With the competition amongst tour operators forever increasing, visitors to Rome are met with more and more tempting offers to catch their eye. Many companies promise “skip the line” tickets for the city’s top sites – the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums, the Borghese Gallery, and visitors arrive in Rome expecting to be whisked to the front of the line, cooly entering the museum without a moment’s hesitation. We’d always recommend booking tickets in advance of your trip but want to set the record straight about what “skip the line Colosseum” and “skip the line Vatican” actually mean.
Let’s take the Vatican Museums. There are essentially three lines at the Vatican: One for people who show up without tickets, one for advance-ticket holders, and one for tour operators who have an account with the Vatican. Among the first two, the line for advance ticket holders is shorter—essentially just a security line. But, there is still a line, which can be a surprise for many people. Make no mistake, though, it’s shorter; sometimes MUCH shorter. It’s always a great idea for DIY-travelers to secure tickets in advance. This is simple at the Vatican, as several years ago the Vatican implemented advance ticketing via their website.
Tour operators with an account at the Vatican, like Context, enjoy the dual privilege of acquiring advance tickets for their participants and also entering the Vatican a half-hour before normal visitors. We reserve tickets to the museums as soon as they become available online, so if you join our Vatican tour, you can expect a speedier entrance into the museums. Before you arrive at the Vatican our docents collect the tickets on your behalf, helping you to avoid any last minute panic about booking references and entrance times. With a daily influx of around 30,000 visitors during the high season you may still find yourself in a line even with a reserved ticket.
However, while waiting through the security line, our docents make no waste of your time. For instance, docent Ludovica Candrilli mentions how she uses this moment to discuss “the Vatican City State: the significance of its location in Rome, why it’s surrounded by walls, and about its history, focusing on its relationship with Italy.” Just a brief chat, a security check, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying the vast collection.
Skip the Line Colosseum
Similarly, the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Forum, which one enters on a combined ticket, has multiple options for entry – visitors without tickets and visitors with advance tickets. For visitors without tickets, it will be necessary to both queue to purchase skip the line Colosseum tickets and pass through security. If you are traveling on your own and want to shorten your wait, it’s possible to purchase the combined Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Forum entry ticket via CoopCulture. The additional €2 reservation fee is well worth it to gain quicker entry, but do be careful about which option you select for obtaining the tickets when checking out. Print at home purchasers will be able to print their tickets, complete with bar code for entry, and skip straight ahead to the security line, while those who simply book with a reservation code will need to first visit the reserved entry booth to pick up their physical tickets before then moving toward security. The reserved entry booth has a far shorter line than that for visitors without tickets, so if you are not able to use the print tickets options, it’s still worth the reservation fee.
A quick and efficient way to secure Colosseum tickets in advance is to join a tour. We offer two different options for visiting these sites with Skip the Line Colosseum tickets. A four-hour option that includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill is our “Roma Antica” Forum Tour. We also offer a three-hour Colosseum tour with an archaeologist that also includes the Imperial Fora located nearby.
Recently due to increased security concerns, new screening procedures were put in place for entry to the Colosseum. With only a handful of metal detectors at the only entry point to this popular site, wait times for the security line are significantly longer than they once were. By the afternoon they can be up to almost two hours. This is why touring with Context is always done in the morning when the queue is at its shortest. Just as at the Vatican Museums, the time is always used thoughtfully as historian Antonella Merletto reminds us, “even 2000 years ago, it took time to get people into the Colosseum!”
Another key site where advance booking is necessary—in fact, required—is the Galleria Borghese, one of the better collections of Renaissance and Baroque art in Rome. Here, the concept of “skip the line” similar to the skip the line Colosseum ticket is completely fraudulent. Strict limits on the amount of visitors allowed into the gallery at any one time were implemented after vast restorations in the ‘90s and now everyone—whether on a tour or not—is required to book in advance. Reservations to one of the five daily entry time slots are made either through the museum’s phone reservation service (+39.06.32810) or online booking system. This booking does not constitute a ticket. On arrival one presents the booking code and retrieves a ticket. In the case of phone reservation, where prepayment is not available, you’ll also need to pay the balance of your tickets. Of course, there’s a bit of a line—or, perhaps, scrum is the better word, especially as all entrants are required to check their coats bags, so anticipate a queue for the coat check as well. The best strategy is to arrive early – we usually recommend a 30 to 40 minute advance arrival to be sure to get everything sorted in good time.
Context also offers a Gallery Borghese Guided Tour with Art Historian.
While no “skip the line” is completely perfect and small waits may occur along the way, it’s certainly a speedier, and more relaxed, entry for a small additional reservation fee that even DIY visitors can take advantage of to make the most of your time in Rome.
Note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and updated in November 2016.