Updated: Nov 20
Who hasn't dreamed of travelling to Rome, the eternal city, and visiting, the Colosseum, one of the most recognized ancient buildings in the world?
Rome, Italy is an intersect of many historical time periods, a city with ruins built upon ruins, each hiding behind every corner. Ancient places like the Colosseum in Rome, draw visitors back again and again. The Colosseum (and surrounding area) is definitely one of those ancient places you can return to over and over, and have a completely different experience every time.
NB: (October 2023): All visitors must have a booked or reserved ticket. There will be two ticket offices (Salara Vecchia and Piazza del Colosseo) Day-of individual tickets are limited and all tickets are now nominative (meaning you need ID to match the ticket name).
On my first visit to the Colosseum, I felt physically sick, bombarded with feelings of death and tragedy that bleeds from its history, so much so that I refused to enter on my next two visits to Rome. Returning again after many years, we visited together. this time, though the dark tragedy lingered, it was overshadowed by the beautiful architecture of the building itself.
The Best Way to Visit the Colosseum in Rome:
Visiting the Colosseum is a must when visiting Rome. There are multiple ways to enter, which depends on the type of ticket acquired and whether or not you are accompanied by a guide. You can purchase tickets directly from the heritage website, but we would recommend visiting with a guide, as some areas are restricted if you enter unaccompanied and you can avoid the potentially long lines at the main entrance.
The most impressive entrance into the Colosseum, by far, is through the Gladiator's Entrance. stepping foot onto the arena floor.
Entry is through a special side entrance, bypassing the long lines. As you pass under the archway, the massive rings of the Colosseum open up to you. It is spectacular.
On our first visit together, we booked a private tour of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill with a local guide. We opt for private guides wherever possible, to ensure we spend as much as time as we can in any particular location, customizing the tour to our benefit.
Going local is especially important in such a tourist-heavy city, where many outside companies and guides are available. Choosing a local company and guide means the money stays in the country and you will likely get better insight.
TIP: If visiting during the hot summer months, it is recommended to start your visit early in the morning to avoid the hot mid-day sun. Be prepared by wearing loose, breathable clothing, apply sunscreen and bring water or a refillable bottle with you to ensure you stay hydrated. Fountains are available all over Rome.
What is there to See inside (and near) the Colosseum in Rome?
There are 5 levels to the Colosseum in Rome, plus the Arena Floor and the Underground.
The main level (where most enter) is considered level 1 (also known as tier 1 or ring 1). Most visitors enter on this level, meeting at different points. It can be very crowded and overwhelming. The structure at this level is marked with gaping holes, indicative of ancient thieves who scavenged for iron.
Up one flight of stairs is level 2 (also known as tier 2 or ring 2). On this level there is a better view inside the maze of the underground, and the entire arena. There is also an impressive display of artifacts collected, including ancient graffiti, statues and animal bones.
The upper tiers (level 3, 4 & 5) were opened to the public for a short time, but have since closed, requiring further security updates. (NB: November 2023 Update: the upper rings, level 4 and 5, remain closed)
The arena floor is just below level 1, but only accessible through VIP access via the Gladiator's entrance. Not only is this a different view from the gladiator's perspective, but the entrance is separate from the main level ticket holders and much less crowded. After visiting the arena floor, you have direct access to level 1.
TIP: The stairs that allow access between the levels (up and down) are quite small and can be very crowded and slippery. Take your time and hold onto the handrails.
The underground (also known as the Hypogeum) sits below all the other levels and is only accessible through special tickets that include a tour of the inner workings of the ancient structure. This is a very unique and interesting experience.
TIP: While exploring the rings of the Colosseum, be sure to cover the entire walking area, including the archways that look outside. The high vantage point is breathtaking.
Near the Colosseum is the vast area of ruins known as the Roman Forum, where once stood several important government buildings of ancient Rome. In fact, many of the most important structures in the city were built on or near the Roman Forum.
Also nearby is the impressive Palatine Hill (also known as Palatino), the first of Rome's seven hills and its most prominent ancient neighbourhood. The hilltop can be accessed from from Via di San Gregorio or through the Roman Forum, but both are a short, steep climb. You do not need to be in peak physical condition, simply take your time. Among the many sights is a large balcony that overlooks the Roman Forum.
How to Get Tickets to the Colosseum in Rome:
You must have a ticket/reservation prior to entering the Colosseum. If you have a Roma Pass, you must make a reservation in advance (which includes a fee of $2 Euro) and you must show the Roma Pass on the day of the visit, even if you have a reservation.
NB: Beginning November 1, 2023, visiting hours for the Colosseum in Rome begin at 8:30am, with the last entry at 3:30pm (closing at 4:30pm).
There are an overwhelmingly large number of ways to purchase tickets and tours for the Colosseum in Rome. What you choose depends on what you want to see and how much time you have.
If you're short on time, limit your visit to only the Colosseum, but would still recommend including the Gladiator's entrance to allow access to the arena floor and the separate VIP access. You should allow at least one to two hours to not feel rushed.
If you can spare a little more time, we would highly recommend including the tour of the underground area. It is unique and provides such insight into the inner workings of the Colosseum, including where the animals were kept and how they appeared on the arena floor. You should allow an extra half hour just for the underground tour. This is always guided.
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If you want the full experience, plan on spending the majority of the day in and around the Colosseum. This includes walking up Palatine Hill and through the Roman Forum. Both areas are breathtakingly beautiful but vast and take time to explore.
TIP: Most tours for the area meet at the Colosseo metro station, but you need to enter from street level and take the metro stairs to the Colosseum level entrance. You do not need a metro ticket to do so.
One of the more unique experiences is visiting the Colosseum at night. The view is very unique, with significantly less people and without the heat of the summer sun to worry about. We would recommend this as an add on experience or if you cannot stand to visit during the summer months.
Where to Stay (and eat) Near the Colosseum in Rome:
The Colosseum is located a little further out than the main tourist areas of Rome. Personally, I've always considered the "center" of Rome to be anything south of Piazza del Popolo and north of Piazza Venezia, with the Roma Termini train station on the east and the Tiber river to the west. The Colosseum lands just southeast of Piazza Venezia.
The area near the Colosseum is less touristy and much quieter at night. We spent a wonderful few days in an old apartment rental, called Residenza Flavia, just a few minutes walking distance from the Colosseum. It was quaint, spacious and very quiet, we would highly recommend it.
Alternatively, if you'd prefer to stay closer to a more bustling neighbourhood but still within walking distance to the Colosseum, we would recommend the Pantheon Caesar Realis. We stayed here our first time in Rome together in the double room with balcony and view. It is just enough space for two, with a fantastic wrap around balcony with a view of the Largo di Torre Argentina. It is very close to the hip Campo dei Fiori area and a brisk 20 minute walk to the Colosseum from this area.
TIP: If you are planning to making the most of your visit and exploring everything within/near the Colosseum, also plan to stop for lunch. We would highly recommend visiting GRANO, a fantastic little pizzeria tucked away but nearby, that serves a variety of pizza a taglio (by slice) plus delicious pasta. It is located up a few steps, where many sit to eat and enjoy the view.
Rome is a very walkable city and it is recommended to explore on foot, but depending on where you are staying in Rome, it may be best to opt for taking the metro or hiring a taxi.
Is it worth it to visit the Colosseum in Rome?
In a word, absolutely. The Colosseum is the most recognized symbol of Rome (many claim, it is Rome), and it would be a miss to not explore this ancient structure. How much time and how dep you wish to explore is up to you, but visiting the Colosseum is a must when in Rome. It is not just a tourist attraction, but frequented by locals. At night, you will often find couples strolling through the grounds or groups of young adults celebrating milestones with music, party hats and champagne. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do!