Rome is a city with many faces. Literally. The millennia-old Italian capital has been built and rebuilt, besieged and sacked and rebuilt again. Its history is intertwined with countless world-changing events of the past 2,500 years that link it to all of Western civilization. (They don’t call it the Eternal City for anything).
Walking around Rome, everywhere you go you come across an ancient column or area built around historic ruins. In fact, it takes so long for anything to be built in the city, because every time you try to build a subway or a building or change something, you come across new ruins and have to send the archaeologists to investigate.
But most of these ruins are not labeled. There is no history. If you want to learn about the different layers of Rome, you should definitely take a guided tour. This will help you learn more about the context and history of the city and better understand how it grew, how it came to be, and what its culture is like. Whether you’re a foodie, history buff, or culture junkie, Rome offers countless city tours to help you see behind the scenes and get past the cacophonous and crowded facade.
To enhance your experience and learn more about Rome’s history and culture, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the best city tours:
1. Food Tours
Want to eat your way through Rome? Devour has just the thing for you. The expert guides lead hungry visitors through the atmospheric food market in Testaccio, the birthplace of Roman cuisine, and through the narrow, cobbled, trattoria-lined streets of Trastevere. It’s fun, informative, and very filling. If you’re a foodie like me, this is a must-do.
Tours start at 69 EUR.
2. Dark Rome
Despite the name, not all of the tours this company offers go into the dark side of things. There are private tours of the Colosseum and skip-the-line tours of the Galleria Borghese and the gardens, among other guided tours. But if you have a taste for the morbid and mysterious, the spooky and eerie, this is the company for you. You’ll be taken down into the ancient crypts and catacombs of Rome, and there’s also a cool ghost tour.
Tours start at 25 EUR.
3. Elizabeth Lev
An American-born city guide and published art historian, Elizabeth Lev has lived in Rome for 20 years. She offers in-depth themed tours (I love traveling with a theme). So if you’ve ever dreamed of being escorted through the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica by a real art historian, give Elizabeth a call. Love the baroque sculptor Bernini? Go down the 17th-century rabbit hole with her. Want to fully indulge in the fascinating history of Christian Rome? Elizabeth will take you there. No matter what your interests, Elizabeth can put together a tour that fits your thematic needs.
4. Fat Tire Tours
This is the best bike tour in town. Fat Tire Tours offers a three-hour bike tour of the city center, where you’ll see all the highlights, from the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain to the Circus Maximus and the Jewish Ghetto. The tours are perfect for the busy traveler who wants to see a lot in a short time – without sacrificing detail. And while these tours include a lot, they proceed at a leisurely pace, so you won’t feel rushed (or exhausted) during your explorations.
5. Stefano Rome Tours
This company was founded by tour guide Stefano Costantini and offers private tours in and around Rome. While they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, Stefano can help you see it in a day. The most popular tour is “Rome by Day,” but there are also special tours like “Rome by Night,” “Christian Rome,” or “Angels and Demons” (which focuses on the filming locations of Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”).
Stefano also offers day trips to areas surrounding Rome, such as the medieval hill town of Calcata, 40 miles north. This charming village is inhabited by artists and hippies and is famous for its… curious Christian relic (featured in the excellent travel book An Irreverent Curiosity).
Tours start at 150 EUR.
6. The Roman Guy
The Roman Guy is no longer just a guy, but whoever your tour guide is, you’ll feel like you know Rome much better. There are many quality tours offered, including all the standard ones like the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Catacombs at Night, Rome in a Day, and various skip-the-line options. There’s also a cocktail bar tour that lets you experience the city’s burgeoning alcohol scene, visiting some key sights and wandering from bar to bar.
Tours start at 45 EUR.
Regardless of your budget or interests, it’s always a good idea to join a local guide who will show you around the city and take you off the beaten path. The ancient Italian capital is a large and alluring city, so walking tours are one of the best ways to explore and get an overview.
Let us know in the comments what are the walks you are willing to try…