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Rome’s Colosseum is one of the greatest engineering marvels in history. Built in just eight years beginning in 72 CE, it held upwards of 50,000 spectators for its famous gladiator matches and other violent and thrilling spectacles. A couple of millennia later, and the Colosseum is still a major draw, with over 4 million tourists visiting annually. That many people means long and often slow lines, which can eat up far too much of your precious time in Rome.
Whether you’ve never taken a tour in your life or you prefer to visit monuments with the help of a guide, it’s completely worth it at the Colosseum, where most licensed tour companies offer skip-the-line privileges and many are able to provide guided access to areas where the general public is not allowed. There are countless companies offering guided tours of the Colosseum, some in combination with other Roman attractions, and below we listed the best of the best.
Best Comprehensive Tour: Ancient Rome Colosseum Underground
Skip the line and get full “backstage” access on this in-depth 3.5-hour tour that takes you deep into the heart of this massive ancient building. Your guide, an expert on Roman history, will show you around the network of labyrinthine tunnels below the Colosseum. You’ll see where the ancient gladiators prepared for battle and where wild animals were kept in cages, ready to be raised by hand-pulled elevator into the arena above.
After exploring the underground, you’ll head up to the arena floor level. General admission visitors are only allowed to look at this level from the edge, but you’ll be able to walk out onto the small sections of floor that remain and stand where the gladiators once stood. The tour is not over once you’ve finished with the Colosseum: your guide will also take you on a tour of the Roman Forum, where the city’s politicians once met, and for a walk up Palatine Hill for a view of the ancient Circus Maximus, the chariot racing track. You’ll see a whole lot in a half-day and spend virtually no wasted time waiting on line.
Best Express Tour: Skip the Line: Colosseum Official Guided Tour
If you want to see the Colosseum but don’t have a whole lot of time (or money) to spend, this hour-long tour is perfect. You’ll meet at a spot across the street from the Colosseum and join your guide in walking right past the line and through an express entrance. The tour marches on through the structure at a fairly fast clip, with your guide pointing out important features and explaining some of the history of the building itself (and how on earth they built it with the tools and the mathematical knowledge of the time) as well as the human aspects of the story: the mighty gladiators, the poor souls fed to the lions, the emperors who used massive spectacles to distract and appease their citizens, and the citizens themselves. Efficient, affordable, and fun: What’s not to like?
Best Small-Group Tour: Colosseum Underground and Ancient Rome
With a tour group capped at just six people, this tour is great for those who want an experience that’s a bit more personalized than the larger group can provide. Your guide is an expert in Roman history and will happily field all of your questions, taking their time to make sure you are learning what you want to learn and seeing what you want to see.
You’ll begin with skip-the-line entry and head straight to the maze-like subterranean level of the structure, where your guide will show you around while telling you a series of true stories of the most thrilling (and horrifying) spectacles ever staged in the Colosseum.
Next, you’ll visit the floor level, where you’ll be allowed access onto what’s left of the arena’s floor. You can look down into the underground passages where you just walked and see how some of the battle staging worked. After this comprehensive tour, you’ll also visit the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, where your guide will explain more about the politics and daily life of ancient Rome and the people who lived there.
Best Private Tour: Private Underground Colosseum Tour
If you want truly personalized attention, hire yourself an expert private guide who will spend a half day walking you through ancient Rome’s most famous structures and explaining them in-depth. Take advantage of their expertise and enthusiasm and ask any questions you might have as you explore the building, and enjoy the flexibility provided by touring without a group, spending a bit more time on things that interest you or moving more quickly through those that don’t strike your fancy.
This tour includes a skip-the-line entrance ticket, access to the Colosseum’s underground area, arena floor, and also the upper tier, which is only accessible to a small number of guided visitors each day. It also includes a tour of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Note that during the underground tour of the Colosseum, you will be with a small group, but your guide will be with by your side the entire time to answer any in-depth questions you might have.
Best History Tour: Ancient Rome and Colosseum Half-Day Walking Tour
Aren’t all tours of the Colosseum history tours? Well, yes, but this tour is really the ideal choice for history mega-buffs. Guided by a history and/or architecture expert (many of the company’s guides are grad students in these topics), you’ll become historians for the day, learning not only about the deep history of this remarkable place, but about how historians and archaeologists use the hard evidence found here in the building itself as well as written accounts of the time to uncover stories of the people — the famous and not-so-famous — who would have walked into this building almost 2,000 years ago.
The tour includes both a deep exploration of the Colosseum (choose the tour upgrade so you can get access to the third tier of the arena for a spectacular view of the stadium) and a stroll up both Oppian and Palatine Hills, plus a tour of the ruins of the Roman Forum, including the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Temple of Julius Caesar.
Best Night Tour: Colosseum Under the Moonlight
There are a lot of good reasons to tour the Colosseum at night: The crowds are nearly nonexistent, the building is strikingly beautiful (and a bit eerie) when lit up at night, but perhaps the best reason of all is that, during the hotter months of the year, Rome’s famous pounding sun has gone down for the day, making it a whole lot cooler and more comfortable. The downside: you can’t see quite as much (the underground and upper levels aren’t available). Still, it may well be worth it for you. This tour starts at the nearby tour company office with an aperitivo (a snack and a glug of vino) and then heads to the Colosseum itself. You’ll take a walk past the Roman Forum and discuss its relevance to the ancient world, and then observe the amphitheater lit up from the outside. Finally, you will enter it and enjoy a tour of the inside, enjoying the peace of the crowdless night, which somehow makes the building seem even bigger.
Best Tour for Kids: Skip-the-Lines Colosseum and Roman Forum for Kids
Though kids are often loath to be dragged through dusty old buildings, the Colosseum isn’t usually a hard sell: gory gladiator battles! Lions eating people! Many kids love the gruesome details of these historical events. And, of course, some don’t, which is fine — therein lies the biggest benefit of hiring a private tour guide who specializes in tours for families. If your kids want to hear the scary stuff, your guide will happily oblige, pointing out the real underground chambers where vicious wild animals were once kept and sharing true stories of battles that took place in the arena. If you have a squeamish little one on your hands, your guide will make it fun for them, too, pointing out cool details that will appeal to kids but aren’t gruesome, bringing history to life for the whole family. This 2.5-hour tour includes skip-the-line entry to the Colosseum and a tour through the nearby ruins of the Roman Forum.
Best Self-Guided Tour: Rome Sightseeing Pass: Vatican & Ancient Rome
If you really prefer not to tour with a guide, this is a great option for you: It’s an all-in-one sightseeing pass that allows you skip-the-line access to a whole whack of Rome and Vatican City’s most popular attractions: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the papal tombs. It comes with a map and a free audio guide which you can use while you explore these iconic sites, including, of course, the Colosseum. It’s a bit of a best-of-both-worlds scenario: the flexibility of being on your own but the thoughtful illumination of experts on the topic. The price isn’t bad, either, especially if you were already planning on visiting all or most of these locations (and remembering that skip-the-line access is worth its weight in gold around here).
Best Combo Tour: Rome Super Saver: Colosseum and Ancient Rome
Here’s where it comes in handy to book through Viator: This package deal combines two of Rome’s most popular guided tours and saves you 10 percent on the pair. You’ll start the morning exploring the first two levels of the Colosseum (with skip-the-line access, of course) with the help of your knowledgeable guide. Then you’ll head to the ruins of the Roman Forum with a stop at the Arch of Constantine, walk up Palatine Hill, and end the tour on the ancient Via Sacra.
At this point, you’ll have two hours to get lunch and perhaps do a bit more exploring on your own (your morning guide will happily give you some tips) and then you’ll head to the Piazza di Spagna, at the base of the Spanish Steps, for your afternoon walking tour.
You’ll see the Trinita dei Monti Church (that’s where the Spanish Steps lead), the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Colonna, the Pantheon, and more. By the end of the day, you will have explored a few thousand years of Roman history and also gotten a good taste of its present.
Our writers spent 2 hours researching the most popular Colosseum tours on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 40 different tours overall and read over 80 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.