Time for another amazing experience with G Adventures!
If you’ve read about my trip to Peru then you know I’m a big fan of the people at G. They’re passionate about sustainable travel, their tour leaders (called CEOs) are energetic and knowledgeable, and they know how to put together a packed itinerary.
So although I didn’t have the time to do their 24-day Europe Encompassed trip (how fantastically exhausting would that be?), I was really excited to join them for the middle portion of that circuit, which is their 10-day Rome to Prague Adventure.
I wanted some extra time to see Rome and recover from jet lag before beginning the tour so I arrived two days early to have a look around. If you can pad a tour with a couple of free days at each end to relax and have some time to yourself, I highly recommend it. It’s always nice to decompress a bit before and after an intense travel experience.
This was my first time in Italy and I had pages worth of tips from friends who had been before. Most of them were gelato recommendations, but also suggestions on what to see, where to shop, and the best time of day to wander around certain neighborhoods.
I also downloaded a few free apps to help me navigate the city. I liked Trip Advisor’s app because it downloads the maps to your phone and doesn’t require any kind of Internet connection to work. It also suggests walking tours you can do on your own depending on your interests.
Mostly Rome is a city for meandering and getting lost in. Don’t be in a rush, because with the crowds you aren’t going to get anywhere too quickly anyway. I was there in May, before the tourist season really kicked off, but the Trevi Fountain still looked like this:
I found I enjoyed the little neighborhoods off the beaten path more. They might not have the most important plazas or the biggest fountains, but they’re quaint and give you a good idea of what real Italian life is like.
The Roman Pantheon is open every day and entry is free. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are out in the open for you to enjoy whenever you want. If you just want to check those out, eat some gelato, and shop for shoes, then have at it.
Some of Rome does take planning though, so here’s what you need to know about those sites:
The Colosseum: I don’t know if it’s all Russel Crowe’s fault, but everybody wants to get into the Colosseum to see where the gladiators did battle, and that means crowds and lines. Start early in the day and get a combination ticket for the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum for € 12,00. You can buy it at the ticket offices of the Palatine Hill located in Via San Gregorio No. 30 and Piazza Santa Maria Nova No. 53.
If the Colosseum is super important to you, then also consider taking an evening tour. It’s not cheap (around $100), but you go in with a small group after it’s closed to the public and get to see it all lit up:
Of course the outside of it is free to see, and you can get some really nice photos around the perimeter.
The Vatican: The lines to get into the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel can get crazy long, especially in summer. And if the Pope is around, watch out. If you don’t want to waste a couple of hours sitting in the hot sun in a line to get in another line to get a ticket to stand in a line, then book ahead online.
I scheduled an early morning tour, before the Vatican is open to the public. It cost extra, but was worth it for all the not standing in line I did. And once the tour was over you could still hang out and spend as much time in the museums as you wanted. There are also night openings with different events that you can book online at vatican.va.
But like I said, you can spend all your time in Rome eating gelato and shopping. My tip for gelato is to avoid the places that have a little freezer on the sidewalk and dish up neon-colored stuff. Also, if they have a Smurf or Disney flavor, you probably need to skip it. Look for the nicer gelato parlors that have off-beat flavors, since they’re less likely to be shipped in from a factory and more likely to be freshly made on the premises.
I went to two different Groms and loved their salted caramel gelato, and Giolitti is about as official as gelato gets, even including some fresh whipped cream on top of your cone.
But I started out talking about my G Adventures trip, right? I guess we’ll get to that next time, because Italy is just too big for one blog post!