Lessons Learned in Rome

Vatican City

This is the third, and final, post in our When in Rome series.

Early access is best. Make reservations online ahead of time if you can. Go for the “no line” opinion. We have been to several World Heritage sites and other places frequented by the masses. And we don’t like crowds or missing out on what we came to see because of those crowds. Therefore, we usually seek out passes with the early access option (Chichen Itza, for example). They don’t cost more. You just have to be willing to get up and to leave early in the morning, sometimes as early as 5:30 a.m.

Buying tickets ahead of time is worth it. You end up in shorter lines and usually pay less. Just bet that if you are buying on the street, you are paying more than you should. And don’t fall for the “official” identifications worn by tour salespeople outside the Vatican and other high-traffic sites. They are trying to sell you an “upgrade” to their package, usually a guided tour. They are not officials of the venue.

Vatican City

Avoid the Colosseum on Sundays when the Vatican Museum is closed (except the last Sunday of each month), and avoid St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturdays, especially close to evening mass. The last Sunday of each month, the Vatican Museum is open for limited hours, and entry is free, which means get there very early, stand in line, and endure the crowds. Check Vatican Museum hours here.

There is only one entrance into the Colosseum but several into the nearby Roman Forum. It’s easy to avoid lines into the Forum; avoid the main, obvious entrance across from and in everyone’s view from the Colosseum. Go left and south and enter into the Palatine Hill area, which is connected to the Forum.

Hop-on-hop-off city tour buses are a great way to see main city sights. If you have limited time, which usually seems to be the case, find one of these options. In Rome, there are several companies running this theme. We used Big Bus Tours to see some of the sights that time constraints had kept us from visiting.

Take the lift (Sky Elevator) to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument for outstanding views of the Forum and the city. This attraction is fairly new, and the crowds have not yet found it. The Sky Elevator is easy to get to, if you know where it is. Follow signs—though few—to the upper levels of the monument and around to the back, away from the plaza (Piazza Venezia). This is a must-do on a nice day. All the city tour buses have a drop-off/pick-up spot near the monument.

Airbnb is a great alternative to expensive hotels in Rome. And the Airbnb rentals feel more like home, with sitting/living areas, laundry facilities (the machines take some figuring out), and kitchens (very small, though, by American standards).

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