
We made three stops, Enoteca La Vite, a purveyor of ever-trendy natural wine, where rustic charcuterie and perfect pours were had. Historic and classic Bar San Calisto, where the same group of old men can be seen gossiping, smoking, and drinking daily. (Get a Campari spritz for a bitter twist on a classic.) We then rounded things out at La Laterria for another round of natural wine and bruschetta, with the best burrata I’ve ever tasted. The tour ended with an incredible bowl of cacio e pepe, a Roman favorite, at Ristorante Ferrara.
Fernanda also gave us pro tips on spotting mediocre Italian restaurants–major takeaways were avoiding spots that serve dinner before 8 pm, avoiding maitre d’s attempting to lure you into a spot, and anything that has every Italian dish ever on the menu. In Rome specifically, you’re looking for the four classics, all‘amatriciana, cacio e pepe, carbonara, and alla Gricia.
Recommended: How to Spot a Tourist Trap Restaurant in Italy
For the Classic Roman Holiday
Rome is a city best experienced on foot. There’s even a term for the meandering around The City of Lights’ historic streets after dark, “la passeggiata.” During our Twilight City Stroll & Gelato Tasting, our guide, Emma gave us background on famed landmarks like the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, and Piazza Navona with historic and architectural insight thanks to her art history degree. Our final stop for gelateria made for a sweet ending to the evening.
Recommended Reading: The 12 Best Gelato Spots in Rome
Feeling a bit adventurous? For the spooky inclined, I recommend City Experience’s Crypts, Bones, & Catacombs: An Underground Tour of Rome. My group was thankful for respite from the Roman summer heatwave despite descending into literal centuries-old crypts. But what struck me most about this tour was the quiet (albeit creepy) beauty and reverence ancient Romans had for the dead. It was a legitimate religious experience getting to wander through the Catacombs of Priscilla, and marvel at the intricacies and glamour bestowed upon the dead at the Capuchin Crypt. One note, If you tend to run claustrophobic at all, I do not recommend this tour.
If it’s your first time in Rome, getting an overview of the city’s heyday as the epicenter of the Roman Empire is a must. Booking the VIP Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill ensures you whiz through jam-packed lines and play Caesar for a day. Trying to navigate the absolutely massive Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill without a guide or instruction is truly a fool’s errand, and this tour gives you the full overview. If we’re being honest, you’ll need a cappuccino (and a nap-puccino) afterward, but Roman newbies will delight in this expansive tour worth it alone for the incredible photos.
Overall, these tours were super accessible for first-timers and those who have already fallen in love with Rome. While hyper VIP experiences like the Vatican Experience may be too high a price point for some (though we think the splurge is beyond worth it), City Experiences has innumerable thoughtfully curated, unique experiences tailored to the city you’re based in (they have experiences in over 112 cities.)
You can find more information about City Experience’s tours here. Some fan favorites include Barcelona Tapas, Taverns and History, Secrets of the French Quarter, and Closing Time at the Louvre: Mona Lisa at Her Most Peaceful.