I recently visited the historic and iconic Colosseum in Rome for the first time.
I found the reality of visiting the popular tourist attraction in Italy didn't match my expectations.
Even though I tried to avoid tourists, I still battled crowds and long lines and couldn't see much.
The Colosseum is a 2,000-year-old amphitheater in Rome that once hosted gladiatorial games. It's also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe.
The Colosseum is a symbol of Rome and one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, with about 6 million visitors a year, according to Cititavis Tours.
Ancient Romans built the Colosseum between AD 72 and 80 to host massive events like gladiator battles and reenactments, National Geographic reports.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Colosseum was damaged by neglect and a series of earthquakes in the fifth century, according to the same article.
By the 20th century, two-thirds of the structure was destroyed. Restoration of the building began in the 1990s, according to National Geographic.
When I visited the Colosseum for the first time, I wanted to experience stunning views that would transport me to the past.
I visited the Colosseum during a two-week train trip through Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in October 2022.
When I booked my trip, I started looking up Colosseum posts on my Instagram and found several photos of people touring — seemingly alone — around the gigantic historic structure.
To me, these photos looked quiet and peaceful, and I wanted to have a similar experience.
Although the Colosseum is one of the most popular attractions in Rome, it has a capacity of 3,000 visitors at a time, according to The Washington Post, so how crowded could it really be, I wondered.
So I booked a "skip-the-line" ticket that would allow me to enter the popular attraction without waiting behind thousands of other tourists.
Five days before my visit, I booked a self-guided, skip-the-line ticket through Viator for $60. I found other similar skip-the-line services online but thought this was the best value at the time.
A basic admission ticket would have cost me less than $20.
According to Viator, my ticket included direct entry to the Colosseum, allowing me to skip the line, explore at my own pace, and access nearby attractions, the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum.
I had no set time to leave the Colosseum, but my ticket suggested a one-hour stay.
Once inside, I figured there would be plenty of room to explore the nearly 6-acre space at my leisure.
According to Colosseum Info, the arena covers roughly 6 acres of land and at one time could seat at least 50,000 spectators.
But even with purchasing a skipping-the-line service, I was disappointed to find that long lines were unavoidable. There was no escaping the crowds of tourists.
I wasn't expecting the Colosseum to feel so cramped, loud, and stressful to get around.
While I felt completely in awe of how massive the structure was, the environment felt more like a tourist trap to me.
The seemingly endless crowds of people throughout made me feel like I was standing in line for the majority of my visit.
Insider asked the tourism boards of Italy and Rome questions about how crowds are regulated. They didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
As I approached the Colosseum and encountered more tourists, I suspected my experience wouldn't be as stress-free as I had hoped.
On my way to the Colosseum on a Wednesday in October, I noticed the streets felt more crowded the closer I got to the attraction.
Along the way, I came up against several people blocking paths and sidewalks as they stopped to take pictures.
This made getting to the attraction itself difficult and frustrating.
Upon arrival, I had to find a black flag next to the Arch of Constantine, another historical landmark near the Colosseum. But the piazza was so crowded that it felt like a game of "Where's Waldo."
I got to my destination at 11 a.m. so I'd have ample time to find my tour guide before my 12 p.m. entry time — and thank goodness I did.
The grounds were packed with people looking for their tour guides and waiting for entry. As noon approached, I started to panic, thinking, 'what if I don't find them?'
It took me nearly an hour to find the tour group's small black flag next to the Arch of Constantine outside the Colosseum's entrance.
Viator didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment about the flag being challenging to find.
Luckily, I found the small, black flag just in time for my scheduled entry time, but not without a bit of stress first.
When I finally found my tour guide, she handed me my ticket for entry.
With my ticket, I was able to skip the general admission line, but I still had to wait in a relatively short line to be admitted and go through a security checkpoint.
Once inside, I had to go to the bathroom, where I found people shoving and cutting each other in line. I was shocked when someone pushed me into a stall, and it soured my experience.
I encountered people pushing each other forward and arguing about who was in line first.
One woman took her whole tour group and pushed to the front of the line, cutting several people off.
When it was my turn to use the bathroom, another woman shoved me forward as soon as a stall opened up before I even had a chance to take a step.
I was truly shocked at how people behaved in this situation, and it soured my experience at the historical landmark.
After my half-hour ordeal of waiting to use the bathroom, I finally got to see the epic view of the arena inside the Colosseum's walls ... sort of.
There were too many people at the Colosseum to walk up to the edge of the stands.
Instead, people formed lines in front of each viewpoint to get a quick glance at the arena below and take a picture.
While waiting for my turn, I stood on my tippy toes to see the Colosseum above rows of heads that obscured my view.
The tourism boards of Italy and Rome didn't immediately respond to Insider's questions about regulating crowds inside the Colosseum.
At each viewpoint, I waited in line for five to 10 minutes to see the arena for what felt like 15 seconds before people rushed up to take my place.
More than anything else, I wanted a few moments at the Colosseum to tap into my creativity and visualize the fights that happened in Ancient Rome.
But there were too many people trying to take my place for me to have that time.
When I had my turn to stand on the edge overlooking the arena, I noticed the Colosseum was under restoration, which wasn't the most stunning view.
I understand that old buildings often need to be restored to stick around for hundreds of years, like The Foundation Experts, a restoration and repair company in Canada, reports.
And I think the current work on the Colosseum will improve the visitor experience.
According to NPR, once restored later this year, the Colosseum will feature a floor-level attraction allowing visitors to step inside the arena and get a gladiator's view of the Colosseum.
But the ongoing restoration I saw at the Colosseum made it feel like one big construction site.
Exhibits about the structure's history were just as packed as the viewpoints, and I quickly gave up trying to view them.
To look at the Colosseum's exhibits, I shuffled along slowly with a crowd while simultaneously taking in as much as I could before people began to move forward.
The exhibits were more packed than almost any museum I've been to, and I only viewed them for about 15 minutes before I became frustrated and gave up.
The four-story structure also offered views of surrounding sites, but those areas were just as crowded.
Unfortunately, I didn't have time to visit the nearby attractions. So I was excited that the Colosseum's interior also has views of surrounding Ancient Roman sites, like the Roman Forum.
But I found that these areas were just as crowded as the viewpoints of the arena, and, since I'm 5'3," I couldn't see past other tourists and their outstretched phones.
I still want my quiet moment to walk the Colosseum floor and feel like a gladiator myself. Next time, I'll visit Rome during the winter for a quieter experience with fewer crowds.
According to SOTC Travel Limited, there are fewer crowds in Europe during the winter than at any other time of the year.
Read the original article on Insider