It is VERY important to get here early! The Vatican museums open at 9 am, but get there by 8. The line gets long fast and then you’ll be wasting your valuable Rome time looking at the wall. There will be two lines, one for people who already have tickets (bought online or groups) and one to buy tickets. You could buy your tickets online if you have access to a printer, but their is a 4 euro up-charge. NOTE: There is a student discount if you have a valid student id and are 18-25 years old.
Also, make sure to be dressed modestly (knees and shoulders covered).
Once in the museums, take your time and see everything that interests you. The whole museum sort of funnels you toward the Sistine Chapel, main attraction of the museums. Make sure to end your tour here. The room will be super crowded, so make your way towards the middle. You’re not allowed to take pictures here and if the guards catch you they’ll come over and watch you delete it. But there are so many people in the room, so they can’t watch everyone at the same time. Be sneaky if you want a pic.
Towards the back of the room, there are two exits- one to the left and one to the right. The one on the left will take you back to the museum entrance and then you’ll have to walk around the outside to get in line to see St. Peter’s Basilica. The one to the right, is reserved for groups, but as long as you don’t need to return an audioguide, you can sneak through. There’s probably no one even there to stop you. This exit will take you right into St. Peter’s Basilica and you won’t have to wait in any more lines!
While you’re waiting in line in the morning, lots of hawkers will try to sell you a “Skip-the-line” deal with the selling point of the Basilica exit, but now you know the secret and won’t need to spend the extra money.
Historical Center Walking Tour
Head towards the Campo de’Fiori to start the tour. I’ve stolen this route from Rick Steve’s and he has an awesome audio tour to go along with it, which can be downloaded wherever you get podcasts.
His version includes more stops, but here are the highlights:
Piazza Navona: The famous piazza is a great place to grab some gelato and walk amongst the street artists. Make sure to take a look at the statue of Neptune at the end.
Pantheon: Old church with a hole in the center of the domed ceiling. NOTE: When looking at the Pantheon from the front, if you go to the right and walk along the side of the church, you’ll find a restaurant called Miscellenea.
Trevi Fountain: Make sure to throw a coin in to ensure a return visit to Rome, (The coins are collected every night to help Rome’s homeless.)
Spanish Steps: It’s a bit of a climb, but once you’re at the top, you can take a people watching break in the Borghese Gardens.
Colosseum/ Roman Forum/ Palantine Hill
Today is another early day, get to the Colosseum about 15 minutes before it opens to buy the combination ticket for the ancient ruins. Take your time while touring the Colosseum, right now they have an awesome exhibit about the time between the Gladiators and the tourists.
Then walk around the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill, try to see it all. There is another great Rick Steve’s tour for this.
Capitoline Hill Museum
Great museum full of Roman art. Make sure to go into the basement to get a great overlook of the Roman Forum.
Victor Emmanuel Monument
Finish out your day with some great views from the top of the military monument.
And of course treat yourself to gelato at every opportunity.