which of the 4324737492 different Vatican tours is right for us?
February 10, 2019 10:00 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I are spending a week in Rome, right near Vatican City. We want to see some cool, weird, old stuff, and we need specific advice on how best to do that in the Vatican. We're also interested in more general advice on where to go in Rome and Milan.

There seem to be many, many, many options for guided tours within the Vatican Museums, in addition to options for skipping queues for open tours and many other things. Night tours are widely recommended but unfortunately not available to us, as we're visiting in February. We're having trouble choosing from the many options - can you recommend anything specifically? We have no trouble walking a lot or navigating stairs, and speak only (usefully) English.

We're also interested in other fun things to go see and do in Rome. On the list so far (largely accumulated from previous Asks about trips to Rome!) are day trips to Ostia Antica, Herculaneum, and Castel Gandolfo, as well as Largo di Torre Argentina, the Pantheon, wandering around the Forum, Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, the church of San Clemente, and maybe some catacombs. We're not super passionate about wine or food, although we enjoy them when they're not too expensive. One of us is extremely interested in old Roman stuff (as is probably obvious from the above list). We like wandering. It's neither of our first times in Rome, but it's been a while for both of us and neither is very familiar with the city.

We'll be spending a day in Milan on our way to Rome and know nothing at all about the city, so recommendations for there are very welcome as well.

Thanks for your help, MetaFilter!
posted by yomimono to Travel & Transportation around Rome, Italy (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Vatican: Can't advise on a tour but can give a tip. In lieu of a tour, I just went at sunrise (my hotel was within walking distance; I was jetlagged and wide awake at 5am) and was there when they first opened the doors to the public at St Peter's Basilica. St Peter's Square at sunrise is incomparable (have your camera ready). Also, it's quiet and you aren't sharing space with too many other people yet. You can gawk at La Pieta without having to climb past other people.

Rome: Villa Borghese Gardens. You say you like wandering. This is a gorgeous public park to wander. Again, I am a bit biased toward doing it at sunrise/early morning.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have to echo the advice for Herculaneum. We were there last week. It was really cool. San Clemente was also fascinating.

For the Vatican, we used the Vatican's site for admission (no tour). It allowed us to skip the lineup and go straight in. (This was the morning, soon after they opened FWIW). Mind you it took quite a few credit cards to find one that the Vatican accepted. The site kept crapping out with a lot of mine. I can't say what worked exactly, except that it was my partner's Canadian Visa that did the trick.

I found the Centrale Montemartini Museum very cool -- ancient sculpture in an industrial setting.

My tip for a low-key, economical lunch is the Mercato di Testaccio. Good mix of visitors and locals when we were there.
posted by veggieboy at 10:26 AM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We used Walks.org, and went on the The Complete Vatican Tour with Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s Basilica. with Luciana Cecilia. Luciana was amazing. I would ask for her specifically. (Although I don't know if she is still there. We went to Rome last year.)
posted by merejane at 10:40 AM on February 10, 2019

Best answer: We did the Vatican underground tour. It was absolutely phenomenal. We made our reservations by email. If you can do it, you should.
posted by Night_owl at 12:11 PM on February 10, 2019

Best answer: 1. The Vatican Museums
I recommend buying tickets online and in advance (bring the printout with you). That way, you can avoid the long lines and walk right in. You may need identification to retrieve tickets from the counter. Also, the walk to the front entrance of the Vatican museum is swarming with imposters and scam artists, so DO NOT let anyone see or take your printout until you reach the front entrance of the Vatican museums.

Once inside, it is best to wander rather than attach yourself to a tour, as they move slowly and the crowds can get very thick. Depending on the amount of time you have there, you should at least see the Raphael rooms, the hallway of maps, and of course the Sistine Chapel. If you have additional time, it might be nice to wander through the painting and sculpture galleries, as they are not nearly as crowded. (The courtyard is nice too.)

2. St Peter's Basilica
Not necessary to buy the "skip the queue" tickets, but do plan on waiting in line for an hour or two to get past the security checks. (Entrance is free.) Once inside, you can wander throughout the interior (Pieta is on the left when you enter) at your leisure. If you want to go up to the dome, buy the ticket that gives you access to the stairs (the elevator/lift ticket costs a little more and the queue to get on the lift/elevator takes forever).

3. The Pantheon
Access is free--sometimes there is a long line of people waiting to get in. Avoid anyone who claims that you have to pay admission to get in.

4. The Forum
Well worth the price of admission. Another good idea is to walk up the Capitoline Hill just above the forum. The museum is time well spent if you have a spare hour or two. Also, you might consider buying a Roma Card, which gives you priority access to a number of classical sites around Rome (either free or at a discount).

5. Baths of Caracalla
Slightly off the beaten path, and not far from the Circus Maximus, are the Baths of Caracalla. The ruins are impressive and not overcrowded.

6. Ostia Antica
It's a quick train ride from the center of Rome and a short walk from the train station. After walking around Ostia, do take time to visit the on-site museum. The nearby town has little places to eat.

7. Quirky Churches, Cathedrals, Basilicas
If you are interested in quiet, quirky churches--San Clemente is definitely worth seeing--I'd also suggest you consider: Santa Maria in Cosmedin (it has the Boca della Verite and the skull of Saint Valentine), San Luigi dei Francesci (beautiful Caravaggio paintings), Saint John Lateran (massive basilica, huge statues), San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (tiny church, outstanding dome), San Andrea della Valle (so much gold inside that is glows yellow in the sunlight), Santa Maria della Vittoria (Bernini's "Ecstasy of Saint Theresa" is there), San Pietro in Vinculi (chains of St. Peter and Michelangelo's Moses sculpture), and Santa Maria Maggiore (because, well, because it is just outstandingly beautiful).

8. Trastevere
The Trastevere neighborhood, on the west side of the Tiber River, is also a fascinating part of Rome to wander through if you have some spare time. The streets are narrow and winding. You could walk up (kind of steep) to San Pietro in Montorio to see the famous Bramante "tiempetto" or spend some quiet time in Santa Maria in Trastevere basilica.

Enjoy Rome!
posted by Quaversalis at 12:22 PM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding both the Vatican site for queue-jumping and the Montemartini museum mentioned upthread. Also visiting Herculaneum, which is like a mini-Pompeii, but far easier to handle during a short visit and far less crowded.

Plus also recommend the night-time light-show in the Roman Forum, with full-size hologram reproductions of how the ruins were when they were still whole, with English audio-guides, prepared by a prestigious historian with long TV experience: lasts just under one hour, and is visually stunning and very informative - I intend to go again many more times when friends come to visit.
posted by aqsakal at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really enjoyed wandering around in Castel Sant'Angelo, great views from the top and centuries of history within as a new castle was repeatedly built upon the older one
posted by drinkmaildave at 5:48 PM on February 10, 2019

Best answer: If you don't want to go to the more out of town catacombs, I recommend those under Sant' Agnese fuori le Mura. They are more modest but are usually quite peaceful. As a bonus, you get the beautiful apse mosaic in the church above, and my favourite building in all of Rome (because I'm not so much into Baroque, YMMV), the small but perfectly formed mausoleum of Santa Costanza, is also on the grounds. Nthing the suggestion of San Clemente, and if that gives you a taste for more churches in the genre of "they built one thing then later put another thing here and then added a bit and oh my goodness look at what they put in the chapel through that door", I highly recommend Santi Quattro Coronati (just don't leave any corner of it unexplored, even if that means, for example, ringing a bell for a nun to pass you a key through a window.)
posted by FavourableChicken at 6:24 AM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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