Group visits to Rome

If your group chooses to travel to Rome by air, there are several choices of airline travelling to the city’s two airports – Fiumicino or Ciampino. Ciampino is closer to the city, but Fiumicino is served by rail. Both airports have regular shuttle coaches travelling to Termini railway station, which is right in the heart of Rome.

from road IMG_0894 Rome James Day

Palatine Hill

Ciampino is largely monopolised by Ryanair, and therefore a great choice for those on a budget. We found the airline to be very good, in spite of some of the negative press it has received over the years. It has a strict baggage allowance (One cabin bag of up to 10kg with dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20, plus another small bag of 35cm x 20cm x 20cm). As long as you stick to this requirement, you shouldn’t have any issues. The airline has also recently introduced group rates. Check https://www.ryanair.com/en/groups for more information.

Stanstead is a great airport to fly from if it is practical for your group to use. The airport has made a massive effort to promote access by public transport, making it very easy to get to by coach, bus or rail.

When in Rome

James Day and partner Laura visit the ancient Italian capital of Rome and finds out what it has to offer for the group travel trade

Rome is one of Europe’s oldest and most historically significant cities. The city has breath-taking architecture in spades and much of its ancient heritage is beautifully preserved.

Colosseum IMG_0992 Rome James Day

Colosseum

Some of the most famous buildings in the world are within the city’s walls. The Colosseum is one of the most recognisable ruins on the planet, while St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican has had a part of the city designed around it to give it the most triumphant approach possible. Just about every building is at least five stories high and really makes the city feel grand, although it is quite compact and easy to walk around.

However, Rome is not everyone’s idea of an ideal place for a romantic break, as it is very busy, lively and touristy. If this is not what you’re looking for, a break in a less prominent city might be a better option, though the bustling Italian capital is a great place to experience in a group.

Sightseeing

Being unfamiliar with the city, one of the first things we did was to board the City Sightseeing open-top bus tour. It is one of many hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours of Rome, and since it is the most frequent, it allows for the greatest flexibility.

City Sightseeing IMG_1012 Rome James Day

City Sightseeing

While the audio commentary has plenty of interesting anecdotes to offer and the top deck offers some great views of the city’s attractions, it’s not exactly the most comfortable ride thanks to the Roman traffic and the aggressive driving style of many of the city’s drivers.

While City Sightseeing does offer group rates, which will allow you to get a good deal if you book tickets in advance, it is very popular and therefore highly unlikely that you will all be able to board the same bus. It is probably best used if your group is planning to disperse once you reach the city, allowing everyone to get off if they see something of interest. Bear in mind that the Colosseum and Vatican are extremely popular tourist areas and you may find it challenging to get a seat if you choose to board from there, though Rome is quite a compact city and it might be worth walking anyway. If you want to enjoy the entire sightseeing circuit, the best starting point is probably Termini station. It’s not too close to the major tourist spots and since it marks the start and end point of the tour, many passengers will disembark here.

City Sightseeing tickets can be combined with fast-track access to the Colosseum. While this is quite a pricey ticket to buy, it’s one the best value ways to gain access to the landmark without enduring an enormous queue.

Landmarks

Vatican from Sant'Angelo IMG_1063 Rome James Day

Vatican

The two most famous landmarks in Rome are the Colosseum and the Vatican. If your group is interested in accessing either of these, make sure you get queue jump tickets in advance, as the queues are quite incredible.

The Vatican is particularly busy – if you don’t get queue jumping tickets, you will need to arrive very early in the day or face queuing for the entire day, literally – the queue when we arrived stretched around the entire square. Both of these attractions are very expensive, so expect to pay through the nose if you want to see them up close. However they are spectacular even when viewed from the outside for free, which is what we would recommend unless your heart is set on seeing the Sistine Chapel or taking a tour of the inside of the Colosseum.

A short walk away from the Colosseum, past the also stunning Arch of Constantine, is Palatine Hill. This wonderfully preserved area has an enormous number of ancient structures, such as temples and palaces, can lead you to spend hours exploring the ruins and soaking up interesting historical knowledge. It includes a small museum at the centre, and it is far less expensive than the more well-known attractions elsewhere. While we chose to walk around the fascinating remains of the ancient Roman palaces and structures at our own pace, we saw lots of groups on independent guided tours around the area. If this is something you would like to do as a group, be sure to arrange a tour before you visit.

Also not far from the Colosseum is Circus Maximus, the remains of a massive chariot racing track which could seat hundreds of thousands of people in its day. Today, it’s essentially a park, but the shape of the track is still visible to evoke the imagination.

A less well-known landmark close to the Vatican is Castel Sant’Angelo. Also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the strange cylindrical building is a very interesting museum which offers incredible views of the Vatican, along with the rest of the city, from its roof. These views are also a feature of the café/restaurant near the top of Castel Sant’Angelo, where you can enjoy the wonderful views with a coffee, beer and/or pizza.

Rome Theatre IMG_0872 James Day

Rome Theatre

The striking Altare della Patria is a bit of a departure from many of Rome’s buildings, looking more Greek than Roman in a bright white marble. Also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, it was built to honour the first king of unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel. The base of the vast structure houses the Museum of Unified Italy. While the building is quite controversial, having displaced a Medieval neighbourhood and been given the nickname of ‘the typewriter’ by Roman citizens, it is nonetheless a stunning structure and popular tourist attraction.

The Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the world, has a well-known tradition whereby visitors who throw in a coin are ensured a return to the city. Sadly, it was closed for restoration during our visit. The works are expected to finish by the end of Autumn 2015.

Accommodation

Marcella Royal bedroom IMG_0833 Rome James Day

Marcella Royal bedroom

Our accommodation of choice was the Marcella Royal Hotel, which is located a 10 minute walk away from Termini station and around 15 minutes from the famous Trevi Fountain.

We couldn’t be happier with the hotel. After a warm welcome from the pleasant staff, we were taken up to our room on the fifth floor. The room was comfortable and kept at a pleasant temperature, and included a safe for our passports and a modern bathroom. The television only offered a single channel in English, but you shouldn’t be going to Rome to spend time in your hotel room. If you are spending time in this particular hotel, you should be spending it on the wonderful rooftop terrace.

From the terrace, you can see a lot of the city’s skyline, including St Peters Basilica in the Vatican. It’s a great place to enjoy a continental breakfast in the morning and particularly stunning at night with cocktails.

Tips

Rome is a very lively and busy city with lots of things to do – it is not really somewhere to go to relax.

It is quite an expensive city, but the drinks in particular are pricey – and not necessarily the alcoholic ones. If you’re a coach operator offering a tour to Rome, it might be worth ensuring the coach you send has onboard facilities where passengers can top up their water bottles. This is sure to be appreciated in a Mediterranean city were a tiny can of coke will often cost you €5.

Groups should be wary on the streets and take extra care when crossing roads. The pedestrian traffic signals seemed to not properly reflect what the traffic on the road is doing and we often had to stop crossing the road while a green man was showing to allow traffic to pass. Don’t expect traffic to wait for you on a zebra crossing either – start crossing only when the road is clear.

Also be wary of people who appear to be offering things for free, whether it be roses offered to women in couples or photo opportunities with people in fancy dress. You will often be asked to pay quite extortionate rates afterwards for this.

Street salesmen are also commonplace. During our visit, the craze was for selfie sticks and we were asked if we wanted to purchase them dozens of times.