I can see why people say that Rome is their favourite city in Europe. It’s full of incredible ruins, food and drink. You can’t turn down a street without find one of these things. We there for two and a half days and it was amazing. I will write about different parts of our Rome trip later on, but this is just about the two tours we did. I feel like these need to be given the recognition they deserve!
So my first bit of advice is to book your tours before you go! Or if you are super keen book your time around the tours you want to do. We used a company call “Dark Rome” to book ours, though when we got there it was under City Wonders. Having just looked at both their prices they appear to be the same which is good having just been and paid for the ones on Dark Rome! Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t cheap but they are 100% worth it! Plus occasionally they have deals on. We got our Vatican City Tour with about 15% off.
This is probably one of the most amazing buildings you will see. And probably one of the busiest. This was pretty hard for us, we’ve been to several “tourist” sites but nothing prepared for these. There were just so many people queuing to get in and so many people just trying to sell you crap. Really does take away from the beauty of the ruins but one of those things I guess.
We ended up doing the Express Colosseum Tour with Gladiator’s Entrance & Arena Floor, the main reason we picked this was because the one we really wanted to do was sold out!! However, this was still fantastic. The tour guide was amazing, knew so much about the history of the building – what it had been used for, what had happened to it etc. It’s also really good as they give you head sets, so as long as you keep up with your group you can hear everything they have to say without worrying that you are stood too far away.
We also entered though the Gladiators entrance, which I have to say, was incredible. You get a real sense of what they went though, and you can just imagine the crowds and noise you would get from 50,000 spectators. In doing a tour as well, you miss the crowds and the queuing which means more time spent doing the things you love. When we were on the arena floor there was probably 2 or 3 other groups which meant there was a lot of space for everyone and you really got to take it all in. The only small criticism I can come up with about this part is you don’t get as much time I was would have liked. But that really is just my view because I’m one of those crazy people that could have stood there for about half an hour looking at it all.
You get to walk around a lot of the ruins, though there were still a lot of areas you can’t get to unless you are on another tour. It’s amazing how much of the buildings features are still there. One of the reasons so much was lost is because the Popes of the time stripped the building of the metals that was holding it together! There was then an earthquake where half of the Colosseum fell down. But despite this, you can still see some marble seats, full pillars and the basement where the gladiators were held before the flights. Another reason I would suggest you get a tour is because they don’t really have too many signs around so you wouldn’t learn as much about the history of the building. We wouldn’t have had a clue what 90% of the stuff was, or how old it really was, or how it ended up in the state it is now.
A small side note, and not related to the tour, but make sure you walk past the Colosseum at different times, in the evening it’s obviously still a little busy but nothing compared to the daytime. We spent about 20 minutes or so one evening post dinner just relaxing out side it! It was pretty special, and no people selling us stuff!!
We were up early, super early, 5.30am to be exact. We arrived at the Vatican at 6.15am, with our booking not opening until 6.30am we had a wonder around the walls, which is where we came up to the front of the St Peter’s Basilica. AND IT WAS EMPTY! It was just incredible to see it like this. I’ve only ever really seen images of it packed. This made it feel magical. So get up early and go down, even if you don’t have an early tour, it’s worth it.
Our tour was breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard, followed by a guided tour of the Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The breakfast was good, but nothing really to write home about, there were pancakes, food breakie, pasties etc, the things you would expect at a hotel breakfast. The view and setting is really what made it.
Same as before with the Colosseum we were given headsets which was perfect. The amount our guide knew was amazing. They also had a flip book to show you some of the paintings original sketches so you could compare the original idea to the final master piece. One of these being Raphael adding Michelangelo into his fresco in the Papal apartments, The School of Athens; something you would miss without a tour guide! I loved every minute. I could have stayed looking at all these paintings all day, but the Sistine Chapel was calling. When we got there, it was busy but to crammed together. We could still find space to move around and not bump into people. It was about 10am when we got in, so the museum had been open for only an hour by this point. I have to say the number of people rushing past as to get to the Sistine Chapel was sad. It’s hard to understand why people would just walk past so many just as fascinating paintings to see one –especially when you have paid for it all!! But each to their own.
The Sistine Chapel was breath taking. I did get emotional which I was surprised by. I have been dreaming of seeing these paintings for as long as I can remember. It honestly took my breath away. I know other people say it’s not worth it, but it so is. Get in early, book a tour and take it all in!! the craftsmanship of the men that painted them. The stories behind each fresco. Pure genius. We had 20 minutes in here, which to me was a good amount of time. Don’t get me wrong I could have probably spent a good few hours just in that room looking at each master piece but let’s be honest your neck would start to hurt after a while. Oh and BTW Michelangelo didn’t do his paintings on his back, he created his own contraption to be able to do it standing up apparently.
From here, it was onto St Peter’s Basilica. It was beautiful. It’s the largest Catholic church in the world, and no other is allowed to be bigger. The dome is actually directly above where St Peter is apparently buried. The art work, which is all made out of mosaics are amazing. The smallest details are so impressive. And many look as if they are paintings until you get up close to them. If someone hadn’t pointed this out I don’t think I would have noticed.
Again, like the Colosseum, once we were in and the tour was over we were left there to enjoy ourselves. We climbed to the top of the Basilica, and it is well worth the 500 ish steps. It was an additional €8 each, or for an extra €2 you can miss the first 200 steps by getting the lift. I can tell you now it’s not worth the €2. Those first lot of steps are by fair the easiest you could do. If you suffer from claustrophobia, this is probably not for you, as you can imagine the walls curve in. Take your time and enjoy yourself once you are to the top. The view is incredible. Thankfully on the way back down you go a different way so you don’t have to squeeze past people. You come out on the roof where there is a small café and toilets. Grab yourself a coffee and put your feet up for a bit. It’s really just an amazing place to relax for half an hour!
I couldn’t recommend these guys enough! Everything about them was so well organised.
Have you been to Rome? Did you do a tour at all while you were there? What did you think?