One of the most famous landmarks in Rome (if not in all of Italy) has to be the Colosseum- originally called the Flavian Amphitheater. The Colosseum completed construction in 80 AD and held enough seating for 55,000 people of all classes to watch gladiator vs gladiator, gladiator vs animal and animal vs animal battles (pretty disturbing if you think about it). Many parts of the Colosseum have crumbled but an impressive amount of the structure still stands today. Planning our trip to the Colosseum was easily the most confusing part of the planning process for me- so I am going to break it down for you and the Best Way to see the Colosseum in Rome as easy, fast and cheap as possible!
How to get general entrance tickets and what do they include?:
You will need a general entrance ticket to enter the Colosseum, which you can purchase online here at the official site. (website is called Coop Culture- yes I was weary at first too if this was the authentic site.) Tickets are 12 euros each + a 2 euro reservation fee (worth it to pay online and skip the ticket booth line!) This ticket will get you into more than just the colosseum; it also includes entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum which is located right next to the Colosseum (more on that in a later post) as well as any special exhibits the 3 sights may have. These general entrance tickets are good for 2 days after you ‘activate’ the ticket and good for one entrance into each of the sights- meaning if one day you want to do Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum you have 1 more day left on your ticket to see the colosseum. You can purchase this general ticket at any time and can use it within the calendar year of purchase- perfect for those folks who love to plan things far in advance. There is an option for a reduced or free ticket. If you are from the US- this will not apply to you. I also heard one Sunday a month entrance into the Colosseum is free but do not quote me on that- I would assume the lines would be insanely long this day.
What is this Underground and Third Ring Tour? How can I get tickets?
While planning our trip, I saw a ton of photos of folks underneath (where the behind the scenes took place, gladiators waited for their turn in the ring and where the animals were kept in trapped doors) the colosseum; I immediately knew I HAD to witness this for myself. The third ring takes you to the top ring (level) of the Colosseum where you can get some bird’s eye views of the arena and the Roman Forum/Constantine’s Arch. Both locations will be away from the crowds and up close and personal.
The general ticket is flexible (as mentioned above) and does not include a guide. If you want to go underground or up to the third ring (floor) you have to have a reservation for a guided tour to do so- you cannot wander down/up without this guide and reservation. The guided tours for the underground and third ring are offered in 3 languages- Spanish, English and Italian. The cost for the tour is 11 euros (which includes the reservation fee) in addition to the 14 euros for the general ticket. YOU MUST ALSO HAVE A GENERAL TICKET TO GO ON THE UNDERGROUND AND THIRD RING TOUR. Getting a ticket for the tour is a little trickier- you have to be willing to stalk the website and plan ahead. Normally the website releases the times and tickets for the tours for a particular month around the 1st of the month (buy tickets for the underground and third ring tour here). For instance if you are planning to go to Colosseum October 15th tickets will go on sale for the tour around the very end of Sept/very beginning of October. Sometimes this varies and they can be released about a month prior- I recommend checking the website about a month an a half out if you can to see if there is an announcement on when the ticket and time slots will be released. The bad thing about the tour is you HAVE to plan your day and time for the tour, buy tickets and BE ON TIME for the tour. These tickets go super quick so you have to plan ahead.
Pro tip: The English Tours will more than likely sell out immediately (this may be because other tour companies buy a bunch of these tickets at once- jack up the prices and then ‘guide’ you around the colosseum. If you cannot snag an english tour try to book the tour in Italian (if Italian is also sold out try the Spanish) Even with a ton of planning- we were unable to book an English tour but were dying to at least see the underground- even if we could not understand the guide at least we could see everything- right? Well we were lucky! All but one couple on our tour did exactly what we did and did not know a lick of Italian. Our tour guide knew English- so it was a win win!
How to avoid scams at the Colosseum:
I am assuming you read the above. All tickets for the Colosseum are originally purchased through the official website- Coop Culture. If you book another tour online with another company- I am not saying it is fake- but know that the prices are jacked up and they were once purchased on the official website. As you approach the Colosseum you will instantly be bombarded by tour guides claiming they are with the colosseum- asking to see your ticket and pay for a guided tour/claiming you can skip the lines with them. Although they have badges and probably are tour guides- if you follow my steps you will not need this. In any event it is annoying as heck. In the short distance we were walking to the gate we were asked over 20 times if we wanted to go on a tour.
How does it work once I am at the Colosseum?:
No matter if you have a reserved general ticket, a Roma Pass (which I will get into in a later post but I did not think it was worth it), or a guided tour reservation- you will have to wait through the security lines. Luckily those with reserved general tickets/Roma Pass and reserved tours can go in an expedited line to the security line- it goes a lot faster than you think. I could not believe how long the line was for those folks who needed a ticket – slow line through security then a long line at the ticket booth- for 2 extra euros its more than worth it to buy online to skip that long slow line. Once through reserved security line there is another short line to scan your tickets to finally enter. We arrived about 30 minutes prior to our tour time and only had a few minutes to spare… and this was during the slow season. Plan accordingly and get there early! Your ticket should have a reservation point number- if not head to the information booth. If you get in a lot earlier than expected you can wander around the general colosseum area and head to the meeting point about ten minutes before your tour time. Finally the tour lasts about an hour and a half and only goes underground and to the third ring. You are more than welcome to wander around the other areas of the Colosseum after the tour.
My Key Take Aways:
The Colosseum was both what I was expected and not what I was expecting. A visit to the Colosseum is something you have to see in person at least one time in your life. Although it is large- I thought it would be larger in person. I had learned all about the Colosseum in my 3 years of Latin class- but I still learned a ton- making the guided tour, which I thought I would not care about what was being, said actually very interesting! (for instance I did not know that there were channels underground to bring water into the Colosseum to flood the area floor for ship battles. I also did not realize that most of the Colosseum was made of brick- only the seats and exterior has the fancy marble. )
Overall- the Colosseum is a must see, book through the official website, do some extra planning and book the Underground and Third Ring Tour, Arrive about 45 mins (more in high season) before your tour time. Allow about a half day with reservations to fully enjoy the Colosseum- try to visit when it first opens. After lunch head to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill for another half day of fun!
I will be sharing a more in depth guide to visiting Rome soon so check back for more!