When we learned that one of our favorite tour companies in Rome launched a Roman icons tour that includes Castel Sant’Angelo and the Pantheon, we were thrilled and couldn’t wait to join.
By visiting two of the oldest and most significant buildings of ancient Rome, it’s only normal that your adventure involves countless tales, stories, and anecdotes of the events that happened throughout the centuries. The destiny of the whole city is strictly linked to the history of these two monuments, so this Roman Icons tour will take you to travel in time across the most important facts that shaped our path.
We recently joined this tour and couldn’t wait to share our experience. In this review, we want to share why we liked it, how it runs, and what you should expect in the hope to help you decide whether it’s a good fit for you or not.
Table of Contents
What to expect by the Roman Icons tour runs + our experience
The Hadrian Mausoleum was our first and longest stop, understandably so, given the importance of the building throughout history. Strictly entangled with the events that made Rome the eternal city, Castel Sant’Angelo is the quintessential site to visit to have a grasp of how long and obstreperous Rome’s past has been.
Rome is well known for being home to several landmarks that testify to its long history, but Castel Sant’Angelo is truly one of the most important and heavy with meaning, past events, and critical moments.
I had already been to Castel Sant’Angelo, but I have no problem admitting that my previous visit was not as complete and full. Our guide, Siriana, was extremely knowledgeable and with every explanation and tale, her passion for history, art, and symbolism was clearer and clearer.
To be honest, there shouldn’t be any other way of visiting Castel Sant’Angelo. This building is so meaningful to Rome and so telling of every century and period of the local history, that exploring it the way I did the first time was somehow wasted.
By taking the Roman Icons tour with Walks, you will understand the different architectural styles, and the additions made throughout the centuries. So you will visit the 1st-century building including the room where Hadrian’s urn was kept, and you will also walk through the medieval areas and more modern halls. Along with the different parts of the building, you will also learn about each step that made the Hadrian Mausoleum evolve into Castel Sant’Angelo.
Your visit to this important landmark will end in the only way possible for this incredible site, on its terrace. From here, you will have a truly breathtaking view of Rome’s city center but not limited to the most central neighborhoods. In fact, you will easily spot even the Gasometer in the Ostiense quarter. Arguably, this is one of the very best views of Rome.
Centro Storico backstreets
On our way from Castel Sant’Angelo to Piazza Navona, our guide thought better to enrich the short journey with local tales and anecdotes belonging to different centuries and important past events, including the brutal Sack of Rome by Charles V’s Landsknechts German mercenaries, one of the darkest pages in Roman history.
What I liked in this stage of the tour is that despite the huge crowds, because we took the tour in spring, which is possibly the busiest season in Rome, the backstreets we took were empty, allowing us to enjoy the local vibe and village-like spirit of the old town.
Before heading to the Pantheon, which is the last landmark of the tour, we made a brief stop in Piazza Navona. Even though it’s one of the most photographed, visited, famous, and beautiful piazzas in Rome, it’s on the way so we couldn’t really miss it in a “Roman icons” tour.
Here, too, the explanations Siriana gave us and the stories she told us were not the obvious and most well-known any Google first results can give you. Starting from the very origins of Piazza Navona, we learned about the Stadium of Domitian, how the modern square came to be, and how it stands on top of the ancient Roman site.
As a fan of Bernini and Borromini myself, and after researching much about the constant rivalries between the two artists, talking about this with a local expert certainly strengthened my knowledge, even raising more questions.
The last stop of our Roman Icons tour was the Pantheon. Thankfully Siriana didn’t let the huge line scare her and we entered one of the most important Roman temples of all time. Now a Catholic church, for the Romans, the Pantheon is always the Pantheon. In fact, it’s never referred to its current name, Basilica of Sancta Maria ad Martyres.
Being such a famous Roman building, the Pantheon is very popular and chances are that, if it’s not your first time in Rome, you have already been there yourself. Don’t worry about it, this tour is meant to challenge your previous knowledge and add value to it.
This is what I liked about Roman Icons tour with Walks, all the incredible amount of notions I was lacking despite years of living in Rome, exploring it, and studying its history.
Is the Roman Icons tour for you?
Here are some reasons that will help you decide whether this tour is for you or not.
- There’s plenty of history. History buffs should absolutely take this tour, it seems specifically tailored for them.
- You’ll see plenty of art. Art enthusiasts, too, will love it because they will travel in time through the different art periods, expressions, and masterpieces.
- You will need to walk and climb stairs. If you are not comfortable walking, climbing, and standing for three hours, then this tour will result heavy on you.
- You might need to queue. While for Castel Sant’Angelo the tour includes a skip-the-line entrance, for the Pantheon there is no such thing and everyone needs to queue. Thankfully, the line runs pretty fast because there is no ticket entrance and checking, so you will enter quickly enough.
- The best view of Rome. The single best view of Rome you will likely have ever seen will unfold before your eyes from the terrace of Castel Sant’Angelo. All-encompassing, it will include the Centro Storico, Saint Peter’s Basilica, several domes, the winding Tiber river, the Vittoriano complex, Via della Conciliazione, and some scenic Roman bridges such as Ponte Vittorio Emanuele and obviously Ponte Sant’Angelo.
Practicalities + how to book
- Starting time. The Roman Icons tour starts at 9 am but you will be asked to show up at the meeting point 15 minutes earlier, so 8.45 am.
- Meeting point. The tour starts at Castel Sant’Angelo and the meeting point is in the main square right in front of the entrance.
- How long. The tour lasts 3 hours, from 9 am to 12 pm.
- How much. The tour costs 59€ for adults, 49€ for children, free for infants under 2.
- How to book. To book this tour, head over to Walks’ website where you will be able to choose your preferred day and how many participants you are.
Tips for a full experience
Here are some of my tips to enjoy your visit and also the rest of your day right after it.
- Wear comfortable shoes. This is an absolute must because you are going to climb stairs, walk, and stand quite a lot.
- Don’t forget your camera. Beautiful interiors and stunning views are all part of this tour so make sure you are carrying your camera, be it a DSLR, a compact, or even only your smartphone. Trust me, you will want to remember, rewatch, and share those images with your friends and family.
- Carry a bottle of water. There won’t be much time to queue and buy bottles or refreshments of any kind so having a bottle of water at your disposal is helpful to keep yourself hydrated, especially in summer.
- Decide where to have lunch. This might sound weird and out of context but it’s not. The tour lasts 3 hours and ends at lunchtime, so it’s a good idea to decide where to eat beforehand so you don’t waste time looking for a place when you are already hungry. This is especially helpful to avoid ending up in one of the tourist restaurants that abound in the area. Check out our recommendation for great restaurants in Rome for every neighborhood.