Will You Really Need a Skip the Line Pass for the Sites in Rome?

We recently spent three days in Rome and before we went I did a ton of research. Every blog or travel site told me I would want to invest in a skip the line pass for the attractions we were interested in seeing. I wasn't sure what to expect, and while we did visit in what they say is the "low" season, there were plenty of tourists to be had. Rome is a popular destination and many companies are selling tickets to "skip the line" even to free attractions. But what does this actually mean and should you pay extra to skip the line and buy the pass?

skip the line passes

Do You Really Need to Buy a Skip the Line Pass in Rome?

family vacation in rome

The city's top sites {the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, and the Borghese Gallery} all offer passes you can purchase to skip the line. Visitors with these passes think they can easily meander past the snaked lines that are formed outside, but this is often not the case. A quick search on any trip advisor or travel site will quickly take you to multiple sites where you can purchase skip the line passes, but are they worth it? 

We didn't think so. 

Most guides will tell you to book your tickets online to attractions in Rome ahead of time. 

Again, we didn't do this either. Part of the reason we didn't is that you are required to book a time slot for your visit. I didn't want to plan our trip out without really understanding what we were planning on doing during our visit.

We were also traveling with children under 18, who are generally free at most attractions, though I wasn't sure how to book a ticket for them and not get charged. 

Part of not booking online ahead was just ignorance on my part, however, it seemed to work out OK in the end and I'm glad I skipped the advice I had been reading everywhere. 

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Here are my tips for skipping the line at Rome's most popular attractions without buying a skip the line pass!

Vatican Museum area Including St. Peter's Basilica Skip the Line Tips

Vatican city skip the line tour

Vatican City is bustling and the lines will always be long, however, there are ways to make sure you aren't spending your holiday hours waiting in line. Our family decided that it wasn't necessarily interested in touring the Vatican Museum but instead wanted to go to St. Peter's Basilica. 

St. Peter's is a working church that offers free admission. We knew we wanted to climb the stairs to the cupola, which is an additional charge. There is no ticket line for St. Peter's, however, we did have to wait in the security line to get admission into the building. 

There is no skip the line pass for the security lines at any of Rome's attractions!

These security lines can be long and they are unavoidable. Your best bet is to come early. St. Peter's opens before any of the other buildings in Vatican City. We arrived half an hour after opening and waited in a security line of about 10 minutes. However, when we left a few hours later, the security line was hours long. 

Keep in mind, there is a dress code when you visit churches in Italy: no shorts or tank tops and no skirts above the knee. At St. Peter's you may be able to get through security but there will be attendants at the door turning you away because of your dress regardless of how long you waited in line.

After getting through security, we turned right and followed the signs to the cupola. We bought our ticket {two people in line in front of us} and despite saying it didn't open for another 15 minutes, we were told we could go on ahead. I couldn't imagine walking those tight stairways with hordes of people, so I'm grateful we went early.

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skip the line passes at vatican city for st. peter's basilica

Skip the Line at St. Peter's Basilica without paying extra: Get there when it opens!

I don't regret not stopping in the Vatican Museum on this trip. I am glad that we paid the extra to go to the top of the Cupola at St. Peter's Basilica. I felt like we were able to get a birds-eye view of Vatican City and take in the gardens and surrounding areas without waiting in the hours' long line to get in. 

Taking in Vatican City properly could be a day-long visit. In around 2 hours, we were able to tour St. Peter's Basilica, walk the steps to the Cupola, take in a snack at the Dome {delicious espresso at the top!} and listen to the Rick Steve's audio tour of the church. I feel like we saw what we really wanted to see and experienced what we wanted to experience. 

What I wish I'd known before climbing the St. Peter's Cupola

We decided to climb all the way by foot. All 551 steps worth! You can pay extra to take the lift up to the dome, however, the walk up wasn't too bad. I didn't realize that we would be routed back through a different exit on our way down. We hurried past to get to the top of the Cupola to beat the crowds thinking we could stop again on our way back to enjoy the view, however, I was wrong. 

You will be routed down a different staircase on the way down from the Cupola so if you want to soak it all in, do so on your way up. You may not have the chance again.

Colosseum Skip the Line Tips

skip the line passes
So, best-laid plans were thwarted when we visited on the annual Rome Marathon day that happened to bring 10,000 runners to the Colosseum. This will likely not be your story, but I will say, Italians make little mention of delays in opening or mention of changes of plans for things like large marathon events, festivals or holidays. 

I was on the official Colosseum website the day before our visit and saw no mention of the marathon and subsequent hours-long delay in opening. We were queued in line and again, no signs and no attendants telling us that the hours had been changed for the day, just a bunch of confused tourists, some with tickets in hand {because people will always take your money!} not knowing what to expect.

Everything I read mentioned getting in the Palatine Hill line by the Roman Forum to purchase tickets. From other people I spoke to, they said that this was indeed true and while we stood in line to queue up outside the Palatine Hill entrance it wasn't until well after the mentioned opening time came and went, that anyone noticed behind the locked gates tucked far inside away from any clear eye line, a sign that said the Palatine Hill entrance was closed until 2:30 pm due to the marathon. 

So, we lined up with the rest of the bunch in the only line we saw at the Colosseum. There was only one line and once the gates opened, we entered in rather quickly. Despite being the first Sunday of the month, which should have been a free entry day, we were charged. Again, just another snafu in our plan that made our visit out of the ordinary. 

**side note, there are several free days scattered throughout the year. It took some digging to find those dates, and they aren't always accurate. However, despite those free days, ticket sites will still take your money! They do not care. So you need to be vigilant if you want to save the money and take advantage of a discount or free day because they will not openly offer this information up to you.

skip the line passes

There is NO skip the line pass for Colosseum security lines!

Even if you have a skip the line pass for the Colosseum, you will still have to wait in the security line.
I found that the line for the Colosseum once the doors were opened, moved quickly and we were in without having to pay an extra skip the line fee.

Our experience visiting the Colosseum was out of the ordinary, so I can't really speak into a "normal" experience. What I would advise though, is trying to purchase your tickets at Palatine Hill {the staircase just above the queued line and around the side} and then proceeding to the security line to enter. 

What I wish I had known before visiting the Colosseum

We paid extra for a guided tour of the underground Gladiator arena and upper levels of the Colosseum. The 3rd, 4th and 5th tiers of the Colosseum are open to a limited amount of people daily and only with a guide. Our guide was horrible. Not sure there was much we could do about it. You may get lucky with a better guide. Or you may not. 

I wish I had downloaded the Rick Steve's Colosseum audio guide {it's free!} before we went and used that instead of listening to our official guide. However, it was worth it to get to see all of the levels of the Colosseum, so I'd absolutely recommend paying extra and buying the behind the scenes ticket.
We looked back at the entrance gate after spending a few hours inside the Colosseum and noticed nary a line. Again, my experience was different but I didn't see the need to purchase an extra skip the line pass. 

Roman Forum Skip the Line Tips

skip the line pass rome

We purchased a ticket that included entrance into the Roman Forum, so after our visit to the Colosseum, we headed into the line for the Roman Forum. I sauntered past the long line that had formed thinking they were there to buy tickets. Nope. Another line for security. 

Once again this was a reminder that there is no skip the line pass for the security lines!
Security lines kind of level the playing field for everyone, and no pass can move you through it any faster.

Ruins of Pompeii Skip the Line Tips

Farther from Rome, you may decide to take a day trip to the Ruins of Pompeii. Once again, we had the opportunity to pay an additional fee to skip the line. Pompeii was high on my kids' list of places to see and experience {sadly it fell short!} so we paid extra to take a tour with a local guide. This did include a skip the line pass. But guess what? When we walked past the ticket window there was barely a line!  

Granted, it was rainy on the day we visited but had I pre-purchased our tickets, paid extra for the skip the line option and got to Pompeii and saw that there was indeed NO line, I probably would have been pissed. 

Should you Buy Skip the Line Passes in Rome?

So, should you? I'm going to have to say no. 

Save your money and spend it on some good wine and pasta instead. Do your best to show up at these popular attractions as soon as they open, follow these simple tips to help beat the lines and enjoy the savings. I think it's possible to enjoy all these popular attractions in Rome without feeling the urgency to pay extra for something that may not actually help you in the end. 

Maybe I'm wrong though. What's been your experience?

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