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Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

Minnesota
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Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

I have ready numerous forum posts and many of the tour/guide reviews regarding the Vatican and Forum. When we travel to Rome (first time trip) next summer with 2 teen boys in tow, I am thinking a guided tour of the Vatican would be helpful to minimize the otherwise overwhelming and crowded museum, chapel and basilica. I am on the fence with respect to a guided tour of the Forum. I did see that Through Eternity tours had an all-day private tour starting with Colosseum and Forum in the morning and moving to the Vatican in the afternoon (yep, realize what a packed day that would be but we'll only have 3-4 days in Rome with a week also in Tuscany) that I thought perhaps might be a nice way to get the added tour guide insights while still giving our teens an opportunity for more interactive Q&A with what interests them as we view the sights. Also have looked at the Vatican's own basic tours, and Context Tours, although Angel Tours is also on the radar screen. In other words, the more research I've done the more overwhelmed I feel in making a decision of the best way to tackle these sights in a meaningful, interesting way. We are history buffs, but wouldn't call us art history buffs. Enjoy historical and culturally significant travel, active vacations, and experiencing the ambience of the locale we're visiting. Typically not package/tour group travelers, although when we used a private Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg it ended up being the highlight of the trip, so that is why i have leaned toward the insights of a tour or guide for these sights as a first-time visitor to Rome. Wide open to ideas as our itinerary slowly takes shape.

Le Marche, Italy
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1. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

I think a whole day with tour guides would be a bit over the top for most teens. I think a tour guide for the Roman Forum (and don't forget the Palatine Hill!) is more important than a guide for the Vatican. In the Vatican, it can be hard to stay near the guide because of the crowds. I've never used any sort of guide there, other than my Michelin Green Guide, but if I were going to choose a guide, I think I would go for a self-guided audio tour. You can get tours to download to an mp3 player on the internet, or you can rent one at the Vatican. If you rent one there, someone will have to take them back to the entrance to turn them in before you can leave from the exit near St. Peter's Basilica.

For the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, you might want to pay a little more for a private guide, who can gear the visit to the interests of the teens. I have used this guide, who is excellent:

http://rome-tours.com

She charges less for the additional people in the group, so for a group of four, she's not as expensive as many other private guides. She's a classics scholar, who assists on archeological digs, so she really knows her subject and can relate it in a very engaging way.

farmington Hills MI
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2. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

I have done both tours of the Vatican and Forum with Context tours.

I agree with Bvlenci that a whole day with tour guides for both would be overwhelming. I have never done an audio guided tour of the Vatican as she suggests so I cannot compare. However one advantage of the tour with Context is that the groups are very small (only six people) so you can stay close to the docent and have the opportunity to ask questions. One drawback is that the cost of the tours with Context are more expensive than most. There may be other tour companies that also have small groups that are less expensive, but we are not able to compare them first-hand. We found it worth the extra cost since the docent was highly interesting, and informative.

Minneapolis, MN
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3. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

My wife and I (both in our mid 50's) were in Rome in October of this year (2010), and we did a half day private tour of the Vatican with Walksinsiderome. Massimo, our guide, met us at the Vatican entrance at 7:30 a.m. and we were the first to enter when the doors opened at 8:00. We went directly to the Sistine Chapel and had a short time there before the crowds began to arrive. From there, we toured the highlights of the Vatican Museum and ended at St. Peter's. Massimo is a great guide - he conveys a lot of information, but in a relaxed and informal manner so that it does not feel like you are in a walking four hour history lecture. He has teens of his own, and would be well-suited to knowing what would be of the most interest to teenage visitors. The Vatican complex is big - don't expect to see it all, even if you take a full day (and your teenagers will likely be giving you the big yawn if you spend a full day there). Having a guide gets you to the high points, as well as giving you the backstory on many of the objects found there - something that you are not likely to get if you have to read a map and a guidebook as you are going along on your own. (Surprisingly, much of what is in the Museum is secular rather than religious. The Catholic Church was big on scooping up anything of value left over from the Roman Empire and moving it into the Vatican.) Also, there are two lines at the Vatican entrance each morning: one for the favored tour groups and one for everyone else. The tour group line moves first (again, a consideration if you have teenagers in tow), and gets in before everyone else. Granted private guides are not cheap, but you are probably only going to do this once in a lifetime, and we felt that the cost was well worth it.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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4. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

Yes, do a guided tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. We used the Vatican audio guide and, IMO, did not pace ourselves well in the huge museum.

Why not let the teens choose the other tour? If they are not huge Roman history fans, I think that an all day tour of the Forum would end up being a big bore. We waited until we got there and joined a tour group that was being formed. It included a 45 minute tour of the main level of the Coliseum and 45 minute tour of the Forum and Palatine Hill. It fit our level of interest. From the Palatine Hill, we went to the church of San Clemente which isn't too far away and toured its underground areas.

You don't say how old they are but you might consider giving them some time to explore on their own. While you sit and enjoy a glass of wine in Piazza Navona, let them explore the immediate Piazza area on their own.

Cell phones or walkie talkies will keep you in touch.

Le Marche, Italy
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5. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

I wasn't suggesting an all-day tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill; I just suggested doing it on a different day from the Vatican, which is always an exhausting visit.

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6. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

I agree with bvlenci--after the Vatican you need to get a gelato and do something fun like hang out at Piazza Navona or Piazza Popolo.

Maybe your teens would be interested in the free podcasts offered through itunes for the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Then they can tour these more independence.

My two kids, one teen, one pre-teen enjoyed the Vatican museums more than we thought they would, but I think part of that was that we went at our own pace. We lingered in rooms we enjoyed, and moved swiftly on when the crowds were too much, or we weren't as interested. I saw many people in tours, and was glad I was not in them. I think it is great for some people, but in my experience teens tend to drift towards the back of a group, where they may not be able to hear or see anything; back there they will quickly be bored.

Edited: 17 December 2010, 21:57
Minnesota
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7. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

Thanks for the responses so far -- they are history buffs in general, and the 13 yr old finds Roman history fascinating, however, neither are what I would call "art history" buffs (nor have they really studied or been significantly exposed to it either though beyond typical walks through Chicago's Art Institute, for example. Mirabella Tours I had on my short list of possible tour guides for Forum/Colosseum as I thought she appeared to be a nice fit for our family style, The approach to the Vatican I struggle with more but am starting to lean toward sketching out a self-guided tour with family input so we see what we are most interested in, and then buy tickets that are timed entry without a formal tour perhaps -- so much to see, the key is to not overwhelm but still maximize our limited time there!

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8. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

@dklaw -- I pulled up the walksinsiderome website and found the tour you must have taken -- there was no price listed (it was blank) -- was it the standard 65 euro/person cost (plus admission + transport). Many of the tours indicate taxi is required? Is that because you meet offsite and taxi to the Vatican -- what add-on charge does that involve? If we do a Vatican tour I would like a private or semi-private (or small group like Context), so appreciate your mentioning this group as I had not looked at that one yet.

Le Marche, Italy
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9. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

If your kids are not really into art history, I think you'd be better with a self-guided tour of the Vatican. That way, if it gets overwhelming, you can forge ahead. You can also make sure to see the things that will interest all of you, which may be things the guides usually skip.

The Egyptian collection and the Etruscan collection are not included in most tours, but they might appeal to your teens more than the classical statues and Renaissance paintings, especially if they're history buffs. The Egyptian collection is excellent, well displayed and well described. You really don't need a guide here. The Etruscan collection is wonderful, but maybe not quite as well displayed. The two collections are near each other, and neither is crowded.

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10. Re: Vatican and Forum with Teens - Tour/Guide or Not?

I'd also say do the Vatican museums on your own, then you can choose your pace. And as bvlenci said, do look at the Etruscan and Egyptian rooms, which are quite near the entrance and you could miss.

Most of the circuit is incredibly crowded and I didn't get the impression that guided groups got to linger and concentrate on individual works of art.. And in fact if you wanted to linger you couldn't because you had to keep up with the guide.

BTW If you pre-book entry then you bypass the huge queues at the entrance, it's not just tour groups that do that.

I've visited the Forum and the Colosseum with a school group and we had a very good guide who helped bring it all alive (incidentally with the same group we had no guide for the Vatican museums on advice from the school-tour company)

On a second (family) visit to Rome we did the Palatine Hill on our own and struggled to make sense of it because it's not well signed and even with a guidebook we found it confusing. We hadn't been able to get an audioguide because it turns out you have to state you want one when you buy your tickets, you can't pay for it after, even immediately after, nor at the place where you pick the audioguide up.

If your kids are history buffs they are going to love Rome. Do include the Baths of Caracalla (on that school trip that was voted one of the favourite sights, whereas we adults had thought the catacombs would have been).

A nice art gallery (not too big, the kind of thing my son appreciates too!) is Galleria Doria Pamphilj which is a family's art collection (so the Velazquez painting of a pope is of a family member, for example). The family still uses the palazzo and I spotted a baby high-chair in one of the rooms.

Between the Galleria and the Pantheon you have the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva which has a beautiful Gothic interior (the only one left in Rome). If you have time, try and include one of the other basilicas as well as St Peter's and/or churches in Trastevere.

Edited: 18 December 2010, 20:37