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Pre-tour in Rome for BOE 14

My husband and 2 teens are going to Best of Europe for 14 days next June and I would like suggestions for what to do in Rome, our starting place if we arrive 2-3 days earlier than tour start date? None of us have ever been to Italy. It'll be the first time out of the country for the teens.

In particular I'm wondering how bad jet lag would be - should I just not plan for very much? and I'm wondering if I should avoid the places we're going to see on the tour (Basilica, Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon) and try to find new sites or if I should spend time at those sites because the tour won't go over them in depth?

The Rick Steves hotel is practically next door to the Vatican Museum and we will be on the same street a few doors down for our extra days because the hotel we stay in for the tour is booked according to their website but I understand from reading other posts in the travel forum that I should email them to ask as websites aren't always accurate.

Also can you get by in Rome pre-tour okay not speaking any Italian? Would you advise guided tours for a first timer?
Thanks in advance!

Posted by
137 posts

Lucky teens - this sounds like a fab family adventure. Jet lag is different for everybody; I pay attention to my air travel routing as well as aircraft and will fork over more $$ for at least premium economy with its extra legroom/dedicated overhead bin storage/faster off plane perks, with intent of easing expected physical stress + interrupted sleep impact that comes with an 8+ hr flight. If unable to fly nonstop direct from my home airport, generally prefer outbound flight be the international hop (as opposed to flying across the country domestically) and only consider seats on a multi-aisle jet (most are, but there are exceptions, e.g. Icelandair) and look for min 2 hour layover in the itinerary. If seating is in the 2-4-2 configuration, I pick the 2 seat row for myself and travel partner. If it's 3-4-3 then I opt for adjacent aisle seats. Reaching my destination in early morning or afternoon my normal strategy is to take simplest transport option (usually taxi) to my hotel and either store bags (I'm of the carry-on/pack light crowd) or check-in as allowed and make choosing an appealing spot to have something to eat and drink as the rest of the day's only fixed goal. I think being flexible on whether some of you want/need a nap on arrival day may be wise. Being in the Prati neighborhood next to the Vatican while you're in Rome, I would begin now Google map exploring and 'walk' the neighborhood to have a look see. I have greatly enjoyed doing various small group tours (14 people max on some, may be less, depending) with Walks of Italy including food tour that ended with making your own pizza for lunch, and a 'crypts, bones & catacombs' tour that took us to the Capuchin Crpyt near Piazza Barberini. I've arranged for a private guide tour of the Borghese Museum which was absolutely worth every eurocent! Depending on the interests among your family you could arrange some things that are in addition to what you will enjoy while on the BOE tour. Or you can always simply take your time with leisurely breakfasts at the hotel then taking exploratory walks, metro rides, taxis to other points of the city with multiple stops for food and drink. Consult a variety of web sites for what to do in Rome, various guide books and whatever piques your interest will lead you to something wonderful.

Posted by
1583 posts

I would opt for places you won’t be visiting with the tour. In my opinion, the guides give you a thorough tour of the sites. What interests do your teens have? You could visit the Galleria Borghese and I thought their audio guide sufficient. The park setting is refreshing on a hot day. The Capitoline Museum is something that might appeal to your teens as well as the neighborhood Trastevere, especially in the evening. The Domus Aurea is something worth checking out if you’re there on a weekend. It is an active archeological site, so they don’t allow tours during the week while they’re working. It was Nero’s golden palace that was buried until the late 1400’s.

You will be fine on your own pre-tour without speaking Italian. The guidebook you receive for the tour will have enough Italian for you to navigate. Knowing the basic polite phrases will take you a long way. The guidebook will also tell you how to get from the airport into Rome and other helpful information.

Posted by
2929 posts

No one can predict how a stranger, or group of strangers will react to jet lag. Chances are excellent that it will affect each of you differently. You might want to read a few articles about how to cope, before you go. Here's one that Rick wrote:

On your arrival day, I wouldn't plan on anything requiring prepaid reservations. You never know if travel delays might interfere. It's frequently recommended that you use that day to check into your hotel, take care of getting any euro cash that you will need, explore the neighborhood around your hotel (on foot), look for a couple of local restaurants to eat at before your tour starts, and then perhaps do a walking tour of one of Rome's historic areas. Rick has audio tours available for download (I use them in conjunction with the guidebook), which are excellent to do independently. Fresh air and sunshine are great for combating jet lag. Try to stay awake until after dinner, then get a good night's sleep. Oh yes, re: dinner. You'll likely find that restaurants won't open for dinner until 7:00 pm. If you need to eat earlier, ask your hotel where you can find an osteria, or similar place, that is open earlier.

You are already paying to visit several sites under the guidance of excellent guides. There is little point in seeing these places on your own before the tour when there are a myriad other places to see that won't be on the tour. Look through Ricks guidebook, and on tourist websites for places that might be of interest to you or members of your family.

Rome is a modern cosmopolitan city that hosts millions of tourists every year. Anyone who is regularly in contact with tourists will understand at least some English. Many will be fluent. However it is common courtesy to learn at least a few Italian phrases and words, including the common courtesies. I've visited Italy several times, always independently, and have never used a guide or tour. However if you prefer to use them, they are easy to find. I think Rick lists some in his guidebooks.

Research in advance of your trip can be of immense help, especially on a first trip. Ricks guidebooks in particular are great at answering all of the little logistical questions.

Posted by
7479 posts

Jet lag-- the farther west you are in the US, the more pronounced the affect. Plan the arrival day to be a just 'wander the neighborhood' day

Ostia Antica would be a good activity to fill a half day or more.

Posted by
1954 posts

I did a Walks of Italy cooking class on my arrival day in Rome. It kept me awake until 11 pm Roman time and pretty much knocked out my jet lag - I don’t recommend for you. It was during spring break week and there were teens with their parents taking this pasta making class, super fun activity for all. The chef then whipped up the rest of the meal and we all sat down to eat. Very convivial evening! Walks of Italy offers lots of interesting activities that may interest your family. On one trip to Rome, we did a walking food tour through the Trastevere neighborhood.
I concur with the others about the Galleria Borghese and the Capitoline Museum, both with amazing art and sculpture you will never see elsewhere!

Yes, you do not have to speak Italian to get along well. Most everyone speaks English in the hotels, shops and restaurants, they will be very happy to see you. I would learn a few courtesy words and phrases to be polite and show interest in their culture. It will “carbonate” your experience as Rick Steves is fond of saying!

Enjoy your tour! RS tours are amazing experiences, I’m a veteran of 7 tours and am booked on my 8th for next May.

Posted by
21 posts

I beat jet leg by arriving to Europe in the afternoon and staying up (no nap) until the sun goes down. Once the sun goes down, I start working to re-set my circadian rhythm. It’s a shower and then bed, up early for breakfast. An afternoon siesta after lunch, the jet leg starts leaving — I start feeling normal and ready to take on Europe.

I don’t know what time you are arriving but try not to take a nap. The Rick Steves Rome guide book will have lots of suggestions for stuff to do also. Please read these books, they are so helpful.

Posted by
1003 posts

Yes, jetlag is unpredictable and varies by person.
When I was in Rome near the Vatican museum before my RS tour, I found a nice little pizza/snack place nearby. Your kids would probable enjoy pointing to the pizza/pizzas they want, and show with their fingers what size piece they want. I found it very comfortable as non Italian speaker.
I also recommend Ostia Antica. Easy to get to and great for kids.

Posted by
25 posts

Send an email to the hotel. Let them know that you're staying with them on a RS tour and will be arriving early. We've had good luck obtaining rooms at pre and post tour hotels with direct contact.

Posted by
6607 posts

re:jet lag. Where do you live? California-9hr time change vs NY- 6 hours. One hour less for UK and Portugal. Arrival day it hits me around 4pm in Europe but I press through going for walks or boat ride, no real sightseeing, have dinner, to bed 9-10pm. Fine the next day.
I recommend staying in a different more central part of Rome on your arrival. Look at Pantheon , Piazza Navona areas so you get a more complete experience. The Vatican is across the river.

Posted by
3478 posts

As several have mentioned, jet lag does impact almost everyone differently. Staying up, walking about, and being in the sunshine until early evening helps us adjust our body clocks. We have an early evening meal and go to bed fairly early. The next day we're good to go. Your reaction may be different.

Posted by
267 posts

We did this tour when it went in the other direction, concluding in Rome. Your family is in for a wonderful experience.

As your (Vatican proximity) hotel sits on the same side of Tiber River, on day of arrival think about visiting Trastevere neighborhood; great for walking about and mitigating jet lag. There's also a great gelato place near the Vatican Museum, Old Bridge Gelateria. Gelato cures jet lag, just ask anyone on this forum.

Would also recommend Borghese Gallery for one of your pre-tour sites, as others have suggested. Requires advance reservations, but this attribute benefits a family because that puts a hard-stop on your time there (your teenagers won't sense a 'dragging on' effect).

Posted by
4600 posts

Definitely email the hotel. Chances are the rooms are not yet available on the website because your dates are so far out.

Posted by
2 posts

Wow, what FANTASTIC responses, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on visiting Rome and travel tips!! The airplane flight tips are much appreciated as our family is on the tall side and my son at 16 is extremely tall - 6'5", who knows what he'll be next year at tour time!
We will be coming from California so jet lag may be a challenge the first couple days. I haven't booked flights yet but it looks like a likely time of arrival to Rome would be mid to late morning. I won't plan for anything specific for the day of arrival in case of flight delay or jet lag.
Thank you for the ideas of where to visit, the gelato recommendation, thoughts on jetlag and where to stay. Each time I look at the map of Rome it gets more and more familiar looking and a little less overwhelming. I am so excited now! Thanks again!!

Posted by
5976 posts

When you get the guidebook that comes with your tour (or buy one if you cant wait), go through the sights listed in there. You can decide which sights that are not on the tour, that sound interesting. You'll need that info, for your free-time, too. Be flexible.

Posted by
8248 posts

"Also can you get by in Rome pre-tour okay not speaking any Italian?"

--> Oh yes, no problem. I have horrible language skills and did fine in Rome with Rick's little translation guide.

"Would you advise guided tours for a first timer?"
--> Your tour includes the Vatican on Day 3 so I'd not add time there which is about the main site I'd want a guide. There are plenty of other places to see on your own. My nephews enjoyed the Basilica San Clemente on our first visit to Rome (they were 20 and 25). I really enjoyed the Capitoline Museum on another trip. Still have much to see there, lol!

And yes, just plan to walk, eat gelato, explore the neighborhood on your arrival day. Then you can see how your react and maybe have some light touring in mind. (No heavy museums, lol!)

This one ends in Paris so if you have time available add some nights there as well.

This is going to be a fabulous experience for all of you. Do not worry about figuring out your Switzerland day...your guide will have recommendations on how to structure this but the itinerary also says they may offer optional experience so if they do, grab at that chance. The walk they describe in the itinerary is Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg which is just jaw dropping. Do take a look options for your free time in Florence, Venice, Munich and Paris. You'll use your free time more effectively if you know what your possibilities are.

Posted by
197 posts

We really enjoy doing a food tour on Day 1. It keeps you moving and in fresh air but also gives you an idea of how to order food in the country we loved Twilight Trastevere tour

Posted by
281 posts

The things I like to do in Rome that aren't covered the tour:
- Scavi tour (
- Colosseum Hypogeum ( you will want to check around for options
- Borghese Gallery (
- Visiting the Vatican and picking up a few of the current Vatican euro coins ( you can ask any of the Vatican city personnel the best place to get them or check at the post office there
- Trying an unusual flavor or several of Gelato at Fatamorgana
- Prosciutto pizza and ice cold beverage or two at Ristorante Target (
- Take the time to visit St. Peters to climb to the top for a wonderful view (not sure if the tour will allow enough time for this after visitng the Sistine Chapel)