By most people’s reckoning the Colosseum is one of the 7 wonders of the world, and while you have to take these lists with more than a pinch of salt, there’s no denying that it’s a must-see attraction for first-time visitors to Rome. Unfortunately, every other visitor in Rome is also determined to visit this 2,000-year-old arena and as a result, huge queues form outside the ticket office and waiting times of over an hour in the often-scorching Roman heat are not uncommon. Here are a few tips, some based on my own mistakes on our recent visit to Rome, on how to make the most of a visit to the Colosseum.
1. Book Online
If you book your tickets online you can walk past the long queue and go straight to the security screening. There’s a €2 booking fee and it may involve you deciding in advance which day you’ll visit the Colosseum, but it’s a small price to pay compared to the option of turning up and queuing.
2. Anywhere but the Colosseum
The ticket for the Colosseum is €12 and includes entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. This is important, as you can buy your ticket at any of the three sites. The quietest is by far the ticket office at Palatine Hill, despite the fact that it’s barely 5 minutes’ walk from the Colosseum. So even if you do turn up on the day, go instead to the quieter ticket office and spend your first hour exploring the birthplace of the Emperor Augustus, before joining the chaos at the Colosseum with a ticket in hand.
3. The Colosseum queue
If you do have to join the queue at the Colosseum (and given the first two options, there’s really no reason to do this), then arriving early is strongly advised. The site opens at 8.30 am, and by 10 o’clock the queue is horrendous, as we discovered to our cost. Not only does an early start mean that you don’t need to queue for long, but once you’re inside you will be able to enjoy the site without the massed hordes of tour groups.
4. Beyond the stones
The story of what went on inside this hugely impressive building is remarkable, but you won’t get much of the story by simply staring at the rocks. One suggestion is to make use of one of the many guides who tout their wares outside the gates. By all accounts the quality of the tour you’ll get is a bit of a lottery, with many guides doing little more than reciting guide book material. You can hire a professional guide to show you this and other sites of Ancient Rome; it will cost more but you will know what you’re getting for your money. There’s also the option of the audio guide at the site, which costs €5 and does a very good job of setting the scene and telling some of the background history of the Colosseum, and of the Rome in which it was built.
5. Step back from the chaos
The easiest and hardest tip of all. It’s hard enough to negotiate the narrow paths around the Colosseum without getting stabbed with other people’s selfie-sticks, or getting in the way of their snaps. Take the time to lurk in the background, find a seat if you can, and just absorb the place; not only is the enormity of the 2000-year-old site mind-boggling, but the horrors of what went on in the name of entertainment become particularly hard to swallow when you look around you and see the colourful and cosmopolitan buzz that’s going on around you. It’s a truly special site, but to make the most of it it’s worth stepping back from the main crowds and finding your own bit of solitude to try and soak it in.