Today, I wanted to share an updated post on our last few trips and the best tours in Rome that you can’t cannot miss! We’ve made seven trips to Rome in the last few years, including spending a lovely Christmas in Rome. I expect that will continue because American Airlines now offers seasonal non-stop flights between DFW and FCO. We’ve even been able to use our Business ExtrAA points for the direct flights. If you’re looking for an amazing Italy Bucket list, Christina has a great one. You can start in Rome and work your way north!
My husband is a tour junkie. When I ask him what he likes most from our honeymoon in Rome and Florence, he’s always quick to mention the tours. I’ve always been more of a wanderer, but I like to make my husband happy, too. Over the past few years, I’ve started to enjoy the tours more. Not only do I learn more about the history of a place, but I enjoy getting recommendations from locals. If you need an idea how to maximize your tours for sightseeing in Rome, check out this itinerary.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Tour of Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Early Access: Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – when I was a poor college student in Florence, I made a trip down to Rome. Of course the Vatican Museums were on my radar. I was enamored with the idea of seeing them. That excitement quickly turned to frustration after waiting in line for a few hours. When I finally did get into the Vatican Museums, I was being herded through the museums (and subsequently the Sistine Chapel) with hundreds of tourists. (Don’t do this. Utilize my Vatican tips and plan accordingly.)
ENTER THIS TOUR. Yes, it starts early in the morning – our meet time was 7:00am. It is 100% worth it!!! We were divided into smaller groups of 20, ushered through security, and provided an escorted tour through the museum. When we made it to the Sistine Chapel, there were less than 50 people in there. I sat in every corner of that beautiful chapel. Since it was the last stop, we were able to stay in there as long as we wanted. It was one of those amazing once-in-a-lifetime type of experiences that everyone should take advantage of!
Ancient Rome and Colosseum Half Day Tour
My husband is enamored with ancient Romans. When we met, he had a LIFE SIZE poster from the movie 300. Further, I’m constantly having to tell him that we will not be naming our unborn child Leonides, Hadrian, or Thmysticales (I can’t even spell those names!)… and yet, it seems to fall on deaf ears. That being said, DO THIS Colosseum tour.
Ask for Igor. Igor is the most knowledgable guide I’ve ever had. His stories about ancient Rome flow beautifully with the tour. He loved questions and could answer any of them. He was excited, enthusiastic, funny, but most importantly, knowledgable. You’ll see the various levels of the Colosseum (it doesn’t include the arena floor though) and learn which urban legends are true or false! You’ll marvel the ancient Roman engineering genius and learn who exactly is responsible for the European trend of paying for access to restrooms. (Money doesn’t stink.)
This small group walking tour starts at the Colosseum with a skip-the-line ticket and ends in the Roman Forum.
Rome by Night Walking Tour
On our first trip to Rome, my husband really enjoyed this evening Rome walking tour. He says that a guided tour is a great way to get an overview of the city, which is something he likes to do on the first day. We walked from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain to the “Wedding Cake” to the Palatine Hill to the Forum and ended at the Colosseum. I enjoyed the tour because I was able to photograph the changing light of evening, which was gorgeous.
I want to go back to all the monuments after dark and photograph them again! This tour gave us a good idea of how close everything is, although I don’t think I could wind through the back streets without a map!!
Rome Food Tour
In June 2021 – seven trips to Rome later – we finally booked a Rome food tour. I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. We could have saved ourselves from so many terrible meals in Rome! We booked the Trastevere food tour, which I definitely recommend. We were able to try a couple of different meat dishes, including the famous porchetta (which is AMAZING), arancini (a Sicilian street food brought to Rome during Napoleon’s time), some of Rome’s pasta specialities, and a couple of sweet treats. (I even ate an artichoke… and took the rest of Tom’s when he wasn’t looking!) The best advice I can give you before taking a food tour in Rome? Go hungry.
What I loved about this particular food tour in Rome is that our guide, Domenico, introduced us to all of the restauranteurs. It was obvious that he had a connection with all of the places that we visited, and we were able to get a sense of the pride that each of these artisans have in their cooking. There wasn’t a single food that we tried and didn’t love. We saved every single one of the restaurants as a place that we want to return to.
Since we were traveling shortly after Rome opened up, we opted for the private tour option. This was really nice because we were able to ask more questions and have a more in-depth conversation with Domenico, who leads a very interesting life and has a lot of knowledge about food to share!
BOOK THIS: Food Tour in Rome
Rome Walking Tour and Pizza Making Class
This small group walking tour and cooking class starts at the Spanish Steps and ends at a pizza restaurant near Campo dei Fiori. We took this tour on our fourth trip to Rome, so we had seen most of the sites previously but we still learned new facts about Rome. This is a great tour to do on your first trip to Rome. At the end of the tour, we headed to a local restaurant where we were able to make our own pizzas.
The chef will teach you how to roll out the dough and provides the flexibility for you to choose your own toppings. He even surprised us with a nutella pizza for dessert, which was delicious but too rich to finish! The only drawback is that our tour guide pushed the start time back, so most of the sites were very crowded by the time we got there. We were the only people on the tour, so I was glad they didn’t cancel. That said, I do recommend early tours in Rome to avoid the massive crowds at sites like the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.
Sunset Walking Tour
This three-hour evening walking tour of Rome is incredible, but it is long and covers a lot of ground. It starts at the Piazza del Popolo and winds its way through most of the attractions of ancient Rome and ends at Campo dei Fiori near Piazza Navona. We were near the Borghese Gallery and Spanish Steps near sunset. This was a beautiful vantage point to appreciate the skyline of Rome. We ended up at the Trevi Fountain for blue hour and it was stunning. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and was happy to provide restaurant recommendations at every price point. If you want a tour that includes the Colosseum, you should book this night tour.
Check out this list if you are looking for more things to do in Rome at night.
Capitoline Museum Tour
As I said, my husband loves the ancient Romans, so this Capitoline Museum tour was a no brainer for our fourth trip to Rome. The tour starts at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli, which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen in Rome. (Pro tip: go into every church you find in Rome. The most plain churches have the most incredible interiors!) From there, the guide will lead you through the Capitoline Museum.
The sheer number of sculpture pieces is daunting, but they do a great job of weaving the narrative while also explaining the nuances of the art. This is a tour for serious history or art aficionados. There are several excellent vantage points of ancient Rome from different parts of the Capitoline Museum, including the cafe.
Free Tours of Rome
If group tours aren’t your thing, I have several free (or relatively free) tour options for you. First of all, Rick Steves offers free audio tours that you can download and listen to at your leisure. We actually listen to these in advance of a trip to learn more about the history of where we are going. Rome is one of the most extensive destinations he covers with tours of specific landmarks, including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Roman Forum, Ostia Antica, and the Vatican Museums. He also offers several neighborhood walks so that you can see Rome beyond the monuments.
On our last trip to Rome, we used his walking tours in the Rick Steves Rome book to see St. Peters Basilica and the Pantheon. I really like the walks outlined in the Day by Day books, too. The compact size of the Day by Day book, as well as the 10 Best book makes it easy to use while traveling and doesn’t take up much space. (We travel with so many books – it’s crazy.)
Day Trips from Rome: Tivoli and Villa D’Este
Don’t judge me… but ever since seeing the Lizzie McGuire Movie (totally a fav!) I’ve wanted to go to Tivoli. Unfortunately, it’s not open at sunset (like it is in the movie). This full day tour covers both Tivoli and Hadrian’s Villa (see above fascination with Hadrian). This tour seemed to be the most straightforward way to visit both sites. Our tour guide was difficult to understand, but the villas are absolutely incredible. If you enjoy engineering, architecture or design (the mosaic tile was incredible!), this tour will leave your mind reeling.
The bus ride is fairly quick (I didn’t get carsick! Win!). We toured Hadrian’s Villa for a few hours before moving on to Tivoli and Villa D’Este. We had less than an hour for lunch, which was just enough time to warm up (it was drizzly) and head to Villa D’Este. Villa D’Este was absolutely beautiful despite the rain. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live there and wander the gardens. I think I would enjoy that, particularly on a warm day.