Last Updated on December 11, 2023 by Ingrid & Alex
Visiting the Colosseum should be on anyone’s bucket list, the place is after all one of the most important attractions in Rome for a good reason. No matter if you are visiting alone, as a couple, or with children, or how much time you have to spend in Rome, a day, 4 days, or even one week, I will help you with all the information you might need to plan your unforgettable visit.
Because it’s not always easy to find the best information, and since Rome has so much to see and do, you might feel overwhelmed when trying to plan for the perfect itinerary.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into everything you need to know for visiting the Colosseum.
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Visiting the Colosseum – a complete and easy guide: tips, tricks + FAQ
The Colosseum – a short history
Today, many of us think of the Colosseum as the quintessential symbol of ancient Rome and its Empire. It was the place where Julius Caesar held gladiatorial games or Emperor Nero fed the early Christians to the lions, right? Well…not really. Even referring to the ancient arena as the ‘Colosseum’ is inaccurate – no contemporary Roman called it by this name.
Initially, the place was a flat marshy area between the Caelian, Esquiline, and Palatine hills. However, by the time of Julius Caesar, it was densely inhabited, the more impressive houses of the rich scattered among the hovels of the poor masses.
The neighborhood’s proximity to the Forum, the beating heart of the Eternal City, made it a desirable location to live. Imagine a huge city, at its heyday the population peaked at over 1.000.000 inhabitants, without cars or public transportation – even horse-drawn carriages were banned within the city limits during the day. So how would one commute to work or go shopping or visit the temples? By foot, of course, either on one’s own feet or carried in a litter by a bunch of muscular slaves (and you thought today’s billionaires are excentric, eh?).
Thus, living close to the action was both fancy and necessary for either the poor and rich.
Fast forward a hundred years to the reign of Emperor Nero: on 19th July, 64 A.D., a fire began around the Circus Maximus, Rome’s chariot race stadium. The fire expanded to most of the city due to the wind, and it burned for nine days, destroying two-thirds of the Empire’s capital. How could the center of the Roman civilization burn down like that, one might ask?
Well, think of today’s disaster scenes: bumbling politicians, under-funded emergency services, a crazed populus focused on looting instead of helping, and wealthy speculators ready to jump in and capitalize on the disaster.
It was even said that Nero himself provoked the fire for he needed the inspiration to write a new poem – most historians believe this assertion is nonsensical; the Emperor was not in the city at the time, he traveled to the capital only after several days of burning chaos. Still, his next actions further fueled the suspicions that Nero had something to do with the whole thing.
After the fire, the Emperor requisitioned most of the land around the Forum, and, among other things, he built a huge palace complex as his residence, the Domus Aureus or Golden House, surrounded by extensive gardens and an artificial lake. Furthermore, he erected an enormous statue of himself, the bronze Colossus of Nero.
All these actions, combined with his mismanagement of the Empire and his erratic and violent behavior, led to what will be known to history as the ‘Year of the Four Emperors.’
In a nutshell, following a failed conspiracy to restore the Republic and a rebellion in Gaul led by the Roman governor Gaius Julius Vindex, Nero committed suicide – four successive leaders vied for the throne.
First, Servius Sulpicius Galba took over the Imperial throne just to be murdered by his guards.
Then, Marcus Salvius Otho was recognized as Emperor by the Senate, and it seemed order would be soon restored.
However, another ambitious politician raised the legions in revolt and marched on Rome: Aulus Vitellius’ troops defeated Otho’s, prompting the reigning Emperor’s suicide. Secure in his position as the new Emperor, Vitellius went on a spending spree, bankrupting the Empire while torturing and murdering anyone who dared question his actions.
Finally, the legions of the East proclaimed their general, Vespasian, as Emperor. His supporters abandoned Vitellius, Vespasian got him killed, officially ascending to the throne with the support of the Senate.
No wonder that year remained etched in history.
The year is 70 A.D., Vespasian, the son of a tax collector, is the new Emperor of a bankrupt and disintegrating Empire. His first priority: restore the people’s faith in the state. He ordered Nero’s Golden House to be demolished, its artificial lake filled with soil, and a huge arena to be built in its place to entertain the people – the Colosseum was born.
The new amphitheater was not just a building, it was a powerful political statement: the Empire is restored, it is as powerful and rich as ever, and it will entertain and feed its people.
Curiously, the Romans never used the name ‘Colosseum’; it is a medieval name probably derived from the megalomaniacal statue erected by Nero. Vespasian didn’t destroy it but refurbished it to represent Sol, the Sun God, and placed it next to his new arena. The statue is thought to have outlived the Empire by a couple of centuries, surviving until the early middle ages.
Hence, in one of the ironies of history, the mad Emperor Nero imprinted his mark on one of the iconic buildings of Rome for all eternity.
Visiting the Colosseum today
When you visit the Colosseum, try to imagine the noise, smell, and violence of over 9000 wild beasts being slaughtered in the building’s inaugural games alone: lions roaring, weapons clinging, the frenzied masses shouting their encouragement, the metallic smell of gallons of blood spilled on the arena’s floor.
Or envision the appalling conditions in the dim, suffocating underground area below the floor: the visitors of today can see the remains of the ‘hypogeum,’ a series of tunnels and cells used to hold the wild beasts and the slaves and prisoners condemned to fight.
Imagine the utter terror of a young girl, condemned to be fed to the lions because of her parents’ religious beliefs, as she was elevated into the arena from the dingy cell below on a wooden platform; the blinding sunlight, the booming noise of people shouting abuse at her and, eventually, the overwhelming fear as she glimpses her executioner, a starved, angry lion ready to gore her to death.
It is claimed that the Colosseum could even be filled with water and used to re-enact famous sea battles to the delight of the tens of thousands of spectators. That must have been a sight, ships ramming each other and battling for supremacy as gladiators and slaves were leaping from them in a life-and-death struggle.
These games would be held over several successive days, from morning to evening. One can easily deduct the presence of dozens of food and drink vendors similar to today’s sporting arenas. Equally, the building must have been surrounded by several public toilets to cater to the biological needs of the gathered masses. Ohhhh, the smell!
To this day, the top of the arena retained two hundred and forty structural pieces of stone called mast corbels; these were used to hold a retractable awning, basically a huge canvas, that shielded the spectators from the elements but let in the breeze during the hot summer days.
Apart from being an engineering wonder, the Colosseum was also a gigantic work of art containing many minuscule artistic jewels.
For example, the now-empty arches of the 2nd and 3rd floor framed statues representing divinities and mythological creatures. In addition, the arena walls were probably painted in red and gold and black; some interiors might even contain beautiful frescos depicting battle scenes or relevant mythological ones.
All in all, the sheer scale of the amphitheater showcases an advanced civilization of builders, engineers, artists, and artisans, but it also reminds us of the immense cruelty we are capable of in the name of politics, entertainment, and social control. Thus, it is a monument to our bright, creative side and our dark, destructive nature in equal measure.
I hope you will enjoy visiting one of the iconic monuments of European civilization.
Read also: The Best Italy Subscription Boxes
Where is the Colosseum in Rome and how to get there?
Located in the heart of Rome, in Piazza del Colosseo (Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy), you will find it easy to get there by public transportation, or even by walking.
One of the largest architectural structures in the area, you will find it hard to miss.
Distance from other main attractions in Rome:
2 minutes away from the Roman Forum
30 minutes away from the Vatican City by public transportation (Cipro or Valle Aurelia on the orange subway line)
20 minutes walk from Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon or Piazza Navona
35 minutes walk from Piazza del Popolo
How to get to the Colosseum
On its northern part, you’ll find a bus stop with plenty of options to choose from, but also the subway station with the same name: “Colosseo”.
Hop on the metro blue line (line B) and make your way to the Colosseo. If you are traveling on the orange line (line A), simply change the line at Termini station (Rome’s main train station) and ride for 2 stops until the Colosseum.
A hop on hop off bus will also leave you in front of the Colosseum and is worth taking when you want to see as much as possible in a short time, without having to worry about means of transportation, tickets, and other similar things. Get your ticket here!
You can have unlimited transportation for up to 72 hours with the Roma Pass. On top of that, the pass offers free access to two venues of your choice (one when you choose the 48-hour option), making it a cost-efficient option to look at. Get your pass here!
The Vatican & Rome City Pass is another option for when you are spending more time in Rome and wish to see as much as possible. This one has a higher price tag but you will get unlimited public transportation, along with skip the line with free admission to the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums, and Michelangelo’s miraculous ceiling at the Sistine Chapel. Get the pass here!
Is visiting the Colosseum worth it?
I’m sure that after you’ve read its short history, we managed to make you hungry for more. The Colosseum is one of Rome’s major attractions for a good reason, and it is in my opinion absolutely worth visiting on a guided tour.
When is the best time to visit the Colosseum? How to skip the crowds?
When you choose to visit the Colosseum during the peak season, you can expect a sea of people all wanting to visit the famous landmark. With that comes the endless ticket and entrance lines, with waiting times that can go well over one hour.
When you don’t have months to spend in Rome, and especially when you only have one or two days to see some of the most popular landscapes in Italy, you must find workarounds and skip the crowds.
That’s why visiting the Colosseum and Rome in winter might be a good idea. Temperatures aren’t as low as in many other places around Europe.
November or March could also be perfect months for walking around Ancient Rome’s ruins.
Opening hours for the Colosseum
The Colosseum is currently open every single day of the week, as follows:
- 9.30 – 18.30: until the 30th October 2021 (last admission at 17.30)
- 9.30 – 16.30: from the 31st of October 2021 to the 26th March 2022: (last admission at 15.30)
- 9:30 – 19:15: from 26 March to 31 August 2022
Don’t bother trying to visit on the 1 January and 25 December, because the Colosseum is closed on these dates.
It is worth knowing that you can only go inside in the timeframe you choose when booking your ticket.
Also, it is advisable to get there 15 minutes before your time slot.
These days, together with the ticket, you will have to show a Green Pass and an ID.
Ticket prices and options – where to purchase your tickets?
There are countless ticket and tour options for visiting the Colosseum, and you can choose to buy your ticket online or directly at the ticket office.
While getting your tickets in Rome is an option, I strongly recommend going prepared and booking your ticket online in advance. By doing this, you will skip the long queues and have more time to enjoy Rome.
The official tickets cost 18 EUR and can be booked online here.
This ticket will offer you access to the Colosseum, at the booked time, along with entrance to the Roman Forum and Palatine, and the temporary Exhibition.
If you want to visit the Arena, Underground, and III Level of the Colosseum, check out the ticket options below.
I always prefer doing this when I travel to popular destinations in Europe. The Tiqets site has plenty of options, and they have real-time updates on the availability of time slots for visiting the Colosseum. It is in English and very easy to use, while the official site is not working at the moment I am writing this.
Here are some of the best ticket options to consider, especially if the simple entrance tickets are sold out:
|Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill: Priority Entrance
|Semi-Private Colosseum Underground Tour + Roman Forum, Palatine Hill & Arena
|Arena Floor Ticket: Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill: Skip The Line + Arena Floor
|Colosseum & Roman Forum: Guided Tour
|Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill: Video Guide
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