7 days in Rome and Pompei
Just about anyone going to Rome for the first time will probably go to the Colosseum – and we were no different. We booked a tour ahead of time and made plans to explore the area!
Avoid the Lines
We pre-purchased tickets and a tour, which let us skip the huge line outside. I’d highly recommend getting your tickets this way and printing them out. Although the Vatican had no line in January, the Colosseum had one around the block.
There are 4 levels to the Colosseum, but only two of them can be accessed with a general ticket. To access the ground floor, where gladiators prepared themselves, and the top floor where the best views are, you’ll need to buy a guided tour. These relatively cheap and leave every 15 minutes. Each tour will get certain areas of the Colosseum to themselves.
We did have a bit of an issue going in though. I brought my camera bag with me to take some photos, but they wouldn’t let me in with it. Women are allowed to bring bags, but unfortunately not men. There are also no lockers nearby, so if you bring a bag, you’re out of luck. I saw one guy hiding his backpack under a trash can because there was no other option.
We ended up transferring everything from my bag to my coat and pockets, then folding it up to cram it inside Marilyn’s purse. They let us pass without an issue.
Once you’re inside, there are two levels that you can access without a guide – the middle ring (ground floor) and the 2nd floor. We missed the stairs up to the 2nd floor at first.
We wandered around, found a few spot to snap a few photos, and tried to take in the view.
Eventually we walked around and discovered the ancient stairs up to the 2nd level. Up here you can see a better view of the stadium, but also it was much more crowded. We stumbled on the gift shop and bookstore up here as well.
To take a tour, you’ll need to sign up for it ahead of time. You’ll be given a sticker with a meeting time on it and directions on where to meetup for it. At that time, a guide will stop by, hand out a few walkie talkies to be able to hear them with and start the tour!
The tour begins on the ground floor, hearing about the history of the theater. The far end of the ground floor stage has a wooden false floor built out where the old floor would have been. Being a tour gets you access to this area in a small group.
The area of the tour we were most looking forward to was the underground. This is the place where gladiators prepared for battle, where actors were shot up on stage and much more.
One of the amazing things was just how high the pillars were before reaching the ground floor. People would be placed into makeshift elevators and hurled up 25 feet before breaking into the field of view for the audience. This sounds completely insane and scary.
Like much of Rome, there are natural springs that run under the Colosseum. This flowing water is hidden here, but throughout the city we would find spigots constantly pouring water.
Another area of the Colosseum that is off-limits to anyone not on a tour is the 3rd floor. Not all of this floor is accessible though. If you look at a picture, this is the highest area available to access, and much of it has since crumbled. One small portion of it allows visitors to see what the worst seats saw – as well as some great views of the outside.
After hours of wandering around, we decided to grab a bite close by at Luzzi, a Roman style restaurant a few blocks from the Colosseum. We must have passed 15 empty restaurants before encountering Luzzi - the top rated restaurant in the area according to Yelp. Little did we know it was also featured in Rick Steves Travel Guide for the area. Even though it was packed, it took less than 5 minutes to get a seat.
The place is packed and face paced though. This isn’t a restaurant to sit back and relax in, but more one to enjoy some tasty food and take off. We enjoyed some wine, roman style pizza, oxtail and lasagna before heading out to explore the Roman Forum.
Just north of the Colosseum is the Roman Forum – an outdoor area with a number of ruins that was once the the center of Romes government and city life. Now this area is recessed, below street level, allowing for a view of it from around around the area. To get in, you’ll also need a pass, but you can easily buy a Colosseum pass that also grants access to the Roman Forum.
Exploring the forum in full would take far longer than the Colosseum. When we read the list of ruins, it’s impressive: Temple of Saturn, Venus, Caesar, Romulus. Arch of Titas and Septimius. Many of these structures are now down to walls, or even knocked over pillars.
Trying to explore the forum without a guide is difficult. We had downloaded Rick Steves self guided audio tour of the grounds. With how spread out the forum was, following it’s direction was more difficult than we expected.
We left our apartment at 8:30am, and it wasn’t until almost 6pm when we made it back – even with taxis and a short ride.
Dinner at Piazza Navona
Following a short refresh at our home base, we met up with some friends farther west for dinner and some exploring near Piazza Navona.