Are you traveling to Rome for the first time? Then, visiting the Colosseum is an absolute must!
The most iconic attraction in the Eternal City, its undisputed symbol, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, the Colosseum certainly is an impressive sight, and one you really should not miss. Pass by it during the day and you’ll marvel at the view. Walk by at night, and you’ll be in awe.
Being such a popular attraction and receiving thousands of visitors every day, visiting the Colosseum requires some careful planning: you simply can’t show up there and expect to walk in, even less so in the peak tourist season between May and October, when Rome gets the largest influx of tourists.
In this post, I will share everything you need to know before visiting the Colosseum, including information on its most impressive sights; tips on how to get Colosseum tickets and what guided tour to opt for, and other useful information that will you visit the Colosseum and make the most of it.
Make sure to read my post The Most Famous Landmarks In Rome.
The History Of the Colosseum, Rome
The world-famous Colosseum is one of the most iconic buildings in all of Rome. Construction on the enormous amphitheater started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian (69–79 AD) and was completed by Vespasian’s heir Titus (79–81) in 80 AD.
Later, Emperor Domitian (81–96) added many features to the structure which helped to give the Colosseum the name of the Flavian Amphitheater, which is a nod to the three emperors of the Flavian Dynasty who influenced the construction and design.
Building the Colosseum was an enormous undertaking. Constructed out of travertine and tuff, architects utilized concrete to cement the structure. It’s said that at its height, the theater could hold anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and still remains the largest amphitheater still standing in the world.
Over the years, the monument has undergone a number of different modifications and uses. Its original and most famous use was for raucous gladiatorial fights and enormous public events that included exotic animal hunts, battle reenactments, plays telling tales of Roman mythology, and executions. There’s even a theory that the entire building was flooded and used for reenacting famous sea battles.
But at the beginning of the medieval times, the Colosseum was long past its heyday. No longer the place for mass gatherings and spectacles, it had fallen into disrepair.
The floor of the arena was used as a cemetery, and local Romans moved into spaces in the vaulted arcades, setting up shop inside the building and living there. Stone from the Colosseum was even quarried for use in construction work elsewhere in the city.
Records of rent being paid for the space date back to as late as the 12th century. Around this time the Colosseum was taken over by the nobel Frangipani family. The noble family fortified the walls and used it as their castle.
The structure took enormous damage in the great earthquake in 1349, causing one of the sides to collapse. In the 14th century, a religious order made it their headquarters and continued to use it as their habitation until the early 19th century.
In later years, various Popes have sought different uses for the building and also helped to protect the structure. Today, with its pockmarked walls that point to its long and winding history, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, playing host to millions of visitors each year.
Head over to my post The Most Interesting Facts About The Colosseum.
What To See When Visiting The Colosseum, Rome
Although the Colosseum is always impressive when seen from the outside, the best way to fully understand what makes this building so incredible is to go inside. Once within its walls, you will be able to tread in the footsteps of Romans of the past, see where the great gladiator battles took place, and witness the layers of history up close.
There’s a variety of different ticketing options which give you access to certain areas of the Colosseum. Here’s some of the parts you shouldn’t miss.
The Colosseum was cleverly designed with many passageways and entrances to help with the flow of crowds during the events. There are some 80 entrances to the Colosseum, and another entrance for the gladiators who would pass through the Gate of Life and onto the arena floor.
The original floor was made from wood which was covered in a thick layer of sand – in fact, the Latin word for sand is arena. But this wasn’t the yellow beachy sand you might be thinking of; the sand that was used was actually red in order to hide the amount of blood from the battles.
The cleverly designed arena floor was built above the hypogeum which is a warren of subterranean tunnels and elevators. Much of the arena floor has been stripped away over the years, but a part has been reconstructed.
Standing on the arena floor you can get a better look at the surrounding Colosseum, peer into the tunnels below, and imagine the arena decorated with all of the scenery and props which were used for staging battles and reenactments. This part of the Colosseum can be accessed with every ticket option.
Lying below the original Colosseum floor is the underground section of the building: the hypogeum. Here is where the people and animals that were being prepared for battle were kept. This part of the Colosseum was part of the additions made by Emperor Domitian during his reign.
Made up of two levels, this underground section was a labyrinth consisting of passageways, cages, props for shows, rooms for gladiators, and all manner of equipment. Just imagine what the atmosphere must have been like down there – among the gladiators surrounded by lions and other ferocious creatures, while the crowds cheered from above in their seats.
The ingenious design of this part of the Colosseum helped the events run smoothly. Pulleys were used to hoist the big set pieces into place – even animals were moved onto the stage using this system.
Just like big musicals of today, events at the Colosseum used a lot of different performers, props, and people to make it all work behind the scenes. This would have been a really busy place during the Colosseum’s heyday. Not only was this a place where the behind-the-scenes action took place: the hypogeum was also involved in the drainage and sewer system for the Colosseum, which fed the water fountains and toilets.
The large area is a very interesting part of visiting the Colosseum, and really helps visitors to understand the everyday functions of the arena. Note that this part of the arena is only available for those with special tickets.
The tiered section of the Colosseum provided a place for the people of Rome to see the action take place. But people couldn’t just sit wherever they liked; everything was orderly.
The Emperor would sit in a special box at either the north or south end of the arena, which would naturally offer the best views; on a platform next to them was a space for the senators who brought their own chairs. Take a close look and you’ll be able to see some of the names of some 5th-century senators inscribed into the stone.
The maenianum primum was the second tier above the senators and was reserved for nobles and equites (knights). The third level, the maenianum secundum, was for ordinary Roman citizens. This part was divided into two parts, the lower was for monied citizens, and the upper section for poor folk. These sections were further divided into groups such as foreign dignitaries, scribes, and priests.
During the reign of Domitian a new level was added: the maenianum secundum in legneis. Perched right at the top of the arena, is where everybody else was allowed to sit, which meant women, slaves, and the very poor people.
Today it’s possible to visit the second tier of the Colosseum where the Colosseum exhibition is located. The highest tier can also be visited and offers some fantastic views across the building and out over Rome.
Practical Info For Visiting the Colosseum
How to get to the Colosseum
Metro line B goes all the way to the Colosseum, and the closest metro station to the Colosseum is called Colosseo and is located around a three minute walk from the Colosseum.
There are also a number of different buses that stop near the Colosseum. Get off the bus stop Piazza del Colosseo which is just a few minutes to walk to the Colosseum. Bus numbers stopping here include 40, 51, 60, 75, 81, 175, and 204.
Colosseum opening hours
The opening hours for the Colosseum vary throughout the year. No matter what time of year you visit, the last entrance is one hour before closing.
Opening times are as follows:
Between 27th March to 31th August: 9:00 am – 7:15 pm.
Between 1st September to 30 September: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm.
Between 1st October to 30 October: 9:00 am – 6.30 pm.
Between 31 October to 31 December: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm.
Closed: 1st January and 25th December
Best time to visit the Colosseum
The best time to visit the Colosseum is when crowds in Rome are at their thinnest – which is easier said than done, since Rome is pretty much a year-round destination. The low tourist season usually goes from November to March included, and that will hopefully mean you get to visit the Colosseum without too many people – though that doesn’t mean you can swing it and show up on a whim (you will still have to plan your visit and book a time slot!).
If you are visiting Rome during a busy time of year, then I recommend timing your visit to miss the crowds as much as you can. Years ago, the Colosseum has introduced a timed ticketed system, which means you have to book specific time slots.
The best way to miss the large tour groups and throngs of people is to time your visit for early in the morning, as soon as the Colosseum opens at 9:00 am, or later on in the day on the last available time slot.
Booking a morning slot means that you will be able to see the Colosseum in the clear morning light – and in the summer months it will be much cooler, too.
Midday is best avoided if you’re in the city during the high season, it’s only really a good idea if your trip is planned for the off-season (not only because of the heat, but the tour groups, too).
There’s also the option of booking a night tour of the Colosseum, which not only allows you to see the building illuminated after dark, but also enjoy it with fewer tourists too.
Night tours of the Colosseum are available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and typically start at 7:15 pm or 8:00 pm, running until 10:00 pm.
To book your VIP Colosseum at night tour with Underground & Arena Floor click here.
For a Colosseum under the moonlight tour, click here.
Don’t forget to read my post The Best Time To Visit Rome.
Getting tickets to the Colosseum can seem confusing at first because there’s a lot of different options.
These options include:
24-hour Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ticket: Adults €16.00, concessions €2.00.
This ticket type is valid for 24 hours and includes one visit to the Colosseum (without access to the arena and for your chosen time-slot) and a visit to the Roman Forum, Imperial Fora and Palatine.
Full Experience Ticket: Adults € 22.00, concessions €2.00.
This is the ticket for you if you want to see a long list of sights as it includes the Roman Forum, the Palatine, and the Colosseum. It gives you access to both tiers in the Colosseum, the exhibition, the underground area, and the viewpoints. It’s also valid for two days.
Concession prices are available for EU citizens aged between 18 and 25; you must show a valid form of photo ID to be eligible.
Tickets can be purchased online through the official website, Coopculture, or on reliable third party sites such as Tiqets or GetYourGuide. The main difference is that tickets purchased on the official site are not refundable, whereas tickets bought on third party sites are refunded as long as you cancel within 24 hours of your visit.
Whatever tickets you decide to go for, you must make sure to book it in advance. All tickets are now issued for specific time slots and you must turn up at the correct time or risk missing your slot.
Get your ticket on the official site here.
Get your ticket on GetYourGuide here.
Get your ticket on Tiqets here.
There’s also a number of different guided tours which offer access to underground portions of the Colosseum as well as nighttime visits. More about this below.
Should you get a guided tour?
To make a long story short, absolutely!
Visiting the Colosseum is amazing, but it can be hard to understand exactly what it is you’re looking at. Taking a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide can help to open up the history of the building and offer you a better insight into the past uses and events that took place here.
If it’s your first time visiting the Colosseum, I think a guided tour can really bring its history to life, plus it would make for a much more memorable experience.
The issue obviously is: which tour should you book? There are many good options around. Let me highlight the best:
For a guided tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, click here.
For a family friendly tour, click here.
For a night tour of the Colosseum, click here.
Visiting the Colosseum is free very first Sunday of the month. To visit the Colosseum for free you will still have to get a ticket, which you will need to get in person and in order of arrival at the ticket office in Piazza del Colosseo, near the Temple of Venus and Rome.
Keep in mind that on free Sundays you won’t be able to access the arena and underground areas.
All in all I don’t recommend visiting the Colosseum on free Sundays. The Colosseum can even more crowded than usual on free-access days. Furthermore, since free tickets are sold on a first come first served basis you may have to stand in line for quite some time before you can get your ticket (which is not fun during the hot summer months, and a massive waste of precious time when you have limited time in the city). In fact, there’s no actual guarantee you can get a free ticket at all.
All in all, the price of a ticket to the Colosseum is very reasonable considering that it also includes access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, so you may as well go ahead and book yourself a time slot.
Anyone visiting the Colosseum has to undergo a security check before they actually enter the Colosseum. Luggage and bags all have to be screened in a process which is much like that of an airport (i.e. everything has to pass through an X-ray machine). Make sure to leave any big bulky bags back at the hotel as large luggage is not allowed.
Luggage storage near the Colosseum
There is no luggage storage inside the Colosseum, and as I have already said bulky bags are not allowed inside. If for some reason you are carrying a large back (ie if you have already checked out from your hotel), your best option is to leave it in a luggage storage nearby before you go visit the Colosseum.
Luggage storage is available in Piazza d’Ara Coeli 16, which is right by Piazza Venezia where the Altar of the Fatherland is and a short walk from the Colosseum.
You are better off booking your luggage storage. You can do that here.
Is photography allowed?
Yes, photography is allowed at the Colosseum. It’s an amazing place to take pictures!
Where to take the best photos of the Colosseum
Taking photos inside the Colosseum is certainly great, but what’s even better is taking photos of the Colosseum. There are several places in Rome that are perfect for that.
One of the best photo spots that is close to the Colosseum is the terrace right on the other side of the street, where a café is located. The main downside is that it can be very crowded, so you will have to be quick with your photo.
Another significantly lesser known spot is the nearby Parco del Colle Oppio, which is actually quite nice for a walk.
Right in front of the Colosseum, Palazzo Manfredi is home to a boutique hotel and Aroma, a Michelin starred restaurant which is also one of my favorite in town. The view of the Colosseum from there is absolutely stunning – but you’ll have to reserve a table well in advance!
Finally, you can take incredible photos of the Colosseum from the Palatine Hill and from the terrace at the Altar of the Fatherland.
There’s a total of eight toilets available for visitors to the Colosseum to use. The toilets are designed to be accessible for all visitors with varying levels of mobility.
There is ongoing work to make the Colosseum as accessible to all visitors as it can be. All three of the main entrances are accessible to wheelchair users. The Colosseum has a well signposted path that leads around most of the first tier that is fully accessible; there are also lifts in place so that those with mobility issues can access the second tier. The underground levels can be accessed by a freight lift.
Visiting the Colosseum with a dog
You can’t visit the Colosseum with a dog, unless it is a pet-therapy or a guide dog. If this is the case, you will need to show relevant documentation to take your dog inside.
Eating inside the Colosseum
There are no concession stands inside the Colosseum, so you won’t be able to buy a drink or food once you are inside (but you can certainly bring in a bottle of water). Eating inside the Colosseum is actually not allowed. Unfortunately, many visitors completely disregard this rule and have full-on pic-nics on the ground, oftentimes leaving their trash behind. Don’t be that person! Please respect the rules and by all means, pick up after yourself.
Scams near the Colosseum
Scams are common in the areas around tourist attractions anywhere in the world, and the Colosseum is certainly not an exception. The following are some things to watch out for:
PICKPOCKETS – With the large crowds hanging out around the Colosseum it wouldn’t be surprising to have pickpockets around. They hang out just around the site, and also on the streets nearby, by restaurants, ready to strike distracted tourist. My bag was stolen, and I am a seasoned traveler – so you get the idea of how active and daring they are. Just make sure to keep any valuables safely locked in your purse. Wear your purse across your shoulder and in front of you. If you have a backpack, it’s better to wear it in front of you.
GLADIATORS – There’s an endless debate on whether these should even be allowed to hang around the Colosseum at all – but alas, they will be there. These men dressed in gladiator costumes will be glad to pose for a photo for you and with you – but for a fee. They are honestly just trying to earn a living. But don’t stop and engage with them unless you are willing to pay!
PEOPLE SELLING TICKETS – These should hardly be a concern, since you really need to book your ticket before going anyways! If for some reason you need assistance with your ticket, get in touch with the official ticket reseller CoopCulture at +39 06 399 67 700. If you bought your ticket or a guided tour via a third party site, you need to get in touch with them (you should be able to find the contact number in the confirmation email.