Going Behind the Scenes on a Colosseum Underground Tour

Europe’s capital cities are absolutely filled with famous sights, but more often than not there will still be one in particular that stands out among the rest – the one that the moment you catch sight of it for the first time, it fully hits exactly where you are and how lucky you are to be there. For myself, and I’m guessing most other travelers, these are usually historically significant landmarks like Big Ben in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and in the case of today’s post – the Colosseum in Rome.

The Colosseum has been standing in Rome since 80 AD. (That’s just 62 years shy of two millennia ago!) Several earthquakes and a period of time where the Colosseum’s crumbling stone was removed and used to construct other buildings in Rome have, of course, changed its appearance from that of the Roman Empire’s heyday, but what remains is still an incredibly well-preserved piece of Rome’s fascinating history. No first-time holiday in Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum, and there is no better way to explore it than via a Colosseum Underground Tour!

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Why is a Colosseum Underground Tour the Best Way to See the Colosseum?

Visitors to the Colosseum with a standard entrance ticket are allowed access to two different areas in the Colosseum – the first tier and the second tier. That’s it. If you’re not interested in the history or are rushing to fit multiple sights into a single day, then a standard ticket is the way to go. For everyone else, the best way to visit the Colosseum will be via one of the sight’s several tour options, the most extensive of which is the underground tour.

The Colosseum Underground Tour allows visitors access to quite a few places not open to standard ticket holders. It’s sort of like a backstage pass into the Colosseum’s history. (Keep reading to see all the areas included on the tour!)

Besides access to restricted areas, you’ll also have the benefit of a knowledgeable guide to supply the history and stories necessary to truly bring a visit to the Colosseum to life. If you’re visiting on your own, hardly any information will be provided about what you’re seeing. The Colosseum is still very cool to see regardless of whether you’re on a tour or not, but it’ll be a significantly more meaningful experience with a little context.

How to Book a Colosseum Underground Tour

The cheapest way is to book directly with the Colosseum. To secure your spot on a Colosseum Underground Tour, you’ll need to purchase two different tickets – a standard ticket (€12) and a tour ticket (€9). You can do this online here. (Note: There is a €2 online booking fee per ticket, but it’s worth it to get the tour time you prefer and avoid the long ticket lines at the Colosseum.) Since each tour only allows up to 25 people and there are limited tours throughout the day, I recommend booking your tickets as soon as you know what days you’ll be in Rome. Tours fill up quickly during peak season, so don’t wait especially if you’re traveling to Rome over the summer.

Alternatively, you can book an underground tour with a private tour company in Rome. These tours are more expensive, but usually have the benefit of also providing you with a tour guide for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, the two other sights included with a standard ticket into the Colosseum. I don’t have any personal recommendations to offer as we booked directly with the Colosseum, but a quick Google search should bring up the most popular companies for these tours.

Areas You’ll Visit on a Colosseum Underground Tour

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

The Arena Floor

Our tour began on the arena floor, also known as the stage. Pictured first above, the stage is obviously a newer addition to the Colosseum as the original arena floor was dismantled centuries ago, but it still offers a unique vantage point of the Colosseum that you don’t get when you’re restricted to the outer rings of the amphitheater.

Entering the arena through the Gate of Death (yep, it’s just like it sounds – this was the door the bodies of gladiators were carried through after their deaths), nothing will make you feel quite so small and insignificant like standing on the edge of the arena floor and looking up at the massive ruins of what was once the largest and most impressive amphitheater in the world. (Fun fact: Up to 80,000 people could fit in the Colosseum at one time!)

While you could never truly capture it without all the people and the noise and the fear and excitement, having access to this unique location and being able to hear a few of the most interesting tales that once occurred on the same spot where we currently stood made it a little easier to imagine what the Colosseum must have looked and felt like for the gladiators who once fought and lost their lives within its oval walls.

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

The Basement of the Colosseum

Next we headed to the area which gives the tour its name – the Colosseum’s basement. It was here, in an elaborate underground network of tunnels, cages, and holding rooms beneath the arena floor, that gladiators and animals were kept in anticipation of their “performances”. Exploring this area today allows a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation that went into the gladiator fights, animal hunts, and other public spectacles that everyone from the rich to the poor came to see during the Roman Empire’s reign.

With the arena floor now gone, most of the basement is completely exposed and grass grows where tunnels and cages once were. However, much of the underground structure around the outer rim of the arena remains in fairly decent condition (including the original floor in some of the rooms reserved for gladiators) since it’s been relatively well-protected from the elements all these years. It’s in these areas that the tour takes place.

Some parts of the Colosseum’s underground have been reconstructed, like the lifts that once took the animals and gladiators up to the arena level, to make it easier to understand how things once worked down here. And it’s dark, but not nearly as dark (nor presumably as scary) as it once was when the arena floor blocked out nearly all the light. Even with these differences, there’s still enough left behind to be able to see what it might have been like down here 2,000 years ago.

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

The Third Ring

Our final stop on the Colosseum Underground Tour was about as opposite as underground as you can get. After passing through a gated area on the second level of the Colosseum, we headed up to the Third Ring located at the top of the amphitheater. (If you take a look at the third picture in this post, you’ll see a couple of people standing on a terrace above the tiers where the rest of the Colosseum’s visitors can go – that’s the Third Ring.)

This upper level provides a wide view of the Colosseum, as well as the ruins located nearby at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. (Pictured: Arch of Constantine, and the Arch of Titus beside the Temple of Venus and Rome.) This is also one of the few spots where you can still see pieces of the original outer walls of the Colosseum. The rest were taken and sold after the fall of Rome.

Our tour ended here (in total, it was about an hour and a half) and we were left to exit on our own or explore the other areas of the Colosseum open to all visitors. We chose the latter, which I definitely recommend you do if you have the time. I mean, you bought a ticket, might as well make it worth it, right?

Related Post: Highlights At The Roman Forum & Palatine Hill

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

The First and Second Rings

If you were lucky (or smart) enough to book the earliest Colosseum Underground Tour of the day, the First and Second Rings might not be all that busy yet when you visit them after your tour is over. At least that was the case for us visiting in mid-February anyway.

While we didn’t get to see anything on these levels that we hadn’t already seen from the arena floor on our tour, it was still interesting just to be able to see how the view of the Colosseum changes depending on what level you’re on. From a photography standpoint, I definitely enjoyed the second level the most, but for those visiting on a standard ticket only, the first level will allow a closer look at the network of tunnels beneath the arena.

By the way, that is my husband pretending to decide the fate of a fallen gladiator, not expressing his opinion on the Colosseum itself. (Just in case that wasn’t clear, ha!)

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

Perimeter Walk Outside the Colosseum

After you exit the Colosseum (there is no getting back in after you leave without buying a whole new ticket, so make sure you’re ready), be sure to walk around the full perimeter of the Colosseum before you go. This especially applies if you’re into photography. Everyone likes to get the same head-on view of the Colosseum (which was, unfortunately, completely covered in scaffolding when I visited), but there are a lot of unique shots you can capture if you’re willing to walk around a little bit looking for unexpected angles. (There are also opportunities for interesting Colosseum shots from the other sights included on your ticket, so don’t skip them!)

Things to Know About the Colosseum Underground Tour

Tours meet at a specific meeting point inside the Colosseum. After you make it through security, if you haven’t already been told where you are meeting, just ask someone at the security check point. They’ll point you in the right direction.

You’ll be given a headset so you can always hear your guide. Even though tours are small, it can get both windy and noisy at the Colosseum, making it hard to hear your guide. The headsets totally solve that problem.

Children under 18 are allowed into the Colosseum for free, and are free on the tour up to age 12. But they’ll still need a ticket. You can book them online at the same time as your adult tickets, but they’ll need to be picked up at the special events desk outside the Colosseum. (You’ll have to show proof of age, so bring a passport or ID.)

If you have limited mobility, the underground tour may be difficult for you. Particularly on the steps up to the third ring. They were really narrow and steep, so if you’re unsteady, it could be easy to take a fall.

Should you tip your guide? It’s not necessary, and on our tour we noticed almost no one did, but I personally think if you really enjoyed the tour, an extra euro or two is a nice way of complimenting your guide.

First time in Rome? Be sure to check out our full Rome city guide here!

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Colosseum Underground Tour: The Best Way To Visit The Colosseum In Rome

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  • Lisa
    May 13, 2018 at 2:02 PM

    Our original preplanned night colosseum tour was canceled by the tour company due to the organization changing the allowed scheduled nights. We are now given the choice between two available tours. One tour is a 1:45 PM tour. It includes the top tiers for 3 hours with our original cost of $100 per person. The other option is an 8:30 AM tour for 3.5 hours. It does not have the top tier tour but it does include the underground tour, the cost for it is $147 per person. I have read the morning tours are better due to fewer crowds. Which is more impressive to tour, the upper rings or the underground? Do you have any suggestions on which tour to take since we are forced to make a last minute change?

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 13, 2018 at 7:53 PM

      Hi Lisa! You’re right, the Colosseum is less crowded in the early morning than it is in the afternoon, but since you’re visiting areas on your tour that are restricted to standard passholders, that may not be as big of a deal for you. Since the two uppermost tiers were not open yet when we visited (we only made it to the third tier), I cannot say whether they are better to visit than the underground, but I can tell you we VERY MUCH enjoyed the portion of our tour that took us to the areas beneath the arena. The history there is phenomenal, plus it’s kind of neat to see an area you can’t see at all from the regular tiers.

      One other thing – $100/$147 per person sounds incredibly high for either of these tours. Unless that fee also includes a tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, I’d say you’re being overcharged. We paid just €23 ($27 USD) per person for our tour. Anyway, sorry you’re having to make a last-minute change. That’s very frustrating! I hope you’re still able to enjoy your visit!

  • Claudia
    February 24, 2018 at 8:46 AM

    Wow that´s seems such an impressive tour. The pictures are amazing. Haven´t been to Rome yet but will definitely do a underground tour once I travel there. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jacky
    February 24, 2018 at 4:01 AM

    I’ve only been to the Colosseum once, and in fact it was the only thing I liked about Rome, haha. I personally think it’s great to go during off-season and early in the morning.. that way you have the whole place to yourself :) But next time I go, I definitely wanna do this! Love your pictures, as always!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 25, 2018 at 2:10 AM

      Oh, no! At least the Colosseum was a winner! Isn’t it funny how places make us feel such different things?! I loved absolutely everything about Rome, but I’ve also been to places it seems everyone loves and left feeling sort of ‘meh’ myself. I guess that’s a good thing, though. Otherwise we’d all be crowded into the exact same destinations all the time. :)

  • Kathi Kamleitner
    February 24, 2018 at 2:51 AM

    It’s like I’m there’s again ? We went to the Colosseum woth a private tour company which also included a tour at the Forum. Unfortunately it had been raining a lot before our trip, so that the actual underground of the Colosseum could not be visited – there was still a lot of water down there… Is love to go back though – the history of Rome is too big to capture in just a few trips (I’ve been three times some I was a kid)! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 25, 2018 at 2:05 AM

      You are so right – one trip to Rome is never enough! I so wish we’d paid for a tour of the Roman Forum as you did. All we had was a printed off list of the important things to see, many of which we were never even able to find. I’d definitely do it differently next time!

      • Kathi Kamleitner
        February 25, 2018 at 12:44 PM

        Yeah, with a city like Rome it really makes sense to get as many tours with tour guides as possible. They are super knowledgeable and have to go through a tough registration process – I doubt it would be possible to have a bad guide here! We went on a tour with The Roman Guy and our guide had a degree in archaeology in addition to her tour guide license. She knew so much about the history of Rome, it was impressive!

        • Sarah Shumate
          February 26, 2018 at 6:25 AM

          Wow, no kidding – that is impressive! You’re the second person I’ve heard recommend The Roman Guy tours. They sound like a really good option to go with, especially if you want to have a tour guide for more than just the Colosseum.

          • Kathi Kamleitner
            February 26, 2018 at 6:37 AM

            They’re great – we also did a food tour through Trastevere with them and our guide was amazing – and so was the food <3

  • Josy A
    February 23, 2018 at 11:09 PM

    Ooooh awesome!

    I didn’t even know this was possible. I’ve visited the Colosseum before, but we just went in with a normal ticket. If only I had followed travel bloggers back then! I love all your photos. It is such a gorgeous place, but you have made it look perfect.

  • GlobeTrove
    February 23, 2018 at 11:06 PM

    Wow! Your pictures are gorgeous. I have always wanted to visit the Colosseum. I did not know that there was an underground tour either.

  • Jessi @2feet1world
    February 23, 2018 at 9:14 AM

    I loved the Colosseum so much – it blew my tiny mind how old and relatively intact it is! But I didn’t do this extra tour so I guess I’ll just have to go back!

  • Megan Crary
    February 18, 2018 at 5:27 PM

    Great information! I am wondering, how do you book underground tickets through the Colosseum directly? I only see tickets to book the regular tour online without the underground. Thanks!!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 18, 2018 at 5:53 PM

      Hi Megan! The website is a little confusing to use. If you click on the link I linked to in the section about how to book tickets, you can scroll down the pictures under Main Tickets (right side of the screen) and choose Colosseum, Underground, Third Ring & Belvedere. On the next page that comes up, scroll down under Visits Tours and Trails (left side of the screen) and choose Underground, Arena & Colosseum Guided Tours in English. The next page will be in Italian, so you might want to use google translate to be able to read it all, but that is where you choose your date and book. Don’t forget to also book a regular ticket at the same time or in another transaction. You’ll need both to visit. Alternatively, you can call and book directly with the Colosseum if the website feels too unmanageable!

  • Julie
    February 8, 2018 at 10:19 PM

    I actually was less than impressed with the interior of the Colosseum (I know, I know, that sounds terrible). I guess I just sort of felt letdown considering how well preserved it is on the outside. But, this underground tour sounds fascinating and I would be sure to book this when and if I ever make it back to Roma!

    It reminds me of tiny Roman ruins (Italica) that I visited just outside of Seville, Spain. There you could also walk through the underground as the gladiators once did.

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 9, 2018 at 7:48 AM

      I’ve been to Seville, but I hadn’t heard about the Roman ruins nearby. That’s really cool!

      I totally get what you mean about the difference in what’s left on the outside of the Colosseum vs what’s left on the inside. I might have been disappointed, too, if all we’d gotten to do was stand around the open rings and look at it. The tour definitely improves the experience tremendously!

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    February 8, 2018 at 8:42 PM

    This is so cool – I visited Rome so long ago, that I can’t remember if we did this (probably not) and needed a reason to revisit…

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 9, 2018 at 7:45 AM

      I think you’d probably remember if you did this, no matter how long ago it was. It’s a pretty memorable experience. :) When did you go to Rome?