Tour Guide or Self-Guided tour of Italy?

posted 3 years ago in Travel
Post # 2
Member
2018 posts
Buzzing bee

Stranger516:  I would not have the whole thing structured by a tour group, but if you don’t have a lot of historical background knowledge, sites like the Roman Forum and the Musei Vaticani/San Pietro can be overwhelming and I might see about finding a guide for them.  Do your research though; I’d say about 60-70% of the guides I overhear are telling people information that is simply wrong (unfortunately I don’t have any specific recommendations for guides in Rome).  I think that with some basic research you could set yourself up for less complex sites (you can PM me about sites in Venice and Florence, which I know well) and the ability to control your own pace and to have your own freedom just makes things so much better!

Post # 3
Member
537 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: May 2013

You don’t need a tour guide for the whole country. At the museums (like the Uffizi in Florence) you can purchase tours/guides the day of. For Rome, you can purchase a guided tour/audio guides at all of the historical sites day-of.

I would highly recommend you book a tour of the Vatican in advance (like at least a month, they fill up, and sometimes the visiting hours/days change due to events and holidays). I’ve used Dark Rome/MyVaticanTour 4 times, and they’re really great. You’ll see everything important in the Vatican, it’s about a 3-hour “hitlist” that starts in the Musei and ends at the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s. 

Other than that, your itinerary is really ambitious grography-wise; how long is your trip? 

Post # 4
Member
2018 posts
Buzzing bee

Stranger516:  I should also add that most people who are not specialists in art history or religious history tend to find Pisa very disappointing, as most feel it lacks the “typical charm” of the towns that visitors want to see.  I would not personally choose it if I were designing an itinerary for non-specialists.  As Hausfrau suggested, you have an ambitious itinerary, and if you feel you need to drop a city, I think Pisa would be the one to drop. 

If you are going to be there for a long time, then I would suggest switching Pisa out for another Tuscan town.  While San Gimignano attracts a lot of tourists, I’ve never known anyone who didn’t enjoy visiting.  Lucca attracts far fewer tourists, but people are also more divided on whether or not they enjoy themselves there. 

If you will be in the Tuscany area around mid-August you could go to Siena and see the Palio dell’Assunta on 16 August.  That would be an incredible experience. 

Post # 5
Member
537 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: May 2013

Agree with everything @MarriedToMyWork said about Pisa and Siena- seeing the Palio would be incredible!

Post # 6
Member
371 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: November 2000

Stranger516:  I’ve done both. The inclusive tour version was awful; a generic, hermetically sealed, cookie cutter experience. Went back as an adult with my husband and a rental car = the best holiday I’ve ever been on. Look into downloading some tour podcasts for certain places you’re wanting to go. (Like the Rick Steves https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/audio/audio-tours/italy) They’re free and are like having your own tour guide. And a good (current!) guide book is invaluable. Almost everywhere (well, the more famous places) will have information in the main European languages.

Be open to spontinaity. We wound up staying in places we’d never heard of. So much more fun than rushing around trying to check things off of a list of things you’re “supposed” to see. Have a great time!

Post # 7
Member
2474 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: September 2012

Definitely don’t do a guided trip. Maybe for one or two things here and there but definitely not for the whole trip. Trust me, you want the freedom to see what you want to see and go where you want to go on your own time without risking being left by your tour guide, or being constrained to some schedule. Oftentimes you can stumble upon something really interesting you wouldn’t have seen in your tour guide. Plus, if it’s anything larger than a couple people, you probably won’t be able to hear half the time. 

Plan the trip out ahead of time and do some research – you’ll be fine, and you can pick how and when to see everything you want!

Post # 8
Member
2018 posts
Buzzing bee

Plus, and this can’t be emphasized strongly enough, the restaurants that the guided tour groups seem to flock to are nowhere near the best that these cities have to offer! 

Post # 9
Member
13021 posts
Honey Beekeeper
  • Wedding: June 2011

I would just go on my own.  Italy, especially the popular places you mention are super easy to navigate.  Tours have time limits and you’re always with a huge crowd and you’re told what to do and when to do it, I avoid them if at all possible.  I went in 2013 and hit all the spots you mention.  Here’s a link to my recap: http://boards.weddingbee.com/topic/my-italy-switzerland-trip-recap/

Post # 10
Member
2419 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: May 2013

Definitely avoid a tour! We spend a lot of time in Italy (DH used to live in Southern Tuscany) and we regularly witness the tyranny of organised tours. You get very little freedom to explore, are herded on and off buses and then rushed around interesting places without enough time to discover them properly.

Instead, get a decent set of travel guides and educate yourselves first about where you want to go. Most major tourist attractions have good audio guides which you can hire for very little money.

If you are going in August be aware that Italy is positively HEAVING with tourists. Rome and Florence are very hot and crowded and I would seriously NOT recommend Venice in August either. It is tiny, indescribably busy and, not to put too fine a point on it, smells because of the canals!  That’s not to say I don’t absolutely love Venice but I go in January!

Pisa is basically a leaning tower and a long street of exceedingly tacky stalls selling souvenirs.

I’d also not try and do Venice AND Capri either. They are at opposite ends of Italy. Naples, the embarkation point for Capri is dangerous. In fact it is the only city in Italy that I have ever felt unsafe in and I came home with a broken finger after fighting off a street thief. It’s fascinating for all that but not for the fainthearted. 

Siena is wonderful though. The Palio is just amazing (I saw the Milennium Palio).  As are the hill towns of Southern Tuscany along the Cassia (the old road to Rome) from Siena. You could easily do Rome, Siena, Florence and Lucca and have a wonderful vacation. 

Post # 11
Member
6279 posts
Bee Keeper
  • Wedding: October 2013

 

Stranger516:  i know this post is from a while ago.  DH and I went to italy on our honeymoon.

we booked through europeandiestinations.com after a recommendation from a friend.  we picked the cities (venice, florence, rome, naples) and the dates.  the site took care of booking our airfare, train from city to city and hotels, and we upgraded in 3 of the cities.  this cost was still a 3rd of the price of using a travel agent.

that being said, we did not use a tour company.  DH did a lot of research and we had a lose itinerary of what we wanted to cover in each city.  i do not feel a tour guide was needed and we had no problems getting into all the places we wanted to see. 

especially at the vatican.  we went to st peter’s first.  got there first when it opened and no line.  then we went over the the vatican.  we thought of purchasing tickets in advance but didn’t want to be commited to a time.  so we waitedin the line.  plenty of street vendors trying to sell us “go to the front of the line” tickets.  they kept telling us it was a 3 hour wait from the point in which we got in line.  so glad we didn’t listen the them.  not even 45 minutes later, we were inside the vatican.

also with the collesseum, we got there when it opened and waiting in line for maybe 15 minutes.

DH and I are foodies,  i’m including some food recs that i recently sent to a friend.

 

Venice:<br />http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1314824-Reviews-Arte_Della_Pizza-Venice_Veneto.html<br />hard to find but very good, owner doesn’t speak English http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1056096-Reviews-Ristorante_Al_Giardinetto_da_Severino-Venice_Veneto.html (recommended by our hotel when the place we wanted to go was closed on that particular day.  Very good meal.  Chris thinks he ate here also) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1034686-Reviews-Osteria_Ca_D_Oro_La_Vedova-Venice_Veneto.html<br />(giada from the food network recommended, everything we had was delicious)<br />Florence:<br />http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187895-d1008597-Reviews-Trattoria_4_Leoni-Florence_Tuscany.html<br />get the pear ravioli, make a reservation (our favorite meal) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187895-d1109457-Reviews-Trattoria_dei_13_Gobbi-Florence_Tuscany.html<br />on the expensive side.  Was told we needed to get the steak Florentine in Florence.  We had gnocchi in lobster sauce which was delicious and I don’t even like seafood.  Jason thought the steak was the 2nd or 3rd best he ever had, I wasn’t as impressed.  I would still rank this in top 5 restaurants on our trip http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187895-d1155597-Reviews-Gusta_Pizza-Florence_Tuscany.html<br />http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187895-d195018-Reviews-Mercato_Centrale-Florence_Tuscany.html (like lexington market but better)<br />Rome:<br />http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d2085094-Reviews-Angelina_a_Trevi-Rome_Lazio.html (my second favorite meal) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d1016936-Reviews-La_Carbonara-Rome_Lazio.html  get the pasta carbonara http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d1011663-Reviews-Della_Palma-Rome_Lazio.html (best gelato) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d3611100-Reviews-Gelateria_Giolitti-Rome_Lazio.html ( a close second) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d2425217-Reviews-Antico_Forno_Marco_Roscioli-Rome_Lazio.html (try the potato pizza, but everything is delicious. We tried 2 different pizzas and 1 panini)<br /><br />We ate at the Eat Pray Love pizza place in Naples and I wasn’t impressed.  Jason loved it. Naples was where our hotel was, but from here, we took the ferry to Capri for the afternoon and the next day a day trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi coast.  Make sure you see Positano.

 

Post # 12
Member
6279 posts
Bee Keeper
  • Wedding: October 2013

oh and one day while we were in florence, we booked a day bus trip for the next day that took us to 3 cities including siena and to a wine tasting.  it was pretty inexpensive and well worth it.

we also just used naples as the place to sleep.  we took the ferry to capri one day and then booked a guided tour to pompeii and the amalfi coast.

 

Post # 13
Member
7098 posts
Busy Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2012

I guess I’m in the minority but I like going with a tour. You can choose one that has a lot of free time, no need to be a sheep if you don’t want to. Basically they take you from point A to point B, take care of your hotels and luggage, and you get to skip the lines pretty much everywhere. I find the traffic in the major cities incredibly stressful and have no desire to rent a car there.

Post # 14
Member
224 posts
Helper bee

I went with a tour group and couldn’t imagine the stress of doing it any other way. Traffic is insane there and I am certain the stress of navigating would have resulted in a knock down drag out fight at least once. Choose a group with a lot of free roaming time.

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