Also known as the Flavian amphitheater, the Colosseum fell into neglect after the fall of the Roman Empire. Its ivory travertine marble was looted as a source of building materials, destroying much of the original structure. Fortunately, a series of renovations concluded in 2016 have helped restore some of its former glory. A few tips will help you join the almost 6 million visitors a year in appreciating this ancient arena.
Here are some things I wish I had known before visiting the Colosseum.
1. Visit during the off-season to visit to avoid the Roman heat and crowds.
A Roman summer holiday sounds appealing, but it’s best to avoid the peak summer season and its infamous humidity. The best time to visit the open-air Colosseum is during the low season from November through March. Relatively mild winter temperatures make it easier to properly explore the Colosseum. Also keep in mind that tourism, and crowds, briefly increase during Christmas and Easter holidays. If you must travel in the summer, make sure to avoid visiting between 11 AM and 4 PM when the heat is at its worst.
2. There are lots of public transport options, but remember to buy your ticket before boarding.
The Colosseum can be easily reached by public transport or on foot from anywhere in central Rome. There is dedicated metro (Line B), bus (number 75), and tram (Line 3) stops for the Colosseum, but you must purchase your public transport tickets in advance and remember to validate the ticket upon boarding to avoid stiff fines. Tobacco shops (tabacchi) or magazine stands are your best bet for tickets. Or get the new app <http://www.atac.roma.it/page.asp?p=231&i=14> that allows to you to buy and download tickets as needed on a smartphone. Single integrated tickets (valid for 100 minutes, but only a single metro ride) cost 1.50 euros or you can choose from a variety of multi-use passes.
3. You can visit for free — just be prepared for longer lines.
Standard adult tickets cost 12 euros, but entrance to the Colosseum and over 300 other government managed museums, gardens, archaeological sites, and monuments are free on the first Sunday of the month. Just brace yourself for longer lines with no options for group tours or special reservations available during the free-entry days. Although the Colosseum can handle up to 3,000 people at a time, up to 30,000 visitors show up during high season to take advantage of the freebie.
4. Early birds can take advantage of the included admission to the Imperial forum.
The best time of day to visit the Colosseum is right at opening (8:30 AM) or 1-2 hours before closing, which changes throughout the year and is based on the sunset time. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before opening to breeze through the entrance. The standard ticket will also give you access to the Palatine Hill and Imperial Forum. Make sure you budget time for all three but start your morning at the Colosseum. I highly recommend purchasing tickets online in advance. The additional 2-euro convenience fee is well worth it. If you decide to wait to buy the tickets onsite, do it at the Palatine Hill or Imperial Forum entrances where the lines tend to be shorter.
5. Pay for a guide to skip the line and have a more enriching experience.
Joining a group tour organized by the Colosseum management or through independent operators such as Viator is a great option for skipping the lines. A competent guide will also provide a better sense of the site and its many uses since it was inaugurated in 70 AD. Otherwise, downloading a free audio guide and good headphones will allow you to explore at your own pace.
6. Get an elevated view of imperial Rome or visit the seedy underbelly of the Colosseum.
Parts of the Colosseum are not covered by the standard ticket but are now accessible through guided tours or special tickets (typically 9 euros). For the first time in over 40 years, the upper terraces of the Colosseum are open to the public through advanced bookings. This gives you access to two extra levels with panoramic views of imperial Rome. Ironically, these used to be the “nosebleed” seats reserved for the poor plebeians, ancient Rome’s lowest social class. You can also gain access to the hypogeum, or the underground tunnels and chambers beneath the arena, where gladiators awaited their fate alongside caged lions and tigers.
7. See the Colosseum by moonlight!
From March through December, you can also visit the Colosseum at night. There is a heftier 20-euro entrance fee for these special exclusive small tours. In return, you get the opportunity to visit the site almost entirely to yourself, walk out unto the arena floor, and tour the hypogeum. Of course, you can also return in the evening and stroll around the exterior for free. A full moon makes a great backdrop for photography. Make sure you stop by Constantine’s Arch, one of the oldest triumphal arches in the world, which is a few meters away.
8. Be respectful of baggage and photography restrictions.
Large backpacks, luggage, and tripods are not allowed inside. Also factor in time for any small bags and equipment you might carry to be screened by a metal detector. Selfie sticks were also banned due to concerns about damage to the recently renovated facade. However, enforcement was a losing battle with so many street vendors right outside ready to sell replacements. Now visitors are asked to refrain from using them during the tour.
9. Wear appropriate shoes and bring a hat for mid-day tours.
Comfortable shoes with good traction are a must! Italian women may have made an art form of balancing stilettos on cobblestone, but you will want to be comfortable for exploring ancient stone construction. The timeworn paths of the Colosseum and forum are filled with uneven stones which can be slippery for the uninitiated. There is also a decent amount of climbing involved if you want to explore the Palatine Hill or the upper levels of the Colosseum. Make sure you bring a hat for the mid-day sun, which is strong even in Roman winters.
10. Help the environment and your wallet by filling your water bottle at a Roman fountain.
The ancient Roman legacy of aqueducts lives on through thousands (over 2,500!) of operational water fountains scattered throughout the city. Bring your own bottle to fill up with safe and remarkably cold drinking water before you head to the sites. These fountains are a godsend during the months of July and August.
11. Enjoy a sunset drink with Colosseum views.
After a long day of walking around ancient Rome, join in on the local pre-dinner aperitivo ritual. The cost of a drink usually includes some savory snacks that will tide you over until dinner since reputable restaurants will not serve main meals until 8 pm. For the best views overlooking the Colosseum, stop at one of the restaurants on Piazza del Colosseum with a rooftop terrace.