I’d never tell you not visit one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, one so familiar that you could probably name it just by looking at its shadow. I’m not telling you what to do, period. You rebel.
I will suggest, however, to pare down your expectations into something a little more realistic to this day and modern age.
Putting our best foot forward and into Rome, the experience of walking into the Colosseum is surreal. It’s how I’d imagine it would feel if a superhero climbed out of a comic strip to give me a high-five. Like most I’ve grown up knowing about the Colosseum, and no picture in a book or website could prepare me for the sheer size of it.
Once inside its walls, you’ll see that the amphitheater’s stage has collapsed and deteriorated into rubble and dust, allowing you to see the labyrinth of halls beneath it where soldiers and entertainers prepared, where wild beasts were kept. Where prisoners waited before arising to see their last moments of sky in their lifetime. You can rest your hands on pillars older than your mind could possibly project. During the first 300 years or so of its life it saw millions of guests and onlookers, patrons of dramas, reenactments, battles, and executions. In the years since the landmark has been damaged, but not crippled, by earthquakes and stone-robbers (some stones which were used to build St. Peter’s Basilica). But the evidence of this only lends to the Coliseum’s antiquity, the scars of a rich and ancient past.
And now, for a few negatives...
Those perfect pictures that you see on postcards and in textbooks were either taken when they had the streets roped off (unlikely, as the Colosseum rests in a heavily trafficked area) or were heavily edited (much more likely; Kris was able to edit out a whole streetlamp from a picture in under a minute so I can only imagine what the professionals can do). While you can normally angle your camera to minimize the number of people in your shot, if not cut them out entirely, this will be entirely impossible at the Colosseum.
The first thing you’ll see when you follow the throngs of crowds are signs declaring the area a “No Drone Zone.” The second are signs banning the use of selfie sticks. Eventually you’ll come into view of the magnificent dome itself with its trademark arches and pillars, even its crumbled facade looking familiar. And if you visit any time within the next few years, expect a good deal of it to be covered in tarp and scaffolding as restoration efforts continue. Once you make it to the structure itself (after having been whacked by at least a dozen selfie sticks), it will be to a very long line unless you’ve pre-purchased your tickets (which I encourage you to do)
It’s a shame to say, but you’re going to see a lot more people looking at the Colosseum through their smartphone screens than with, you know, their eyeballs. To avoid becoming another zombie with their faces craned down and to more usefully spend your time, grab a few pictures from the outside and of its inner skeleton of columns. After that just keep your phone firmly planted in your pocket. Unless you have a professional camera and are in fact a professional holding the camera, don’t waste your time trying to achieve photos that you aren’t going to get. Pay more attention to the placards and the guides. While marvelous, most of the amphitheater's chambers are slightly indistinguishable in photographs. Any shots you take will either be crowded with people, or zoomed in so far it’s hard to tell what you’re taking a photo of.
Take the road less traveled:
If you’re content with viewing just the outside of the landmark, or simply want to skip the lines and crowds, I suggest focusing your time on the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
While not as grandiose as the Colosseum they are in fact even older, founded between the 7th and 8th centuries BC while the Colosseum was built AD. There are plenty of walking tours (most of them free!) and every building has as much background at the amphitheater itself.
Bonus, it’s not as crowded and makes for some great shots! We went during the later afternoon, and it was perfect. We watched the sun slowly set over Palatine Hill before getting our second cone of gelato that day.
It was our Fourth.