Rome is the third most visited city in Europe, just behind London and Paris, and receives 7-10 million visitors a year to take in its cultural and archaeological wonders. The city has become quite a tourist hub, and was way more overrun with tourists than London when I visited at a similar time. Since Rome welcomes so many sightseers, it also has unfortunately been invaded by people trying to take advantage of these visitors. It is also filled with so many attractions that it can be difficult to sift through all there is to do and see in the Eternal City. It’s a great city for tourists, yes, but it is also easy for a tourist to get taken advantage of or unnecessarily waste money on some random ruins or tour.
During my recent visit, I certainly didn’t experience EVERY last famous site, but I did pack in some major highlights to varying degrees of success. Not all of these attractions were worth the hassle or money – so I wanted to be sure to share what you should see, or skip, on your next trip to Rome.
The Vatican – See it! (But only the right way!)
Your enjoyment of your visit to the Vatican will be largely dependent on what tour you choose. Make sure to book a tour in advance and one that gives you early entrance to the Sistine Chapel. We went through Walks of Italy, and we were able to take in the beauty of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel a full hour before opening – beating the crowds and heat – allowing us to relax and fully enjoy the masterpiece. Then we continued to explore the Vatican museums, gardens and St. Peter’s. The place is a world wonder with an overwhelming collection of art and history. Definitely a must-see, as long as you can avoid the sweltering throngs of tourists with the right tour.
Open Air Double Decker Bus Tour – Skip it!
While I loved the open air bus tour in London, its Roman counterpart was very disappointing (we used the City Sightseeing brand in both cities). Multiple of the tour companies are run by disorganized street hawkers, making it very difficult to tell who is legit and who is trying to run away with your euros. Once we finally figured out how to buy non counterfeit tickets, they were still 20 euro each and we had to wait in a very long line for a seat on a bus. The tour itself was lackluster with overcrowded seating, broken audio guides (there was no in-person guide like in London), and long wait times at each stop. Definitely skip it and instead wander Rome by foot while listening to one of Rick Steve’s free podcasts.
Entering the reconstructed arena floor.
The top of Ancient Rome.
The Colosseum – See it! (But only the right way!)
Like the Vatican, the Colosseum is a must-see, but you should try to book the “right” tour beforehand. Salesmen will try to rope you into booking a tour as soon as you set a foot near the site, but spend time before your trip researching an option that will give you special access. Again, we booked a Walks of Italy Tour (it’s extremely well reviewed and reputable) that gave a “VIP’ feeling to all of it. Traipsing about the colossal ruins, we were led pas the velvet ropes and below the Colosseum where the gladiators would train, walked around the actual restricted arena floor, and slipped up a locked, secret staircase to the “roof” of the auditorium. Taking in views of Ancient Rome from the very top of the Colosseum is something I’ll never forget, and I highly recommend you book this tour. If you don’t want to spend the extra euros, still visit the Colosseum, but book through the official museum instead of through a sketchy street vendor.
Throngs of tourists at the Spanish steps.
Trevi Fountain. Under construction, so even more forgettable.
Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps – Skip it!
I’ve paired these two stops together as they’re usually included in the same guided tour. By all means, check them out, but don’t waste money on a guided tour. You can quickly take a cab or the metro to both spots, meander around the neighborhoods, snaps some instagrams, then be merrily on your way. They are both pretty jammed with tourists and street vendors, so you will want to get away from the men shoving selfie sticks in your face anyway.
Trying the #3 slice of pizza in Rome at Volpetti Piu.
Overwhelmed with beautiful meats and cheeses at Volpetti.
Eating Italy Food Tour – See it!
I mentioned this tour on my previous post, but I cannot recommend the Eating Italy Food Tour enough. We did the “Taste of Testaccio” trek, and munched on 12 tastings at 9 of the city’s best food vendors from restaurants to a street market. The day was an onslaught to the taste buds – tiramisu, salami, pasta, bruschetta, suppli – the feast went on and on. Our tour guide Dom was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining (he has mutton chops and is in a Rolling Stones cover band!), and we had a beautiful day making new friends and relishing the neighborhood’s bites.
What are your “must sees” in Rome? Anything I forgot or should give a second chance?