My first backdoor experience at the Colosseum

I must admit, as far as travel experiences go, visiting the Colosseum never ranked highly on my list of favorites.   Until recently, that is.  The mass confusion entering the Colosseum and the stress of dealing with their stringent yet non-communicative ticket office, followed by feeling pretty much like one of a million sheep, and not much to do once inside other than take selfies or watch other people take selfies really downgraded the experience for me.
When my extended family came to visit Rome and asked me to help them organize their trip, I was struggling my way through the Colosseum website and thought, “There must be a better way.”  And entered, The Roman Guy.  But more on that later.

Honestly, Colosseum ticketing options are not ideal.  I’ve had first-hand experience through my work managing on-site logistics for groups of American and Australian university students with CISabroad.  Often we opt to pay the reserved group entry (which is an additional cost on top of the ticket to enter).  The group entry has its own entrance a bit closer to the metro stop than the single ticket entrance, but, ironically, there is always a line at the reserved group entry, and eventually, this “special” entrance converges with the non-reserved single ticket entry line.

A small part of the line to get into the Colosseum.

Being fairly disillusioned with the group entry options, I eventually decided to try arriving early with one of my groups and give the unreserved entry line a go, only to find out after waiting a half hour that I was prohibited from purchasing more than 12 tickets at a time.  I’m not sure how I would have known this rule in advance, but whatever the case, now I finally understood the need for reserving the otherwise unhelpful group entry in advance.
The final solution for entry into the Colosseum is to purchase your single tickets online in advance and print them out at home.  Then when you arrive at the single ticket entry line, you have access to a special line for people who purchased online, which moves a bit faster.
All that to say, there isn’t really an ideal solution.  Until I finally rolled up my sleeves and was determined to find a better way.  That’s when The Roman Guy came in.  The Roman Guy sounds like one guy, but it is actually a robust Italian tour company based in Rome.  They have a lot of different tour options for exploring the Colosseum with a guide such as Colosseum underground and floor tours.

The idea of having someone else manage the craziness of getting us into the Colosseum was reason enough for me to book, but the tour also resolved my other primary disappointment with visiting the Colosseum: the lack of information about Colosseum history available to visitors.  Having a trained guide would really open up the experience for us, giving us the narrative that would make the place come alive.

The day of our tour arrived, we met our Roman Guy guide, and everything started out smoothly and normally.  But then everything was suddenly different.

The backdoor entry to the Colosseum was empty other than us.

We passed the mobs of people waiting in the three lines I had mentioned, kept walking around to the back of the Colosseum, and stopped in front of a back gate.  I was flabbergasted.  There was no one at this back gate.  Our guide simply called the name of the guard, he came over, opened the door for us, and we walked into the Colosseum.

Our entrance into the Colosseum.

Instead of the typical mixture of stress, anxiety, and annoyance that I carry with me after finally getting through all of the hurdles to enter the Colosseum, we merely just walked in.  I was in heaven.

We then proceeded to walk onto a deck perched just above the floor of the Colosseum.  Every trip I’d made here, I’d seen people on this deck from the other side, and always wondered what this magic place was that was not accessible to us.  Well, now I finally understood.

The view I usually have, without a guided tour, of the exclusive access area to the Colosseum.

This area was regulated by Colosseum staff, and only a certain amount of visitors can be there for a given amount of time (20 minutes or so, maybe a half-hour), meaning there was plenty of space to move around and take pictures.  Since The Roman Guy is registered with the Colosseum, they can reserve this special entrance onto the Colosseum floor (and other restricted access areas), and bring people in through the back entrance.

I was such a happy camper that I took a rare selfie.
My stepbrother with his wife, his brother-in-law, and his parents-in-law.

We had plenty of time (and space) to take photos, and then our sweet Roman Guy guide, an archaeologist, started explaining the highlights of the Colosseum history.

Our sweet and knowledgeable guide had great visuals to accompany her talks.

We walked around nearly the whole Colosseum together, up to the second level, then ducked here and there, finding shade, water, and places to rest, as she explained fun facts.  My favorite trivia was about the female gladiators.  I had no idea they existed!  We also learned that the ruins across the street were ruins of a gladiator training school.  So cool.

We had a lot of fun. 🙂

The second part of our tour took place across from the Colosseum at the Forum and Palatine Hill, where we learned about the fascinating Virgin Vessels, and our guide showed us where Caesar was cremated.  I’d been to the Forum many times but had never noticed the tiny sign that points out this incredible history of the temple, now partly in ruins.

The Roman Forum is so incredible it doesn’t seem real, but there are no historical explanations so we were so glad to have a guide.

I had a few favorite moments, including when she pointed out a piece of what would have been a massive statue, and now all that remains is a foot.  I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise, and it is rumored to be good luck to touch the pinky so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Touching the toe for good luck.

The tour finally wound down, and our guide shared one last insight with us.  “Rome is like lasagna,” she said. “It is full of many layers, all of them worth discovering and savoring.”

Rome is like a lasagna!! Here we are discovering some of the layers.

I loved that moment, as it really made me think, and appreciate all the insight that this lovely archeologist guide brought to our experience that we would have missed if we had done it alone.  It is an experience that I won’t soon forget.


    • Oh, thank you Becky!! Even though I was Negative Nancy most of the way through complaining about lines? ;b Thank you for putting up with my complaining, ha! It really was such a positive experience this time…our guide smiled so much, she was a pleasure to photograph. And me and the family were all so happy, we were shooting away! Thank so much for reading, Becky. Hope you and your family are having a lovely weekend so far. 🙂

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Great post, Peggy! It really does pay to go with a local tour company. The times I’ve done so I learned so much. I loved your video, really gives an idea of its size and I tried to imagine it filled with thousands of screaming spectators! 😉

    • I’m so glad the video was so helpful, Eliza!! That makes me happy…although I do hope it inspires you to give it an in-person visit sometime. 😉 Totally, what must it have been like filled with spectators? Loud I imagine, ha! Happy to hear you’ve also had great experiences with local guides. Happy summer to you, Eliza! Hope it is a good one so far..:))

  2. Having stood in the long, hot entry line just last summer, I appreciate the back door tour. Better is having a guide explaining the rich history. Thanks,Peg, for a great post. Desert Rich

  3. Di says:

    Hello dear Peggy!
    What a brilliant experience you have outlined for us. It certainly pays to do some touring with local guides and not attempt it all on your own. And the line about Rome being like lasagna with many layers… I love it!
    All in all, it sounds like a wonderful time there. And it was great to see you in a photo. Hello to you🙋🏻
    Thank you for an informative post Peggy 💐💕

  4. harinie1985 says:

    Hey Peggy. It’s interesting reading about your experience. We got the Roma pass, the colosseum was one of the attractions at used it in, and we got in on about fifteen minutes. I think there was a separate line for us. The crowds inside were a different story though.😁

    • I’m glad you did ok! The line isn’t super bad, it is just a bit confusing as to where to stand sometimes. And once you get in it is kind of every man for himself! 😉 Thanks for reading and for your comment. Please excuse my delay here!

  5. Peggy, when in Rome I never made it into the Colosseum – perhaps for some of the same reasons you mentioned above (perception it’d be overcrowded, with no narrative to make the experience come alive). Having wholeheartedly enjoyed exploring Ancient Roman sites in Croatia during the off season (Pula, Salona, etc.) I think this backdoor experience of Rome’s Colosseum is something we’ll keep in mind the next time we’re there. 🙂

    • Oh good, so glad to hear it, Tricia. Your instincts were good. I don’t think you would have enjoyed the typical Colosseum experience very much. But doing it this way, with a good guided tour, is certainly worth the time. So glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed the Roman sites in Croatia so much. Would love to check them out someday…

  6. ThePittStops says:

    Great suggestion! The first time I was in Rome I felt the same way about the collosseum experience. Everything was way to hectic! I like the video too! What kind of camera do you use and do I have a steady cam?

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