Rome, one of the world’s great cities, is an amazing place where ancient ruins are just a part of the normal scenery. The massive Roman architecture is often best appreciated from afar, which has the added benefit of also generally being free to admire. Going the free route also has the added bonus of saving time by avoiding time waiting in lines.
Case in point, the Colosseum.
The first time I went to Rome, going to the Colosseum was at the top of my list of things I wanted to experience. And it was really cool.
Jim and I were more than a mile away when we caught our first glimpse of the building at the end of a long straightway. At first I didn’t realize what it was because it was too far away to see clearly — just a massive blur at the end of the road. But as we continued walking toward it, the Colosseum slowly materialized. It was immense.
We walked right up to it. I couldn’t clearly see its edges — its ancient, worn beauty took up my entire peripheral vision.
Spotty clouds and occasional sprinkling rain completed the picture. It made me think about how many thousands of similar showers the stone walls have endured. The moment felt mysterious. And even though there were tons of tourists milling around the streets with me, I somehow still felt like an explorer who discovered the ancient ruin anew. It was everything I hoped for.
We hurried to find the end of a long line to get inside. I couldn’t wait.
The inside was interesting. We opted to do a self-guided tour using our handy Rick Steves e-book. This was also the cheaper option and allowed us to roam around unencumbered by a tour guide.
But exploring the interior walls didn’t quite elicit the same type of response that I felt from outside. Everything seemed smaller and covered in fences that restricted exploration. Thick groups of people congested already tight spaces, making me feel less like an adventurer and more like I was on a school field trip.
Six years later, I often first think about my free experience outside. I remember the grand views as I approached, circled, and sheltered in its giant shadow. I remember the thrill of discovery. I remember the awe at its size.
I’m not anti-going-into-the-colosseum. In fact, I’m glad I’ve been. It was worth doing once in my lifetime. But once is enough, and if you’re either tight on money or on time it’s also totally skippable; if the point of the experience is to soak in the history and ponder the immensity of it all, you can do that just as well outside.
If you go:
• I just checked the official Colosseum website, and tickets are currently 12 Euros with a 2 Euro online booking fee, as of the date of this post. This is a basic entry fee and does not include any tours or special access. It also includes basic entry to the Forum/Palantine Hill. Tickets are not for specific dates or times and all of these sites have maximum capacities that can delay access to the site.
— Laura Rowley