The line for the Vatican Museum not only stretched down the block but along the next three blocks as well. The queue for St. Peter's Basilica alone circled the plaza and began to curl back on itself. The Trevi Fountain area was so jam-packed that a photo was practically impossible. Gotta love Rome in the high season!
Yes, even as early as mid-May when most kids are still in school, I found Rome packed to the gills with tourists. Hotel prices were through the roof—I got a "deal" when my friend and I found a small room with two twin beds, ensuite bathroom, and no air-conditioning on the third floor of a hotel with no elevator in the Vatican neighborhood for €135 per night.
But I was determined to prove you could enjoy Rome in spite of the tourists. The imposing St. Peter's line really only took 40 minutes, and it virtually disappeared around lunchtime when all the tour groups went off to their scheduled meals. The ledge along the outside of the dome was crowded, but you could still get a spot along the railing to take photos. The basilica's interior is so big that crowds weren't too much of a problem there.
The gardens of the Villa Borghese were much emptier than the city's piazzas, and a tour cancellation meant my friend and I snagged last-minute tickets to the Borghese Museum. We wandered in peace amid the impressive ancient sculptures.
We also stepped off the traditional tourist path to visit the Trastevere neighborhood. The area is becoming more and more popular among foreigners (perhaps because many young Americans live or stay there?), but it was still blissfully crowd-free. We were often the only patrons in the shops that dotted the narrow streets.
Our best find was a cheese shop, where we bought hunks of bread and cheese that we ate beside an unknown fountain back in the Vatican neighborhood. No line, no service charge, and we were clearly the only Americans there!
So my advice for visiting Rome anytime from late spring to early fall is to book early, look for lesser-known attractions, and if you must hit the famous sights, be prepared to wait in line.