Our first proper day in Rome had an early start. We had booked a Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine hill tour in the morning, followed by the Vatican, Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica tour in the afternoon, through the same company. We were completely exhausted from the previous day in Athens, so it was a long difficult day, but still enjoyable.
The meeting point was outside the Colosseum metro stop, but we took a bus because we still didn’t understand how the trams worked. You have to buy tickets before you get on a bus, tram, or use the metro and the nearest place was at a Tabacchi (tobacconist). All the stations have ticket machines, but the lines are very long.
There are different passes you can get: a one time use for €1,50 that you have 100 minutes to use, a single day pass for €7, 2 day pass for €12,50, 3 day pass for €18 and a 7 day pass for €24. There might be others as well. You use the same tickets for all public transport, you just need to validate it in one of the small machines on a bus or tram, and the ticket is only valid till midnight on the last day, not a full 24 hours. The only time you actually need to present the ticket is to get into the metro station.
We got the 81 bus from outside our apartment and it stopped on the opposite side of the Colosseum to the metro, but it only takes a few minutes to walk across the area. Luckily, our guide was easy enough to find because he was holding a sign with the tour company’s name on it – not the company we booked it through, so just remember to check your vouchers. Our group only consisted of 6 people, 3 of us and a Canadian couple with their toddler (who was well behaved, thankfully).
Our guide was full of information about everything, he kept telling us to interrupt him if we got bored, but I certainly didn’t. Plus, he kept saying how awesome my Legend of Zelda tshirt was, so I couldn’t help but like him. We walked around inside the Colosseum for over an hour, which was pretty packed. Next time I would probably just buy a ticket and explore, because there was so much we didn’t have time to see (a common theme in all of these huge sites).
Next was the Roman Forum and Palatine
Hill, which requires a couple days just to explore and I will definitely be back to do that. The Forum extends from the Colosseum almost
all the way to Trajan’s Column. There are multiple levels, gardens, old temples still used as churches, just an incredible amount of things to look at.
If you haven’t booked tickets and want to see inside the Colosseum, you can avoid the line by going to the ticket booth at the Forum (5 min walk) and get tickets for both places, then you can walk right in to the Colosseum in the fast lane and avoid the queue.
We finished about 12 and fortunately for us, our guide offered to take us with him to the Vatican in a taxi (which he paid for!). The next part of the tour started at 1, so by the time we got there, we had 30 minutes to quickly eat something so we stopped at the Cafe Vaticano across the street for lunch.
Now, if I had checked Trip Advisor I would have avoided that cafe. 95% of the reviews are negative, and not because of the food but because of the price. There are no prices on anything, and they won’t give you a menu or tell you the prices of anything. For 3 of us, a drink each and a panini came to €75,90! I had a small can of red bull and a ham and cheese panini. We were incredibly shocked when the bill came.
My main issue was that I hadn’t brought a lot of cash, so we managed to pool our money and just pay for it (they got a €0,10 tip), with €4 between us to spare. Honestly, I normally carry a bit more money, but I was tired and hadn’t checked my wallet. Even so, I would not recommend going there unless you don’t mind paying a lot for lunch – the food was nice, but not spectacular. They also do not take credit, so come prepared. I did leave a 1 star review on TripAdvisor, something I don’t normally do, but I was rather annoyed.
After that, we joined back up with our tour guide and a much larger tour group, this time with headsets. You have to go through security with bag scanners and everything to get inside the Vatican. If you have a large backpack, you may be asked to leave it there – this is inconvenient because the place where the tour finishes is on the opposite side. Our guide suggested we squash our packs down as small as possible. I just folded mine up before putting it through the scanner and no one said anything.
Once you are inside it is so crowded, there are just hundreds of people everywhere. If you want a souvenir, or to stop at a cafe, the shops inside the Vatican are cheaper than the ones just outside of it.
We started with the open parts of the museum, which was beautiful. My favourite things to see are old buildings and sculptures because I love the history and art side of things. There are beautiful tapestries; my favourites were the huge geographical ones of Italy.
After walking around for over an hour, we went inside the Sistine Chapel. It was just crazy – you can barely move at all for all the people and the guards are constantly shouting “Silencio!” “No photo!” If you really want to enjoy the Sistine Chapel, some companies offer ‘Sistine Express’ tours, where you get to go in an hour before it opens to the public, in a small group.
Our last stop was St Peter’s Basilica. To go in here you must have your shoulders and knees covered – yes that’s for both men and women. It was a hot day, so I was wearing shorts, but brought a pair of pants with me, which I changed into at the cafe. The basilica is just massive – it’s incredible how high the ceilings are and just the monumental scale of the building itself. The dome makes it the tallest building in Rome – and you will notice Rome had no skyscrapers because nothing is allowed to be built higher than the basilica.
We finished our tour at 5pm, and we were all completely knackered. I think we did less walking the entire day than we had for each day in Greece. We got directions to the metro, but couldn’t find it, but we stumbled across our 81 bus so just got on that and it was a relief to sit down. The bus did get us home, but it took over an hour. Taking the metro or a tram is a lot faster.
It was a good first full day in Rome, even though it felt like a lot of work