Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum Tour with Context Travel
I’ve been to the Colosseum AT LEAST 5 times. My (Roman) boyfriend has only been once and that was for a field trip when he was 12, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well. It’s the first thing on people’s list when they come here and have to “do” all the monuments and the most impression, I think, by far. Nothing beats hanging out there at night with friends and wine, on the hill overlooking the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Forum, or driving in a car that passes 20 meters away from the ancient amphitheater.
That said, there are many ways of experiencing this world wonder and the tour I took recently with Context Travel has topped them all. I spent 4 hours on a Saturday morning exploring all the sites mentioned in a thorough tour that covered everything from how long it took to build the Colosseum (only 8 years if you were wondering) and the political turmoil and social pressures of the time to Ancient Rome’s powerhouse couple, Aurelio and Livia and the death of Julius Caesar.
I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would and I’m so grateful to Context Travel for giving me an opportunity to experience this tour and share it with you all. Today I’ll get into my personal experience, what I think makes this tour different from the many others available, who I think would enjoy it and the logistics behind booking and attending this tour.
At 8:30 am, I met up with my tour group for Context’s Roma Antica: Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill Tour in front of Oppio Cafe and after grabbing a coffee and cornetto (definite must), we all introduced ourselves. It turns out booking a tour in February was the best way to get a personal experience because on my small group tour where you can be in groups up to 6, I was with only one other person and our guide, Dimosthenis. Dimo is a half-Greek, half-Roman archeologist who is honoring both of his heritages by dedicating his life to archeology and history. With funny anecdotes about his Greek father and Roman mother, he made ancient history relevant and funny.
We continued on to the Colosseum entrance where we had “skip-the-line” access up to security and didn’t need to wait in order to purchase tickets on site. While this wasn’t a huge deal in an off-season month like February, from April to October skipping the line is KEY if you want to keep your sanity. Once inside we spent time on the lower level and upper level, with Dimo giving very interesting background on all things Colosseum related. Seeing the structure from the inside never gets old and he mentioned some facts that I hadn’t heard even in my Roman history course while studying abroad.
Moving on from the Colosseum after about 2 hours, we made our way up Palatine Hill for a tour of the ancient palace of the emperors that I had never seen before. There isn’t as much info here as there is in the Colosseum, so having a guide to explain what the marble and mosaic ruins actually mean, and give background on the current archeological excavations made this stop completely worth it. Up at the top, the views over the center of Rome were amazing, even if we could barely hear each other because of the crazy wind conditions. They actually ended up closing the park later that afternoon due to the wind so we lucked out getting inside all the monuments before it shut down.
We ended the tour in the Roman Forum which might be one of my favorite historic spots in Rome. You can so easily see how people in ancient times lived, with open markets, temples, meeting places and more that are still mostly intact. Dimo had visuals to better show how it might’ve looked before and had firsthand stories about his own archaeological digs in the forum that were actually so inspiring.
We finished up the tour 4 hours later a lot wiser, more tired and full of book recommendations if we wanted to keep the learning experience going. Dimo might be the only reason why I would ever try to pick up Marcus Aurelius’s book again but he cites it as the reason he chose his career!
What makes this tour different
When you take a tour with a guide who is truly passionate about their work it shows. Unfortunately, many guides are overworked and do the same routes over and over, leading them to lose the spark of interest after so many years on the job. My guide, Dimo, was both superbly knowledgable and engaging during our tour and made things that happened millennia ago relatable to current day, but all over Context’s guides have either a PhD or Master’s and never use scripts or pre-written content.
On top of that, having a small tour was vastly different from the large crowds wearing earpieces and following an umbrella that you usually find in Rome. If you can afford to upgrade your ticket to “small group”, I’ve always had amazing experiences. I loved being able to ask whatever questions I wanted to without feeling intrusive or embarrassed and by staying in a close group our guide was able to share smaller facts that we loved, like a small imprint of a dog’s foot in the ancient Roman concrete.
Who would I recommend this to
Unless you’re completely confident in your ability to self-narrate or read from a book while visiting these monuments, I think this tour is wonderful. While doing tours in small groups isn’t necessary, it truly changed how I perceive the Colosseum and Forum. I have so many facts to impress people with when I inevitably make my 6th trip there, but more than that, I feel a real connection to Ancient Rome that before was missing.
I think this tour is great for solo travelers, families with small children who need to be accommodated and anyone who might be remotely interested in Roman history.
I would highly recommend wearing layers and taking a small bag with snacks/water with you, no matter the season. This tour is physically demanding with 4 hours of being on your feet outside. While your guide will give you opportunities to use the rest room, grab extra water or take a quick break if needed, I found it helpful to be able to drink and snack on the go and add or remove layers of clothing as needed. I would also plan on having lunch after somewhere nearby to give some time to recover, either in the Monti neighborhood 5-minutes away or in Testaccio where you can take the Metro B to Piramide and grab lunch at some of my favorite Roman spots.
The tour was a full 4 hours, starting at 8:30 on Mount Oppio overlooking the Colosseum and ending at 12:30 within the Roman Forum. You can stay inside after the tour finishes to take a look at some of the temples/villas that have recently been opened to the public, or do like I did and rush out on my way to a very hearty lunch.
Tickets go for €110/$125 per person for the small group tours, or €495 for a private tour.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this tour experience and I would go back in a heartbeat. I can’t thank Context and Dimo enough for an amazing tour of Ancient Rome and I can’t wait to try more of what they offer in Rome and Italy.
This experience was gifted to me by Context Travel in exchange for my honest review of their service. Gifted experiences allow me to review more for you all and provide the most comprehensive look at what’s available for travelers in Rome and Italy. Thank you for as always for supporting La Vita Roma & my trusted partners.