Rome's Colosseum has stood tall since 70 AD, and hopefully isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Built by Emperor Vespasian, the complex has been in constant use over the centuries, first as an amphitheater dedicated to the gladiatorial spectacle, and later as a storage facility and makeshift shelter for the homeless. It's one of the Eternal City's most-visited monuments, and at 6-acres, one of the largest, so a little prep is in order before your first visit. Whether you're traveling solo or in a group, make sure you know all the tips to ensure a visit that's heavy on the inspiration and lighter on the perspiration.
As one of the most popular destinations on the planet, Rome is well serviced by public transportation. Most flights arrive at Leonardo da Vinci or Ciampino airports, so connections to the central train and Metro are easy to catch from there. The Colosseum even has its own Metro stop, fittingly named Colosseo. There are great hotels and pensions in the immediate neighborhood but expect to travel a bit to visit Rome's other major sites such as the Vatican or the Trevi Fountain.
The Colisseum is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the only one in Europe. It's big—12-stories high—beautiful—seats for 50,000 or so spectators were originally clad in marble—and built to impress. Because so many Christian martyrs were executed here, the Church has gone to great lengths to protect the Colosseum as a holy site. Unbelievably, the pressure to tear it down and pave it over has been strong at times. If anything, you should visit it because it's one of the long-standing relics in the history of human civilization.
During the high season of June through August, even the vast Colosseum can feel crowded as tourists arrive en masse. Fortunately, you'll always find a serenely empty corner somewhere on the grounds, especially since restrictions to avoid over-crowding are newly in place. There are various tricks for avoiding long lines at the entry points—visit as early as 8:30 am, or as late as 7 pm in the summer to evade the worst of the chaos and the oppressive midday heat.
Long line-ups are a feature of gaining entry to the Colosseum, but they can be avoided. Hiring an official guide or joining a group can sometimes allow you to bypass the ticket office. You can also buy tickets online, in advance. It's worth noting that kids under 18 get in free and all admissions include the nearby Forum and Palatine Gardens, well worth the visit and offering fresh vistas of the Colosseum exterior.
You'll notice the feline presence at the Colosseum, and other Roman sites, right away. They're shy and stick to the shady lower levels of the site, but the cats also act like they own the place. And they kind of do. Previously monitored and fed by animal-loving volunteers since 2001, the feral cat population here has been under government protection as an important feature of the city's bio-heritage.
There are more than 80 entrances to the Colosseum, some of them hidden. The upper levels of the amphitheater can be reached by elevator or by nearly vertical stone stairways, but regardless of how you reach the top, there are several viewing platforms with awe-inspiring views across Rome. Don't miss the underground change rooms and tunnels known as the hypogeum. This is where gladiators, prisoners and caged wild animals hung out before each event. A knowledgeable tour guide will also point out the 36 trap doors in the arena, used for special effects.
Shooting in the Colosseum is challenging because of the scale. Don't even try to capture the whole thing—rather, zoom in on the many interesting details, whether architectural or human. If your camera allows for low light, consider shooting the monument at night when it's dramatically lit. Remember that most things look best when shot at the "golden hours" of sunset or against dramatic skies pre-downpour, and that includes selfies.
For the fullest Colosseum experience, history and architecture buffs may want to stay within walking distance of the iconic site. That way, unrushed exploration can give way to night time admiration and a chance to explore adjacent attractions such as the Roman Forum the next day. Piazza del Colosseum Square is ringed with rooftop terraced restaurants with great views and many hotel and Airbnb options.
Why resist the kitsch? As the top tourist attraction in Rome, the Colosseum is memorialized in all manner of key chains, cheesy miniatures, mugs, and t-shirts. The on-site gift shop has the greatest selection. Children will love the mini gladiator suits complete with helmet, sword, and shield for dressing up.
Included with a ticket to the Colosseum is admission to the nearby Roman Forum. The remains of a lively marketplace and several government buildings dating from the time of Caesar, the site used to be the site of several ancient pagan temples. The ruins were plundered for centuries, its stones used to construct lavish palazzos on the hills surrounding Rome before preservation began in the modern era. Beware the midday sun in this unshaded outdoor archeological wonder.