Tag Archives: Unforgettable Experiences



Complete Guide to Visiting the Vatican During a Jubilee Year

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

By now most Italy-bound travelers know about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began in late 2015 and continues through late 2016. What you may not know is what this means for your upcoming trip to Rome — and what it would mean if you were to visit Rome during any Jubilee Year in the future. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect during a Jubilee Year visit to Vatican City and Rome.

Holy Doors Open

The Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica and other churches throughout Rome (and the world) are only opened during Jubilee Years. Even if you’re not a pilgrim hoping to have all your sins absolved, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to walk through the Holy Door at St. Peter’s. You can book ahead for a date to walk through the Holy Door using the Vatican’s official Jubilee website. This, like tickets for all the Jubilee special events, is a free ticket.

Bigger Crowds

Vatican Museum corridor

Vatican Museum corridor

Rome is a popular tourist destination during a normal year, so during a Jubilee Year the regular numbers of tourists are compounded by a significant number of pilgrims who come specifically for the events of the Holy Year. Some pilgrims will focus just on Vatican City and the special celebrations of the Jubilee Year, others will spend time sightseeing in Rome and in other parts of Italy, too. Expect the crowds to be bigger throughout the whole Jubilee Year, bigger still on special event days and even bigger on major holidays like Easter and Christmas.

Tighter Security

With the influx of so many pilgrims in addition to tourists, the already-tight security at many Rome and Vatican monuments will be increased. This can mean long lines to get through metal detectors (and this is after the long line for tickets), so be prepared for lengthy wait times. You can’t bypass security, but you can bypass the ticket lines by booking entry tickets or Vatican tours in advance — a good idea in a normal year, and an even better idea during a Jubilee Year.

Papal Audiences Booked More in Advance

Up close to the pope during a papal audience

Up close to the pope during a papal audience

More pilgrims coming to the Vatican means getting a papal audience ticket will be more difficult. If you’re so inclined, make sure you arrange your papal audience as far ahead of your trip as you possibly can. These can be booked through the Vatican’s official Jubilee website for free, though if they’re all booked up you can also book a papal audience ticket through Viator for a fee.

Rome Hotels Are More Expensive

Hoteliers raise their rates during holidays and peak travel seasons, when they know demand is higher, so during a Jubilee Year you can expect higher-than-normal prices on hotels throughout the city. Hotels closer to the Vatican, which are often cheaper because they’re not within easy reach of the historic center, may be more expensive than normal because of their easy access to St. Peter’s Basilica. Booking well in advance gives you more options in more price categories.

Learn more about the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy and special events during the 2016 Jubilee Year.

– Jessica Spiegel

Complete Guide to Visiting the Vatican During a Jubilee Year from Viator Rome



Special Events for Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy

Pope Francis greets visitors in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis greets visitors in St. Peter’s Square

Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy is largely in 2016, but some of the key events take place in late 2015. Not only that, while the Jubilee Year takes place over a total of 348 days, there isn’t a major event taking place every single day during that time. Here’s an overview of the major jubilee year events, so you can better plan your Rome visit.

Learn more about the Jubilee Year – what it is, and what to expect

Jubilee of Mercy Events in 2015

  • December 8th – The holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica is opened by Pope Francis after a morning Mass, marking the official start to the Jubilee Year. A cathedral’s holy door is only open during a Jubilee Year.
  • December 13th – The holy doors of Rome’s Archbasilica of St. John and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls are both opened. Cathedrals elsewhere in the world will also open their holy doors on this date, too.
  • December 27th – Jubilee for the Family, in St. Peter’s Square.
Many papal audiences will be held in St. Peter's Square during Jubilee 2016

Many papal audiences will be held in St. Peter’s Square during Jubilee 2016

Jubilee of Mercy Events in 2016

  • January 1st – The holy door of Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major is opened on a “World Day for Peace.”
  • January 19th – Jubilee gathering for people who work at pilgrimage parishes and shrines around the world, in the Paolo VI Hall.
  • January 30th – Some papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • February 13th – Jubilee for prayer groups dedicated to Padre Pio, in St. Peter’s Square.
  • February 20th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • March 4th – “24 Hours for the Lord,” prayer services in St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • March 12th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • March 20th – Palm Sunday, also the Diocesan Day for Youth.
  • April 1st – Jubilee for people “Devoted to the Spirituality of Divine Mercy,” in St. Peter’s Square and several churches in Rome.
  • April 9th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • April 23rd – Jubilee for Boys & Girls, meaning children ages 13-16 who have been confirmed. Several churches in Rome and Vatican City will be set up for confessions.
  • April 30th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • May 5th – Pope Francis will lead a prayer “vigil to dry the tears,” in St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • May 14th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • June 10th – Jubilee for people who are sick or disabled, in St. Peter’s Square.
  • June 18th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • June 30th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • July 26th – Jubilee for Youth, on World Youth Day. The official site of World Youth Day in 2016 is Krakow, Poland.
  • September 10th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • October 1st – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • October 22nd – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • November 1st – Holy Mass for the faithful departed, at the Flaminio Cemetery.
  • November 6th – Jubilee for prisoners, in St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • November 12th – Some special papal audiences will be granted in St. Peter’s Square on this day.
  • November 13th – The holy doors of the Basilicas in Rome and around the world will be closed.
  • November 20th – Pope Francis will close the holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica, marking the end of the Jubilee Year.

- Jessica Spiegel

Special Events for Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy from Viator Rome



Pope Francis Declares 2016 a Jubilee Year

Pope Francis among the crowds in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Pope Francis among the crowds in front of St. Peter’s Basilica

Pope Francis recently announced that 2016 will be what’s known as a Holy Year, commonly called a “Jubilee Year.” The pope has declared it the Holy Year of Mercy, focusing on his favorite theme of compassion.

Jubilee Years have been called by the church every 25-50 years, starting in the year 1300. Historically, these were to be special periods of complete forgiveness of sins – in the Bible, it’s when slaves were to be set free and debts absolved. Today, a Jubilee Year is a time for the faithful to seek “Jubilee Indulgences” (which include visiting all four papal basilicas in Rome, entering through the “holy door”) and, more generally, an opportunity for the church to promote a particular theme (such as Pope Francis’ selected theme of “mercy”).

The Holy Year of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015 with a ceremonial opening of the holy doors on Rome’s four papal basilicas – St. Peter’s in Vatican City, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul’s Outside the Wall – which are only opened during Jubilee Years. Walking through all four of the holy doors is said to absolve a believer of all sins. The closing of the holy doors marks the end of the Jubilee Year – in this case, the end of the Holy Year of Mercy will be November 20, 2016.

If you’re visiting Rome and Vatican City during the Jubilee Year, you’ll see bigger crowds than normal – both pilgrims and tourists – and things like getting tickets to a papal audience or touring the Vatican will require more advance planning than usual. You’d be smart to book your accommodation as soon as possible, too.

- Jessica Spiegel

Pope Francis Declares 2016 a Jubilee Year from Viator Rome



Pope Francis Declares Jubilee Year in 2016

Pope Francis among the crowds in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Pope Francis among the crowd in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis recently announced that 2016 will be what’s known as a Holy Year, commonly called a “Jubilee Year.” The pope has declared it the Holy Year of Mercy, focusing on his favorite theme: compassion.

Jubilee Years have been called by the church every 25-50 years, starting in the year 1300. Historically, these were to be special periods of complete forgiveness of sins. In the Bible, it’s when slaves were to be set free and debts absolved. Today, a Jubilee Year is a time for the faithful to seek “Jubilee Indulgences” (which include visiting all four papal basilicas in Rome, entering through the “holy door”) and, more generally, an opportunity for the church to promote a particular theme (such as Pope Francis’ selected theme of “mercy”).

The Holy Year of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015 with a ceremonial opening of the holy doors on Rome’s four papal basilicas – St. Peter’s in Vatican City, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls – which are only opened during Jubilee Years. Walking through all four of the holy doors is said to absolve a believer of all sins. The closing of the holy doors marks the end of the Jubilee Year – in this case, the end of the Holy Year of Mercy will be November 20, 2016.

If you’re visiting Rome and Vatican City during the Jubilee Year, you’ll see bigger crowds than normal – both pilgrims and tourists – and things like getting tickets to a papal audience, touring the Vatican and booking accommodations will require more advance planning than usual.

- Contributed by Jessica Spiegel

Pope Francis Declares Jubilee Year in 2016 from Viator Rome



Become a Gladiator or a Spectator: Your Choice in Rome

Gladiator School in Rome

Gladiator School in Rome.

Whenever you let your imagination drift to what it might have been like to live in ancient Rome during the era of gladiator games, do you picture yourself as a fearless warrior battling it out in the arena, or as a spectator cheering from the stands? In modern Rome, you still have that choice, with Gladiator School or a Gladiator Show.

A visit to the Colosseum is definitely a must-do in Rome, but it can be hard to really understand what it must have been like when it was in use – the stands full of people, the dungeons beneath crowded with ferocious wild animals and men preparing to fight for their lives. Of course, there’s no way to truly recreate that life-or-death feeling today, but there are a couple of ways you can give your imagination something to work with that may help you understand ancient Rome a little better.

Roman Gladiator School

Students testing their new skills at Gladiator School

Students testing their new skills at Gladiator School.

Enroll in a two-hour private session at Gladiator School in Rome for hands-on lessons in the art of combat. Instructors are members of the Historic Group of Rome, so this isn’t just theater – the things they teach students are based in what we know of gladiator combat in ancient Rome.

You’ll be outfitted in gladiator garb and (safe but authentic) weaponry, and you’ll learn the basics of fighting with a sword and shield. Everyone who enrolls will get a certificate of accomplishment, and there’s no requirement to take part in any actual fighting, but if you’re feeling well-prepared by your training there’s an optional gladiatorial tournament with a prize for the winner.

Imperial Rome Gladiator Show

Gladiators demonstrating the art of combat

Gladiators demonstrating the art of combat.

Perhaps you always imagined yourself to be more of the Roman nobility type, watching the games rather than participating. In that case, you can spend an evening in Rome watching a gladiator dinner show at Gruppo Storico Romano.

The 1.5-hour show is meant to be a reasonable facsimile of ancient Roman gladiatorial games (without the actual death, of course), complete with ancient Roman dance performances before the gladiators take the ring in replica costumes and real weaponry. When the show is over, you’ll have dinner that includes traditional ancient Roman components.

- Contributed by Jessica Spiegel

Become a Gladiator or a Spectator: Your Choice in Rome from Viator Rome



Become a Gladiator or a Spectator: Your Choice in Rome

Gladiator School in Rome

Gladiator School in Rome

Whenever you let your imagination drift to what it might have been like to live in ancient Rome during the era of gladiator games, do you picture yourself as a fearless warrior battling it out in the arena, or as a spectator cheering from the stands? In modern Rome, you still have that choice, with Gladiator School or a Gladiator Show.

A visit to the Colosseum is definitely a must-do in Rome, but it can be hard to really understand what it must have been like when it was in use – the stands full of people, the dungeons beneath crowded with ferocious wild animals and men preparing to fight for their lives. Of course, there’s no way to truly recreate that life-or-death feeling today, but there are a couple of ways you can give your imagination something to work with that may help you understand ancient Rome a little better.

Roman Gladiator School

Students testing their new skills at Gladiator School

Students testing their new skills at Gladiator School

Enroll in a two-hour private session at Gladiator School in Rome for hands-on lessons in the art of combat. Instructors are members of the Historic Group of Rome, so this isn’t just theater – the things they teach students are based in what we know of gladiator combat in ancient Rome.

You’ll be outfitted in gladiator garb and (safe but authentic) weaponry, and you’ll learn the basics of fighting with a sword and shield. Everyone who enrolls will get a certificate of accomplishment, and there’s no requirement to take part in any actual fighting, but if you’re feeling well-prepared by your training there’s an optional gladiatorial tournament with a prize for the winner.

Imperial Rome Gladiator Show

Gladiators demonstrating the art of combat

Gladiators demonstrating the art of combat

Perhaps you always imagined yourself to be more of the Roman nobility type, watching the games rather than participating. In that case, you can spend an evening in Rome watching a gladiator dinner show at Gruppo Storico Romano.

The 1.5-hour show is meant to be a reasonable facsimile of ancient Roman gladiatorial games (without the actual death, of course), complete with ancient Roman dance performances before the gladiators take the ring in replica costumes and real weaponry. When the show is over, you’ll have dinner that includes traditional ancient Roman components.

Become a Gladiator or a Spectator: Your Choice in Rome from Viator Rome



Rome from Above

How else can you get a view like this than from the air?

How else can you get a view like this than from the air?

Rome is a lot to take in. It’s a busy city, where modern Romans live and work surrounded by the remnants of the civilization that put the city on the map more than two thousand years ago. Even if Rome has been on your wish list for years, it’s hard to absorb without a break from all the hustle and history. Getting into the countryside is a good way to reset – especially if you can soar over the landscape and see Rome from above.

You’ve got a few options when it comes to flying over Rome and the surrounding region, so you can pick the one that best suits your budget and the fear factor you want to incorporate into your vacation.

Preparing for a hot air balloon trip is part of the beauty

Preparing for a hot air balloon trip is part of the beauty

Hot Air Balloon Trips

Taking a hot air balloon ride from Rome through the Lazio region might be the perfect middle ground between adrenaline sport and passive entertainment. Yes, someone else is doing the hard work of flying the balloon, but there’s nothing between you and the air but a basket – which is an exhilarating feeling. Your one-hour flight glides over the Lazio landscape, giving you a sense of just how much of the region is rural compared to how very “city” Rome feels, and you’ll toast the completion of your trip with a sparkling wine. These tours launch very early in the morning, and include round-trip transportation from your Rome hotel.

Hang Gliding, Sky Diving, Ultra Lights

The Lazio region offers plenty of opportunities to do what some might call “extreme sports,” including things like hang gliding and sky diving. No experience is necessary, since you’ll be doing a tandem jump or flight with an expert. You won’t be responsible for any of the tricky stuff – like landing! – so you’ll just get to enjoy the ride. Sky dives are high adrenaline activities, and are over fairly quickly, while hang gliding lasts a bit longer as you let the wind carry you. You can even choose to join a pilot in an ultra light – these have motors, and so your pilot has much more control over where you go.

See different parts of Rome & the surrounding area than you would otherwise

See different parts of Rome & the surrounding area than you would otherwise

Helicopter Tours

Helicopter tours certainly give you the feeling of being a VIP in Rome – especially if they include more than just a bird’s eye view tour of Rome and Lazio. Some of these flights are tours that conclude with dinner at a restaurant far from the city center, after which you’ll be flown back to Rome aboard your helicopter. And even if your flight doesn’t include dinner, you’ll still get a unique vantage point over the Eternal City from the inside of a helicopter that isn’t at the mercy of the direction of the wind.

- Jessica Spiegel

Rome from Above from Viator Rome



Rome from Above

How else can you get a view like this than from the air?

How else can you get a view like this than from the air?

Rome is a lot to take in. It’s a busy city, where modern Romans live and work surrounded by the remnants of the civilization that put the city on the map more than two thousand years ago. Even if Rome has been on your wish list for years, it’s hard to absorb without a break from all the hustle and history. Getting into the countryside is a good way to reset — especially if you can soar over the landscape and see Rome from above.

You’ve got a few options when it comes to flying over Rome and the surrounding region, so you can pick the one that best suits your budget and the fear factor you want to incorporate into your vacation.

Preparing for a hot air balloon trip is part of the beauty

Preparing for a hot air balloon trip is part of the beauty

Hot Air Balloon Trips

Taking a hot air balloon ride from Rome through the Lazio region might be the perfect middle ground between adrenaline sport and passive entertainment. Yes, someone else is doing the hard work of flying the balloon, but there’s nothing between you and the air but a basket — which is an exhilarating feeling. Your one-hour flight glides over the Lazio landscape, giving you a sense of just how much of the region is rural compared to how very “city” Rome feels, and you’ll toast the completion of your trip with a sparkling wine. These tours launch very early in the morning, and include round-trip transportation from your Rome hotel.

Hang Gliding, Sky Diving, Ultra Lights

The Lazio region offers plenty of opportunities to do what some might call “extreme sports,” including things like hang gliding and sky diving. No experience is necessary, since you’ll be doing a tandem jump or flight with an expert. You won’t be responsible for any of the tricky stuff — like landing! — so you’ll just get to enjoy the ride. Sky dives are high adrenaline activities, and are over fairly quickly, while hang gliding lasts a bit longer as you let the wind carry you. You can even choose to join a pilot in an ultra light — these have motors, and so your pilot has much more control over where you go.

See different parts of Rome & the surrounding area than you would otherwise

See different parts of Rome and the surrounding area than you would otherwise.

Helicopter Tours

Helicopter tours certainly give you the feeling of being a VIP in Rome — especially if they include more than just a bird’s eye view tour of Rome and Lazio. Some of these flights are tours that conclude with dinner at a restaurant far from the city center, after which you’ll be flown back to Rome aboard your helicopter. And even if your flight doesn’t include dinner, you’ll still get a unique vantage point over the Eternal City from the inside of a helicopter that isn’t at the mercy of the direction of the wind.

- Jessica Spiegel

Rome from Above from Viator Rome



Rome from Above

How else can you get a view like this than from the air?

How else can you get a view like this than from the air?

Rome is a lot to take in. It’s a busy city, where modern Romans live and work surrounded by the remnants of the civilization that put the city on the map more than two thousand years ago. Even if Rome has been on your wish list for years, it’s hard to absorb without a break from all the hustle and history. Getting into the countryside is a good way to reset — especially if you can soar over the landscape and see Rome from above.

You’ve got a few options when it comes to flying over Rome and the surrounding region, so you can pick the one that best suits your budget and the fear factor you want to incorporate into your vacation.

Preparing for a hot air balloon trip is part of the beauty

Preparing for a hot air balloon trip is part of the beauty

Hot Air Balloon Trips

Taking a hot air balloon ride from Rome through the Lazio region might be the perfect middle ground between adrenaline sport and passive entertainment. Yes, someone else is doing the hard work of flying the balloon, but there’s nothing between you and the air but a basket — which is an exhilarating feeling. Your one-hour flight glides over the Lazio landscape, giving you a sense of just how much of the region is rural compared to how very “city” Rome feels, and you’ll toast the completion of your trip with a sparkling wine. These tours launch very early in the morning, and include round-trip transportation from your Rome hotel.

Hang Gliding, Sky Diving, Ultra Lights

The Lazio region offers plenty of opportunities to do what some might call “extreme sports,” including things like hang gliding and sky diving. No experience is necessary, since you’ll be doing a tandem jump or flight with an expert. You won’t be responsible for any of the tricky stuff — like landing! — so you’ll just get to enjoy the ride. Sky dives are high adrenaline activities, and are over fairly quickly, while hang gliding lasts a bit longer as you let the wind carry you. You can even choose to join a pilot in an ultra light — these have motors, and so your pilot has much more control over where you go.

See different parts of Rome & the surrounding area than you would otherwise

See different parts of Rome and the surrounding area than you would otherwise.

Helicopter Tours

Helicopter tours certainly give you the feeling of being a VIP in Rome — especially if they include more than just a bird’s eye view tour of Rome and Lazio. Some of these flights are tours that conclude with dinner at a restaurant far from the city center, after which you’ll be flown back to Rome aboard your helicopter. And even if your flight doesn’t include dinner, you’ll still get a unique vantage point over the Eternal City from the inside of a helicopter that isn’t at the mercy of the direction of the wind.

- Jessica Spiegel

Rome from Above from Viator Rome



Underground Rome

Rome has enough above-ground sights and attractions to keep the intrepid tourist occupied for weeks, if not months. But this is a city with a past, much of which lies beneath the modern pavement. To get a fuller picture of the history of Rome, you’ve got to go underground.

Throughout Rome there are underground attractions that you can visit, some only with a guided tour and others on your own. Many underground sites are still being excavated and are not open to the public, but may be in the future. The list of what archaeologists have found under the streets of Rome continues to grow, much to our delight. Here are just a few of the fascinating stops on a tour of underground Rome that you may want to consider for your own trip.

Colosseum Underground Chambers

The underground chambers of Rome's Colosseum

The underground chambers of Rome’s Colosseum

Rome’s main attraction, and one of its iconic symbols, is the Colosseum. Countless people stream through the gates every year to see it up close, but it’s only in recent years that you can descend into the underground chambers of the arena. Here, you’ll find two levels of newly-renovated rooms where the many animals and gladiators awaited their fate on the arena floor. There was even an elaborate system of pulleys to raise animals and warriors from their underground cells up into the Colosseum through any one of 36 trap doors in the arena floor. You can visit the underground chambers on a guided tour of the Colosseum.

Roman Catacombs

A sign points the way to the Roman Catacombs

A sign points the way to the Roman Catacombs

The series of ancient underground burial chambers in Rome – the Roman catacombs – dates back to the 2nd century. These lie just outside the city limits, since burials inside the old city walls was once against the law. Having burials underground and away from prying eyes also meant that Christians who were being persecuted could bury their dead according to their beliefs – so you’ll find some elements of the earliest Christian burials in Rome in the catacombs. Several of the ancient catacombs are open to the public, but most of the 60+ catacombs are off-limits to anyone but archaeologists and researchers. There are some catacombs that you can visit only with a guided tour, so if you prefer a less crowded underground experience that’s the way to go.

Basilica of San Clemente

The tunnels under the Basilica of San Clemente

The tunnels under the Basilica of San Clemente

On the surface, the Basilica of San Clemente is another church in Rome that you might not even notice. Below the church, however, are excavations that date back to the 1st century. There are two different ancient levels that have been discovered, one with the remains of a 4th century basilica built on this site, and another further below with the remains of a 1st century Roman home. Of particular note in the 4th century basilica is an area that was used in the 2nd century as a “mithraeum,” or a place of worship for the mysterious cult of Mithras. These underground areas of the basilica are open to the public for a small fee.

Crypta Balbi

Crypta Balbi

Crypta Balbi. Creative commons photo by Avinash Kunnath via Flickr.

The Crypta Balbi is actually one outpost of the National Roman Museum, housed in this underground location because of what was found there in the 1980s – the remains of an ancient theatre and an ancient grain storehouse. The theatre was built for Lucius Cornelius Balbus, for whom the space is named, in the 1st century B.C.E. In addition to objects the excavations have yielded, the museum space also includes exhibits from several other National Roman Museum outlets. Much of the museum is open to the public without requiring a guide, but in the lowest levels where the archaeological elements are visible you must be with a guided tour.

Basilica of Saints John & Paul

It’s hard to call the above-ground Basilica of Saints John & Paul – also known as Santi Giovanni e Paolo – “modern,” since it was built in the 4th century. What makes this church special from an archaeological standpoint, however, is that it was built on top of two ancient Roman homes – the homes of soldiers John and Paul, the martyrs for whom the church is named. The underground attractions in the basilica were largely forgotton over the centuries, however, and only rediscovered in the late 19th century. The rooms below the church date back to the 1st century, and include ancient frescoes. The church is on the Celian Hill, and the “Case Romane del Celio” museum encompasses the ancient Roman homes beneath it. It’s open to the public for a small fee, and guided visits are available by prior appointment.

- Jessica Spiegel

Underground Rome from Viator Rome