Millions visit every year to marvel at the Colosseum in Rome. While I’m glad we saw it up close and personal on our visit, I’m not going to lie-while I appreciated the amazing architecture, hearing the history of the brutality to humans and animals in this place was both interesting and disturbing.
First, just the tip of the iceberg of historical facts: the Colosseum is the largest ancient amphitheater ever built and is still the largest standing building of its kind in the world. Wow! If you travel across Europe, you will see LOTS of amphitheaters but none of this magnitude. Construction began under the Roman emperor Vespasian between 70 and 72 CE and, while its still standing, renovations are constant and expensive. There was lots of scaffolding up when we were there, and our guide told us that this is the usual state with ongoing work being done.
Just like the Vatican, we felt that a guided tour was in order so that we could absorb the history, as harsh as it is, while gazing upon the ruins. Skipping the lines in front of the hordes waiting to get in and entering through the VIP entrance through the back door of the Colosseum was a tour perk too. Cool experience, great picture taking and well worth the money!
Our guide not only shared historical facts but really brought it to life with lots of great stories. Like all the ancient structures, thousands of slaves built it and who knows how many died doing it. Not surprisingly, the seating was tiered based on who/what you were-the best seats reserved for the male Roman politicians, next the wealthy Roman men and, in the cheap seats up top were women/slaves/poor folks. Animals fared no better than the slaves who built it-they were imported, fought and were killed whether they won or not. All type of animals were imported-tigers, elephants, etc.
Our tickets included not only the guided tour of the Colosseum but also entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. However, we were worn out after tramping all over the Colosseum, so we didn’t really have the energy to do these sights justice. If I had to do it over again, I would have planned all day for this experience and brought more snacks/water to rest in between seeing everything. The Roman Forum is an open-air museum that is on the same site as Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, though they have separate entrances. Palatine Hill sits above the Roman Forum and is believed to be the birthplace of Rome. The Palatine Museum features treasures from this huge excavation site. So much to see!
ENTRY TO THE COLOSSEUM:
If you don’t want to take a tour, you can go on the official website Visiting the Colosseum – The Colosseum and get single entry tickets in advance. Colosseum tickets typically include an entry to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and these sites can be seen in any order you choose.
You DO NOT want to just show up and try to get tickets on site to get in the day of your visit. The Italian government restricts the number of visitors every day, so they sell out well in advance. While you can usually book your tickets at least a month in advance online, during non-peak seasons the demand for Colosseum admission tickets is less and you can book much further in advance. I would recommend reviewing all your options (guided tour vs. self-guided), price out the various choices as they vary widely depending on time/date/features, and then book those tickets as soon as you can. Early entry is only for those with a pre-booked guided tour, so book online before you travel in order to skip the queues and the crowd. We booked this tour Ultimate Colosseum Arena Small Group Tour. The Colosseum can close for special events, construction, weather issues, etc. so be flexible and don’t be surprised if your plans are forced to change. It’s a really, really old structure that is mainly an outside tour.
TRANSPORTATION TO/FROM COLOSSEUM:
We took the bus to and from the Colosseum but there are also Metro lines close by. We were not always successful using taxi apps in Italy and Uber service is very limited and expensive in Rome. The bus stop is right outside the Colosseum and seemed to be the transportation choice of most people. Get your ticket in advance at any metro station, news-stand (called a Tabac) or convenience store. You must remember to validate your ticket in the machine as you enter the bus, or you could be forced to pay a fine.
- Water and snacks
- Comfy shoes to walk miles, climb hundreds of steps and walk over large stone pathways (see example pictured above-very uneven and hard to walk on)
- Hat, sunscreen and/or an umbrella depending on the weather
- Do not bring backpacks-they are not allowed through security
- A sense of humor and lots of patience to navigate the crowds