With the competition amongst tour operators forever increasing, visitors to Rome are met with more and more tempting offers to catch their eye. Many companies promise “skip the line” tickets for the city’s top sites – the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums, the Borghese Gallery, and visitors arrive in Rome expecting to be whisked to the front of the line, cooly entering the museum without a moment’s hesitation. We’d always recommend booking tickets in advance of your trip but want to set the record straight about what “skip the line” actually means.
Let’s take the Vatican. There are essentially three lines at the Vatican: One for people who show up without tickets, one for advance-ticket holders, and one for tour operators who have an account with the Vatican. Among the first two, the line for advance ticket holders is shorter—essentially just a security line. But, there is still a line, which can be a surprise for many people. Make no mistake, though, it’s shorter; sometimes MUCH shorter. It’s always a great idea for DIY-travelers to secure tickets in advance. This is simple at the Vatican, as several years ago the Vatican implemented advance ticketing via their website.
Tour operators with an account at the Vatican, like our partners Context Travel, enjoy the dual privilege of acquiring advance tickets for their participants and also entering the Vatican a half-hour before normal visitors. We reserve tickets to the museums as soon as they become available online, so if you join our Vatican tour, you can expect a speedier entrance into the museums. On arrival at the Vatican, our docents collect the tickets on your behalf, helping you to avoid and last minute panics about booking references and entrance times. With a daily influx of around 30,000 visitors during the high season however, you may still find yourself in a line even with a reserved ticket. However, while waiting through the security line, our docents make no waste of your time. For instance, docent Ludovica Candrilli mentions how she uses this moment to discuss “the Vatican City State: the significance of its location in Rome, why it’s surrounded by walls, and about its history, focusing on its relationship with Italy.” Just a brief chat, a security check, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying the vast collection.
Similarly, the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Forum, which one enters on a combined ticket, has three different options for entry – visitors without tickets, visitors with advance tickets, and tour operators with advance tickets. For visitors without tickets, it will be necessary to both queue to purchase tickets and pass through security. If you are traveling on your own and want to shorten your wait, it’s possible to purchase the combined Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Forum entry ticket via CoopCulture. The additional €2 reservation fee is well worth it to gain quicker entry, but do be careful about which option you select for tickets when checking out. Print at home purchasers will be able to print tickets, complete with bar code for entry, and skip straight ahead to the security line, while those who select to simply reserve a reservation code will need to first visit the reserved entry booth to pick up their tickets before then moving toward security. The reserved entry booth has a far shorter line than that for visitors without tickets, so if you are not able to use the print tickets option, it’s still worth the reservation fee.
Much as with the Vatican, tour operators like Context have a special deposit that allows them to zip in quickly to pick up tickets and then queue for security. This time is always used thoughtfully, just as at the Vatican Museum, and, as Antonella Merletto reminds us, “even around 2000 years ago, it took time to get people into the Colosseum!”
Another key site where advance booking is necessary—in fact, required—is the Galleria Borghese, one of the better collections of Renaissance and Baroque art in Rome. Here, the concept of “skip the line” is completely fraudulent. Strict limits on the amount of visitors allowed into the gallery at any one time were implemented after vast restorations in the ‘90s and now everyone—whether on a tour or not—is required to book in advance. Reservations to one of the five daily entry timeslots are made either through the museum’s phone reservation service (+39.06.32810) or online booking system. This booking does not constitute a ticket. On arrival one presents the booking code and retrieves a ticket. In the case of phone reservation, where prepayment is not available, you’ll also need to pay the balance of your tickets. Of course, there’s a bit of a line—or, perhaps, scrum is the better word, especially as all entrants are required to check their coats bags, so anticipate a queue for the coat check as well. The best strategy is to arrive early – we usually recommend a 30 to 40 minute advance arrival to be sure to get everything sorted in good time.
While no “skip the line” is completely perfect and small waits may occur along the way, it’s certainly a speedier, and more relaxed, entry for a small additional reservation fee that even DIY visitors can take advantage of to make the most of your time in Rome.