Home » Hop-On, Hop-Off Rome: Exploring the Eternal City with Big Bus and City Sightseeing

Hop-On, Hop-Off Rome: Exploring the Eternal City with Big Bus and City Sightseeing

by Paola Bertoni
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The hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour makes discovering a big city like Rome much easier and more convenient, especially if you travel with children or have limited time. The bus stops at the main attractions, and the audio guide provides a complete introduction to the destination. In this article, you can find out how the city sightseeing bus works in Rome. You’ll learn about the different companies, such as Big Bus, City Sightseeing, Omnia, and others and their itineraries.

Rome sightseeing bus tours: how it works

Sightseeing bus tours are a convenient and time-efficient way to explore Rome and visit famous tourist hotspots. These buses are easily recognisable as they are larger and double-decker, often with an open roof for a better view of Rome’s beautiful scenery, especially during spring and summer.

In Rome, Big Bus, City Sightseeing and Omnia Vatican buses operate together. Unlike in other cities, hop on and off freely at any of their stops with the same tickets.

To join the tour, you need to purchase a ticket, which you can buy at authorised sales points or online. I always prefer buying my ticket online before my trip to avoid waiting in long queues or struggling to find the right sales point for the tour I want.

An audio guide provides information about the attractions you encounter during the tour. You can choose whether to get off the bus to explore nearby areas on foot or visit museums and monuments. After exploring, you can re-board the bus to continue the tour.

Paola Bertoni on the Omnia Vatican sightseeing bus in Rome
On board the Omnia Vatican sightseeing bus in Rome (the yellow bus)

Itineraries of the hop-on hop-off bus tours in Rome

Rome sightseeing bus tours provide a comfortable and convenient way to explore the city and visit some of its most important sights without worrying about too much walking or stress. I highly recommend them, especially if you are visiting the capital for the first time or are travelling with children or older people. These tours take you directly to the main attractions, saving time and energy.

I decided to include the hop-on hop-off Big Bus Rome tour in my itinerary as it had been a while since my last visit, and I knew that the audio guide would refresh my knowledge of Ancient Rome’s history. You can explore different cultural aspects depending on your chosen tour and the bus company. For instance, Big Bus offers a comprehensive view of Christian Rome, Roman Rome, and modern Rome, while the Omnia Vatican tour is focused solely on Christian Rome.

Interesting facts about Ancient Rome

The audio guides provided on sightseeing bus tours offer interesting trivia in addition to guiding you between destinations. For example, during my trip with Big Bus Rome, I discovered that the Piedmontese style of architecture became popular in Rome after Italy’s unification, and there are many such palaces on the Esquiline Hill.

For those unfamiliar with the history of Rome, the audio guide tells the mythological story of its foundation through Romulus and Remus. It also provides information about the construction of the Acqua Felice aqueduct, also known as Aqua Felix, which was built during medieval times to provide water to areas near Quirinale and Viminale.

Rome is known for its beautiful fountains; the audio guide can help identify them. For instance, the Fontana del Tritone, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and commissioned by the Barberini family, is one such fountain. On its square were displayed the bodies of unidentified dead people. In addition to historical and architectural information, the audio guide shares fun facts, such as the birth of the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome and the collection at Vespa Museum Space on Via Cavour.

The Colosseum seen from the Big Bus tourist bus in Rome
The Colosseum seen from the Big Bus tourist bus in Rome

Interesting facts about Christian Rome

The audio guide of Omnia Vatican yellow buses, operated by the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, focuses on Christian Rome. It provides details about the Jubilee basilicas, including the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Seven Churches Pilgrimage, stopping at the four major basilicas in Rome and other Roman churches.

You’ll get information about Christian Rome, such as the various martyrs and Christian saints associated with the history of Rome or the Lateran Complex, which was the residence of the popes before they moved to the Vatican. The audio guide will also inform you about how Pope Sixtus V reused Egyptian obelisks from the imperial era to indicate the main Catholic basilicas of the city to pilgrims.

Tourist bus companies in Rome and which one to choose

Several sightseeing bus companies operate in Rome. Some are associated with each other, such as Big Bus, City Sightseeing and Omnia Vatican, which you can get on with the same ticket. Others, on the other hand, are independent, and although they make similar routes with common stops, they only allow you to board their buses.

During my trip to Rome, I saw the following panoramic open-top buses circulating:

The buses are all classic double-decker sightseeing buses with open roofs. You can distinguish the companies by the colour of their buses. The stops look the same or vary very little. As I got on and off my bus at the various stops, I noticed the signs for the various companies were all very close together.

However, I have read negative reviews on the cheaper and lesser-known tour bus companies about overcrowded buses in the high season and difficulty getting on board. So consider whether it is worth saving money at the risk of waiting for later buses or having difficulty finding a seat.

Rome's Big Bus sightseeing bus at the Termini station stop
Rome’s Big Bus sightseeing bus at the Termini station stop

One ticket, three tours with Big Bus, City Sightseeing and Omnia Vatican

I prefer Big Bus or City Sightseeing for hop-on hop-off bus tours with audio guides when I travel. These companies are reliable and have a regular frequency, and their audio guides are excellent in every language. During my last visit to Rome, I relied on Big Bus and was pleasantly surprised to find out that my ticket also allowed me to board the City Sightseeing and Omnia Vatican sightseeing buses.

It’s important to note that although the routes are almost identical, the audio guides offered by each tour bus company differ. The staff at the stops may try to convince you to board Omnia Vatican’s yellow buses by telling you that they are the same, but in reality, the audio guide is much less attractive as it focuses solely on Christian Rome. Additionally, based on my experience, the buses used by Omnia Vatican are older and have audio problems.

Even if you visit Rome during the low season when the frequency of sightseeing buses is lower, it’s still worth waiting for the next Big Bus or City Sightseeing bus. They are much newer, and the audio system for headphones works perfectly fine. Furthermore, these companies provide audio guide commentary that is more engaging and interesting.

(also valid for the City Sightseeing and Omnia Vatican)

Practical information on Rome hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tours

As you have seen, there are several tour bus companies in Rome, but I have only tried Big Bus, City Sightseeing and Omnia Vatican so I refer to my experience. Although an app is available, you cannot upload tickets, but you must keep the paper ticket issued at the time of presentation of the voucher when you first board the hop-on hop-off bus for the duration of its validity.

How to dress for a sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus tour in Rome

Rome has a Mediterranean climate. Winters are generally mild, but they can still be cold. On the other hand, summers are hot, and you’ll be under the sun for the whole hop-on hop-off tour. The panorama buses have an open upper deck, sometimes without windows, so you might feel the air even when the roof is closed or sunburn.

For these reasons, I recommend to board Rome’s sightseeing buses with a hat to protect you from the sun, sun cream and a water bottle in summer. While in winter and mid-season, dress in layers with a windproof jacket and a warm hat to protect you from the cold air.

Paola Bertoni on the Big Bus sightseeing bus in Rome
On the Big Bus hop-on hop-off bus in Rome

Headphones and audio guide on the hop-on hop-off bus tour

When taking a sightseeing bus tour, you can listen to the audio guide through an audio system with individual headphones plugged into the front of your seat. The jack input is the classic standard for almost all headphone models, including mobile phones.

To reduce your environmental impact, you can bring your own headphones instead of using the disposable ones available on the bus. The audio guide is available in different languages on all buses, including English, French, Italian, and Spanish.

When Rome’s panoramic tourist buses circulate

The panoramic tourist buses in Rome, as in other cities, generally run between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. The Big Bus Rome I took runs from 9:00 am, with its first departure from Termini railway station and last departure at 6:58 pm from Piazza Barberini, near the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, during the summer season.

However, I encourage you always to check the up-to-date information on the website of the tourist bus you have chosen before organising your trip. The timetable may vary depending on the supplier and the season.

The Big Bus hop-on hop-off bus in Rome with the roof open
The Big Bus hop-on hop-off bus in Rome with the roof open

How much do hop-on hop-off tourist bus tickets cost in Rome

Rome sightseeing bus ticket prices vary depending on the company. Cheaper, lesser-known bus companies’ prices are as low as €13. However, I read pretty negative reviews about crowded buses and their infrequency. The price of the better-known tourist buses, Big Bus and City Sightseeing, is around € 27, on par with other European cities.

Given the chaotic traffic in Rome, I recommend the Big Bus sightseeing bus, which I have personally tried because it has a good frequency even in the low season and allows you to get on the City Sightseeing buses of the same quality as the means and audio guide. You can buy tickets at the box offices in the city, but online is more convenient and often saves you money and time.

Where to stay in Rome

I have tried several hotels in Rome during my travels and I recommend staying in the city centre to avoid the chaotic traffic of the capital. Among the hotels I suggest, the charming Roma Suites Navona has family rooms and is in a great location just a few steps from Piazza Navona.

If you prefer a hotel with a buffet breakfast, you can choose the Bloom Hotel Rome, very close to St Peter’s Basilica, while if you arrive by train, the best choice near Termini station is the DoubleTree By Hilton Rome Monti hotel with double and family rooms.

Let me know in the comments if you, too, love tourist buses and if you have already done a tour of this kind in Rome. I think it’s a fantastic way to discover a new city.

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