It was an early start on our third day in Rome on our Tour of Italy as we woke at 7.30 so we could take the 25 minute walk to the Colosseum for our Dark Rome tour with City Wonders.
We would have loved to have taken the underground tour which includes access beneath the Colosseum’s floor to see the rooms and holding pens that would have held the gladiators and carnivores. Unfortunately this was sold out by the time we looked to book a month or so before our holiday so I would strongly suggest you book well in advance.
To get into the spirit and gladiatorial nature of the Colosseum we bravely took our lives in our own hands battling the traffic trying to cross the Piazza Venezia. We arrived at the designated meeting point with plenty of time to spare which was just as well as there was quite a long queue to check in.
The day was already very hot and there were a lot of hawkers wandering around the queue selling cold water, hats and sun shades though we were well prepared and had hats and plenty of water with us.
The City Wonders team efficiently processed the queue and we were soon introduced to our guide, Manuella, and handed our headphones so we can hear her commentary.
A little note here: the headphones provided by City Wonders are the in-ear type for both ears. The kids found these uncomfortable over the 4 hours and also it made it difficult to hear each other. Other tours we have been on have a single on-ear device with padding which was both more comfortable but also meant we could hear both the guide and our family. Travel Tip: On subsequent tours Fraser brought his own headphones as the devices use the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
The tour includes ‘skip the line’ tickets which means we didn’t have to join the already long queues to get in. Whilst we waited in this much shorter queue Manuella gave us some background on the Colosseum and the amazing engineering prowess of the Romans.
Apparently there were lifts to transport animals and gladiators from the underground basements to the arena and the Colosseum even had a retractable roof – about 2,000 years before the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff!
The Romans were also keen on health and safety, the 80,000 capacity stadium could be filled in 5 minutes and emptied in 11 if need be!
Like Paul, our City Wonder’s guide in Florence, Manuella is an art historian and was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The children found the tour really interesting and she took time to answer their questions and speak to them as we walked around.
Accompanying her verbal descriptions of what we were seeing she also had a folder of illustrations showing how the Colosseum would have looked in its heyday.
Even relatively early in the day and the season, early June, the Colosseum was very busy, so much so that it was sometimes difficult to keep up with the tour as we moved around. Manuella was clearly used to this and often stopped to take a head-count and make sure we were all still with her.
Off to the shopping mall (Forum)
When we had finished touring the Colosseum the tour was not over. Instead we took the 15 minute walk to visit the Roman Forum. This was a market and even had a ginormous building called the basilica which was basically an early covered shopping centre (mall for our American readers).
Julius Caesar had a house in the Forum which we know because the Romans printed the names of the house owner on the plumbing pipes and his name was on the pipes found in one particular house.
Thankfully, like the rest of Rome, there was a free water tap in the forum so we could refill our bottles.
After the Forum, we walked up the sometimes steep Palatine Hill which offered amazing views across Rome, the Colosseum and Circus Maximus of which nothing is left as it was wooden.
So in the searing heat at the top of Palatine Hill the tour ended and we said our goodbyes to Manuella. We had all very much enjoyed the tour and, as we have found on this holiday, you find out so much more than you would have done if you made your own way around independently.
We would highly recommend visiting the Colosseum though, as I mentioned earlier we would have loved to have done the underground visit. City Wonders were excellent and made the morning highly enjoyable.
Disclaimer – Thank you to City Wonders for providing us with a free tour of the Colosseum for the purposes of this review.
This review is, as always, 100% honest and our own opinion.