Interactive Travel Guide – What to do in Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

I recently I started a new series on LandLopers, the Interactive Travel Guide. The idea is to highlight one city or country every week and then get the best recommendations from you all. By the end of the week, we hopefully will have created the best tips not from guide books, but from real people.

To continue this social media experiment, this week I want to highlight Rome.

Rome, the Eternal City, certainly does not suffer from a lack of rich cultural and historical activities. Also contained within its borders is the tiny and enigmatic Vatican City, home of the Roman Catholic Church. At the top of my list of things to do and see in Rome is a special part of the Vatican most tourists don’t get to see – the Scavi.

The Vatican Necropolis, or Scavi, is located directly beneath the immense St. Peter’s Basilica and contains everything from the Papal tombs to Roman cities of the dead. I first heard of the Scavi from a message board about Rome and knew right away that I had to find a way to visit.

The Vatican being the Vatican of course, did not make organizing a tour an easy process. Akin to what requesting anything from a Soviet-era bureaucrat must have been like, the Vatican has set up a very strict protocol that must be followed to the letter.

Regardless of the odd ticket procurement process, participation is an absolute must for any visitor to the Vatican. I was a little early for my tour, but thought I would wait at the Excavations Office for my tour time. I went up to the Swiss Guard, showed him my ticket to which he said, no.

I was told that I would only be allowed in 10 minutes prior to the start of the tour. I glanced at my watch – it was 13 minutes until the tour. Not wanting to get into an argument with a Swiss guardsman in the Vatican, I sat down in front of him and waited. Sure enough, as soon as the clock hit 10 minutes before the hour, he motioned me in. In all honesty, I should have expected this Type A business model based on all of my experiences with the Vatican.

The guide led us into the basement of the Basilica, pushed past tourists and opened one of the doors that said “No Public Access.“ Cool. We walked down a staircase, past an oddly modern electronic glass sliding door and suddenly we were there. In the Vatican Necropolis. It was one of those travel moments that at the time you realize just how privileged you are to be in that particular place at that particular time.

The entire tour was an hour and a half, but it seemed like ten minutes. We wandered through all of the various levels of excavation, navigated uneven ground previously trod upon by Roman nobles. Included in the tour is an entire Roman city street and necropolis complex. It was incredible to peer through doorways and imagine the city two thousand years earlier.

Finally, our stroll in the musty, wet scavi, walking past long defunct fountains and buildings, ended at what the Vatican believes to be the tomb of St. Peter. The discovery of the Saint’s remains was an effort by an earlier Pope to be buried as close to the Father of the Church as possible. The tour guide gives the group a few moments of reflection before formally ending the tour.

After the tour, you emerge from the darkness into the middle of the Papal tombs and throngs of tourists. The effect is a little discombobulating at first, but in reflection is the perfect end point for the remarkable tour.

Regardless of one’s faith, the archeological wonders and veritable time capsule that is the Scavi is well worth the time and effort needed to visit this oft over-looked area of the Vatican.

NOW it’s your turn. Please comment and tell us your favorite thing to do, see or eat in Rome. If you haven’t been yet, please let us know what you would most like to do.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

13 thoughts on “Interactive Travel Guide – What to do in Rome”

  1. My favorite place in Rome is the Capuchin Crypt on Via Veneto. They basically use the bones of monks as decorations throughout. Very creepy but very cool.

  2. Go see the Basilica de San Clemente!! It’s kind of halfway between the Colosseum and St. John Lateran. The church is a 16th century building built on top of a 4th century church on top of a house church on top of a Mithraic cult room. The Irish priests who were renovating it in the 19th century (I think) discovered the ancient churches beneath. It captures the changing religious and culture of Rome. SO AMAZING! I actually enjoyed it more than the Catacomb of Domatilla. The tour lets you see more details, the art is actually on view, just flat out awesome.

    Here’s my post about it:

  3. Wow Matt! Very cool I had never heard of the Scavi before, I definitely want to check that out the next time I go there.
    Notice that I said “the next time I go there”? Thats because when I was there for the first time in Dec 2007 I threw a coin into the Trevi fountain and they say if you do this then you will visit Rome again.
    You guys have all mentioned things that weren’t obvious things to visit however those things must still be mentioned!
    The Trevi fountain is gorgeous and must be visited. Then you also have the Spanish steps, The Coliseum, the Forum (where you can actually see where Caesar was laid to rest), and of course the pantheon and Piazza Venezia which faces Mussolini’s balcony that he use to speak from. There is sooooooooooooo much to see and do in Rome and if you are a history buff your head will be spinning. My biggest suggestion is take a walking tour in Rome you won’t regret it. Annnnnd if you are a partier in Rome there is said to be the worlds largest pub crawl, when I did it there was easily 150 people with me going from bar to bar and it was pretty awesome.

  4. I feel totally beyond on catching up to your blog lately. Love me some Rome and this is a great idea. I had the best single dish of pasta I’ve ever had in my life there. There are two restaurants you can eat on the island in the middle of the Tiber. Had a plate of basic potato gnocchi there that was…. heaven.

  5. We LOVE this idea and look forward to learning more about all the cool places that are sure to pop up! We agree that going to the Vatican is a must-do. Particularly, everyone should have the experience of going to the top and looking out over all of Vatican City (as well as Rome and the nearby areas). The view is breathtaking, spectacular, and just about every other similarly descriptive adjective we can think of not to mention that is also one of the most peaceful spots on earth.

    We also concur that one of the best ways to take in Rome and Vatican City is on foot, whether through a formal tour or just exploring on your own. Be sure to stop into the small restaurants/delis/cafes on the side streets, check out every church and piazza you pass, and get at least one gelato! Lastly, though, watch out for cars, motorcycles, and mopeds–they’re everywhere, including on the sidewalks and little alleys!

  6. I love the Scavi tour, and anything else that gives a “behinds-the-scenes” glimpse into Vatican City. But my favorite thing to do in Rome is get a bird’s eye view of the city atop the Monument to Victor Emmanuel, or a more relaxing Tiber view from Castel Sant’Angelo’s terrace, while having a cappuccino. Come to think of it, any rooftop in Rome will do.

    Rome is a city meant to be scene from above, ground level and underneath.

  7. In Rome I recommend taking a cooking lesson. It’s a great way to reconnect with the culture when you return home. I actually recommend a cooking lesson in most cities in Europe!

  8. Matt,

    Many thanks for the Scavi Tour tip. Today we received confirmation from the Vatican for our July visit. I can’t wait!

    1. Excellent! You really are going to love it, so great. Just be careful how you plan the rest of your Vatican experience. I went on the Museum/Sistine Chapel Tour immediately before and it took a lot longer than I expected to fight the crowds, had to hurry in order to make it to the Scavi Tour.

  9. Awesome idea with the interactive travel guide! And thanks, Scavi’s definitely going on our list of places to go in Italy!

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