Should You Take a Guided Tour of the Colosseum and Forum? Pros and Cons.

One of the questions that people frequently ask before they visit Rome for the first time is whether they should take a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum or visit them on their own.

One person will tell you that you MUST go with a guided tour and the next will tell you that you MUST go on your own.

Here’s the deal…advice from other travelers is always subjective. You know yourself best and you know how you like to travel! Do you get bored easily when listening to someone else speak? Do you hate being with a group or on a schedule? Perhaps you don’t really care to know the details of all the Caesars. Maybe you are truly yearning to discover all the anecdotes and the truth behind the Hollywood hype of Gladiator. Are you traveling alone and looking forward to being with some other people. Do you absolutely adore ancient history?

Really it all depends on your interests, your budget, and what you want from your trip!

So, should YOU take a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum?

I am going to do my best here to give you the pros and cons to help you answer this burning question!

View from the third tier of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Should you go to the Colosseum and Forum with a guide or on your own?

Cons of taking a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum:

  • The biggest drawback to taking a guided tour is the cost. All tours are going to cost something and if you want a small group or private tour the price can really add up.
  • Being on someone else’s time schedule and moving at someone else’s pace.
  • Not knowing who your tour guide might be and if your personalities will mesh. When you go with a larger group you won’t be able to select your guide. Even if you go with a private tour there is no guarantee that you and your guide will be compatible.
  • Walking from place to place in a large group and having to wear headphones in order to hear the guide. You can avoid this by using a small group tour but then the cost goes up.
  • Having amazing experiences and discovering amazing things with a bunch of strangers who may not have the same level of interest and awe and excitement in what you are seeing.
  • Dealing with other people in your group and their idiosyncrasies. I know they say that there are no dumb questions, but…you may start to believe that this old adage is not actually true. On the other end of the spectrum from the constant question asker is the know it all, the person who thinks that THEY should be the one leading the group. Honestly, you are very unlikely to encounter any problems. The groups I’ve been on have been perfectly lovely and we have always enjoyed our fellow tour-mates, but there is the slight chance that it could go poorly.
  • If you are an expert or extremely interested in the topic a tour might not be in-depth enough for you.

Pros of taking a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum:

  • Not having to do a lot of research on your own before you go. (Although it is always good to know a little about what you will be seeing!)
  • The Forum in particular is just…ruins. A good guide can bring those piles of rocks to life!
  • A guide can give you the cultural and human point of view. It is always fun when they tell you what the movies get wrong.
  • Ability to by-pass the lines as you go into the Colosseum. This is a HUGE plus particularly if you are in Rome during a busy time of year.
  • Ability to go into areas that can only be accessed by those with a licensed guide. Specifically the underground of the Colosseum and the third tier. If you are interested in seeing these areas you are required to have a guide. 
  • Having someone available to answer any questions that you might have.
  • Not only are the licensed guides extremely knowledgeable in their area of expertise, but it is an advantage to get the present day point of view of Rome to compare to ancient Rome from someone who lives in the city.
  • You won’t get lost or find yourself wondering if you are looking at the exact spot that your audioguide is talking about.
  • If you are traveling with a group of people (especially with children or a mixed generations group) a guided tour can be the perfect solution to help keep everyone together and interested and on the same page. Just be sure to tell your guide when you book that you will have various age groups with you!
  • If you are particularly interested in a topic a guide can help to give you all the information that you crave.
Traveling to Rome with friends and seeing the Colosseum and the Forum with a guide. Should you see the Colosseum and the Forum with a guide or on your own?

Now that you’ve heard the pros and cons of taking a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum – here are some of the pros and cons of going on your own. Although many of these might simply sound like the opposites of what is above I am going to mention them anyway because some of us think things through better when we hear it in different ways.

Cons of seeing the Colosseum and Forum on your own:

  • If you don’t go on a guided tour you will need to do your own research about ancient Rome, the Colosseum,  and especially the Forum. The Forum is basically a pile of rocks and rubble and without some prior knowledge you might find it difficult to understand exactly what it is that you are observing.
  • Having to stand in lines to get inside the Colosseum. The lines can be formidable in the busier times of year. Tip: Buy your tickets at Palatine Hill where the lines are usually much shorter.
  • Trying to find explanatory signs at the Colosseum and the Forum. Hah! The signage is not good.
  • Getting lost while trying to follow the map that goes with your audio guide. Wondering if you are standing in front of the correct pile of rocks while you read what it used to be.
  • Not having an expert available to ask the questions that you will inevitably have!

Pros of seeing the Colosseum and the Forum on your own:

  • Being able to be on your own time schedule. It is nice to spend as much or as little time as you want exploring and observing.
  • Being able to sit in the shade and take a break when you need one. This is especially important if you are traveling to Rome in the summer. The sun can be very strong and the Forum is big and not well shaded so it is nice to be able to just sit for a minute, drink some water, and soak up the atmosphere.
  • Getting lost. I know, I mentioned that as a con up above, but the truth is sometimes it’s nice just to wander and see what you might stumble upon and let serendipitous moments happen as they will.
  • Experiencing the ruins of ancient Rome on your own terms. In this way you aren’t guided as to what you should think or feel. This is wonderful for those who aren’t as interested in the history and more interested in the atmosphere the experience.
  • The ability to close your book or turn off your audio-guide when you hit information overload. And you will hit information overload. Even on a tour there will be moments when you have gleaned all you can absorb about a particular topic. When you hit that point and are on your own – you can simply move on!

I hope this article helps you as you make a decision about whether to go with a guided tour or not!

Views of the Forum in Rome, Italy. Should you see the Colosseum and the Forum with a guided tour or on your own?

If you decide to go on a tour I have written a post here about my favorite tours of the Colosseum and Forum.

If you decide to go it alone Rick Steve’s audio guides are great and they are free! You can download them before you leave.

I’ve also heard good things about these audio guides from detour Rome.

No matter what choice you make Rome is an amazing city and walking through the Forum on the same cobblestones that the ancient Romans walked is an unforgettable experience.

Take a guided tour of the colosseum and forum. Pros and cons.

Have a wonderful time in Rome!

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Should you take a guided tour of the Colosseum or go on your own? Here are the Pros and Cons.

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