Any visit to Rome should include the top attractions such as the Colosseum, Vatican, Pantheon, Roman Forum, and Trevi Fountain.
Organizing your visit before you come will save you time and even money.
Here’s how to plan your visit and book tickets to Rome’s top sites.
If you’re short on time, you can easily come to the Colosseum and visit it from the outside. You can get right up to the monument and see the architecture, even small details like the original Roman numerals above the gates.
If you’re short on time but still want to go inside the Colosseum, you can opt for just a short visit inside the monument, and then you could opt not to use the rest of the ticket that also includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
The best way to visit the Colosseum is to allow yourself at least 3 hours and visit all 3 sites on the ticket – the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. If you go on your own, it should take less than an hour to visit the Colosseum and then another 2-3 hours to visit the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill.
In my opinion, the best way to visit these sites is with a guided tour. There is so much history, so much to know. A good guide can tell you the stories that help you understand all the different layers and all the details, big and small (and sometimes gory, too!)
Which tickets to get and how to get them
Right now, the most important thing to know is that you cannot purchase tickets on site. The park’s ticket offices are closed. They do have staff at the booths to answer questions or to assist you if you booked a ticket but are having trouble with the electronic version you will need to use to enter the sites.
Types of tickets and prices for the Colosseum
The company that manages the tickets for the Colosseum / Roman Forum / Palatine Hill is called CoopCulture. You can book tickets on their site but it can be confusing.
The basic tickets for the Colosseum cost €16 + €2 service charge, so €18.
Tickets are free for everyone under 18. There are a few other categories of visitor who are eligible for free tickets. Visit CoopCulture for the full list.
For EU citizens aged 18-25 the ticket costs €2 + €2 service charge so €4. There are a few other categories of visitor who are eligible for discounted tickets. Visit CoopCulture for the full list.
When you purchase these tickets, you will have to pick a date and time to visit the Colosseum. Once you have decided that, you can visit the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill using that same ticket. It is good for 24 consecutive hours before or after your Colosseum entrance time.
There is no need and in fact no way to book a timed entrance for the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill (which is one park. There is no re-entry. You will need to visit the park once you go inside.)
So, if you book a 2:00 PM Wednesday visit to the Colosseum, you could visit the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill anytime from 2:00 PM Tuesday – 2:00 PM Thursday.
Another type of ticket you can purchase for visiting the Colosseum is the “Full Experience” ticket which includes EITHER a visit to the Arena floor of the Colosseum, OR a visit to the Underground Arena floor. Both of these cost €22 + €2 service fee, so €24. Basically, with either of these you will see the Arena, but with one of them you can ALSO see the underground. As you might imagine, the ticket to visit the Underground is harder to come by as space is limited and there is a lot of demand.
You can also visit the Colosseum at night but this is offered only part of the year. The dates have not been completely consistent. They used to only offer it from spring – fall but in recent years CoopCulture was offering it through New Year’s. As of 2022, we still do not have the dates when they will offer this visit but they are likely to start offering it sometime in spring/summer. If you opt for the night visit, you should know that you cannot also visit the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill with this ticket, nor can you use the Roma Pass for entry.
Speaking of the Roma Pass, this leads us to the next topic: How to purchase tickets for the Colosseum.
Purchasing tickets on the CoopCulture website
The most direct and cheapest way to purchase tickets to the Colosseum / Roman Forum / Palatine Hill is on the CoopCulture website. You will get an email with a QR code and that is your ticket.
One of the quirks of the CoopCulture website is that they sometimes do not show availability much into the future, as is happening right now, as we have come out of 2 years of lockdowns and semi-lockdowns.
You also may find that the ticket you want is just unavailable.
Purchasing tickets through a 3rd party reseller
This brings us to the option of buying through a 3rd party reseller such as Tiqets. Usually you will find a lot more availability on these sites, and for further out into the future (they simply sell tickets for later dates and then purchase them through CoopCulture as soon as CoopCulture releases them.)
While you will have to pay a small surcharge, buying tickets this way is usually much easier and straightforward than on the CoopCulture website.
Using the Roma Pass or other City Pass to book your Colosseum tickets
Another option for getting tickets to the Colosseum is with the Roma Pass (or other City Pass.) These combo passes can last 2-3 days or longer, and offer entrance to 1 or more sites / museums in Rome, depending on the pass and how long it’s for. And one of the sites you can use the pass for is the Colosseum.
The passes are not really great for saving you money. What they are good for is convenience and ease of use.
No matter what pass you use, you will STILL have to book your Colosseum visit.
Visiting the Vatican
The second major site you’ll need to plan for is the Vatican. There are 3 main things you can see at the Vatican: Saint Peter’s Square (free and open all day), Saint Peter’s Basilica (also free), and the Vatican Museums, where you’ll find the Sistine Chapel.
If you are short on time, you could just visit the square where you have a full view of the façade of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Or you could visit the Basilica itself, although because you must go through security, you will need to wait in line.
If you have at least 3 hours, you could also visit the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museums are vast and you’ll need a couple of hours there. Although again, if you’re short on time and/or just want to beeline it to the Sistine Chapel, you can take the most direct route and not visit anything else in the museums. This should get you to the Sistine Chapel in about 20-30 minutes.
Extra things you can visit at the Vatican
If you have time include the dome of Saint Peter’s, the Vatican Gardens, Saint Peter’s tomb, and the Vatican treasury (a small museum inside the basilica.)
The best way to visit the Vatican museums is with a guided tour. There is an enormous collection of art and sculpture spanning centuries, and the history behind it all is fascinating and important. You can of course also visit on your own or with an audio guide you can rent once inside the museums.
Normally with a tour, you would then take a shortcut from the Sistine Chapel into Saint Peter’s Basilica. That is in fact one of the huge benefits of taking a tour, because they only allow tours to use that shortcut.
At the time of this writing, the Museums have not re-opened the shortcut so you would need to visit the basilica separately, before or after the Vatican Museums. And this means standing on line again. Let’s hope they bring it back soon.
Which tickets to get and how to get them
You can purchase tickets to the Vatican Museums directly on their website. They have made it a bit easier in recent years so this is the most straightforward way to go.
But if you don’t find availability, or if you have trouble with their site, you can also purchase tickets seamlessly on a 3rd party reseller site like Tiqets. It costs a tad bit more but it’s worth it for how easy it is to use and also for more availability when the main site is sold out.
The Roma Pass does not include the Vatican museums as one of their sites, but the Omnia Pass does. There are also other city passes that include the Vatican Museums, such as Turbo Pass.
The worst way to get tickets is from people in the street promising you a skip-the-line tour. Even if they are legit, you have no idea of the quality of the tour. Also, it can be a while before your tour actually starts. It’s much better to plan ahead and book your tickets or tours and get to the Vatican with everything done and organized.
Other major sites
For sites like the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, and Piazza Navona, there is no fee. You also don’t need to book, usually. However, in this post-Covid era, you do currently need to book to visit the Pantheon on weekends or holidays. It’s still free but you must book.
Castel Sant’Angelo is another monument that you must book on weekends or holidays. There is an entry fee any time you book.
The Free Sunday
Before Covid, we enjoyed the “Free Sunday,” in which many sites and museums were free on the first Sunday of the month. At the time of this writing, some of this has returned, but not all.
On the first Sunday of each month, you CAN visit Rome’s civic museums which include the Capitoline Museums, Trajan’s Market, the Ara Pacis, Villa Torlonia, and more.
On the last Sunday of every month, you can visit the Vatican Museums for free. On this day, the museums have shorter hours and as you might imagine, there will be a lot of people. I don’t recommend visiting the Vatican Museums on this day unless you don’t have a choice or are really on a budget.
The free Sunday has not yet returned for state sites and museums like the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo. Let’s hope it does so soon!