Visiting the Colosseum was top of my list for my first visit to Rome, and it was one of the only things I researched a bit before our visit. Naturally popular tourist attractions are notorious for needing to pre book, and although you can go along to see it from the outside, I wanted to make sure we got in. You would think that this would be an easy task, being one of the most famous landmarks in Rome, but it actually wasn’t all that straightforward at all. I’ve put together this guide based on my experience, including all the information I wish I could have found in one place.
The first part of this post is going to be the practical stuff, the tips and info on just getting yourself into the 2000 year old amphitheatre. The second part will focus on the Colosseum itself.
Tickets, tours and pre planning your visit to the Colosseum
These days for most iconic buildings, museums and attractions the ability to book ahead online is by far the easiest and most convenient method of securing your entrance, but for the Colosseum this was easier said than done. A simple google search returns so many ads, so many websites and so many options it’s actually really difficult to decipher which are genuine and which could be ticket scams.
For anything like this I just don’t have the patience to sit and read through every package or tour company info, not to mention reviews of genuine experiences that reassure you do get what you’re paying for. I will always go straight to the official site, which again for the Colosseum isn’t all that obvious.
After much searching and cross referencing with social profiles and the official Rome tourist board, I found that the official ticket website for the Colosseum is Coopculture. Here you can find full information on ticket prices, guided tours, packages with other attractions and time slots. You can print your ticket online via email, or choose the option to collect. I’d strongly recommend printing your own if you do book online, as the queues even to collect pre booked tickets were huge.
I won’t detail all of the prices and packages, but it’s worth knowing that a basic, public entry with access to the main areas of the Colosseum including the first two ring levels is 12 euros per person including children, reduced to 7.50 euros for 65+. This ticket also includes entry to the nearby Roman Forum and Paletine Hill, which you can access once within a two day time frame. This info will be very handy if you choose not to tie yourself into a time slot by pre booking online, and instead just turn up on the day like we did.
After seeing how busy the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain were at all times of day, we decided to get up and go to the Colosseum first thing. We had no pre booked tickets, and on seeing the enormous queue even at 9:30am I thought we were in for a three hour wait stood in bright sun.
As with anywhere like this, there were so many tour operators and ticket touts hovering around outside trying to accost you. The first who approached us offered us skip the queue entry, a guided tour and entry to Paletine Hill and the Roman Forum, for 40 euros each.
Even with the guided tour on top of the basic entry fee this was still a pretty big mark up value so we declined. I’d like to point out at this point that guided tours are my idea of hell. I know some people love them, but following someone brandishing a flag around like a flock of sheep, listening to some pre recorded lecture through headphones trying to keep up instead of enjoying somewhere at your own pace just isn’t for me.
We went for the honest approach with the second guy who collared us, and said we basically want no frills, no guided tours, just skip the queue entry. For this he offered us 20 euros per person and we accepted. 8 euros extra to skip the queue, and even avoid the queue to collect pre booked time slot tickets seemed a pretty good deal looking at the size of them, and they took us straight in. He worked for a company called ‘Fun Tour’, and I’m pretty sure they just get up extra early, buy tickets in bulk and sell them on.
Looking back now, I can’t actually believe we didn’t pre book, but it was definitely partly due to the struggle it was to find trustworthy information online. I hate being approached by people trying to sell you stuff, but on this occasion it worked for us and knowing the flat rate helped when agreeing a price. We also weren’t sure which day of our trip we would visit, but if I were to return and go again, I would book online for an early time and print my own tickets!
Everyone passes through security scanners, no backpacks or luggage allowed
To preserve the site, only 3000 people are allowed inside at one time, so you may have a wait even with pre booked/fast entry tickets
It gets bloody hot, so take water
You can trust the ticket men outside approaching you – worked perfect for us!
Now onto the Colosseum itself. It’s absolutely spectacular, and an incredible sight from the moment you set eyes on it. Even 2000 years on since it’s construction, you can fully appreciate just how beautiful and impressive it really is.
What we see of the Colosseum, otherwise known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is just the inner concrete structure, or what’s left of it. Half of the upper third tier ring has gone, leaving the angled facade that is so iconic to us today.
Back then the entire structure was covered in bright white marble, and you can still see small glimpses of it remaining as you wander through, particularly in the areas closed off from public access. Over many years thieves stole the marble, and it was this as well as earthquakes that have left the Colosseum in the condition it is today, a partial ruin.
Despite the millions of visitors every year, they do preserve it so well, and you can see that they alter public access, and are constantly working to restore it to the condition that allows visitors to experience this throwback to ancient Rome every day. This is one of the main reasons that they limit visitors inside to just 3000, despite it once holding up to 80,000 Romans.
The Colosseum began construction in 72AD by order of Emperor Vespasian, but wasn’t completed until 80AD, under Emperor Titus. It changed over the years through both emperor’s reigns, and underwent further alterations under Emperor Domitian. It was due to these three emperors with the surname ‘Flavius’ that gave it the latin name of Flavian Amphitheatre, long before it was known as the Colosseum.
We wandered firstly around the lower ring, which on a standard entry ticket is the closest you can get to the arena floor itself. You can walk almost the entire way around it, giving you a perspective from every angle of the entire structure, the different levels of seating, the ‘posh seats’, the marble board that is still in tact, and of course the underground chambers and passageways where gladiators and animals were held before being thrust up through the trapdoors into the arena.
The first level has some of the ruins on display, such as pillars and marble statues, and there are information points explaining what each one was. You can also access the second tier, by the stairs next to the gift shop which gives yet another view of this magnificent theatre used for gladiators, public performances, and reenactments of battles and mythology. They even had a mechanism that meant they could flood the whole thing, allowing them to act out battles at sea. It’s incredible to see, considering the detail and engineering from so long ago.
The floor has been partially reconstructed, and includes a mock up of the trapdoor mechanisms used for lions and the gladiators themselves. You can see it clearly from the public access areas, but you can pay extra for an up close tour of the underground network including the trapdoor, but it is part of a guided tour.
We spent almost the entire morning at the Colosseum, taking in all the different views and details that you can still clearly see today. It is of course quite busy, and the best viewing platforms do require a wait as people take their turn enjoying the history and taking photos.
The tour groups do get tiresome, big gaggles of them trying to keep up with each other and to be honest, I don’t think they were even really looking at the place itself, they seemed too busy trying to keep up with the guide at the front waving the flag.
That type of experience just isn’t for me, and I really would recommend just doing it at your leisure instead. It’s fascinating to get up close and personal with a place that dates back so far, knowing the events that were held here, and imagining what it would have looked like fully covered in marble in the hot sun. Some of the views through the archways across the the Roman Forum are pretty impressive, and once you’ve taken in as much of the Colosseum as you can, the Forum should be next on your list.
For the most part our days in the Italian capital weren’t planned to precision, we had a loose idea of what we wanted to see and do, but if like me the Colosseum is one of those things, it really is worth planning ahead. It is worth it, without question..
Other posts you might like:
Pin this post: