Because of the sheer number of sights to see, some first-time visitors like to start out with an organized tour. While few things can really be covered in any depth on these overview tours, they’re sometimes useful for getting your bearings.
One of the leading tour operators is Context Travel ★, (tel) 800/691-6036 in the U.S., or 06-96727371, a company that, notably, uses local scholars—historians, art historians, preservationists—to lead their tours. Guides offer small-group walking tours, including visits to monuments, museums, and historic piazzas, as well as culinary walks and meals in neighborhood trattorie. Custom-designed tours are also available. Prices of the regular tours are high, beginning at 60€ for 2 hours, but most participants consider them a highlight of their trips. Context also offers and excellent family program, which visits sights such as the Vatican and the Colosseum, but do so in a way that’s appealing to children.
Walks of Italy, (tel) 06-95583331, also runs excellent guided walking tours of Rome, with their introductory tour (2 1/2 hr.) just 29€, and more in-depth explorations of the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and Forum ranging 59€ to 99€.
Enjoy Rome, Via Marghera 8a; (tel) 06-4451843, offers a number of “greatest hits” walking tours, like 3-hour overviews of Ancient Rome or the Vatican. Most tours cost 30€ to 45€ per person, exclusive of entrance fees (such as at the Vatican Museums). They also do an early evening tour of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere, and a bus excursion to the Catacombs and the Appian Way (50€), with a visit to ruins of an ancient aqueduct that most Romans, let alone tourists, never see.
The self-styled “storytellers of the new millennium” at Through Eternity, (tel) 06-7009336, are also worth your consideration. Staffed by a group of art historians and architects, what sets them apart is their theatrical delivery, helped along by the dramatic scripts that many of the guides seem to follow. So, on a tour of the Forum, expect your guide to break out into a booming “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”—it can be a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone. Through Eternity also has the ability to do after-hours tours of the Vatican, allowing you to see its treasures without fighting the crowds (it’s a tremendous experience). A 5-hour tour of the Vatican is 67€ per person; other tours range from 39€ to 109€.