When visiting Rome's many famous monuments, you will be barraged with people asking "Do you speak English? Do you want to take a tour? Skip the line!" This will seem like a very appealing offer, as the lines (especially if you go in high season) will be mind-boggling. You will actually get to skip the individual line and go straight into the group line, which is much faster usually. (If you are thinking, "Well, how will they know I am a tourist so they can ask me?", trust me, they know. It will be obvious.) Anyway, sometimes this is a good idea, and sometimes its not. First, they are always a lot of money. So you have to decide if it's worth it to you to not wait. Second, it depends on the place you are visiting.
For the Colosseum, the audio guide tells you as much as any tour guide will, and the group line is almost as long as the individual line, so in my opinion, very NOT worth it. Also, DO NOT take the bus tours! You will not truly see or learn anything, except for how to be a tourist on a bus.
Unique Suggestions: The Vatican may be another story, however. It is overwhelmingly huge, and so having a tour guide lead you through the (many) highlights is a plus. And in this case, no line is longer than the individual line, so going group will be much shorter, sometimes meaning the difference between getting in that day or not. So, it may be worth it to you, especially if it is your first time, or if you don't have much of a background with the history and art of the place.
Walking tours of the city can be nice, especially night ones, as it is easy to miss lots of history strolling through the ancient streets, and the city is beautiful at night. These are usually relatively cheap as well.
Fun Alternatives: Go early (as in, before the attraction opens) to get a good spot in line so the wait won't be horrendous. This is especially true of the Vatican, where 15 minutes can make or break your day. Start lining up there around 8 am.
Also, you can map out your own walk of the city. This is by far the best way to really get a feel for Rome.
At places such as the Colleseum and Vatican we ran into persons standing outside the entrance line attempting to convince those waiting in line to pay quite a bit extra for a tour in their own language with immediate entry. The standard line was that the wait would be over two hours and nothing would be in English (or whatever language) once inside. This was so NOT TRUE! The wait wasn't even half of what they said and signs in English were everywhere. Plus, the tours go at a designated pace which might not mesh with your timeline. My personal opinion is that those "special" tours are a rip off.
Many tourists in Rome are approached by someone offering them a free tour. The vast majority think it must be a scam and quickly run the other way. I know because I was a guide in Rome for 4 years and got rejected by many people. Here's the truth -these tours really are totally free. The reason they do it is that at the end they will give you a short spiel about the other (not free) tours that their company also offers. If you go then they will receive a commission. Many people also tip at the end of the free tour, but this is not compulsory.
There are two kind of tour guides in Rome, official and unofficial. In 95% of cases the unofficial guides give better tours. Why? 1. They speak English well; most of the official guides do not. 2. They have to make it interesting and entertaining if they want to sell the other tours, whereas the offical guides have no such incentive. 3. They are young and energetic, as opposed to many of the official guides who have been doing it for years and are totally burned out, repeating the same thing every day in a horrible monotone voice. I have come across a few official guides who were excellent, and I also know of a couple unofficial guides who have no business giving tours (never go on a tour with a South African named Grant), but by and large I believe my above statement holds true.
Unique Suggestions: I can't vouch for all the unofficial guides in Rome, but I can tell you that some of the best guides in Rome are unofficial, only because the system forces them to stay that way. The licence exam is supposed to be held once a year, but in the 4 years I was there it was never given. The official guides control the committee, and they don't want any more competition, so the exam just isn't offered. The guides I worked with have a company called Eternal City Tours, and I can guarantee they all give great tours. Paul, Mike, Gabriel - they are all students living in Rome who know what they're talking about and are passionate about the city.*
Now, who's who: The ones holding up antennas with hankerchiefs tied to them, leading groups of people around like cattle, are the official guides. The ones who offer you free tours are unofficial, while the ones who approach you while you're in line for the Colosseum are not guides at all. They are attractive English speakers, usually female, who work for boring Italian guides, telling you that if you pay 10 euro or whatever it is for their tour then you can skip the line and go straight in. But the pretty Swedish girl who sold you on the tour is not the guide; the guide is an Italian with a microphone who is bored to tears because he gives the same spiel six times a day then goes home. The only reason people go on these tours is to skip the queue, but what the Swedish girl won't tell you is that you can skip it on your own without the tour. The ticket to the Colosseum costs 10 euro and is a joint ticket that also gets you into the Palatine Hill - the ruins right next to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. There's never a line at the Palatine, so just go there, buy your ticket, then go back down to the Colosseum, skip the queue and go directly to the turnstiles.
And if you get offered a free tour anywhere in Rome I recommend you go. It won't cost you anything and you're bound to learn something.
We booked up the shuttle bus tour with Green Line Tours. This is one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours around the city.
We got there early and paid at the office (there were 6 of us) and were told that the first bus would be along at 9.30. As we had 45 mins to kill, we had a walk around and came back at 9.15 to find the (tiny) bus was there already and was full up! Not wanting to wait another half hour, after much negotiating another bus was laid on to take us to the Trevi Fountain where we could pick up the tour afterwards.
We saw the Trevi Fountain and went back to the bus stop. After half an hour a (tiny) bus arrived but, again, it was full.
After another half an hour, another (tiny) bus turned up but, you guessed it! It was full.
We protested to the guide on the bus and enquired as to whether we could get a refund (we were only in Rome for 4 nights after all!) and she said that we had to find our own way back to the office where we might be able to get a refund.
An hour later, 6 tired, hot and weary travellers arrived at the Green Line office, having found their way back via public transport, and requested a refund. We had wasted half a day standing at bus stops and just wanted to get our money back and do something else to avoid wasting the whole day.
We were not given a refund. Instead the employee we spoke to insisted we should have read the small print on a document that we had not been shown that stated that, if a bus was full then we'd have to wait for the next bus.
So that's alright then? ...I wonder how long we would have waited at the bus stop in the sweltering heat, inhaling exhaust fumes from the traffic?
Unique Suggestions: Try another tour company and book using your credit card so you can dispute it if there's a problem with the service.
I went to Asis on a tour with this company, they have no idea of logistis, attention, care or anything.
They took us in a small bus and the driver was talking on his cell phone and discussing football with the guide using his hands while driving at 140 km/h. We were stopped by the police and they avoid to give an explanation.
The guide was smelly and terrible, he didnt know anything about the historic sites.
On our way back to Rome they picked up a friend on the way and wile delivering us to our hotels, they were honking and yelling at the women in the street.
Unique Suggestions: Go find a serious company.
Fun Alternatives: We took another tour with "Catholic Rome" they are the tour agency of the Vatican and they are good.
Regarding evening tours like "Illuminated Rome" inquire about the type of bus you'll be traveling in. I took this tour on October 19th, 2007. The bus had high seats. The only view out the window was between your seat and the seat in front of you.
Unique Suggestions: Ask about the type of bus you'll be traveling in. Is the view blocked by seats? Will you be able to see anything? When you get to the office ask which bus you'll be on before you pay. If you think the view won't be good, skip the tour.
Fun Alternatives: Take note of which tour busses you pass on the street that have good viewing. When you get to your hotel you can check them out online or ask the desk clerk.
Well the illumination tours and other tours which operate at nitght generally finish very late so you must ensure that you have something to eat . coz every thing is closed at that time .
Unique Suggestions: Ensure that your tour operator has a meal included (they do charge extra for that!! ) . It is also better this way as you do not have to find a restaurant and you get a taste of the local food .
My mom and I decided to go to Bici Baci Vespa tours. We figured it was sort of dumb, but what the hell right? Wrong. Even though we told them we had both never been on a vespa before, they allowed me to drive one on the VERY crowded street just outside of their location. After a minute and a half of lessons I was out on the road, and was in an accident. Magically at the beginning of the ordeal their insurance would pay for the damage to the car (which was not much but was claimed to be 450 euros...yeah right), then it went to no you have to pay all of it, including the vespa's damage which had been previously damaged. They were incredibly rude and didn't really seem to care much about the fact that I was covered in bruises, nor that the car had come screaming around the corner as I pulled out and it was unclear who was at fault.
Unique Suggestions: Take a picture of all the vespas and move on.