The sight of the iconic Colosseum in Rome is the stuff of travelling dreams, great memories, and plenty of history. So, when I had the chance to experience Rome by donning a helmet and getting on a classic Italian Vespa scooter, I was just a little bit excited. And relieved that I didn’t have to worry about Vespa hire in Rome or riding a scooter in Rome’s notorious traffic myself!
Be warned: this is not your everyday meandering tour with a guide who has lost the will to live, walking by monuments with a monologue script about Rome’s history. No, this is an exciting ride around Rome that will have you waving at strangers, taking lots of photos and pinching yourself as you pass many of Rome’s landmarks and also some hidden spots in Rome while sitting back and enjoying the ride.
We began our Rome Vespa sidecar tour at our meeting point at Piazza della Repubblica outside the Anantara Palazzo Naiadi Rome Hotel. Awaiting us was a collection of Vespa scooters with sidecars, all in the colours of the Italian flag of Green, White and Red. We were about to discover one of our favourite new things to do in Rome.
And our 19-year-old son who had met up with us in Rome and was joining us on the tour as a surprise. We hadn’t told him what tour we were doing and the look on his face was priceless when he arrived and saw our fabulous transport lined up all in a row. As the drivers polished and attended to their machines, we presented ourselves to our guide, Barbara, who greeted us with a big smile and ticked us off her list.
Once everyone had arrived, she warmly welcomed everyone on the tour and gave us a brief rundown of the tour’s schedule. We were also issued our radio receivers and earbuds for our commentary, which Barbara did from the back of a Vespa as she drove along. Safety was addressed with instructions on helmets, hair nets, and the use of the bars attached to the scooter’s back seat. These lovely chrome handles are mostly there to keep you stable as you wind your way leisurely past fountains, colonnades and palaces.
We had booked the afternoon Vespa sidecar tour with a gelato stop as my wife, son, and I are gelato junkies always after a quick hit of creamy goodness. If you’re not into gelato, there is also an espresso morning tour where you enjoy a cup of espresso coffee and pastry (a classic Italian breakfast) at the Piazza della Repubblica meeting spot. Or you can make it a Vespa sidecar tour with a cappuccino, as the Italians drink milky coffee in the mornings. Order a milky coffee in the afternoon anywhere in Italy and you’ll blow your cool image!
As the scooters only have one spot in the sidecar, couples, friends and families often swap during the tour. As we were travelling as a group of three, we mixed it up a little, and all had a go travelling behind the driver and in the sidecar. I am 6 foot 3 inches tall and ended up gladly taking the pillion position for most of our tour as it provided more room for my long legs.
After everyone settled onto their assigned Vespas, we began with a quick ride to the Trevi Fountain, which was only five minutes away. This was great for sorting out comfort and any radio issues and getting settled in for the fun ahead.
Our drivers stopped and we went for a (very) short walk then assembled near the fountain as Barbara gave each of us a coin and the instructions for tossing the coin into the Trevi Fountain, as there are strict rules about which shoulder to throw it over etc.
According to the legend, there are also three key reasons for tossing coins into the Trevi, the first and most well-known is to one day return to Rome (which is what we were all going for), the second is to find love or romance, and the third is marriage. You apparently need three coins, so perhaps come with a full pocket of change if needed. If return to the Trevi Fountain after the tour. Once of the many things we loved about this trip is it gives you a great overview of the city, and plenty of inspiration for things to do during the rest of your time in Rome.
Mounting our trusty Vespas again, we began our sojourn through the streets of Rome in earnest and set course for an amazing afternoon. We travelled past the highlights and wound our way into backstreets, alleyways and side streets that all the drivers knew my heart which ensured an easy ride through Rome traffic.
Along the way, we passed the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, St Peter’s Square and the Vatican where we had done a Vatican after hours tour the day before before stopping at the Pantheon for a guided tour with Barbara (the entry fee is also included in the tour). This is a huge bonus as you usually have to line up for tickets and then wait to get in as there are strict limits on the number allowed in at any time. Barbara pointed out all the unique, fantastic art, quirky secrets, and myths about the Pantheon and helped us get the perfect photo before we went back outside and got on the Vespas again.
Barbara didn’t miss a beat during the entire tour and delivered fascinating commentary while riding around on the back of a Vespa. We were impressed that someone could be so good at multi-tasking, as she had to remember loads of fun facts and historical information, keep her balance and talk without missing a beat on the cobblestone streets and waving through Rome’s traffic.
The next part of the ride was the longest and we enjoyed every minute. We relaxed and enjoyed the drive up the Gianicolo Hill to the lookout for a panoramic view of Rome. This is another area we dismounted and took in all of Rome, plus we swapped riding positions and took more photos.
Spinning down from the hill, we passed the impressive Fontana dell’Acqua Paola fountain before our next stop, the Egyptian-themed Piazza del Popolo, because Romans had at one stage a big Egyptian fixation, surprisingly. We also passed a family on a golf cart tour who looked at us longingly, no doubt wishing they were on our funky tour instead of trundling around Rome like it was a golf course.
We were then off to Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto, where some cool graffiti and one of Rome’s best gelato shops awaited to provide us all with some deliciousness in a cone. Selecting gelato can be tricky, so we asked for expert recommendations and hit the jackpot with some great flavours (you get to choose two scoops). Always ask for whipped cream on top like the Romans do, it’s incredible.
As our tour was nearing the end, we took a breath and wrung out our hair nets as it was a scorching 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) on the day of our tour. If you are also doing the tour in summer, do as we did and wear sunscreen and sunglasses, and also drink plenty of water (a bottle was provided but we also brought our own) as there is also heat radiating from the road.
It was time for a spin past the National Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (a.k.a. The Wedding Cake) and the guarded Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame, built under the statue of the Goddess Roma. This is an imposing building, and you get to go around twice to get the best photos.
Driving up to the Colosseum came with a mystery tour through some clever back streets so we arrived with a huge ‘Wow!’ moment and had the perfect view and backdrop for our photos. This is where you have your ideal photo moment with the Vespas and the Colosseum, which will go straight to Instagram and make all your friends wish they were in Rome.
This is where you can choose to depart the tour to explore the Colosseum or return to Piazza della Repubblica to catch the Metro or head to Termini Central Station which are both a five minute walk away. Overall, this tour was the perfect introduction to Rome and just as enjoyable for first-timers or people like us who have been to the city many times.
We thought we ‘knew’ Rome, but we visited so many places we had never been before on this tour! It was filled with wonderful surprises from start to finish and so much fun that our 19-year-old son paid for the same tour again a week later so he could do it again and take his girlfriend on it when she flew into Rome.
Disclosure: The writers were guests of Vespa Sidecar Tours and their son paid for his tour (twice, because he loved it so much). All of us highly recommend this tour.
Want to travel smarter and save money? Check out our tips for flying a low cost airline, keeping your luggage safe, visiting Europe in peak season, getting a great car hire deal, avoiding travel scams, saving money at the airport, staying at an Airbnb, finding cheap five star hotel deals, catching public transport overseas, staying safe in a big city, getting the best round-the-world airfares, making the most of a five star hotel stay, travelling during low season, visiting a theme park in peak season, packing a carry on bag, visiting a wine region, planning a romantic getaway, early morning flights, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, multigenerational travel, travelling in a motorhome, buying the best souvenirs, going on safari, visiting the Eiffel Tower, travelling with pets, holidaying with adult children, travelling with teens, and sleeping on a plane.