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Hiring a Tour Guide: Is it Worth it?

My husband, Bill, and I had never hired a private tour guide before our recent trip to Italy. In the past, we read our guidebooks, consulted the internet, and reviewed to see what our writers had to say. We then did our own thing. We have also been part of  large group tours, but this experience showed us the value of a knowledgeable, private tour guide to help us sort through the must-sees and the it-would-be-nice to see. It saved us valuable time and as you know,when on vacation, every minute counts.

Rome from the Vatican

Rome from the Vatican

As we planned our travels, we set up a press trip with a great company called , a company that seeks out local guides who really know the territory to help you design the perfect tour that will meet your specific needs. We received complimentary tours during our visits to Rome and Pompeii/Herculaneum. But, that fact does not influence my assessment of the services we received. Our goal was to assess the value of a private tour guide against the cost. Our guides were all certified and highly experienced as you must pass a rigorous series of exams, both written and oral, in order to become a licensed tour guide in Italy. This is a very difficult process, with approximately only one in 10 applicants passing the examinations. This was evident, given the deep knowledge and experience of our guides. There are plenty of people who will approach you on the street telling you that you can pay them to get you into a museum or attraction without waiting in line. Do not do this; they are not certified guides and it will cost more money than it is worth. If you are inclined to use a private guide, plan ahead and talk via email with a guide before you even get to your destination. They are a font of knowledge and will help you get the most from your visit.

Tour Guide Sergio Grom and me

Tour Guide Sergio Grom and me

We had been to Rome about ten years ago and at that time explored the city on our own. This time, we wanted to come away with a deeper understanding of the rich history of the city and to be assured that we were seeing authentic Rome and the Vatican. We saw the major tourist sites on our own but to get a more in-depth understanding of the city, we took a private  3-hour walking tour of Rome with historian and certified tour guide, Sergio Grom. Sergio met us at our hotel and quickly determined what we had already seen (the main tourist sights) and what specific interests we had. We love art and architecture, so he took that into consideration in planning our walking tour. He began with taking us to the  Santa Maria della Vittoria Church to see Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Therese, a gem we would have missed entirely if on our own.

Ecstasy of St. Therese by Bernini

Ecstasy of St. Therese by Bernini

In a most engaging, entertaining manner, Sergio provided us with a solid historical perspective of Roman times, the rule of the most significant popes through the centuries, and the relationship between the church and Mussolini in the late 1920s. We visited the most important churches and basilicas and finished with a walk through Rome’s Jewish quarter. We saw and learned so much in the three hours we spent with Sergio, that it can be said we came away with a new-found, enduring interest in ancient and contemporary Rome.

A few days later, we embarked on a visit to the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel), and St. Peter’s Basilica. This time, we were accompanied by Lara Grom (Sergio’s daughter who is an art history major and certified guide. You can reach her through Sergio) I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a certified guide (preferably a private guide) to visit these treasures. In the first place, because we made appointments, we were able to walk right into the museum without waiting in line for hours. And, since the museum is actually one of the largest museums in the world, we were able to visit parts that were of particular interest to us instead of plodding through, not knowing where we were going. We also learned that Lara is the mother of two children and is delighted to provide guide services to families.

Map Room at the Vatican Museum

Map Room at the Vatican Museum

Before we entered the Sistine Chapel, Lara sat us down with a book of photos of the the ceiling and walls to prepare us for what we would see in the Chapel. While in the Sistine Chapel, there is no talking or taking of photographs, so it was important for us to know in advance what we would be seeing. We learned, for instance, about some of the symbolism in Michelangelo’s ceiling frescos and the wall paintings which were executed by several leading painters of the late 15th century including: Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino. After our quiet time in the Sistine Chapel, we walked to St Peter’s to view the Pieta by Michelangelo and other magnificent works of art housed in the vast Basilica.

Lara Grom and Bill

Lara Grom and Bill at St. Peter’s

The morning was a complete success. We know now that a visit to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums would not be complete without an enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide.

After Rome, we took the fast train to Naples, from which we planned to visit Herculaneum and Pompeii. We prepared ourselves for the visit  by going to the famous National Archeological Museum in Naples. Here you will find many artifacts from Pompeii that will give you a glimpse into what life was like before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

This time our guide was Emiliano Tufano, an archeologist and certified guide. Emiliano provides exclusive, tailor-made tours, designed according to your requirements. We began our tour in Herculaneum, a smaller site than Pompeii that was also devastated by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. We viewed the entire site with Emiliano’s knowledgeable and witty commentary on the history and archeological aspects of the town.



Emiliano then drove us to Pompeii, a much larger site, where we saw how the Pompeians lived before that fateful day. The tour was filled with interesting facts and amusing anecdotes. Emiliano, who lives in Pompeii, is brimming with knowledge of the site and of the volcanic eruption and its effects. Emiliano offers dozens of tours from a Vespa tour of the bay of Naples to a day tour of the Amalfi coast. His good humor and passion for his work will make any tour exciting and quite a bit more fun.

Emiliano Tuffano

Emiliano Tufano

All in all, a certified private guide will cost in the area of $40- $70 per hour. When you take into consideration the investment you make in a Europe vacation, adding a few hundred dollars to complete the experience is a small price to pay. Having the ability to ask questions as you go and engage in a dialog with the guide makes it all worthwhile.  And, remember that tour guides arrange reservations so you do not need to wait in line to enter popular attractions, which is a real time saver. From now on, we will happily use the services of private or small-group guides for our travels because we know it is well worth it.

Finally, we heartily recommend the excellent tour guide services of Sergio, Lara, and Emiliano.

Written by Terri Fogarty and photos by Bill Fogarty for

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Jonathan Schroeder

Monday 20th of May 2013

Did this for the first time 18 months ago when we were on a cruise in the Eastern Med when we stopped in Istanbul. Best money we ever spent! For LESS than what we would have paid for an excursion on the cruise line, we had a tour guide who (a) took us where WE wanted to go, (b) was able to maneuver our group of six around the sites with considerable ease because we were such a small group and he could by-pass lines that a large group couldn't, (c) took us to a local kebab shop that was as opposite from a tourist trap as you could get, (d) had our back the entire time! We'll be heading to Tuscany with friends this summer and have already hired a private tour guide in Florence to make our visit as perfect as possible! The one caveat I would give people if that are going on a cruise and looking to do this is to be VERY careful with your scheduling, specifically when you have a shorter port-of-call! If you are on a cruise-line's excursion and get stuck in traffic, the ship will wait for you (readers, if you know otherwise, definitely correct this!), but if you are on your own and are late, you are going to be left behind! In our case, our ship wasn't leaving Istanbul until 9:00 at night, so we had PLENTY of time to explore the city and get back. Other ports-of-call would only have worked if EVERYTHING went perfectly and there were NO little hiccups to delay you.

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