Tours

The best time to tour the Vatican, Sistine Chapel & Colosseum & Roman Forum; closures, holidays and crowded days in April 2019

As the high season is approaching it might be useful, to give you some “insiders” information about the best time to visit these two sites. Being the Colosseum and the Vatican, among the most visited places in the World, these tips can save you some time and some stress. Why get stressed during your holidays?

In the last couple of years, regardless to our pre booked, hour slot, purchased tickets, we have been experiencing delays at the security check at both sites. Among the reasons of these delays are increasing numbers of visitors coming to the Vatican and to the Colosseum and also more severe security checks on certain days. You might get stuck at the entrance sometimes even for an hour – whether you have bought your tickets in advance or booked a tour.

Have a look here below for the most crowded days we expect in April.

April Vatican

It’s Easter Month and anytime around Easter, from the 18th to the 22nd you might find some sections closed, very long security check line and most of the times the St Peter’s Basilica will be closed. Also, once inside, it will be so crowded that you’ll lose the whole point of visiting the Vatican and your expectations will be highly disappointed.

We would recommend to avoid 19th and 20th April this year. Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel will be closed on the 21st and 22nd April (Easter and Easter Monday).

Also, on the 9th of April the Vatican Museums will open at 11am and not at 9am as usual. Only if you have already your booked tickets you will be allowed to access the site.

From the 18th to the 30th April the Vatican Museums will extend the opening hours to 5pm (last entrance) instead the usual closing time at 4pm. During these days visitors will be allowed to stay inside the Museums until 7pm.

April Colosseum

From our years-long experience, we have noticed that Mondays are the less busy days of the week at the Colosseum.

On Sundays, Colosseum and Roman Forum are usually overcrowded by foreign tourists, “long-weekend” visitors, Italians coming from other parts of Italy and by locals. We would suggest to avoid Sundays at the Colosseum.  

From the 31st March and throughout the whole summer, the opening hours of both sites, Colosseum and Roman Forum will be extended. The last entrance to the site will be at 6.15pm (closure at 7.15pm). Take enough time to visit both (or all three) sites – at least a couple of hours.

The Colosseum and Roman Forum will be open on the Easter Day, 21st April and Easter Monday 22nd April.

In our next article we will bring you the latest news about the closures and most crowded days in May! Stay tuned…

Photo: www.correre.it

Are you ready for the International Rome Marathon 2019

The 25th International Rome Marathon will be held this year on the first Sunday of April. On the 7th of April 2019 thousands of runners will gather in front of the Colosseum at the start line. What other place would have been better to start the race in the Eternal City than the Flavian Amphitheater?

The route of the race, as every year, will stretch around some of the most beautiful landmarks in Rome. At the very start the runners will pass by the ruins of the Roman Forum and Imperial Forums from where they will be able to notice the majestic Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia. Then the route will follow the streets that will bring the runners to the Circus Maximus, the ancient stadium which capacity was around 120.000 spectators. The race will continue just behind the Caracalla Thermal baths and will continue down the Cristoforo Colombo street. The race will bend and will pass around St Paul’s Basilica (St Paul’s outside the walls).  After a couple of kilometers the panorama will change and the athletes will run around the Pyramid (Piramide Cestia). This pyramid is not Egyptian, even if it was inspired by the Egyptian constructions, and it was used as the burial chamber of Gaius Cestius.

The Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina) will be soon spotted on the left hand side of the runners’ route that will lead the marathon all the way along the river to the Vatican and the St Peter’s Basilica.

After the Vatican, the second half of the marathon, will follow the route that reaches the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Village, both built in the occasion of the Olympic games held in Rome in 1960. The race will continue again along the river Tiber and will reach the magnificent Piazza del Popolo with its impressive Porta del Popolo. Just few steps further the Spanish Steps square (Piazza di Spagna) will welcome the racers that will pass by the famous Bernini’s fountain, La Barcaccia.

After passing by Piazza Navona, Largo Argentina (the archaeological site where Julius Caesar has been killed) the race will reach again Piazza Venezia. Here, the last efforts will be necessary, as just before the finish a short but pretty steep hill will be in sight. The road that will bring all the racers to the finish is in downhill, just around the Colosseum.

The runners of the Rome City Maraton will have a unique panorama for the race!

You can download the Marathon route here.

During the days before and after the International Rome Marathon, City Lights Tours will welcome all marathon runners, tourists, visitors and supporters with a 20% discount. At the checkout just insert RUNNERS to get your discount. You are not obliged to proof that you’re running the marathon! You don’t have to run! We will bring you for a nice strolls along the best places in the city!

For all the visitors in Rome, City Lights Tours will also arrange all your transfers, so you can save your energy for the race (or for a tour!).

Soon we will publish the discount code reserved for all visitors in Rome during the International Rome Marathon, stay tuned!

A (“new”) Emperor Nero’s house to be open to the public on the Palatine Hill

After Domus Aurea that has been opened to the visitors for a long time, another Emperor Nero’s palace, will be soon accessible to the public.

After almost 1950 years after his death, Nero still intrigues historians, archaeologists and, of course, visitors of Rome. This year, after 60 years, another of his palaces, precedent to the Domus Aurea, the Domus Transitoria, will be finally open and will give us another marvellous site to admire and to learn better about the curious and eccentric personality of Nero.

The mansion, decorated with frescoes and with marbles from all over the Roman Empire, has been used for parties and entertainment of the Emperor and his friends. It has been built as a party house; several fountains located inside the numerous marble columns were used to cool down the hot summer air and to create a spectacular water shows.

Photo bu repubblica.it

Now the visitors will be able to enjoy a light show set up in order to recreate the fantastic waterfall show Nero used to have in his house.

The Nero’s Domus Transitoria is planned to be open to the public in April 2019. The access will be allowed with a new Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ticket that will give you the chance to visit some other sites, recently opened, inside the Roman Forum.

We from City Lights are known to organize small groups and this new opening will be included in our itinerary, as only small groups will be allowed. At the beginning of March new announcements are to be made regarding the reservations and ticketing for Nero’s Domus Transitoria. For all the details, guided tours and new openings we will keep you updated.

GOOD MORNING VATICAN!

GOOD MORNING VATICAN!

We didn’t know what to expect and having already arranged many tour options of the Vatican Museums, we thought it would have been another similar experience. We were going for a survey of a new experience.

The Early, the Super-Early, the VIP, the Fast track and Skip the line Vatican Museums tour…. all these tours are fine, good, great, but you cannot compare the Good Morning Vatican Museums with anything else, ever. The feeling isn’t anything you have tried so far. It feels a little bit like the Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller and, a little bit, like Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise. At 6am, while it’s still dark, you access the Museums through the magnificent door, under the sight of two statues of Raffaello and Michelangelo.

We were accompanied in an ancient-like decorated elevator to the level where the visit would start. Everything was dark.  Il Clavigero, the keyman of the Vatican Museums, Gianni Crea, has welcomed us at the door of the terrace (at the Corrazze Atrium) that looks over the St Peter’s Basilica.

The pale day-light, that was struggling with the dark of the previous night, illuminated enough just to see the silhouette and the lights of the St Peter’s Dome. We were there alone, overlooking the garden and the biggest church in the World, all of this just for ourselves.

We went back into the darkness of the Museums, where we felt the thrill of being alone inside the walls that contain so many centuries of history and art. In the past centuries the Museums have been used as Popes’ apartments. That’s why we felt a little bit like intruders, but mostly like hidden treasure seekers or adventurous explorers. In all that obscurity and silence, broken only by clavigero’s keys’ rattling, you felt like you could spot a ghost or hear some whispering echoes.

Gianni, il Clavigero, the Keyman of the Vatican Museums

Gianni would allow us to try to open some of the doors, by giving us the keys. Just to hold one of nearly 2700 keys of the most important collection of art in the World, was worth the experience (and wakening up at 5am!). The Pio Clementino Museum and the Octagonal Courtyard statues were wrapped up in silence of the courtyard and tranquility of the morning.

We arrived to the door that will eventually bring us into the Galleries of the Vatican Museums. The pitch dark around us was cut only by the torch-light. Gianni opened the door and let us into the darkness of the Gallery of Tapestries that, after the usual “switch-sound”, was illuminated in all its beauty. We opened all other Galleries, opened the window covers in the Gallery of Maps, watched from the window at 6.30am toward the Pope Ratzinger’s house, admired the Vatican Gardens from the balcony with the first, shy sunrays, opened the Raphael Rooms for other nearly 30.000 visitors who will enter the Vatican Museums on that day from 8am on… We were opening the Vatican Museums that day.

You really feel in symbiosis with the art, with the world that produced that art, you feel closer to the artistic expression displayed in front of you and you feel peace. After this experience, I would never ever enter a Museum for a visit with all the crowds. Only in this way you understand what’s the best way to appreciate the artworks.

We arrived to a double side, not big, wooden door, where Gianni stopped by and handed one of the three big rings with all the keys. He said “who finds the right key, he or she will open the Sistine Chapel today!”. It looked like hundreds of keys on one big ring and we didn’t have a clue how the SISTINE CHAPEL KEY could have looked like!!!! It felt like we were searching for a 1 billion dollar worth key. If you find it, you can really have the once-in-a-life time honor (and unique thrill!!!) to open the Sistine Chapel!!
We are not sure if it will give more value to your CV, but for sure you won’t forget the shiver you get of holding the keys of the Sistine Chapel!

The Key!!! The one that opens the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel gets illuminated by ALL of the lights and that happens only in the occasions like the Pope’s ceremony, the Conclave and the 6am tour! (Yes, you understood well!).

You cannot take pictures, but also try not to cry overwhelmed by all the emotions.

We left the Museums initially full of unexplainable emotions. Afterwards, we started to realize what this experience brought us: you feel like winning a lottery as you were among millions of people who got a chance to experience something unique. And this is one of those things that you buy and it makes you richer!

And for the rest of your life you will have a vivid memory of something extraordinary and unique you were part of.

This tour is now available on request for 2019 and bookable for 2020. If you would like to join this experience that you will remember for the whole life, contact us on info@citylightstours.com

Enter for free to Museums and archaeological sites in Italy

In a couple of weeks all the visitors will be allowed to access some of the Roman Museums for free!

The Week of Culture, from the 5th to the 10th of March 2019, has been announced and many state museums and archaeological sites will be free of charge, including the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Borghese Gallery. The tickets will be completely free, but don’t forget that in some Museums the reservation is required and usually it has a cost of 2€ (for example, you will need to get your reservation for Borghese Gallery).

Throughout the whole year, there will be 20 (and not 12 as the last year) free access days to many Italian museums and archaeological sites. The Week of Culture will be chosen every year in a different period of the year and other “free days” will be chosen independently by every single museum.

For this year, the access to the Colosseum (and the Roman Forum) will be free of charge for the following days:

  • Every first Sunday from January to March and from October until December.
  • From the 5th to the 10th of March 2019
  • 9th May
  • 5th June
  • 29th June
  • 23rd September
  • 4th October
  • 4th November

Furthermore, every last Thursday of May, June, September and November the entrance to the Colosseum and Roman Forum will be free of charge for the last three hours during the opening hours of the site.

These dates are:

30th May from 3.30pm until 6.30pm

27th June from 3.30pm until 6.30pm

26th September from 2pm until 5pm

31st October from 11.30 until 2.30pm

28th November from 11.30 until 2.30pm

During the free access days, reservations for sections like Underground of the Colosseum, Belvedere and Arena will be closed and the bookings for the access or a guided tour for these areas won’t be available.

Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, are under the jurisdiction of the Vatican City (and not under the Italian law) and the free access days are, as usual, every last Sunday of the month.

During the next week the list of the free access days for other museums and archaeological sites will be published and we will keep you updated. Stay tuned..

Bulgari to restore the archaelogical site of Largo Argentina

Rome will have a new archaeological site that will be soon open to all citizens and tourists. The new opening will give the chance to all the visitors to access one of the most important archaeological sites in Rome.

https://civitavecchia.portmobility.it/it/larea-sacra-di-largo-di-torre-argentina

In a couple of years the archaeological site of Largo Argentina (Largo di Torre Argentina) will be open to the public thanks to the donation of the fashion maison Bulgari who will donate 1 milion euro for the restoration. After financing the restoration of the Spanish Steps, Bulgari decided to give life to this archaeological site of great importance.

The area has been built in the 3rd century B.C and it’s well known as the place where Julius Caesar has been murdered on 15th March in 44 A.C, on the Ides of March according to the Roman calendar.

The “Sacred Area” of Largo Argentina has been discovered only in 1926 and there were found four temples built from the 4th to the 2nd century B.C. The temples are dedicated to the divinities or events of those times:

Temple of Juturna built after the Roman victory against the Carthaginians in 241 BC;

Temple Fortuna Huiusce Diei dedicated to the “Fortune of This Day”;

Temple of Feronia ancient Italic divinity of fertility;

Temple devoted to Lares Permarini (Lares who protect sailors).

The area will be accessible from the 2021 and there will be built platforms and boardwalks, which will allow visitors to walk over the archaeological site and get closer to the ruins of the Largo Argentina.

Largo Argentina is in the city centre of Rome, walking distance from Piazza Venezia, Pantheon and Campo de’ Fiori and it is very easily reachable with public transport as all the main buses have a stop in Largo Argentina. Don’t miss it even now, when the area can be admired from the walls of the archaological site.

There is more than just the Vatican Museums!

Many people come to Rome and rush to see the Colosseum, Roman Forum, line up for the Vatican for hours…

You can make your Roman holiday much more enjoyable and stress-free if you book your Vatican City tour and get more of your visit to the Sistine Chapel or you get a guided tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum for an easy-going stroll among the Ancient Rome ruins.

However, as you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and there is much more to see. Even if you’re staying just few days, you should get a couple of hours and visit one of the hidden gems of Rome.

If you think that it’s hidden and you have to search for it, that’s not true.

For example, if you stroll down from the Vatican toward Trastevere (having the river Tiber on your left hand side) after less than 1 mile you will notice a marvelous palace surrounded by a fabulous garden. That’s where you will discover something that will leave you breathless. That is Villa Farnese.



Villa Farnese, dating from the XV century, was almost completely painted by Raffaello. The Villa was commissioned and owned by a Chigi family (family of merchants and bankers) whose member, Agostino, wanted to leave a legacy of his passion for art and culture.

For about 2 years in a row, Raphael has dedicated his time to the decoration of the Villa. He wasn’t alone working in this huge villa, but most of the frescoes are his own.

Raphael decided to adapt his paintings to every room, in order for every fresco to narrate the story of each room. Hence, there are many hidden messages with which Raffaello wanted to add his personal touch to every story-painting.

 

It is a hidden gem, as you would never think that this building, artistically and historically, has a huge importance for the history of Rome and Italy. Also, imagine to spend a couple of hours in a place where one of the masterminds of Renaissance art has spent more than 2 years creating this unbelievable artistic legacy.

The opening hours of Villa Farnesina are from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm and on the second Sunday of the month from 9 am to 5 pm.

The ticket costs only 6€ adults and 5€ reduced.

After visiting the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel with the Michelangelo’s masterpiece, take some time and pay a visit to this marvelous place. You will also have a discount by showing the Vatican Museums ticket (within 7 days of your Vatican visit).

Put Villa Farnesina on your check list and you won’t regret it!

Sistine Chapel only for you!

The Vatican Museum is one of the most visited places in the World. During the high season, between 30 thousand to 40 thousand people enter the Vatican every day.

However, everybody is trying to tolerate the crowd, the heat and the stress just to see the Sistine Chapel. During the guided tours of the Vatican Museums, that are 2 hours long, you will be able to remain inside the Sistine Chapel from 10 to 15 minutes.

But there is a way to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel completely alone!

City Lights Tours has the chance to arrange for our guests a private access to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in the when they are closed to the public.

The tour starts when the huge bronze doors open in front of you and you will be allowed to enter alone with your guide inside the Vatican Museums.

This 2 hours guided tour consists in a private visit of the Vatican Museums’ Upper Galleries (Gallery of Maps, Gallery of Tapestries and Gallery of Candelabra), Raphael Rooms and Sistine Chapel. With this private visit you will be able to stay completely alone inside the Sistine Chapel for almost 30 minutes, which is not possible at any other time and with any other tour!

If you want to know more about this exclusive guided tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel you can find here a detailed story that our guests wrote.

 

A close encounter with Michelangelo

(an article by Italian Insider)

VATICAN CITY — Gazing up at Michelangelo’s magnificent altar in the Sistine Chapel with nothing to distract me save the soft sound of our guide’s footsteps pacing behind me, I couldn’t help but count my lucky stars. Usually, it’s a different story. Mile-long queues, fed-up tourists, guides trying to scam you, and that’s before you even get in. Followed by airport-style security checks, guards shuffling you along, and the constant feeling of being watched. Snakes of single-file tours worm their way through the crowds, led by a stone-faced guide holding a flag, reeling off their speech which the group can hardly hear because of the background noise, despite the headset provided. The whole scene is almost zombie-like — visitors trudging through the Vatican museums, barely able to stop and appreciate the art surrounding them. By the time they arrive at the Sistine Chapel, exhausted from having to fight through the throngs, amidst a constant sound of ‘shhhh,’ and people being told off for taking photos, they are left unable to take in the breath-taking frescoes by Michelangelo, Raphael and some of the most talented artists in the world.

The situation is all-too familiar. But this is another world compared with the exclusive City Lights tour that I was fortunate to join on Monday evening, when the Vatican was closed to the general public. The appeal of the dazzling tour is that it is quite the opposite of the usual crowded, rushed experience in the Vatican museums. It gives you the opportunity really to see the beauty around you, without the hustle and bustle of any old tour.

Maja Ajdin and Sean Egan, founders of the company, and Mario Baas, the tour guide for the evening, greeted their 10 guests in a nearby bar with complimentary prosecco and nibbles. It was a chance to get to know each other before this once-in-a-lifetime experience that we would share. Some had visited the Vatican, for others it was their first time, but we were all assured it would be completely different from any other visit.

Heading into the Vatican at 6 P.M, it seemed a ghost town, with just a couple of guards to check our bags. We were inside in a matter of minutes, a world apart to the usual entrance procedures, where they see over 35,000 visitors a day.

There was certainly a feeling of having to tiptoe, or as our guide put it, feeling like “a thief in the house of the pope.” As we made our way through the Vatican Museums, pausing briefly in the Egyptian Gallery, the Gallery of the Candelabra, the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps, the Room of Immaculate Conception and Raphael’s Rooms, Mario pointed out favourite works, made memorable with interesting details, such as the minute mosaics made using tweezers to pick the pieces of glass. Hiding on the corner of a table showcasing different copies of the Dogma, they would have been easy to miss were it not for, first, a knowledgeable guide, and, second, the space and time required to actually see them. ‘If you had five seconds to see every piece of art in the Vatican museum it would still take you over 25 years,’ Mario explained.

After one hour and 20 minutes, Daniele, the sole guard accompanying our tour, signalled to Mario quietly; “They’re ready.” And then came the climax of the tour, the moment everyone had been waiting for.

It is truly striking that the entry to such a majestic chapel, covered in work by the likes of Michelangelo and Botticelli, is a such a small, simple wooden door.

We gathered outside, and even Mario, who has done hundreds of tours of the Vatican, was visibly excited. ‘Who wants to have the honour of coming in first?’ he asked. One could tell that it was truly a special moment for everyone there. Our Insider photographer Wolf led the way, and we were soon standing in a serene, empty chapel, just the way it was intended to be by Pope Sixtus when he had it renamed and restored between 1477 and 1480. We felt just as VIP as the Cardinals and royalty he would have received there at the time.

 

 

The most noteworthy aspect upon entering the Chapel was the silence. All that could be heard was the gentle hum of the air conditioning. Mario, who until then had talked and joshed with us throughout the visit, fell quiet, letting us take in the artistry that encompassed the space. It felt like another place, a different Chapel to that which regular tourists see in the daytime.

This was miles away from my last visit to the Vatican, 12 years ago. Pope John Paul II had just died. The crowds were even busier than usual, gathering to see his embalmed body. My family were undeterred, however, and so ensued a longer-than-usual wait outside the Vatican Museums, surrounded by a weeping throng.

After a few minutes this time, Mario started to explain the incredible feat we saw before us, taking us through Moses’ panels, read right to left because of Hebrew tradition, on the right side, and Christ’s on the left. He brought history to life by describing the working conditions at the time of the frescoes; details such as how different artists who did not necessarily know or like each other had to collaborate, for instance for the forest from one fresco that followed into that of its neighbour.

Mario then moved onto the iconic ceiling, originally a blue sky with yellow stars, which Pope Julius II had commissioned, hoping to see it in his lifetime. Where we stood there was once scaffolding, designed by Michelangelo himself, which he climbed in order to paint, lying on his back. Gazing up at the artworks for several minutes can hurt the neck, let alone for four years, dust falling into his eyes, ears ringing from the noise around him, working on them.

“But he still came back to work on the altar wall,” continued Mario. Amidst all the ascensions and descents of Judgement Day, he pointed out the skin of St Bartholomew, or Michelangelo’s self-portrait. The insertion of contemporary people, faces, monuments into historic art, was a great theme in the Renaissance, and it had been pointed out to us throughout the tour.

It came as no surprise to learn later that Mario was also an actor, after he recited Michelangelo’s letter to a friend, having finished the altar, as we all gazed up:

“I live alone and miserable, trapped as marrow under the bark of the tree. My voice is like a wasp caught in a bag of skin and bones. My teeth shake and rattle like the keys of a musical instrument. My face is a scarecrow. My ears never cease to buzz … This is the state where art had led me …”

And, on that slightly sad note, the tour was over. Forty minutes in the Sistine Chapel — longer than the normal 30 promised on the exclusive evening tour — had gone by in a flash.

It felt strange, leaving such a stunning building after a wonderful two hours, almost like coming up from underwater, back to real life. Now at 8 P.M, it was dark as we stepped outside the tiny city state and back into Italy. The cleaning staff and security guards who had had to wait until we were finished to leave evidently breathed sighs of relief as we made our way outside.

Overall, at 400 euros per person, the tour does not come cheap. However, group discounts can be made, with a maximum of 10 people per group. If you were left slightly disappointed on a previous visit to the Vatican, or you’ve never been but crowds aren’t your thing, it’s worth every cent. A magical experience.

Find out about City Lights’ other tour opportunities and prices here: https://www.citylightstours.com/

 

Have you written a postcard lately?

As a tour-operator we get a feedback from our clients through Tripadvisor, Facebook, email, Whatsapp etc. However, it happens sometimes that we get a postcard from clients who had a nice experience with us and would like to say “thank you” for the service we offered them. It’s a heart-warming moment when we open the envelope and find wonderful words for our guides.

Sending and receiving a postcard today doesn’t happen so often. In the high-tech era we are living in, we are not used to receive this long-distance-traveling thoughts anymore, but when it happens it transmits us a lot of motivation, warmth and kindness.

This time our guide Emanuele got the postcard for the Vatican Tour he did recently and our clients wanted to remember him and the whole City Lights team by writing some warm and kind words. Such a nice surprise for all of us!!!

And what about you? Have you tried to write and send a postcard lately and did you see the reaction of who received it? Lets keep this “old-school” habits alive!!!!

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