Anyone who has read Eat Pray Love will understand the mystique of Rome. There’s the appeal of the food, the history, the “dolce vita” lifestyle, and of course, the beauty of the people and the country. Like the author of the book, I ventured to Italy on my own but to a yoga retreat instead of an Italian language immersion. Not far from Rome in the tiny medieval town of Pitigliano, I enjoyed the camaraderie of a small group of like-minded “friends,” all eager to explore Tuscany’s small towns and venture to the thermal waters of Terme di Montecatini to slather in mud as part of the wellness experience.
This wonderful week left me refreshed and ready to travel sans a group. Spending a few days in Rome before I flew home was what I had my heart set on. I booked a room at the beautiful and centrally located Hotel Locarno and set out on my adventure. To make the most of my time and profit from the knowledge of local experts, I signed up for a range of walking tours that provided a safe, educational, and welcoming experience for solo travelers like me.
Here are my seven favorite walking tours that I took in Rome:
Walks Of Italy
1. Welcome To Rome Twilight City & Gelato Tasting
I’m a strong believer in getting the lay of the land before setting off on your own. You’ll see the “footprint” of a place, glean knowledge about its history, and profit from the experience of locals who can share their insights and answer questions. Then, you’re free to efficiently explore in more depth those places that have piqued your curiosity. This type of tour also builds confidence, especially if you’re not used to traveling by yourself. You’ll visit well-known sites like Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum — all giving you good reason to return for a deeper dive on your own, at your own speed.
The tour that I took with Walks of Italy was my first introduction to Rome as a solo traveler. I picked the “Welcome to Rome: Twilight City Stroll & Gelato Tasting,” as the 6:30 p.m. start best fit with my hotel check-in time and I knew that the tour would show me some good eats as well as great sites.
There’s a magic to experiencing an ancient city like Rome in the dusk hours when there are fewer cars and fewer people in the streets. You can almost imagine what it was like during Nero’s days or during the building of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. When darkness falls and lights come on, and fountains and buildings are illuminated with a romantic glow, you can truly bond with the city. The Trevi Fountain was enchanting at this hour, as was the Pantheon, while breaks for pizza and ice cream added to the almost spiritual feeling.
2. Pristine Sistine
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Vatican, an independent state within the city. But as everyone knows, the crowds there can be overwhelming. Lines queue up for hours to enter the Vatican Museum and view sacred rooms and Leonardo da Vinci’s Sistine Chapel. If you arrive pretty much any time during the day, no matter what the weather, you’ll find that you need a huge dose of patience.
My suggestion to avoid this is to take a very-early private tour to unlock the doors. The number of entrants is limited and you’ll find you have the Sistine Chapel largely to yourself, as remarkable as that sounds.
Led by Walks of Italy, I met my guide at an entrance marked ingresso gruppi at 7:15 a.m. for a “Pristine Sistine” small group tour. I was able to experience the Vatican in near silence before most people were even awake. A stiff espresso or two will motivate you to rise at the early hour required for this tour. But, even I, a committed night owl, found that the reward was worth it. I appreciated the one-on-one attention, the unhurried explanations of what was inside, and the quiet while in the chapel. After climbing the 551 stairs to the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, I happily walked past the long lines that had formed during my time indoors.
Pro Tip: There is an elevator to the rooftop of St. Peter’s Basilica that will save you 330 steps. However, you will still need to climb the rest to the top. To avoid crowds here as well, plan a separate visit and arrive at the dome before 8 a.m.
3. VIP Colosseum Underground Tour
The Colosseum is a must-visit when in Rome. And now that the lower level is open for tourists, there’s even more of a demand to spend time at this well-preserved Roman amphitheater.
Again, I chose a small group, early-hour tour where I had personalized attention and no crowding. All of my questions — I had many as a travel writer — were answered without hesitation. With Walks of Italy’s skip-the-lines “VIP Colosseum Underground Tour,” I was able to roam freely, photograph without pushing people out of my way, and quietly absorb the incredible feat of construction that is the Colosseum. Starting at 8 a.m., the tour met outside the Colosseum and then continued to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. If you’re on a tight schedule, there’s a solo Colosseum-focused tour that will get you in and out with time to make an afternoon or evening flight.
4. Twilight Trastevere Timeless Traditions
Everyone knows that Italian cuisine is fabulous. But do you really understand the nuances of its preparation? Or the history behind some of the dishes? And have you met the people who put their heart and soul into the cooking? To truly appreciate this, I scheduled a “Twilight Trastevere Timeless Traditions” walking tour with Eating Europe.
Trastevere, a medieval neighborhood across the Tiber River, has a history as a Jewish enclave and offers a blend of tradition and experimentation. This tour offered peeks into local bar favorites, street foods, and a variety of stops for snacks and bigger bites. We stuffed ourselves with prosciutto and melon, biscotti dipped in chocolate, porchetta, and suppli (traditional rice croquettes filled with mozzarella) before indulging in a pasta amatriciana and cacio e pepe dinner at a cozy trattoria. Beverages included wine (of course) at an extensive tasting in a cellar, birra, and limoncello, with a gelato stop to end. I was thankful that we were walking!
After this delicious introduction to Trastevere, I took the advice of my guide and confidently returned the next day to explore further on my own. In the Jewish Ghetto (also known as the Ghetto of Rome), I delved into the area’s culinary heritage, feasting on carciofi alla giudia at the small trattoria Nonna Betta, recommended by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations. I also toured the Great Synagogue and wandered through the Sant’Angelo (rione of Rome) where I discovered intriguing shops selling religious and secular knickknacks.
5. Domus Aurea
I was so enamored with the magnitude of history surrounding me that I signed up for (and highly recommend) two in-progress excavations. The Domus Aurea exploration required me to wear a hard hat and took me to an active archeological dig at the site where a huge domed residence once stood across from the Colosseum. Called the “Golden House,” Domus Aurea was built by Nero to revitalize Rome after the fire of 64 A.D.
Pro Tip: Advance reservations (including the Raphael art exhibit) are essential as the tours are only available on weekends.
6. Le Domus Romane Di Palazzo Valentini
The fascinating story of Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini came to light because of Rome’s strict regulations regarding excavation and preservation. Whenever construction is contemplated, careful consideration of the location’s potential historical significance must be taken. And, indeed, that was the case here. While cleaning up an area designated for present-day use, the remains of ancient homes were discovered beneath Palazzo Valentini; a self-guided tour is now offered. Opposite Trajan’s Column, this underground site sheds light on the lives of several generations of inhabitants dating from the days of Emperor Hadrian.
Pro Tip: If you’re claustrophobic, the archeological tours may not be for you. Both involve being underground amid crumbling ruins and semi-darkness. Also, Domus Aurea is a bit tricky to find, so allow extra time if you go.
7. Borghese Gallery
A look at some of the works from the country’s famous artists and sculptors is di rigore when visiting Rome. I opted for a self-guided tour of the famous Borghese Gallery where I had the opportunity to admire Bernini and Canova sculptures as well as paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael. As I was short on time and this was my last night in Rome, I reserved an evening entrance when the crowds were less intense, with a chance to also stroll through the villa gardens. Guided tours are available for those who prefer a more structured visit.
When you choose to travel solo, it helps to be somewhere where it’s considered “normal.” In Rome, I felt comfortable; comfortable enough that I could ask directions, dine by myself, and join small group tours without feeling lost in the crowd. It didn’t hurt that the shopping, dining, and overall magic of this historic city was enticing around every turn, nor that my efforts to speak Italian were appreciated.