Tours and Guides

Orientation Tours

Some might consider them kitsch, but guided bus tours can prove a blissfully easy way to enjoy a quick introduction to the city's top sights—if you don’t feel like being on your feet all day. Sitting in a bus, with friendly tour guide commentary (and even friendlier fellow sightseers, many of whom will be from every country under the sun), can make for a delightful and fun experience—so give one a whirl even if you're an old Rome hand. Of course, you'll want to savor these incredible sights at your own leisure later on.

Carrani, CitySightseeing Roma, Roma Opentour, and other operators offer half-day and full-day tours in air-conditioned buses with English-speaking guides. The four main itineraries are: "Ancient Rome," "Classic Rome," "Christian Rome," and "The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel." Half-day tours cost around €30 and full-day tours (including entrance fees) start at about €50. The Musei Vaticani tour costs €65, but offers the advantage of not having to line up (sometimes for an hour or more) at the museum doors, awaiting your turn for admission. All the companies can also pick you up from centrally located hotels.

All operators can provide a luxury car for up to three people, a limousine for up to seven, or a minibus for up to nine, all with an English-speaking driver, but guide service is extra. Almost all operators offer "Rome by Night" tours, with or without dinner and entertainment. You can book tours through travel agents.

Various sightseeing buses following a continuous circle route through the center of town operate daily. Viator does a hop-on, hop-off bus loop of Rome's key tourist sights.

The least expensive organized sightseeing tour of Rome is the one run by CitySightseeing Roma. Double-decker buses leave from Via Marsala, beside Termini station, but you can pick them up at any of their nine stopping points. A day ticket costs €25 and allows you to get off and on as often as you like. The price includes an audio guide system in six languages. The total tour takes about two hours and covers the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, St. Peter's, the Trevi Fountain, and Via Veneto. Tickets can be bought on board. Two- and three-day tickets are also available. Tours leave from Termini station every 20 minutes 9–8:30.

Of course, you get a real bargain if you do your sightseeing "tours" of Rome by public transport. Many buses and trams pass major sights. With a single €1.50 ticket, you can get in 100 minutes of sightseeing (or an entire day, with a €7 giornaliero ticket). Time your ride to avoid rush hours. The little electric Bus No. 116 scoots through the heart of Old Rome, with stops near the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and Piazza del Popolo, among others. The route of Bus No. 117 takes in San Giovanni in Laterano, the Colosseum, and the Spanish Steps. With public transport, though, you won't get any accompanying guide.

Since certain parts of the historic center are open to pedestrians only, some walking is involved in most escorted bus tours of the city. Don't forget to dress appropriately for visits to churches.

Rex Tours. You can tour Rome by bike or by Segway, by day or at night, with Rex Tours. They also offer a popular culinary tour, with tastings around the city. 06/87690040; www.rex-tours.com. From €39.

Rome Open Tour. Double-decker buses make 10 stops around Rome, and ticket-holders can jump on and off. Discount prices can often be found on their website. Rome, Latium. 06/45555270; www.romeopentour.it. From €20.

Special-Interest Tours

You can make your own arrangements (at no cost) to attend a public papal audience at the Vatican or at the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. The easiest way is to request them online through the Santa Susanna Church, the American Catholic Church of Rome (www.santasusanna.org).

Walking Tours

In Rome, there are tours and there are tours. Why pay to be led around by someone who just memorizes some lines and gives you the run-of-the-mill tour, when you can learn firsthand from the experts? Context Rome is an organization formed by a group of architects, archaeologists, art historians, sommeliers, and professors that give specialized walking seminars to small intimate groups (no more than six people) in and around Rome. Walks of Italy also gives specialized tours of Rome in small, intimate groups.

Through Eternity offers various walking tours of the city and its sights. For a popular food tour that’s off-the-beaten path, check out Eating Italy Food Tours.

Those who want to see everything during their trip to Rome without eliminating their daily run or workout might consider hiring a guide from Sight Jogging Tours.

Context Rome. With more than 50 scholars in its ranks of tour leaders, the walks led by Context are top-of-the-line and groups are a maximum of six people. Every day of the week there are five or six themed walks, which might include Imperial Rome: Architecture and History of the Archaeological Center; Underground Rome: The Hidden City; Baroque Rome: The Age of Bernini; Vatican Collections; and even Rome Shopping. Via Santa Maria Maggiore 145, Rome, Latium, 00184. 06/96727371; 800/691–6036; www.contexttravel.com. From €75 per person.

Eating Italy Food Tours. The expert guides at Eating Italy will take you behind the scenes at restaurants and specialty food shops around the city, with samples and tastings, on various city food tours. Guides can also delve into the history of different neighborhoods and the slow-food movement in Italy. 215/6885571; 333/8479138; www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com. From €75.

Sightjogging. For a tour of Rome on the run (literally), this company has highly experienced trainers that give tours based on the level of difficulty chosen by the client. Routes may take in Villa Borghese, Imperial Forum and Colosseum, St. Peter's Basilica, and many other sights. Trainers meet tourists at their hotel and take them back after the run is over. Rome, Latium. 347/3353185; www.sightjogging.it. From €85 per person.

Through Eternity. Tours of the Sistine Chapel, the Musei Vaticani, and St. Peter's are the specialty of Through Eternity Tours. Exclusive tours to the sights before they open to the public are especially popular. 06/7009336; www.througheternity.com.

Walks of Italy. Small group tours with exclusive access to sights are the focus of this tour company. They also offer a variety of food tours and cooking classes. 069/4804888; 202/684–6916; www.walksofitaly.com. From €55.

Excursions

Most operators offer half-day excursions to Tivoli to see the fountains and gardens of Villa d'Este. Argiletum's afternoon tour to Tivoli includes a visit to Hadrian's Villa, with its impressive ancient ruins, as well as the many-fountained Villa d'Este. Most operators also have full-day excursions to Assisi, Pompeii, Capri, and Florence.

Argiletum Tour. For tours outside of Rome, including half-day excursions to Tivoli, Argiletum is a good option. Their afternoon tour to Tivoli includes a visit to Hadrian's Villa, with its impressive ancient ruins, as well as the many-fountained Villa d'Este. Via Madonna dei Monti 49, 00184. www.argiletumtour.com.

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