Last Updated on December 23, 2021 by Soumya
A trip to the Colosseum in Rome can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time, even for people who have been there before. The Colosseum is huge. Plus, it has tonnes of history behind it.
Planning a visit to the Colosseum requires a good amount of effort. You need to get the right tickets, book the right tour, be there at the right time, at the right gate. Phew!
That sounds a little too much, doesn’t it? But don’t worry. We have made your job easier by bringing to you “A Complete Guide to Visiting the Colosseum in Rome”.
In this guide, I will talk to you about all you need to know before visiting the Colosseum – tickets, logistics, what to expect, tips, and tricks. In short, this guide will prepare you completely for that big trip to this ancient and majestic Roman monument!
Ultimate Guide to visiting the Colosseum in Rome.
This is going to be a long post because I will be talking about everything related to the Colosseum: history, layout, tours, tickets, entrance gates and much more. If some part does not interest you, feel free to skip to the next.
Colosseum’s Colossal History
A little knowledge of the history of a place is a great way of making your trip worthwhile. You can appreciate a lot more if you have an idea about the effort that went into building a structure, the purpose it served, and the calamities it faced. The Colosseum is no different.
The Roman Colosseum (Colosseo in Italian), one of the most famous Italian landmarks, is also known as the Flavian Amphitheater after the Flavian dynasty that built it. It was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and completed in AD 80 by his son Titus.
A number of improvements were added later by Domitian between AD 81 – 96. The Colosseum functioned as the site for thousands of combats between gladiators and between men and animals. Thousands of animals and a number of men are believed to have been killed in these fights. I am no fan of gladiator fights. Yet, the Colosseum breathes so much history it draws me closer every time I think about it.
Trivia: Did you know that the Colosseum, for a very long time, was used for purposes other than gladiator fights???
The Colosseum was badly damaged in the 3rd century after being struck by lightning. It was repaired and the place continued to function as a gladiator arena until the end of the 5th century. After that, it gradually fell into a state of disrepair. It was then used for a number of purposes: including conversion into cemeteries, chapels, houses, workshops, and even a castle at some point!
Read our guide on what to do in Rome to find more about other Roman historical monuments.
Structure & Layout of the Colosseum
If you are visiting the Colosseum, there are high chances that you are going to spend an hour or two exploring the monument. So, it makes sense to have a rough idea about the structure so that you know where you are during your tour.
One of the most interesting facts about Rome is that it is home to the largest amphitheater ever built in the world. The Colosseum measures 620 by 513 feet and was built of concrete and sand. Many of the galleries built at the time were dug into hillsides for support.
The Colosseum is unique because it is freestanding unlike other amphitheaters of that era.
Arcades & Stands
The amphitheater has three floors of arcades and a top fourth floor with small rectangular windows. There were 80 arches on every floor. Royalty sat on the second floor and the floors above that were accessible to the public. The poorest sat on the topmost. On sunny days, a retractable awning called the Velarium would be pulled over the arcades to provide shade from the sun. Today, you can access the top floors, called the Colosseum Belvedere, and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
The arena where the fights were held was made of wooden planks (a reconstruction version covers a bit of that space today) and was covered with yellow sand. There were 36 trap doors in the arena to assist in special effects and surprise challenges.
The most interesting part of the Colosseum is the underground also called the Hypogeum. Under the reign of Domitian, a vast two-story underground labyrinth of tunnels was built to organize the Hypogeum and effectively utilize the space. In this space, were concealed animal cages, slaves, costumes, as well as lifts to raise animals up to the arena. If you wish to read more about the Hypogeum, Smithsonian has a great article.
Interesting trivia about the Roman Colosseum
- The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world. It had 80 entrances and could seat 50,000 – 75,000 spectators.
- A maze of underground chambers was connected to the arena through 36 trap doors that were used to present special effects.
- All the events at the Colosseum were free of charge and were paid for by the king. Sometimes, free food was also served. (Source: Natgeokids)
Click here to learn more interesting facts about the Colosseum.
What will you see at the Colosseum? – A break up of the tours
As you approach the Colosseum, you will see the Outer Wall with 3 levels of arches. Near the Colosseum, stands the Arch of Constantine which was constructed to honor Emperor Constantine’s victory in the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. It makes a pretty Instagram picture. Once inside the Colosseum, you are expected to be doing one of the following tours.
Regular & Arena Tours
With the regular ticket, you can enter the Colosseum and walk around the main floor. But you will not have access to either the Arena, Hypogeum, or Belvedere.
By paying a little extra, you can book the Arena tour through which you can enter the Arena. This is where the gladiator fights happened. As you stand here, soak in the history, look up to see the seating areas and appreciate the massiveness of the structure. Imagine 50,000 odd people sitting there, segregated by class, waiting for the victory of their favorite fighter.
You can also opt for a tour of the Hypogeum or the underground section. Highly recommend if you love history or anything Roman. The Hypogeum tour gives you an idea of how gladiator fights were organized, how animals were moved up and down, and all other activity that went on behind the scenes. It is interesting to see the complex labyrinth up close. I wonder how people ever found their way in there!
A tour of the Hypogeum is highly recommended.
And last, you can also take a tour of the Colosseum Belvedere or the Third Tier. In this tour, you will be able to access the top floors that were used to seat poor people in ancient times. Today, they are the most sought after because of the beautiful panoramic views of Rome that they present.
You can book online tickets for all kinds of tours at the Official Website of the Colosseum. Combination tickets are also available. Scroll down to see more on tickets.
Guided Tours vs DIY Tours for the Colosseum
There is always the question of whether you should do a guided tour or a DIY one while visiting the Colosseum. Both have their own pros and cons and you may pick one depending on your requirements.
It is not mandatory to take a guided tour to visit the Colosseum or skip the queues. The Colosseum has good signage and is easy to understand if you have a brief idea of the history and layout. You can also opt for an audio guide or video guide here.
A guided tour may have some advantages in the Colosseum case.
At the Colosseum, access to the Arena, Underground, and Belvedere is only allowed with an authorized tour guide. Therefore, if you wish to explore these parts of the Colosseum, it is mandatory to hire a tour guide. The Official Website has guided tours in English, French, Spanish, and Italian. You can book your Official Colosseum guided tour here. There are many private tours that are costlier but come with advantages such as longer tours and better equipment.
Personally, I have always preferred a guided tour. Almost inevitably, guides drop in a line or two that I have never heard before and that makes my trip memorable. And with a structure so huge, a guided tour seemed like a good option. We took an official guided tour of the Arena, the Underground, and the Belvedere and I feel it was quite useful in understanding how special effects were managed, how lifts were operated, and how the backstage functioned.
Colosseum location & opening hours
The Colosseum is located on Piazza del Colosseo in the center of Rome. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill are all located very close to each other in the same archaeological area. They can all be accessed with one ticket.
Opening hours are between 8:30 – 1 hour before sunset every day.
The Colosseum is closed to the public on January 1, May 1, and December 25. For details on opening hours by month, please click on the link here.
You need to get a ticket to the Colosseum as well make a reservation for the time you wish to enter. Time-slot entries are now in place at the monument. You can get your tickets and time slots for the Colosseum through any one of the following.
- Queuing at the ticket counter at the Colosseum and getting a ticket. It can be hard to get a ticket at your preferred time (in this option) because crowds are large. So you will have to be flexible on that.
- Buying a ticket and making a reservation online. Scroll below for details.
- Using your Roma Pass to enter. You will have to reserve your time slot earlier. Scroll below for details.
- Using a guided tour group, either official or private.
How can I book my Colosseum tickets online?
It is always advisable to book your tickets online and reserve a time slot for your visit. When you type Colosseum tickets in Google, hundreds of ticketing websites crop up. That is very confusing! Only one among them is the official website. The rest mark up their prices. If you are looking for the cheapest prices online, book your tickets at CoopCulture, the Official Ticketing Website of the Colosseum.
Once you have zeroed down on the right website, you have to choose the right ticket for yourself. Again that can be a confusing affair. There are so many types to choose from. Which one is best for you? Depends on what you want to see when visiting the
- The most basic ticket is a Regular Combination Ticket to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill. The ticket is valid for two consecutive days and gives you ample time to explore these three sites. It allows you 1 access to each of the sites. A Regular Combination ticket costs Euro 12 with an online fee of Euro 2 – a total of Euro 14.
- An Arena Access ticket allows you to explore the arena over and above the regular access. Getting arena access raises the price of the ticket by Euro 2, thus equalling Euro 16.
- There are Hypogeum Access tickets and Belvedere Access tickets. They are done as guided tours and are priced at Euro 23 each. A combination of Hypogeum and Belvedere costs Euro 29.
- Night tours are also available on specific days of the year if you are looking for some peace while exploring the stands. Visiting the Colosseum can be one of the most interesting things to do in Rome at night.
All the above tickets can be booked online on the Colosseum Official Ticketing Website.
Entry with passes
You can also use your Roma Pass to get access to the Colosseum. As of March 1st, 2019 you still have to pay EUR 2 and make a reservation for the Colosseum. If you are a Roma Pass holder, you can reserve your time here. The Roma Pass does not cover the arena or the underground.
- Children under 18 years of age are allowed to enter free of charge.
- Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month. But the queues are huge!
- There are a number of other situations when you can gain free access. Check them out here.
For extensive details on timed tickets and skip-the-line entries, I found this post from Italy Beyond The Obvious very helpful.
Where are the entrance gates?
There are 3 entrance gates to the Colosseum and 1 exit gate. The 3 entrance gates are called the Group Gate, Individual Visitors Gate, and Stern Gate. The first two are located on the northwestern side and allow groups and individuals respectively. Stern Gate is on the east and allows Arena, Underground, and Belvedere ticket holders. You can find access details and an entrance map here.
How to get to the Colosseum?
Use Metro Line B to arrive at the Colosseo station, a minute away from the Colosseum. You can also take Buses 51, 85 or Trams 3 and 8. Public transport details to the Colosseum available here. Alternately, if you are doing a walking tour of the old city, it is quite noticeable from the road.
Tips for visiting the Colosseum
The Colosseum is huge. And its good to be equipped with a few tips and tricks in order to make the most of your trip there. We approached travel bloggers from around the world and asked them for their recommendations. Our experts include parents, solo travelers, digital nomads, and travelers who have made multiple trips to the Colosseum. And this is what we have.
An Expert Tip List
- If you do not have a pre-booked ticket, get the combined ticket at the Roman Forum or the Palatine Hill to skip the line at the Colosseum. Joanna Davis, The World In My Pocket
- Go early between 8:30 – 9 am or later in the afternoon after 3 pm to avoid the crowds. Alexander Waltner, Swedish Nomad
- Take a night tour if you wish to explore the Colosseum, the Arena, and the Hypogeum in peace. Just a few more euros and you have the Colosseum all to yourself. Oli Diprose, Not Brits Abroad
- Use a guided tour that leverages headphones. Even if you step away for a picture, you can hear the stories. Jyoti Baid, Story At Every Corner
- Approach skip-the-line employees if you are obviously pregnant. You and your family can skip lines regardless of your tickets and use the disability elevators. Dani Ward, Diapers In Paradise
- If you have a kid and a stroller, you have priority access to elevators. You don’t have to carry the stroller all the way up the stairs as you did at the museums. Catherine Swartz D’Cruz, We Go With Kids
- First Sundays of every month are free but overcrowded. Go if you are on a budget but be prepared for long waits. Soumya, Stories by Soumya
Have you been to the Colosseum in Rome? Isn’t it magnificent and overwhelming at the same time? Exactly the reason why we put together this extensive travel guide. Do you think our guide on visiting the Colosseum will help you plan your next trip better? Let us know in the comments below. If you think we missed something or could do something better, drop in a line too. Always happy to chat!