Rome hop-on hop-off Guide
Exploring Italy's capital city in a day or two...
You know the saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Well, it certainly gives you a lot of opportunities! For starters, you can be a crazy driver, although we suggest you rather take one of the sightseeing buses! Then, you can swear and gesticulate all you like, which is lots of fun, too. But best of all, you can claim this magnificent city as your own. You can also visit its magnificent treasures (and there are plenty of those, from historic and religious sights that will take your breath away, to ancient architecture and statues that are beyond description).
History and culture aside, Rome is a great city to explore. The people are as vibrant as the city is busy, the food is a treat (don’t forget the gelato!), coffee and people watching are almost a national pastime, and the shopping is sublime.
Rome is home to so many ancient treasures, like the magnificent Colosseum, the awesome Vatican City and more fountains and statues than you can imagine. It’s also home to some of the world’s best designer fashion and that includes Italian shoes and handbags. It offers a mind-boggling assortment of sights and attractions, which is why we have created two exciting routes on our Hop On Hop Off sightseeing tours. You can enjoy one of these routes, or both, or take the best of each and personalise your sightseeing. Then hop on one of those distinctive red topless buses, and enjoy the ride until you reach your first destination. Hop off to explore your chosen sight, then, hop right back on the bus again and continue until you reach your next destination. That’s sightseeing to suit you!
How much does it cost?
At the time of writing, a 24 hours unlimited travel ticket costs US$ 27.5 for an adult and US$ 18 for a child (5 – 15), while a 48 hours unlimited travel ticket goes for US$ 37.5 for an adult and US$ 22.5 for a child.
The bus departs at 9am. After the first bus, there is a bus every 20 min. (The tour is 100 minutes long).
Places to see and things to do along the route
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
1. The tour starts from next to Rome's main railway station (Termini) in Via Marsala, in the centre of the city. From here, you can also embark on a complimentary Shopping Tour, which departs a few times a day.
2. The bus takes you to Via Liberiana to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore located on the square of the same name. It may look as if it stepped out of the 18th Century, but it’s actually one of the city’s oldest churches, first erected around 440AD by Pope Sixtus the Third. It’s also one of Rome’s four great pilgrimage churches and is an excellent example of an early Christian basilica. The interior is magnificent, with precious 5th Century mosaics visible on the nave walls and the triumphal arch in front of the main altar – the latter depict 36 scenes from the Old Testament. The ornate carved wooden ceiling dates from the early 16th Century and the inlaid marble pavement in the central nave is much older – it dates back to the 12th Century.
One of the church's highlights is its extraordinary Sistine Chapel, which opens onto the right-hand nave (not to be confused with the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican). Created by the architect Domenico Fontana for Pope Sixtus the Fifth in 1585. It’s decorated with elaborate marbles from Ancient Roman monuments, and there’s also a museum in the lower level where you can view some 13th Century sculptures by Arnolfo di Cambio. On the other side of the church is the Pauline Chapel, built in 1611 and home to tombs of the Borghese popes Paul the Fifth and Clement the Eighth. Next door is the Sforza Chapel, designed by Michelangelo and completed by della Porta. To the right of the altar you’ll find Bernini’s tomb. Above the loggia is a mosaic of Christ raising his hand in blessing. When it’s lit up at night, this is one of the most beautiful sights in the city.
Wait! A night tour of Rome with an Italian dinner and music is a truly memorable experience! lick here to find out more about it!
3. Hop off to explore the Colosseum, Rome’s most famous landmark and its greatest architectural legacy. This is the largest Roman ampitheatre in the world, built in the 1st Century AD. It’s where 50,000 people used to come to watch gladiatorial combats, and other exciting spectacles. It once boasted 80 entrances, but today it has a circumference of 527m and stands at 4 storeys high. Inside you’ll see brick, tufa and marble – sadly, little marble remains. The floor of the central arena is exposed down to the underground passages below. It used to be surrounded by a 5m-high wall to protect the spectators from the wild animals. At the top of the wall was a podium, where VIPs used to sit. Above this was the seating area, divided into 3 tiers.
Between the Colosseum and the nearby Temple of Venus and Roma you’ll see the base of the Colossus statue of Nero, after which the ampitheatre is named. And right next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, a large triumphal arch built in 315AD to commemorate Constantine’s defeat of the pagan Maxentius in 306AD.
4. At the next stop you can visit the Circo Massimo, or Circus Maximus, once the largest stadium in the city, with a capacity to hold 250,000 people. This 600m racetrack was used for chariot races from as early as the 4th Century BC. It’s located in a valley formed by Palatine Hill on the left and the Aventine on its right.
Nearby you can visit one of the city’s great curiosities, the Bocca della Verità, or 'Mouth of Truth', which is actually a round piece of marble that was used as an ancient drain cover. It’s believed that it you put your hand in the carved mouth and tell a lie, it will bite your hand off. It’s located in the entrance of the 8th Century Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, one of the most beautiful medieval churches in Rome. It’s very beautiful, with a 7-storey bell tower and entrance, and a magnificent floor inlaid with marble.
Palatine Hill is one of Rome’s seven hills, and also one of the city’s most ancient parts. Located above the Roman Forum, it only comprises ruins today. Parts of the hill are covered with parkland, although towards the top you’ll find most of the ruins, as well as the Palatine Museum, home to some fascinating displays of Roman sculpture. At the top of the hill, you’ll find the magnificent Farnese Gardens, created for a member of one of the great papal families, called Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.
5. Hop off at the next stop, Piazza Venezia, a square that was built in 1455. Nearby is the Palazzo Venezia, a beautiful palace that was initially built in the medieval era and is currently housing the National Museum of the Palazzo Venezia, and the Basilica of St. Marco, founded in 1336 and rebuilt in the 19th Century, while on the southern side of the square you’ll find Palazzo Bonaparte, where Napoleon’s mother used to live.
The jewel in the crown of Piazza Venezia is, however, the impressive Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (The National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II), or simply Il Vittoriano. Inaugurated in 1911, this vast white marble structure contains 3 statues, majestic stairways, fountains and tall Corinthian columns. Also here is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Museum of Italian Reunification.
Something worth knowing about: The "skip the line Crypts and Catacombs Tour" allows you to explore the most amazing parts of Rome's underground burial chambers, as well as its long winding catacombs and its crypts... Click here for more info about this unique trip.
Between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum you’ll find the Roman Forum (Foro Romano), originally designed to be the centre of Rome’s social, political and economic life. Amongst the ruins you’ll find the well-preserved arch of Emperor Septimius Severus, and the base of the Temple of Saturn with its 8 columns. You’ll also find the Rōstra, a platform that was the setting for a number of important events in Roman history. Here too is the Temple of Vesta, home of the Vestal Virgins as well as the Arch of Titus.
The Capitoline Hill, Rome’s most sacred hill, is right above the Roman Forum –. Climb the long, sloping steps to the top (from Via del Teatro di Marcello, right behind the Victor Emmanuel Monument) to a perfectly proportioned square, Piazza del Campidoglio, laid out by Michelangelo. One side of the square is open, the others are lined with the Senatorium (Town Council), the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini) – all 3 buildings boast displays of some of the greatest classical sculpture in the world. The Capitoline Museum is also home to Michelangelo’s magnificent equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which used to stand in the centre of the piazza.
The creation of Eve - Sistine Chapel of the Vatican
6. Hop off in Saint Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro) to explore the magnificent Vatican City at the next stop. Step through a massive bronze door and you’re no longer in Italy; you’re in another world. The Vatican is home to about 800 residents and boasts over 70,000 priceless works of art, which are on view, as well as more than 50,000 other items that are stored away. In the square you’ll find the magnificent St. Peter's Basilica, the dark-brown buildings containing the Papal Apartments and the outstanding Vatican Museums, where a large number of art treasures can be admired. Built around 1506, St Peter’s is the most important church in the world. Explore the magnificent interior, which boasts outstanding artworks including Michelangelo’s Pieta. You can also access its enormous dome by elevator. Climb the 323 steps to the very top for the best view of Rome.
Right in the middle of the square is an Egyptian obelisk, brought from the ancient city of Heliopolis in the Nile Delta, and two 17th Century fountains. When the Pope is in town, he gives a public audience on Wednesdays around 10am– you need to obtain a free ticket to this, from the Prefecture of the Papal Household, which you get to through the bronze door. You can also book tours of the Vatican City’s Gardens.
Something worth knowing about: You can save your precious holiday time by getting a "Skip the line ticket" that covers the Vatican Museums, as well as the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Rooms. Click here for the info.
Piazza di Spagna and the famous "Spanish Steps"
7. The bus takes you past Piazza del Popolo, to your next stop Piazza di Spagna, location of the famous Spanish Steps. Piazza del Popolo was built in the 18th Century, and it’s an historic square, well worth exploring, with many churches, fountains, monuments and marble mementoes of historic Roman events. The square extends from the foot of Pincio Hill, and is connected to on the 16th Century Church of Trinita dei Monti on top of the hill by the monumental Spanish Steps. The area around the Spanish Steps, including Piazza di Spagna is a shopper’s delight. Some of Rome’s most fashionable streets, all lined with luxury boutiques, are found here, including Via dei Condotti, Via Frattina and Via Borgognona.
(Click here for a self-guided walk from the Spanish Steps to Fontana di Trevi).
8. Next hop off point is at Fontana di Trevi, the famous Trevi Fountain, the largest of Rome’s many Baroque fountains. It was built in the mid-18th Century and designed by Nicola Salvi. As Salvi died in 1751, it was completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1751. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome one day.
9. Hop off the bus at the next and final stop on the Red Route, at Piazza Barberini, which is located at the beginning of Via Barberini. The square used to be the site of a large palace built in 1,629, which belonged to the Barberini family, one of whom became Pope Urban the Eighth. Today the building is the home of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (National Gallery of Ancient Art – Entrance from Via delle Quattro Fontane, just a short walk from the square). There are also two fountains in the square by Bernini, one of which bears the Barberini family’s coat of arms. The square is located near the famous Via Vittorio Veneto, one of Rome's most famous and expensive streets.
And here is something that is well worth knowing about: Taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is one the best ways to explore any large city, as it saves you lots of precious holiday time and takes you EXACTLY to those places you really want to visit... (Not to mention the great views you can enjoy from the open top...).
Wait ! Did you like this mini-guide ? Here are some other hop-on hop-off guides you may like:
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- Paris hop-on hop-off