If you’re visiting Rome, you’ll want to see all the famous sights. But you won’t want to spend your precious holiday time queuing. So we spoke to Sean Finelli who is an expert on the city. He’s an Italian citizen who lived in the capital for a decade and offers tours and advice through his business The Roman Guy.
There is intense competition between companies offering tours around the must-see sites, like the Colosseum and the Vatican and Sean says choosing the time of year that you visit is important if you don’t want to be waiting around for too long. “If you go in January or February it’s the low season. November and much of December is also quiet. The busiest time will be around Christmas and the city will be packed every day during the week leading up to Christmas day. Summer, from Easter until October, can be congested too,” says Sean. There is a quieter period in summer though. “August is the shoulder season because many Italians are on holiday and it’s a bit hot.”
Sean has some great tips for visiting one of the biggest attractions. “If you find yourself in Rome and you haven’t planned ahead, or you can’t get a last minute tour reservation, it’s often nice to walk to the Vatican at around 3.30pm. Don’t be a minute late because it will close at 4 o’clock! If you get in at 3.30pm you’ll find hardly any queues and an empty museum inside.” Sean says if you plan ahead, you can also avoid waiting in line. There are official Vatican booking websites where you can get a reservation and skip the queue.
Sean says the fierce competition between tour companies has encouraged his team to forge relationships so they can offer unique opportunities to visit the sites. “We’ve made a partnership with the Vatican and we can enter an hour before it opens. So when the doors open at 9am – the earliest reservation you can make on your own – we can go in at 8am. You can go straight to the Sistine Chapel and see it when it should be fairly empty, before the major crowds arrive.”
The Roman Guy says his guests are often pleased they took the organised tour because, unlike many popular historic sites, the Vatican does not provide much information to read as you walk around. They don’t have the interactive displays you might find in some museums, for instance. “Our customers say they get so much out of it – ‘a great experience’ and ‘I couldn’t have done it my own.’ It’s not something you might expect if you come from an Anglo-Saxon country where everything seems to be so organised.”
Sean’s tours also offer a unique view of the Colosseum. He explained, “The Colosseum has a restricted area below. We call it the dungeon but it’s also referred to as the underground. If you’ve seen the film Gladiator with Russell Crowe, when he is standing down below talking with the gladiators and putting on this helmet, this is an area that we go to. It’s the area where they prepared before they went up on stage.”
Many people visit Rome for the food but can be disappointed if they end up eating in tourist traps. Sean has some good advice on how to pick a better dining experience. “If they have the menu outside, you have a 70% or 80% chance that it is going to be a tourist restaurant and you won’t have an amazing experience. It should be a defence mechanism. If somebody is standing outside inviting you into the restaurant, it means that nobody wants to go there so you should avoid it as well.”
“If the restaurant is in the Piazza or outside the Colosseum there is a strong chance that the rent is high and the business is only kept afloat by tourist money, so it might not be good either. I don’t want to discount the beauty of sitting outside in Piazza Navona drinking a €10 cappuccino. It’s a cool experience and it might be something you will remember forever but you will pay a hefty premium for any of those areas,” warns Sean. He has another website called The Roman Foodie which makes some recommendations.
Sean says his favourite day trip from Rome takes in one of the city’s seaside resorts, Fregene. “It’s a beautiful little town with bars and restaurants that open onto the beach and with cabanas and blankets outside to sit on. It’s really nice. It’s on the west coast and as the sun sets they have parties. It’s not like a rave or anything crazy. You can take your kids there, run around the beach and drink cocktails. It’s really cool although you’ll need to rent a car to get there.”
If you want more tips on Rome or if you’d like to book a trip, a sightseeing or food tour when you’re there, visit TheRomanGuy.com.