Good to know....
It is becoming more and more common to have a technological support during an archaeological tour to understand the site better: we have always exploited the power of the images to give you an immediate view of the aspect of the Colosseum, the Forum, the Circus Maximus (otherwise completely lost) in the Imperial Age. But recently immersive and multimedia experiences are reaching an incredible level of quality and we do recommend to book one of those “shows” during your stay to enjoy the brilliance of the marble floors, bright frescoes and glittering mosaic tiles of the luxurious interiors of the bygone days. According to us, this is not substituting the importance of a traditional guided tour, when you have an expert at your disposal to explain details in front of each monument and – above all – to interpret the historical, political and social importance of the buildings, which represent an “age” and a (lost) society with its vision of mankind.
In main archaeological museums of Rome you find now videos of virtual reconstructions: at Palazzo Massimo, Trajan’s Markets, Diocletian Baths, Capitoline Museums…. Honestly you find a lot also on YouTube (we have a dedicated playlist of good videos here) , but if you are looking for the immersive experience with special visors, this is the list of the attractions and how to book them. If you are travelling with children/teens this is definitely a good idea (and by the way, there is a videogame museum in Rome, not too far from the Vatican, which might be a break for them: it is called Vigamus and our 13 year old “tester” approved it…He also approved all the following list for you!)
- Viaggio nei Fori: only during the good season (April to November) as it is in the open air enjoying the breeze of the night and the imposing ruins of the Forum of Caesar and the Forum of Augustus. In the first one, you walk through the area for 55′ while in the Forum of Augustus you’ll be sitting on a bench for approx 40′. A recorded audio explanation in several languages is provided and there are three shows each night. We loved both of them.
- Domus di Palazzo Valentini: a fascinating path in a real ancient “domus” (noble residence) with virtual reconstructions and audio explanations. Not to be missed, your understanding of “ancient Rome” throughout the city will be increased a lot!
- Domus Aurea: this visit is only available during weekends as a restoration project is going on during the week days. The visits help to support the huge expenses of the restorations. The site is the real Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace and during your group tour (approx 75′) you will stop in the “Volta Dorata hall” for a 3D immersion supported by visors. Amazing!
- L’Ara com’era: at the Ara Pacis museum during the evening it is possible to book the experience recreating the look this Augustan “Altar of Peace” had more than 2000 years ago, when it was painted in brilliant colors and surrounded by the empty “Campus Martius” instead of the hectic city!
We appreciate your help to update this list as soon as new experiences will appear and if you have a comment on these shows, we will be curious to know your opinion and feedback!
In the recent years, the visit of the Colosseum has been enriched of a new area, i.e. the underground layer and the third tier. Unfortunately the people interested in this kind of visit are more numerous than the available spots and the way these tickets are put on sale is not exactly transparent nor “user friendly”! We have tried in the last years to assist our guests in securing these tickets, but every year it gets more difficult and deceitful. We understand the fascination of the dungeons and the attraction of exclusiveness, but there are few things you should be aware of:
- you can see the whole structure of the Colosseum even without this special access, from the ground level or second tier which are open to everybody with a standard ticket. It is mainly a matter of perspective.
- private slots are almost impossible to get and even a shared access is becoming more and more hard to buy: few tickets are on sale and they are only released once a month in one specific day of the month before (and this selling day changes every month)
- There are several big companies which invest a lot of time and money (hiring staff only for this selling day and keeping them online and over the phones all day long) to buy the largest amount of tickets they can. They will resell these tickets at high price in conjunction with their tours. Of course this practice results into a lack of availability after few hours of the opening of sales. Last month (march 2017) finding one access was as hard as buying a ticket for the U2 concert!!!
- you can decide a standard tour of the Colosseum is enough, you will learn everything about the Colosseum in any case and we can combine the standard visit to an “Underground Rome” tour, including other sites nearby in order to understand the stratification of Rome.
- you can check the official website of the company managing the tickets of the Colosseum here: www.coopculture.it. And you can try to secure the tickets on your own. They sell the simple access (in this case, if you wish to have a private guide with you, buy a 2 euro reservation with no ticket for your guide as well) or you can buy the internal guided tour of the Colosseum (approx 75’) . If you are interested in a visit of the Forum/Palatine area (these sites are included in the ticket you buy for the Colosseum) we can meet you the same or following day outside the Colosseum and tour these areas with you.
- This internal company (Coopculture) has several guides at disposal, we know some of them, most are archaeologists and well prepared tour guides. It has to be said they reiterate this tour more than once a day and some days in a row. They know their stuff, but sometimes they lose freshness and enthusiasm. Some other companies offering group tours at the Colosseum’s underground do not suffer the same problem and we are pleased to recommend “Mind the Guide” because we personally know the founder and the guides working there and we can grant you will be satisfied with the tour. Follow this link to check their calendar (only few days before the month of your visit is planned) and book your tour online or send them an email at email@example.com
Be informed and chose what’s best for you!
Every traveller on planet Earth knows about TripAdvisor and how their ranking system works: quality, quantity and “freshness” of the reviews let a business grow its popularity. We know that too, and we came to terms with the fact we will never compete with the companies who are in Top 20 about “things to do” in Rome. But maybe this is not a flaw! Let’s see why:
- we only offer private tours, which means we cannot have a very large number of guests in a given day. Companies offering group tours can be rated ten or more times on the same tour. But we love the precious relationships that can be created only in a private customised tour.
- we are not a big company with a large team of tour guides and a rich calendar of tours per day. Again this implies less reviews. But when you book a tour with A Friend in Rome you are exchanging mails directly with a tour guide who might be your own guide when you finally land here. And if I’m not available, you will be guided by a colleague I personally know, I received great feedbacks about and I trust completely. In fact they are my friends and they are informed about you and your family before the tour takes place. To sum up, you will not be just a name and a number in a list, but a guest we are waiting for!
- We do not bother you for a review with scheduled emails and insistence. We send you our link once, that’s it. Some of our happy guests are not familiar with TripAdvisor reviews,maybe they read them but never wrote one and we do not expect them to open an account just to rate our tour. Most of our guests contact us after being recommended by friends and relatives. Companies who get most of their customers through Tripadvisor generally get more reviews because clients are used to the system. On the other side they do not enjoy the pleasure of getting updates on previous guests by their family members or by the same friends coming back again!
- We never NEVER paid for one review, never! Neither we asked mom, dad, cousins and old schoolmates to invent a review for us. All our reviews are real feedbacks and we are very proud of them all!
- Last but not least: some companies reply to all the reviews. Sometimes they let us feel at fault, maybe they also have a person in charge of this task… we surely admire them. But, when I thought about this point, I understood that the relationship created during our correspondence and tours surely exists, but not in public. It happens through private mails, pictures exchanged, little gifts given, Christmas cards sent, jokes and comments on social networks, and second trips…. We do not have a “Social Media Office”… we are just ourselves, tour guides, INSIDE social media or a review platform.
Ever heard about Caravaggio? He was not only a painter, he was a “rockstar”! His life was full of adventures and his art was a revolution, therefore you can’t miss some of his talent during your Roman holiday! He came to Rome in 1597-98 in search of fame and died, at the young age of forty in exile, banished by the Pope, after committing a murder. Caravaggio lived a short dramatic life and knew the city of Rome in all of its aspects, including the violent, sketchy and dangerous ones.
If you have some art background, a tour on the footsteps of Caravaggio, led by a Ph.D Art Historian guide will disclose a new side of Rome at the beginning of the XVII century. You will learn about his friends, his loves, the models he chose among the poorest in the city, his favorite restaurants and much more!
The works of Caravaggio are in the most important museums in the world such as the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London … but for this tour you won’t have to pay for any entrance tickets, or visit any museum…In this tour will see the Caravaggio’s that are still exhibited in the places for which they were painted: three magnificent churches!
Realism, audacity, talent, love and the tragic life of that genius will turn you on to the Rome of the ‘600 and we are sure you will want to know even more!
Thanks to a great cooperation with exceptional colleagues in Rome, we are enlarging our network of professionals and are glad to suggest you the Art Historian guides of Joy of Rome for this special tour “On the trail of Caravaggio” : you’ll be astonished by the hidden beauty of our city!
We love to give suggestions to travellers and when they ask “how long should we stay in Rome?” it is a bit embarrassing to reply what the proverb says, “…a lifetime is not enough!”
In fact, I still have a list of not-yet-seen-spots which I’m planning to visit soon, during my days off. The list is in fact growing!
We understand you have limited time and want to focus on highlights. Ideally – and in order to keep a relaxing pace – to have a hint of all the ages that made Rome a three-millennia-old city you need a full week and this might be your plan:
- Ancient Rome : not only the Colosseum, but a nice walk including the Velabro (the crib of Rome!), Circus Maximus, Forum and Palatine, Capitol and Trajan’s Markets, Pantheon and one archaeological museum (chose between Palazzo Massimo and the Capitoline Museums)
- Ancient Rome outside the walls : the Appian Way (and the catacombs) and/or Ancient Ostia, the harbour of Imperial Rome.
- The Middle Ages through some of the most intriguing churches of the city (San Clemente, SS. Quattro Coronati, the cathedral of Rome S. Giovanni, the sparkling mosaics of S.Maria Maggiore, S. Prassede and S. Pudenziana, the picturesque district of Trastevere and its masterpieces i.e. S.Cecilia and S. Maria in Trastevere)
- Renaissance Rome: the frescoed villa Farnesina, Piazza Farnese, the lively Campo dei Fiori and its market, the Jewish Ghetto and the alleys of the “Tiber bend” district, Castel Sant’Angelo (with wonderful panoramic terrace)
- The Vatican: let’s devote half day to the museums, Sistine Chapel, the breathtaking basilica of St. Peter’s and its piazza.
- Barocco & the city! This was the second golden age of Rome and it’s all around: Piazza Barberini and the Painting Gallery of Palazzo Barberini, San Carlino church and S.Andrea to compare the great artists Borromini and Bernini, Piazza del Quirinale, the iconic Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona ending the day with a baroque concert.
- Contemporary Rome: we suggest to rent a Vespa and feel like a real Roman of nowadays exploring EUR fascist architecture, the GNAM gallery of Modern Art, Renzo Piano’s Auditorium, the MAXXI or the street art in Quadraro and Ostiense districts.
If you still have some time the program could be completed with a first day dedicated to the Etruscans (on the way from the airport you could stop at the fascinating necropolis of Cerveteri and then spend a couple of hours in Villa Giulia Etruscan museum in Rome). And several day trips around Rome might be interesting too: lakes (Bracciano, Nemi….), sanctuaries (Subiaco or San Nilo in Grottaferrata….), hilly towns (Castelli, Tivoli….)…
All that said, we know it is unlikely you’ll have all these days at disposal just for Rome, but you can glean ideas and advices from the above list to turn your Roman days into your “perfect” Roman days!
Do not feel compelled to rooted itineraries, Rome is a many-sided city, explore the facets you like the most!
And if you want to keep up with the locals, remember to order fritti as a starter – from supplì (the roman rice ball snack) to fillets of baccalà (salt cod) to fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers stuffed with an anchovy and mozzarella) . And no wine with pizza, but beer, or even a coke. Or gas water….Here is a non-exhaustive list of my favorite pizza places:
- Bir and Fud: in Trastevere and not just for pizza. Craft beer, unusual pizzas, mouth watering antipasti and dessert. Better to reserve a table, as it gets full immediately!
- Alle Carrette: when I’m next to the Colosseum I go there, a little alley, few tables outside and a lot of space inside, but still you’ll have to wait. Because pizza is really good!
- Emma : my last discovery near Campo dei Fiori/Piazza Navona. And not only for pizza! Great ingredients, polite service (which is not always the case for “pizzeria”) and not to be missed desserts.
- La Focaccia: soft pizza, if you prefer the “Naples style”. Near Piazza Navona.
- La Montecarlo: informal, noisy, genuine, cheap pizzeria near Piazza Navona.
- Nuovo Mondo: the’s how a pizzeria looked like in Rome until 30 years ago, with paper thin pizza, simple fast services, few good items in the menu that the waiter can tell, cheap price and a noisy “true Roan” atmosphere just next to your elbow! Located in Testaccio, a district to explore if you wish to feel like a local….
- Dar Poeta: we will never state one as “the best pizzeria in Rome” , but this is a damn good one! There’s usually a bit to wait before being seated, but it’s worthwhile. Try the delicious “calzone” with ricotta cheese and nutella to end dinner! And afterwards, a walk in Trastevere, of course!
- La Pratolina: not far from the Vatican, this is a pizzeria where you will be surrounded by more locals than tourist, which is becoming rare in the centre of Rome. Pizza is really good, so it’s always full: remember to reserve your table in advance.
- Li Rioni: traditional warm atmosphere not far from the Colosseum.
- Al Tettarello: in Monti, a good trattoria, but also remarkable for pizza.
Any great discovery you wish to add? Let us know by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org . And if you wish to lear the difference between Roman pizza and Neapolitan pizza, watch this video!
The problem is that you do not have enough time to visit them all and they all contain incredible treasures, from a fascinating crypt to a masterpiece of a great artist just hanging there in a side chapel! Rome churches come in all shapes and sizes, from the IV to the XXI century, they are all free and generally a calm place to sit down far from crowd and heat, so do not hesitate to sneak in when you see one open in front of you (they usually close at lunchtime between noon and 3 p.m.), just remember to wear an appropriate dress code (covered shoulders and knees) and behaviour (do not eat and drink indoor, check if you are allowed to take pictures, respect the silence).
All that said, our job as tour guides is exactly to help you maximise your time in Rome and suggest the best visits, according to your interest and taste. I checked with several of my expert colleagues to make a “top 10 list”, but it was impossible to cut the story so short. So I ended up with a list of 10 types of churches and my advice is to touch base with one of each category. Let’s start!
- St Peter’s basilica: ok, I know, you might have said this by yourself, but in fact this is a MUST. The biggest and most incredible church in the entire world… of course you cannot miss that while you are here. BUT (there is a but!) crowd is becoming hard to cope with, security check are making lines very long so best advice is to go early in the morning (from 7.00 a.m.) or late in the afternoon (after 5 p.m.) or visit it during our Vatican tour of the museums with the special shortcut of the guided visits. Also check with us if there are special events going on at the Vatican during your stay, as the church will be off limits for special celebrations (sometimes with no pre-notice, e.g. for a Cardinal’s funeral….). In case you cannot visit St Peter’s for any reason see point 2.
- Another Papal Basilica: yes, we have other 3 major basilicas in Rome, i.e. St. Paul, St. John and S.Mary Major. They are all rich in history, relics and masterpieces. St. John is in fact the cathedral of Rome and the oldest official church of the Christian history, St. Paul was redone after a huge fire (1823) and – despite being the newest – it is the most preserved (it was reconstructed exactly as it was in the IV century), St. Mary Major has dazzling ancient mosaics… So, even if you had the chance to visit St. Peter’s I think you should include one of these three in your itinerary.
- a paleo-Christian church: hidden charming simple churches preserving the atmosphere of the first centuries of the Christian faith. They are my favorite and I recommend Santo Stefano Rotondo on the Coelian Hill (10′ away from the Colosseo), Santa Sabina on the Aventino, San Giorgio al Velabro (just at the back of the Forum but amazingly quiet), San Saba (you will be surely alone in there!) or – a bit farer from the centre – San Lorenzo outside the walls (a good opportunity to go off-the-beaten-path)
- If you are into mosaics, you will be embarrassed: San Clemente (also famous for its 3 layers explaining the whole history of Rome in one block!), Santi Cosma e Damiano, Santa Prassede, Santa Pudenziana, S.Maria Maggiore, S.Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia…. And a bit farer from the centre the hidden jewel of Santa Costanza’s mausoleum!
- Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a stone’s throw from the Pantheon (which, BTW, is a church but I do not consider it in this list as – to me – this is first of all the best preserved monument of Ancient Rome… another spot you cannot miss!) is considered the only gothic church in Rome: in fact it has a dark interior with unusual stained glass windows, but above all is an art museum for free! To enjoy a bit of the medieval atmosphere which is often lost in Rome, I also suggest you a visit to the Abbey of the “Tre Fontane”: the proof will be in the pudding !
- For those of you who are fond of Renaissance architecture and are missing Florence so bad… well, we have pretty nice stuff here too: Santa Maria degli Angeli, Santa Maria della Pace, San Pietro in Montorio and its perfect Temple of Bramante nearby, Santa Maria del Popolo and Sant’Agostino so, if you become a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings in there, go and visit also San Luigi dei Francesi…ohi ohi, the list is getting longer and longer!
- And now the period which is mostly representative of Rome, the Baroque. So many churches in this category, but I would say you can’t miss the jesuit Chiesa del Gesù or Sant’Ignazio (interesting “special effects” in the paintings on both churches), Sant’Agnese in Agone on Piazza Navona, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (if you like Bernini) or San Carlino (if you prefer Borromini)….
- Something unusual is a neo-gothic church built in the XIX century district of Prati: it is called Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, but also known as “the small Milan duomo”… you enter the nave and you forget you are in Rome!
- After so many historical churches, you can understand how hard it can be for a contemporary architect to plan something new in the field, and still worth seeing (and worth a long trip to the suburbs!), but I think the Church Dives in Misericordia by Richard Meier reached the goal.
- Last but not least, remember in Rome there are places of worship for everybody, from non -catholic christian churches (like the interesting St. Paul within the Walls) to the Jewish Synagogue (with an interesting museum) and a Great Mosque.
No tele-transporting invented yet… bugger! And I am not talking about webcams here (but there are very good ones if you wish to jump immediately into Rome’s atmosphere)
I just suggest you to start planning your trip some weeks ahead your departure to get into the right mood and have the time to read something about your destination: it could be an essay, but also a novel set in the cities you are going to visit ….
And if you have a short time at disposal, a movie can be enough: here you find a list of great movies set in Rome!
On Youtube you also find endless short videos about the history, the art, the food, the magic of Rome: this is also a good way to prepare your trip and receive inspiration on what you really wish for your holiday. You might find great ideas just surfing on the web: to help you in this search, we have now a Youtube channel with playlists of selected videos such as amazing reconstructions of the ancient sites, drone explorations, short tutorial or reportages about everyday life…. As usual, we welcome your own videos and suggestions: after your trip, you might be a great advisor for future travellers and we will be pleased to support your “movies”!
We believe the guidance of a local expert will make a big difference in your Roman Holiday, of course!
But we also believe you need your “own” time to explore the city, to wander and wonder, to feel lost and find your way….
Moreover there are some sites where you will have an internal guide or audioguide service included in your admission ticket and we are here also to help you save some money and rather have an extra bottle of wine for dinner!
Here is the list of some palaces, museums and attractions where you do not need us and the link to reserve a visit or receive informations:
- Domus di Palazzo Valentini: highly recommended, it’s a virtual reconstruction of two ancient Roman houses now buried by a Renaissance palace. The tour is suitable at all ages, children and teens love it! You are given an audioguide. Reservation is mandatory. This visit can be combined with an orientation in the city centre or with an Ancient Rome tour.
- Villa Medici is a gorgeous Renaissance Villa now housing the Academy of Fine Arts for France in Italy. You will mainly visit the gorgeous garden, enjoying an incredible panorama over Rome (the page is in Italian and French but they also offer visits in English). Great combination with a tour of the city centre, a bike tour in the Borghese park or our “Grand Tour” walk.
- Palazzo Farnese: the seat of the French Embassy (formerly a Cardinal residence, boasting some of the most precious frescoes in Rome) is open to visitors over the age of 10 three days per week. You can combine this tour to a walking orientation in the centre or a Food Tour around the market of Campo de’ Fiori.
- Catacombs generally arrange internal group tours for security reasons. If you are interested in a deeper tour along the Appian Way, to St.Agnes’ complex or to the “Underground Rome”, we will include the catacombs in those visits. If you are just curious to see the catacombs’ tunnels you can go on own to San Callisto, San Sebastiano, Catacombe di Domitilla, Sant’Agnese, Catacombe di Priscilla. We can reserve private access to the Jewish Catacombs of Rome.
- Jewish Museum: the interesting museum of the Jewish Community of Rome is located under the Roman Synagogue and your ticket includes the visit of the Synagogue as well. You can combine it with a tour of the Ghetto and Trastevere or with our Food Tour near Campo de’ Fiori market.
- Domus Aurea is the latin name of the Golden Palace of Nero, an incredible archaeological site currently under restoration and only accessible with internal guides during weekends. This visit can be combined with the Ancient Rome tour or with the Archaeological Museum of Rome.
- In case you are interested in the seats of the Italian Institutions, they follow these rules : Palazzo Madama, our Senate House, opens on the first Saturday of each month. Palazzo Chigi is the seat of the Government and it is accessible upon reservation on Saturday morning. Palazzo di Montecitorio, the Italian Parliament, is open on the first Sunday of each month. The Quirinale Palace, where our President lives and works, can be visited every day but only with internal tours.
- Vatican: several areas of the Vatican are forbidden to external guides (the Gardens and the Excavations for example), but you can join a group tour. You can find more information in a special blog post dedicated to pre-booking (bear in mind the necropolis under St. Peter’s requires to be booked several months in advance). In this post you also find details about the Papal Audience and the Papal Mass: here you do not need a guide, some companies ask you to pay for these events but they are for free!
- Open Bus: we do not recommend this experience in Rome, as most of the “must sees” are in pedestrian areas and you do not see a lot from the bus. Moreover, traffic is really bad in Rome and you lose time in traffic jams or waiting for the next bus. So, just avoid the hop-on hop-off kind of day (better and cheaper to use metro or local buses) and consider this tour only if you need a general overview sitting on the bus for approx 1,5 hr taking some picture and resting a bit. Several companies offer the same tour, the price is more or less the same, we just linked one of them.
- Segway tours: we openly declared here we do not like segways in Rome, but if you really like this tour or you have promised your children … well, you can contact Rome by Segway
Enjoy Rome, with your Friend in Rome and on your own!
It’s the trend of the moment, already appreciated in the most important cities of the world and becoming the new gastronomic hit even in Rome. During your sightseeing walks or just for a quick lunch break, this new habit is giving you the chance to try a kind of food you might not easily find in traditional restaurants. Be aware, these shops usually do not have seats for you and it is not easy to find an empty bench in Rome…. But… there is a special place called “Il Vinaietto” (Via del Monte della Farina, 38 – near Campo dei Fiori. Tel 066806989) where you can simply order a glass of wine and take your own food with you, exactly like the Romans used to do in the past in the “osterie”.
- aTrestaurant: in the cozy Piazza di Pietra (near the Pantheon), you have a lively space at your disposal. They serve smoothies, juices, yogurt and fruit, but also salads, soups, quiches…. For an healthy meal!
- Bacio di Puglia: directly form “the heel of the boot”, Apulia region, to the Vatican area: you can taste hot panzerotti, baked pasta, eggplants parmigiana…..
- Fries: just french fries, but delicious, with 20 different sauces to dip them in! Very close to Saint Peter’s basilica…. it might be a very good way to end your Vatican tour!
- Pastasciutta: if you like pasta as we do, you cannot miss this place! Around the Vatican (Via delle Grazie, 5) you can have a dish of home made pasta cooked in front of your eyes for 5 euros!
- La Piadineria: there are several shops selling the “piadina”, typical snack of the Romagna region filled with everything you can think about. The shop in Via del Boschetto 98 is close to the Colosseum/Forum area and gives you the chance to explore the Rione Monti as well.
- Pianostrada: in Trastevere, three ladies serve fresh food every day following the seasons.
- Pinsa’m po’! : good stop after a Vatican tour, traditional recipe for a sort of take away pizza and good “supplì”, always just made. Local beer is served too!
- Pizzarium: next to the Vatican and to the metro stop “Cipro”, this is not just another “take away pizza” shop, because quality is a must and creativity does not lack either ….
- Queen’s Chips: Dutch potatoes imported exclusively and always fresh cut, perfectly fried. Few steps away from Piazza Venezia and the Quirinale Palace.
- Supplizio: as the name states, the main “course” is the suppli, but not just the traditional fried tomato and meat ragout rice ball… impossible to describe exactly what they cook, the list is on a board and changes every day. Stop by and enjoy!
- Trapizzino: in Testaccio and now also in Ponte Milvio, ancient recipes of the local tradition saved from the oblivion and served with two slices of pizza bread….
Help us with your own tips: write to email@example.com !