Visit the Colosseum

Two thousand years ago, gladiators would fight to the death and wild animals would rip apart unarmed criminals. This is Rome’s home of the bloodsports.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting the Colosseum in Rome

In the centre of the city, the Colosseum is one of the most iconic sights of Rome and captures the essence of the great Roman Empire that once ruled these lands.

For tourists, it's also one of the most popular things to do in Rome, so it's definitely worth planning your visit to the Colosseum - and potentially getting tickets to skip the queue!

How different would it have been in here 2000 years ago?

Standing in one of the stalls as I visit the Colosseum, I try to block out the tourists around me, fill in the stones missing from the walls, cover the main arena floor, and imagine the scene.

In the seats all around the ancient stadium, 360 degrees, would have been the crowds. Some records suggest there could have been as many as 85,000 spectators in here, although researchers think the number was probably closer to 50,000.

How to visit the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Regardless, it would have been crowded. It would have been loud.

Shouting from the seats, supporting a gladiator in a battle, demanding the death of a criminal, cheering a good performance.

Humans, animals, stages.

Would they always cheer for the good guy? Did the crowd sometimes decide to cheer for the animals when they were supposed to be cheering for the humans?

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

In my mind, the Colosseum would have been hot and smelly as well, with so many people crammed in together for dirty and violent shows… but perhaps, in reality, it would not have been too different to a modern stadium during a sports game.

The action is all happening down on the floor of the arena… the crowd just transposes it onto themselves, thinking that by shouting and taking a side that they are somehow part of the actual battle.

Why is the Colosseum so famous?

There are a few reasons why the Colosseum is so famous. Firstly, it is a marvel of architecture that set the standard of stadium design. Secondly, it has an allure as a setting for gladiatorial battles and epic performances. But most importantly, it is an enduring symbol of the Roman Empire, right in the heart of a modern capital city.

Why is it called the Colosseum?

Actually, the official name of the Colosseum is the Flavian Amphitheatre because it was built under the patronage of the Flavian dynasty between 72 and 80 AD. It started to be called The Colosseum because of a colossal statue that stood nearby.

Is it easy to visit the Colosseum?

As one of the most popular attractions in Rome, the Colosseum is now set up to receive thousands of visitors of every day. But it does get very busy and it can sometimes be difficult to get a ticket to the Colosseum, with long waits for tourists who haven’t planned in advance.

There was a variety of shows that would have been performed here over the years. I need to remind myself of that.

But, of course, I first think of gladiators fighting each other. That’s the most famous event, isn’t it? But there were other things.

There were actually more gruesome spectacles – when people sentenced to death were put in the arena naked and unarmed and then were ripped to pieces by animals.

There were elaborate shows with thousands of animals where the arena was filled with trees and props to look like another country.

There were dramas and reenactments of famous historical events.

There is even a report of the centre being flooded so a production with ships could be staged.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Of course, you have to imagine all of this when you visit the Colosseum these days, but I think that’s part of the fun, imaging how it would’ve been 2000 years ago.

Thankfully there is still so much to see here and even the structure itself, without any of the gladiators or animals, is a fantastic place to explore… as long as you can handle the crowds.

I’ve got more info about this further down, but I definitely recommend this guided skip-the-line tour, especially during busy months.

It does get really busy at the Colosseum because it’s one of the most popular things to do in Rome. Doing a bit of planning in advance will certainly save you some hassle – and potentially a lot of time.

It’s also worth knowing a bit of the history before you visit the Colosseum, so let’s have a quick look at that first.

History of the Colosseum

After the death in 68 AD of the Roman Emperor Nero (yes, the one is said to have played the fiddle while Rome burned), the empire entered a year of civil war, that saw four different emperors in less than 12 months, as they were each assassinated or committed suicide in quick succession.

In the end, it was Vespasian who came out victorious. In order to assert his authority and ‘thank’ the people of Rome for their patience during the leadership struggles, he decided to build the Colosseum as a gift.

The new stadium was built right on top of Nero’s old palace – quite a symbolic political move, eh!

By the time it was finished in 80 AD, it was Vespasian’s son, Titus, who was emperor and officially declared it open with 100 days of games.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

For centuries, the Colosseum remained a central venue for entertainment and public gatherings.

Looking around, I try to imagine how some of those events would have looked. And how they would have felt, with the adrenaline rising up as you watched a man literally being ripped to death by a lion, right in front of your eyes.

You can see why it was so intertwined with the lives of the citizens of Rome.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

However, as the Roman Empire declined, so did the number of games and other events that were held at the Colosseum.

By the 5th century, they had basically ended, and the amphitheatre was abandoned and began to fall into disrepair.

It suffered damage from earthquakes and neglect. Then, during the Middle Ages, it was even used as a source of bricks and stone for building materials.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

It wasn’t until the 18th century, when the romanticisation of the Classical World began to take hold across Europe, that there was a renewed interest in the Colosseum.

Efforts began to protect and (to a certain extent) restore the structure… which leads us to what you see here today.

Things to see at the Colosseum

I am often amazed by how artefacts of history have survived in the centre of Rome. Just meandering down the streets, you see remains from the Roman Empire standing amongst a modern city.

The Colosseum, though? There’s something extra special about this place.

It doesn’t just feel like a ruin from two millennia ago. It’s still got energy and a life of its own.

As I begin to walk around the path that leads through the different sections, I take in the different angles of the Colosseum. I stop my imagining and look at the details that you can see today within the structure.

While just being here is impressive enough, there are a few things to see in the Colosseum that are worth taking note of.

Arch of Constantine

This is actually outside the Colosseum, so have a look at it as you’re arriving or leaving.

The enormous triumphal arch was built in 315 AD to commemorate Constantine the Great’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

It’s 21 metres high and 25 metres wide and is the largest of its type in the world. It actually doesn’t really have anything to do directly with the arena, expect that it was clearly meant to be displayed in a busy area!

Tiers of seating

One of the main features of the Colosseum are the seats, and you’ll notice that there are several tiers going around the arena.

The lowest tier, known as the Cavea Ima, was for the most elite spectators, such as senators, religious leaders, and the most important wealthy citizens.

The next highest tier, called the Maenianum II, was still for important people but they tended to be government officials and merchants, who had money but maybe not the kind of prestige that allowed them to be on the same level as the emperor.

Is it worth getting Colosseum skip-the-line tickets?

The third tier, known as the Maenianum III, was for the general public and is where you find most of the spectators.

The very top tier, called the Summum Maenianum, didn’t necessarily have the best view and was for poor people, slaves, and (I’m sorry, I didn’t make the rules) women.

The Emperor’s Box

Within all these tiers of seating, look out for the spot that has been designated as the Emperor’s Box.

Historians don’t actually know for certain where the emperor would’ve sat, but this location is their best guess because it has a good view and can be accessed by a private palace from Palatine Hill.

The marble balcony that is there today is a later addition and not the original structure.

The arena floor

With all the killing and fighting that happened on the arena floor, it may sound a bit barbaric – maybe even primitive – to us today. But this was actually an extremely sophisticated operation.

Known as the cavea, the central stage area of the Colosseum was a massive floor made of wood. Covering the wood was a layer of sand that would’ve absorbed the blood during gladiatorial matches, and also allowed some flexibility for different performances.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

You can’t see the floor anymore because the wood has obviously not survived all these centuries. But a part of it has been reconstructed to give you an idea of what it would’ve been like.

A standard entry ticket to the Colosseum doesn’t give you access to the arena floor, but it’s normally an option you can add on.

The hypogeum

Without the floor, you can look straight down in the area below the stage, known as the hypogeum (which means ‘underground’ in Ancient Greek).

What you’ll discover is that there was a really complex system used for the staging. There were different rooms where gladiators would have prepared, prisons where criminals were kept before their executions, cages for animals, spaces for the props and sets.

Tunnels connect them all, creating a fast and efficient system for staging. About eighty shafts gave access to the arena so things could easily be placed in the right spot.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

This is another area that’s really interesting but isn’t open to the public on a standard ticket – you’ll need to upgrade to a tour that includes the hypogeum.


And finally, on the second level of the amphitheatre, you’ll find the Colosseum’s museum.

It’s got some interesting artefacts that are presented nicely enough, but I doubt it’s going to be a highlight of your visit.

I just wanted to mention it here because if you want to delve a bit deeper into some aspects of the site, then the museum might be worth popping into. But don’t worry if you miss it.

How to skip the line for the Colosseum

You don’t need me to tell you that the Colosseum is one of the most popular attractions in Rome. It’s an internationally famous icon of Italy, so of course everyone wants to see it.

But that means it can get really crowded here, especially in the busier months around holidays. The lines to get in can take hours.

One way to avoid too much waiting is to come first thing in the morning and get in the line before the Colosseum even opens at 8:30. That way, there won’t be many people ahead of you for either tickets or security (and it is quite nice to have fewer people inside too).

The other tip I can offer is to get your ticket from the Roman Forum and go in there first. The ticket gives you access to both sites (including Palatine Hill) and the queues tend to be a bit shorter at the Roman Forum than the Colosseum.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

But if you don’t want to waste your time waiting in a queue, then I would definitely recommend considering some options for skip-the-line tickets (which are sometimes also called ‘priority tickets’).

In general, there are three different ways you can get skip-the-line tickets for the Colosseum:

I’ll briefly run through each of them, outlining the pros and cons.

Self-guided ticket

The first approach is to buy an entry ticket that means you don’t have to join the long line to buy a ticket in person at the Colosseum.

You can go through the official seller of Colosseum tickets, which charges the normal price plus a €2 per person booking fee.

These aren’t technically skip-the-line tickets, but you do buy them for a specific time slot, so you can go straight to the entrance at that time and join the queue for security (which can still be quite long).

Another option for a non-guided priority ticket is this one through a tour operator.

It’s the same ticket as the one from the official reseller, and it does cost a bit more (so perhaps not good for the budget-minded). But you do get extra things for that additional cost – including a 25-minute introduction video at their office.

The main benefit with this approach is that you have a person at the office who can help you with all the logistics and tell you the best way to manage the lines and the timings.

Guided tour

The next option is to take a guided tour that includes a skip-the-line ticket to the Colosseum.

This would actually be my top recommendation – partly because groups can use a different entrance to the Colosseum, which has a much shorter line for security. And partly because it’s often not that much more expensive than the other skip-the-line option I mentioned, but you get a tour as part of the price!

If you’re looking for a good option that normally has helpful guides (and priority access), then I would definitely recommend this very popular tour that has a guide at both the Colosseum and at Palatine Hill/Roman Forum.

Depending on exactly what you want, there are a few other excellent tours here:

There is so much to learn about both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, that this really is how I would recommend visiting these sights.

As well as getting a fascinating guided tour, you’ll avoid hours of waiting in lines because you can use the priority entrance reserved just for groups.

City pass

The final option I want to tell you about is using a city pass for Rome.

Basically, this will get you one of the self-guided skip-the-line tickets that I discussed earlier. The difference – and the big advantage – is that you can save a bunch of money if you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing.

One way to do this is with Go City’s Explorer Pass for Rome. You can choose how many attractions you want to include with your pass (which changes the price), and one of them is the skip-the-line Colosseum tickets that include the video introduction.

If you were also to include the skip-the-line tickets for the Vatican as well as a cooking class, or instance, you would get great savings.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

The other way to do this is with the Rome and Vatican Pass. The difference is that this is based on time and you’ll have 72 hours, in which some sights are free and the rest are discounted. There’s also free public transport.

It can be a bit confusing, so I have a bit more information in my review of the Vatican and Rome Pass here.

Note: With either of the passes, you need to book your visit to the Colosseum in advance to secure a spot for a specific time, so I would recommend doing that as soon as possible.

Visiting the Colosseum

The Ancient World may have been thousands of years ago but we still feel its influences today in so many parts of our lives.

Here, in this arena where thousands once cheered on bloodsports and epic performances, we can feel even more connected to that world for a few moments. It’s one of the reasons I think you should definitely visit the Colosseum when you’re in Rome.

The main thing to plan for a visit to the Colosseum is tickets, as I’ve discussed in the previous section. Just turning up and buying a ticket from the booth on site is a terrible idea in busy periods and will waste far too much of your time.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

The standard ticket will give you access to the main levels of the Colosseum. You’ll need to pay extra to visit the arena floor, go underground, or up to the higher levels of the Colosseum.

It’s also worth thinking about how you want to combine your trip to the Colosseum with a visit to the neighbouring Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, if you’re organising everything on your own.

Your ticket will give you access to both – for 24 hours, not just on the same day. So, you could see one site in the afternoon and then visit the other one the next morning.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

In total, I would recommend about 2 hours for the Colosseum and about 2 hours for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

A few other important bits of visitor information to consider:

  • Bring ID with you because you may have the type of ticket that has your name on it, so you need to prove it is yours.
  • You can’t take any large bags in with you, but small daypacks are fine.
  • There’s a security check, so don’t take any sharp objects or anything else that might be considered too dangerous.
  • Although there are some toilet facilities within the Colosseum, there aren’t many, so go when you can!
  • I would recommend sun protection, especially for when you are at the Roman Forum.
  • You can’t bring glass bottles into the Colosseum. Sometimes the guards won’t even let you bring in full plastic bottles. But you can bring an empty plastic/metal bottle and fill it up from a water fountain once you’re inside.
  • There are entrances to the Colosseum that are equipped with ramps. The ground floor is wheelchair accessible and the first floor is accessible by lifts.

In summary, it’s going to be more of an effort to visit the Colosseum than many of the other attractions in Rome (with perhaps the exception of the Vatican). But it is definitely worth it!

When is the Colosseum open?

The opening hours for the Colosseum change throughout the year.
From January 2 to February 15, it is open from 0830 – 1630.
From February 16 to March 15, it is open from 0830 – 1700.
From March 16 to last Saturday of March, it is open from 0830 – 1730.
From last Sunday of March to August 31, it is open from 0830 – 1915.
From September 1 to September 30, it is open from 0830 – 1900.
From October 1 to last Saturday of October, it is open from 0830 – 1830.
From last Sunday of October to December 31, it is open from 0830 – 1630.

How much does it cost to visit the Colosseum?

A ticket to the Colosseum costs €16 for adults and €2 for a concession (with a €2 per person booking fee if done online). Children under 18 are free.
The good news is that the ticket also gives you entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
You can reserve a ticket in advance for a specific time slot through the official resellers, or arrange it through this authorised tour operator.

Is the Colosseum included in the Vatican and Rome Pass?

Yes, if you have the Vatican and Rome Pass then you’ll be able to use it for free entry into the Colosseum. You’ll also get fast-track entrance which lets you skip the line.
The pass also gives you free entry to other sights like the Capitoline Museums and the Vatican Museums.
You can buy the pass online here or you can read my review here.
Another option is Go City’s Explorer Pass for Rome, which can also save you a lot of money.

Should you do a tour at the Colosseum?

You don’t need to do a tour to see most of the Colosseum and get a good sense of the site.
But there are not a lot of signs explaining things, so you will definitely get a lot more out of the experience if you have a guide.
Importantly, a tour will also let you skip the long line to get in and use a different entrance with shorter queues for security.
I would definitely recommend taking a tour of the Colosseum and would suggest this excellent guided experience that also includes the Roman Forum.

I know I’ve already mentioned this, but I just want to stress how much more I think you’ll get out of visiting the Colosseum if you take a tour. You’ll save a lot of time and you’ll get an expert to paint the picture of what you’re seeing.

I would recommend one of the following, if you’re interested in having a guide:

Remember, don’t forget to also visit the Roman Forum which is right next door and also has access to Palatine Hill.

For food, there are lots of options around because you’re right in the centre of Rome. But I would recommend avoiding most of the places right near the entrances because they are obviously aimed at tourists and tend to be overpriced, poor quality, and prone to scams.


There’s so much to see in Rome, it’s worth finding somewhere comfortable to base yourself for a few nights.


If you’re looking for a hostel, I would suggest the very cool Generator Hostel.


For something affordable but comfortable, Roema Guest House is a good option.


With some incredible designs, the boutique hotel G-Rough is pretty amazing.


And if you want to really splurge for somewhere incredible, have a look at Portrait Roma.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

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