I always held Italy at such a high tier in my list of destinations to visit. For the simple fact that it is one of the most romantic places on earth. Being a HOPEFUL romantic, I always told myself I’d wait to visit with my husband. But when City Wonders Tours invited me to experience the city of Rome, how could I say no? Also, who knows if I would even like Italy? I might end up really disliking it, then if I were to visit with said husband WE’D end up disliking it and then the trip would be awful. Or hell, maybe I won’t ever get married! Anyways, I am all for testing the waters. So, I said HELL YES to this trip. Did I like it? Keep reading.
What is City Wonders Tours?
I arrived in Italy with City Wonders Tours. I’ve never been much of a tour person. In fact, I’ve always preferred to do my own thing when it comes to exploring new destinations. I was a bit hesitant at first because I’ve always always ALWAYS associated tours with large groups of people. And that is one thing I avoid like the plague when traveling. I’m always up at sunrise to see places without tourists, it is like my number one thing when traveling. Sometimes the heaps of people are unavoidable but for the most part I can get by.
I’ve also always associated tours with long drawn out, uninteresting explanations of things at which point I completely zone out and ignore what the guide is saying. Of course, I want to learn about destinations, museums, influential people of history etc. but I need it a little spicy, not like its being read straight from my high school history book.
But, a quick Google search of City Wonders Tours and I found myself to be in good hands. One of the highest rated tour operators in Europe, with 150 tours in four countries, local guides, and the option to do a small or large tour- it was the perfect fit.
Why City Wonders Tours?
Like I said, City Wonders Tours operates in four other countries in major cities like Paris, Barcelona, and London. When booking a tour in any major city the options are seemingly endless. But when I got to Rome I quickly learned that City Wonders has relationships with places like the Vatican that allow for one of a kind experiences only accessible through booking a tour with City Wonders.
With these partnerships come true ‘skip the line’ tickets. For example, at The Vatican, City Wonders has their own entrance meaning you get to walk straight in, passed all of the lines and passed the line with those that purchased a ‘skip the line’ ticket with other tour operators. AKA they aren’t true skip the line tickets.
City Wonders also keeps the tours small and intimate so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Which is also perfect for those of you that like to take pictures- slower pace, intimate feel makes all the difference.
Arrival to Rome
Upon arrival to the Eternal City, I quickly learned just how massive it is. It’s not how I pictured –a small ancient city easy to navigate. No. It is massive, spread out with endless roundabouts, roads that are the size of alleyways in the US and its filled with so many people. More than I anticipated. Therefore, upon arrival, I was so comforted by the thought of having the next few days sorted with four different City Wonders Tours.
Below you’ll get a feel for what my experience was like in Rome and what to expect when booking a tour with City Wonders.
Day 1: The Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Rooftop Sunset
Depending on where you’re flying in from, you’ll arrive early in the morning. Which is PERFECT because you’re (hopefully) well rested from the flight and ready to hit the ground running. After collecting your bags and clearing customs, it’ll take you about an hour to get into the city center by car. I know Rome has a lot of public transportation options but I found a car to be much more convenient and time efficient.
Once I was in the city center, I checked into Palazzo Montemartini for the next three nights. Location highlight: right across from the train station and close by some of the most iconic locations like the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
My Roman explorations began at none other than the Colosseum with City Wonders’ Private Colosseum Tour. What was great about this specific tour was that not only was it private (meaning a much smaller group than the typical tour), we were able to skip the super long entry lines! Those things are noooo joke. I will note, I was surprised but comforted to go through security and have my items scanned upon entry.
Michaela, our guide for the afternoon, showed us all of the highlights and secrets hidden within these ancient walls. Setting my sights on this place was a treat all on its own. Little did I know there was so much more than what I saw simply looking at the Colosseum. There are underground alleys that used to connect the Colosseum to the barracks of the gladiators, there were specific doors to enter through depending on your entry ticket, often times the outcome gladiator battles were predetermined based on the popularity of the gladiator himself- the list goes on. Had I visited the Colosseum solo, I would have never learned any of those fun facts. My mind will forever be blown at the history of ancient cities such as Rome.
After a full day of exploring we treated ourselves to a sunset view over Rome, and lemme tell ya- you need to add Terrazza Borromini rooftop to your itinerary. Specifically, for drinks and apps at sunset. Once the sun set, we headed downstairs to the restaurant for my first authentic Italian cuisine experience. Menu highlight: pesto ravioli!
Day 2: The Vatican and Best of Rome Walking Tour
We arrived at The Vatican bright and early for the City Wonders VIP Vatican Breakfast Tour. Like I said before, City Wonders has partners across the city and one of those partners happens to be The Vatican. Because of this partnership the museum provides an exclusive entrance to City Wonders Tours! And they offer early entry to the museum while the main entrance doesn’t open until 9am. Yep, when booking with City Wonders you too will be able to skip the lines and experience a once in a lifetime opportunity to have breakfast in the Vatican complete with pastries, coffee and eggs from the Popes farm. How else are you going to experience this!?
The tour began in the courtyard after breakfast with our guide Sev. And Sev is, without a doubt, the best tour guide I have ever had. When he isn’t giving tours with City Wonders he is a Forensic Archaeologist, speaks something like 7 languages and is a true expert on all things Rome. The way he taught us the history of The Sistine Chapel, the major paintings like The Last Judgement, pointed out the very first artifact of the collection (hello Apollo) and all the small secrets of The Vatican- really made us feel like we were experiencing the history unfold. It gave me an even deeper appreciation for this living, religious relic.
Afternoon explorations consisted of City Wonders Private Best of Rome Walking Tour! This tour is exactly as it sounds, your guide takes you to the most picturesque and historical sites in the city like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. Our guide for this tour was Salvador. Again, he was an expert on all things Rome. He showed us the hidden secrets that you wouldn’t necessarily discover on your own if you’re just in search of getting the perfect photo. For example, there is a fountain system through the city flowing with fresh water that you can drink. Seemingly dirty when in fact it is a clean water source. I even drank from it AND survived!! Hot tip: when at the Pantheon, head around the corner to Della Palma to try one of the 150 flavors of gelato they offer!
Day 3: Amalfi Coast
Okay, okay- this isn’t Rome but it is a must to add to your itinerary. Even if you’re in Rome for 3 days escaping the city to the coast can’t be missed. Especially with the VIP Amalfi Coast Tour from Rome by High-Speed Train. The high-speed train from Rome to Naples will have you in a different part of the country in under 2 hours. When booking this experience through City Wonders Tours the process is seamless. A group leader will be at the train station in Rome to greet you and show you where your platform is and when you get to Naples your tour guide will be waiting for you right outside the train station to whisk you off to the iconic coastline. HELLO convenience.
Fabian was our guide for our day in the Amalfi Coast and again another expert on the area. At this point I was dumbfounded at the wealth of knowledge every single guide provided us with. Having grown up on the small island of Capri, he knew everything there was to know and then some. He told stories and folktales that otherwise would have been missed or kept in the dark.
The first thing I noticed is how drastic the landscape changes when you leave Naples. Just outside the city are mountains which eventually turn into the rocky coastline of Amalfi. Our first stop on the coast was Sorrento. A region known for none other than its lemons and limoncello. So, it was only fitting we visited the limoncello factory and saw how the sweet and tangy liqueur was made!
Continuing on our drive we stopped at some beautiful viewpoints overlooking the towns and rocky coast. When we arrived in esteemed town of Positano, perhaps the most iconic of the Amalfi towns, we had some free time to explore on our own. I liked how this tour was a little less structured and allowed us to discover different vantage points. As you can see, we didn’t have the best weather but roamed the steep alleyways, enjoyed the beach and took in the breathtaking views nonetheless.
After Positano we headed for the town of Amalfi. Here, we had more free time to explore but due to the rain we posted up in Andrea Pansa, a small bakery in the center of town, and sipped Ciccolata Calda. Which, quite literally is melted dark chocolate. And yes, you drink it. And yes, IT IS A MUST, all dietary restrictions aside.
Full of chocolate, our final stop was just outside the coast at a local cheese shop. What was unique about this shop was they were able to make fresh mozzarella on the spot. We were in the kitchen and one of the owners was whipping up some fresh mozz for us to try. I can confirm, I’ve never tasted cheese so fresh as it was literally made in front of my eyes. It was warm, soft and the perfect consistency. Gosh, I’m drooling just thinking about it!
Sadly, we had return tickets booked otherwise I could have explored the coast for days, weeks, maybe even months. On the drive back, Fabian gave us more of a recap on the region and even pointed out the city of Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius! Crazy to me how there is a casual volcano in the middle of such an iconic piece of the world.
Did I love Italy?
I LOVED Italy. I loved this country for the simple reason that there is still so much more left unseen and unknown. There is so much history that hasn’t been discovered yet and it all lies beneath the surface of the ground you’ll walk on once you’re there. I learned so much about this country in 3 short days that I otherwise wouldn’t have ever learned thanks to City Wonders Tours.
Honestly, should I travel to any major cities in Europe again I think it’s safe to say I will book with City Wonders. When traveling to places with such rich and deep history there’s no other way to do it, especially when you’re pressed for time which many of us, sadly, are. They take out any of the planning from your equation, your head doesn’t have to be down in a guidebook while walking around the city. You’ll experience it for all that it is, in the moment.
This post is written in partnership with City Wonders Tours, however as always, my opinions are my own.