Sample Rome's ancient architecture while saving your feet
Rome wasn't built in a day, nor were its roads, many of which crisscross the city like a labyrinth after being built and rebuilt over the centuries. Visitors have much to explore in the city as famous for its history as it is infamous for its traffic and drivers. If you want to get familiar with the city before braving the streets yourself or you have time constraints, hop-on, hop-off buses offer easy travel to popular destinations within the Eternal City.
Some walking required
The historic area of Rome – including the majority of landmarks such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps – is situated in a compact and walkable area on the east side of the Tiber River. On the other side of the river, just beyond walking distance, are tourist destinations such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo. Because of the city's many small streets and complex layout, the hop-on, hop-off buses can't get as close to monuments as they do in many other large cities. This means you'll need to exit the bus and walk a block or two from stops to see many major landmarks. Keep expectations in check. If the goal is to see the major landmarks from the seat of the bus without leaving, you'll be disappointed.
Similarities in bus services
Five major companies offer hop-on, hop-off tours: Big Bus Rome, I Love Rome Tours, City Sightseeing Roma, Panoramic Tours and Roma Cristiana. All use double-decker buses with top-level open-roof seating and offer prerecorded audio guides in multiple languages. These audio tours detail historical and architectural information about the city and specific landmarks. All buses offer Wi-Fi aboard too. Most companies stick to a similar route, with stops at the major attractions:
- Termini station
- Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
- Circus Maximus
- Piazza Venezia and the Pantheon
- Vatican City
- Trevi Fountain
- Spanish Steps
While the above itinerary holds true for most tours, two companies offer packages with notable differences.
Big Bus Rome offers a standard package that hits all the usual spots, but the company also offers a deluxe two-day tour that includes a southern route with a stop at the ruins of Caracalla (the ancient baths) and a subterranean walking tour of Rome's Catacombs.
Roma Cristiana offers a journey geared toward Catholic holy sites for those desiring an overview of the religious sites in Rome. In addition to the basic city info, audio guides offer more spiritual information about the sites and the city's history. It's the only operator that goes out to San Giovanni Basilica.
Time of year matters
Heavy tourism during the summer months as well as Christmas vacation season can cause some of the very small streets in Rome to come to a complete standstill. Keep in mind during these peak times that buses run late, and the scheduled times of arrival and departure should be used more as guidelines rather than exact times.
Ready to ride? Here's how to do so with ease
Early birds will face the smallest crowds. All companies offer their first departure of the day at approximately 9 a.m. from Termini Station. All buses except Roma Cristiana do a pickup/drop-off at every point about 25 to 30 minutes apart. Roma Cristiana's buses arrive more often, every 15 to 20 minutes. During crowded times, if a bus is full, you might need to wait another 30 minutes until the next one arrives.
The hop-on, hop-off buses don't offer late-night service. The last departure of the day for most buses is between 7 and 7:30 p.m. The exceptions are Roma Cristiana, whose last departure is 6 p.m., and Panoramic Bus Tours, with a last departure of 6:30 p.m.
Adult pricing and children's discounts are fairly similar across bus services for most one-day passes, and all offer small discounts for online booking as opposed to buying tickets at street kiosks.
- Big Bus Rome: A classic 24-hour pass is $32 for adults and $21 for children. The deluxe two-day tour is $48 for adults and $32 for children.
- I Love Rome Tours: A 24-hour pass is $23 for adults and $15 for kids. A 48-hour ticket runs $35 for adults and $21 for kids.
- City Sightseeing Roma: A 24-hour pass is $33 for adults and $17 for children. A 48-hour pass is $36 for adults and $18 for children.
- Panoramic Bus Tours: A 24-hour ticket is $25 for adults and $17 for kids. A 48-hour pass is $39 for adults and $21 for children.
- Roma Cristiana: A 24-hour pass is $20 for adults, while children under 10 years old ride free.