Have a tour for the Vatican lined up. Are there other "popular" places in Rome that having a tour guide might provide a better experience?
On our first trip to Rome we headed to ancient Rome. the Forum, etc. completely jet lagged. Very big mistake-sites looked wonderfully interesting but we were too tired to enjoy them. Next trip we arranged for Context Rome tour-it made a huge difference with a guide providing the history-only six people in our group-tour was about 4 hours and well worth the cost. You are smart to have a guide for the Vatican-we joined up with a group tour for it-a must really.
The forum is really the only place you might need a guide. It's not well signed and without a guide or a good guide book or audio guide you really won't know what you're looking at. Most other sites are well signed and you won't have an issue. Donna
Rick's guidebook to Rome and a "Streetwise.map" or similar of Rome and you're set. A guide to the Forum is a nice extra and worth it. Cabs are a real time saver if your time is limited. Be advised that on the metro sometimes you have to exit the metro and cross the street in order to go another direction (unlike say London or Paris). Metro is easy to figure out and buying tickets from the machine is easy. Avoid the metro like the plague during rush hour - make that like a nuclear reactor going bad (ha ha - sorta).
I've never thought I needed a tour guide in Rome, but I had a great experience last month with Walks of Italy's Driving Tour of Rome. In half a day we visited some far flung sites that would have been an ordeal to connect by public transport - Appian Way, Circus Maximus, Malta, Janiculum, aqueducts for walking visits and many more drive-by sites. This is a relatively new tour for small groups, and on our Saturday morning it was only my daughter and I, our wonderful guide Michele, and our driver. Highly recommend if you have time to get out of the city a bit.
I'm sure you've probably already heard of these on the boards, but the Underground Colosseum and the Scavi underground tour of St Peter's are both well worth it if you can get tickets.
I'm not a big fan of tour guides. I feel like the information they espouse is often incorrect, outdated, or urban legends/half-truths. The guide may be from the city s/he is leading you around, but very rarely is s/he an expert in the field of art, architecture or history. I have a master's in the history of art and architecture, and I'm in Italy frequently. When I'm out and about I overhear so many tour guide feeding absolute bunk to their groups. Pompeii is always crawling with the worst offenders. The Uffizi and Vatican Museums are bad, too. Uuuugh, the things I have heard about Michelangelo. If you go on a tour, take everything your guide says with a grain of salt. Maybe two. Fancifully embroidering of history is what pays the bills for these people... since most tourists get more of a kick out of titillating anecdotes than what is actual known about the sites and artifacts you'll be viewing. (After going on several tours in my hometown of Seattle with out-of-towner relatives, I can tell you that this phenomenon is hardly limited to Europe.) I'm a big fan of the Blue Guide books. They're head and shoulders above the other guides and give you real, scholarly information that cuts through all the bullcrap. The books weighs about a pound, but it's absolutely worth it when you want to feel like you're actually well-informed about a site/art object. I'm raining on your parade, I know. Sorry. :</p>
We picked up a tour in front of the Colosseum that let us bypass the line that looked over an hour long. The tour guide was average, but worth it to not have to waste that hour. Plus we got a free tour of Palatine Hill with the ticket, which was great, and lead us to buy another evening walking tour that was fantastic! The guide for the evening was an expat American history teacher with a great love of Rome and its history. Fascinating, and we saw tons. Neither of these tours was planned, but we are very happy we did both. Jan B
Liz, I took a tour of the Colosseum with an "official" Guide and felt that was absolutely a good decision. I learned far more about the history than if just wandering around on my own. She used "Whisper Headsets" so everyone in the group was able to hear. You can sign up for the tour just after you enter the Colosseum. Look for the booth with all the "blinking lights" (those are the charging stations for the Audioguides). I also felt that a Guide was an asset when touring the Capitoline Museums. There's a lot to see there, and it's easy to walk pass important displays unless you know what you're looking at. Happy travels!
A guide will really help at the forum. And if you're interested in going to Ostia Antica, I'd definitely suggest a guide; I did it on my own, since that's how I normally travel; I tried to use the RS guide and made one wrong turn somewhere; never again really figured out where I was or the layout of the site. (The map/pamphlet that was supposed to be at the ticket booth was not available, which is not uncommon.) If you want high quality/accurate information, appropriately educated guides, and very small groups (6 or fewer), I suggest you check the website for Context Travel (Context Rome, Context Florence, etc). I've done at least 15 of their walking tours, in several cities, and always had a great experience. They have a number of topical walks, so you can choose based on your interests. And because the groups are so small, the guides typically ask about your interests and adapt to them.