Visiting Rome: Vatican "Skip the line" tours and day trip to Tuscany.
June 29, 2017 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations and suggestions.

Wife and I will be spending 3 days in Rome in August, this after spending 8 days in the Italian country side. To make use of our limited time, we thought of booking one of those 'Skip The Line' guided tours of the Vatican. Wife would also like to book a one day tour to Tuscany (from Rome).
We are mid 50's, and will be somewhat tuckered out from our previous 8 days, so we want to make the time in Rome as stress free and relaxing as possible, these tours seem to be a good way to do so (and yes, we know it will be hot).
I would appreciate any suggestions or your experience with either of these.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza to Travel & Transportation around Rome, Italy (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We did the cooperative Romearound Tours' group tour of the Vatican and one for the Colliseum. Skipping the line was great, our guide was very knowledgeable and the group was a manageable size.
posted by notorious medium at 11:40 AM on June 29, 2017

Due to a last minute change in travel plans we wound up stopping and spending a night in Siena when a railway strike made it impossible to follow our original plans for getting from Rome to Florence. Siena hadn't been on our itinerary but we loved it -- it has a wonderfully preserved old city center, beautiful duomo, and was quiet and restful compared to some of the other places we visited (unless you visit during one of the times of year when they race horses in the Piazza del Campo.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:42 AM on June 29, 2017

I would book a "Night Opening" visit to Vatican Museums if I were going to be there on a Friday night. Avoid the crowds and avoid the heat. You can book ahead for entry Vatican Museums at all times, and the opening hours are much longer than they were in the past. There is never any reason to wait in line and you don't need to book a guided tour to avoid a line.

It is good that you know it will be hot! Do not underestimate how hot it will feel! Rome is literally built on a swamp. Plan to use this knowledge wisely by doing your sightseeing in the early morning or late afternoon. Lots of the monuments are better when lit up at night anyway.

Rick Steves has some very good free resources including audio tours if you prefer to be self-guided.
posted by bimbam at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you want to see both the Museums (Sistine Chapel) and St Peter's Basilica? Then I would just book a guided tour directly for 37 Euro. Check to make sure there isn't a big event going on at St Peter's, because then you won't be able to visit but the cost will be the same.

If you only want to see the Museums, final entry to the Vatican Museums is at 4pm and it stays open until 6. If you get there between 3 and 4, you have a good chance of a short line and plenty of time to wander through the Hall of Maps towards the Sistine Chapel. There will be a line to get inside the chapel and it will be crowded, but you won't be rushed out unless it is too close to 6pm.
posted by soelo at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: I work for a travel agency doing their booking, and we specialize in Italy.
Walks of Italy does a wonderful job and have gotten good reviews from our clients and have some great options (early/night/short) for vatican.
We also love working with Roma Experience
They both offer day trips to Tuscany, we dont use them for that (have a private person, if you want the info message me) but I would trust them with the booking.

Random Notes: Everyone saying its going to be hot is right, and a lot of the Vatican tours can be REALLY LONG. Consider how much you will be interested and maybe opt for a short one or a early opening/ late opening depending on when you feel freshest
You really want a small group tour (which my two suggestions are). Some companies do huge groups and they are not that great.
Book ahead of time, even if you cant believe they will sell out because they will.
If you just want tickets for entry you can buy them now for most of August on the Vatican Website
Don't think you will save money and go on a free opening day, its insanity

Thing you didn't ask: Clients & our agents have been loving the food tours offered by Eating Italy. Its a fun way to munch your way through Rome. If I had to pick one i would do the Supper Stroll (which should be offered in August). Oh and the Underground Colosseum tours are great and very cool, but really need to be booked like yesterday.

Full Disclosure note: I get nothing out of mentioning/ suggesting these companies, its just the ones we like, and we have high standards.
Feel free to message me if you have any more questions and enjoy!
posted by zara at 2:41 PM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just got back from Rome about a week ago. We reserved regular tickets (no tour) for the Vatican museum. There was a huuuuuge line, and we skipped it with our reservations. However, it was unbelievably crowded inside and I barely enjoyed myself. We saw tour guides holding up their little flags, but we thought it would just added to the stress if we had had to keep up with someone else in that crowd. Indeed, people had to push past us to keep up with their tour groups. And there's basically no way to turn around and go backwards against the crowd if you just want to bail, so you have to go all the way through this immense sea of people. This was my second visit, and I don't remember it being so bad the first time. I don't know if we just had bad luck or it is always like that now. In any case, I will not go again. Rome has enough other stuff to offer.

The basilica itself had a much smaller line and was much less crowded, and much more enjoyable. I don't think we had any special tickets for that, but we didn't need any.
posted by pizzazz at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Paying to skip the line at the Vatican is absolutely a great thing to do. Well worth it. When my family went to Rome, we hired a guide to take us through the Vatican one day and to take us through the colosseum and Forum the following day.

I lived in Toscana for three years, and have lots of opinions about that part of the trip!

If you're not staying overnight you could probably just do a few hours in Florence (3-4 hour train ride to and from Rome I think). See the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio (there's a statue of David out front without a line). The lines for the Uffizi and the Accademia will probably be prohibitively long, but if you hire a guide you may be able to skip them. Donatello's David was the sculpture to kick off the Renaissance, and the lines at Museo Bargello aren't terribly long (David's on the 2nd floor). Piazza Michelangelo has a fantastic view of the city. If you're feeling tired, though, get a taxi: it's an uphill hike.

I lived in Lucca for three years, a medieval walled town (the walls celebrated their 500th birthday recently). A very common day trip in Tuscany was :
Breakfast in Florence --> (1.5hr train)
Pisa for an hour or two, just get the picture of the leaning tower and hit the road --> (30 min train)
Lucca: walk the walls, see the Holy Face, Chiesa San Michele, and Puccini's house. For lunch, an somewhat odd but extremely good place was Trattoria Ubaldo. Other good places were Trattoria da Leo or L'Isola Che Non C'era (this translates to "the island that wasn't"). All will have authentic and inexpensive Tuscan cuisine. --> (1.5hr train)
Florence in time for dinner. You can easily do this by train, just keep your eye out for strikes! I'm not sure how feasible this would be with additional train rides to Rome that same day, but please give Lucca a look. I miss it!

A great thing to do in Toscana is a wine tasting. Montalcino is famous for Brunello, which is a really wonderful (and expensive) cousin of Chianti. There are many tasting options. In the area is this place I always wanted to stay and never got the chance. It's the country house from the movie Gladiator, and a B&B in reality. Just in case you could potentially stay overnight. Montalcino is close to Sienna as well, which Nerd of the North mentioned.

I found Assisi to be a surprise favorite of mine. I'd forgotten how much I loved the story of St Francis, and really enjoyed the history of the place. Spend some time outside of Basilica di Santa Chiara, the view is fantastic. It's in Umbria not Toscana, but since it's on the way I thought I'd mention it.

Another surprise favorite was Carrara, where Michelangelo's marble came from. It's still an active mine. The view is spectacular, and the history is quite interesting. We hired a guide the day before who drove us through the mines. It's also not in Toscana either, but rather just to the north in the province of Massa.

Buon viaggio!
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 3:13 PM on June 29, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for the info everyone!
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2017

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