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Visiting the Circus Maximus in Rome

What is now a public park, in ancient times was a stadium where great competitions were held. The Circus Maximus in Rome was one of the most popular facilities in the city in ancient times and you have the opportunity to see it today. I tell you what to do or see there.

Luisa María Lugo

Luisa María Lugo

9 min read

Visiting the Circus Maximus in Rome

View of the Circus Maximus in Rome | ©MatiGhera

People visiting the Eternal City do well to know which are the historical monuments in Rome so as not to miss the opportunity to see them. One of my recommendations if you are planning to go to the Italian capital is the Circus Maximus in Rome, a place whose ruins transport you to the past.

The Circus is located in the Murcia Valley, between the Palatine and Aventine mountains, its construction dates back to the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. The site is over 600 meters long and approximately 118 meters wide. Just as in ancient times there were several things to do and see inside it, today too. Below I will tell you about those activities.

Visit the Circus in the company of an expert guide

Visiting Circus Maximus| ©Carole Raddato
Visiting Circus Maximus| ©Carole Raddato

Although Rome's Circus Maximus does not have many specialized tours, there are many tours in the city that, although they do not focus on the Circus, they do pass near it. They even visit places that are just as interesting and are located in the same area.

In addition, many tour guides in Rome offer to do them. If you are looking for one who is knowledgeable about this ancient site, you have the opportunity to get to know it with the help of an expert who will tell you about the history of this place.

Book a guided tour of Circus Maximus

Learn about all the historical stages of the Circus through Virtual Reality

Circus Maximus Virtual Reality Experience| ©Circus Maximus Experience
Circus Maximus Virtual Reality Experience| ©Circus Maximus Experience

Technology is useful in many aspects of our life, even when we are tourists in a city. That is why the first activity I present to you is the project with II ONE Zeiss VR ONE. With these virtual reality glasses you have the opportunity to know in a unique way this important place.

This is the first time that this kind of technology is used in such a large outdoor area. With the glasses you are shown different places inside the Circus and how they have been through time. In this activity you learn from the origin of the Circus to the Middle Ages.

With the virtual reality experience , images from the past are superimposed on the environment that exists today. It is like flashbacks that take you back hundreds of years into the past. The experience has the following stops inside the Circus:

  • Background of the Circus Valley.
  • The Circus in its early years.
  • The imperial period.
  • The stands.
  • The taverns or tents of the Circus.
  • The Circus in the Middle Ages.
  • Modern times.
  • A day at the Circus Maximus in Rome.

Additional information about the Circus Virtual Reality experience

  • Time: from 11:05 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Availability: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish. Available for the deaf with simplified subtitles in English and Italian.

Take a close look at the remains of Circus Maximus

Seeing the Circus Maximus up close| ©Philip Mallis
Seeing the Circus Maximus up close| ©Philip Mallis

As with other important monuments of ancient Rome, today only the remains of what was once the largest stadium in the city remain. Some elements will show you that this was a majestic place where thousands of people attended.

In the esplanade it is possible to perceive what was the shape of the enclosure in its best days. Among the ruins are what were once artisan stores and taverns. After it was no longer used as a show center, the Circus Maximus in Rome was a Hebrew cemetery.

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Get up close to the only tower still standing inside Circus Maximus

Tower of the Moletta| ©Fred Romero
Tower of the Moletta| ©Fred Romero

It is not all ruins in this place, there is a medieval tower construction that is still standing. This was built long after the origin of the Circus, its purpose was to take advantage of the Aqua lulia, a stream that was in the area.

The name of the construction is "Torre della Moletta", besides this one, there were other medieval buildings in the Circus. It was at the beginning of the 1940s when they were destroyed, some of the demolished elements were:

  • A mill.
  • Houses of the Frangipane family.

The reason for the destruction of these buildings was that an excavation was planned in the area, but it was not completed because of World War II. This historical event caused, among many other things, that there was no excavation in which more ruins of the Circus Maximus in Rome were discovered.

Get up close to the horses' starting points and imagine the races

Remains of the Circus Maximus| ©Eric Parker
Remains of the Circus Maximus| ©Eric Parker

Among the remains that are in the Circus you can find the gates where the horses were kept until the start of the races. These were one of the most seen competitions in this great place. Due to its size, 12 chariots were pulled by up to 4 horses.

The horse races that took place in this Roman circus were dangerous for both people and animals. On some occasions, horses and/or riders were killed.

When you approach the gates of the animals that were used in the races, get your imagination going. Think about how the competitions were experienced in the Circus Maximus, from the noise of galloping to the noise of people screaming.

Relax in the green areas of the Circus

Enjoying the Green Area| ©Jolyon Russ
Enjoying the Green Area| ©Jolyon Russ

Because there are not many buildings and the grandstands were removed hundreds of years ago to build other monuments, there are many green areas in the Circus Maximus. Being a free access area, you have the opportunity to go and enjoy nature.

I recommend you bring a blanket and sit on the ground while you watch other people, appreciate the ruins and admire the Italian sky. Of course, this activity is perfect for summer in Rome, in case you visit the city in winter, I invite you to read my guide of what to do in Rome in winter.

If you are left wanting more green spaces, another recommendation: the article on the best parks in Rome.

Take your kids to Circus Maximus in Rome

Touring and enjoying yourself at Circus Maximus| ©Andy Montgomery
Touring and enjoying yourself at Circus Maximus| ©Andy Montgomery

One of the things that children like the most is to have a large place to run and have fun. If this is the case for your kids, this Roman circus is perfect for them! As I mentioned before, it is an ideal area to be outdoors on days when the weather permits.

If you go with children, there are many activities that you can do for everyone to have fun, my recommendations are to play with them and explain to them what was there before where the ruins are now.

An additional tip I give you is that, if you bring something to eat, do not leave garbage on the ground. Also, if you allow your children to walk around the Circus alone, remind them to be careful not to get too close to the ruins. In another article I will tell you about 10 other activities to do in Rome with kids.

Stroll around the Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill| ©Fred Romero
Palatine Hill| ©Fred Romero

Less than a kilometer from Rome's Circus Maximus is located the Palatine Hill, one of the 7 hills on which the city was built. Due to its historical importance, there are many places of interest, such as the house of Augustus and Livia, his wife.

Also on this hill are the Farnese Gardens, these fabulous botanical gardens were located on the site of Tiberius' palace. Once you are on the Palatine Hill, I advise you to go to the twin aviaries, from there you get a great view of Rome. Other things you can visit are:

  • Arcate Severiane.
  • Palatine Museum.
  • Domus Flavia.
  • Hippodrome of Domitian.

Marvel at the views from the Aventine Hill

View from the Aventine Hill| ©Avinash Kunnath
View from the Aventine Hill| ©Avinash Kunnath

A little more than a kilometer from the Circus Maximus is the Aventine Hill, the walking distance between them is about 10 minutes. Being one of the main hills of Rome, both in ancient times and today, there are many things to see and do including enjoying the best views of Rome.

From the Aventine Hill you can see well-known land marks of the Italian capital, for example, from the Garden of Oranges you have a view of the Tiber River. In addition, from there you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and the Trastevere district. These wonderful panoramic views are one of the reasons why this hill is so famous.

On the Aventine Hill there are historic buildings that are very well preserved, some of them are:

  • The Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, from it you get an excellent view of Rome.
  • Basilica of Santa Sabina, it dates back to the 5th century and is in a perfect state of preservation. One of the most wonderful things about this basilica is its door formed by 28 wooden panels, 18 of them are the ones that were placed in the construction.

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Walk through the Arch of Titus

Crossing the Arch of Titus| ©José Manuel García
Crossing the Arch of Titus| ©José Manuel García

This arch is located at the eastern end of the Circus, it is less than a kilometer away. It was built in order to honor the Emperor Titus for the victory he won in Judea. When you go to the Arch you realize that it is very well preserved.

The monument has an arch, you can walk through it and get close enough to the walls to see its images up close. The Arch of Titus was built with marble and you can see many reliefs commemorating the emperor's victory.

The reliefs that stand out the most are those depicting soldiers from Rome carrying objects from the Temple of Jerusalem, such as these:

  • Silver Trumpets.
  • Table of the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Seven-branched candelabrum.

What is the price of tickets to Circus Maximus in Rome?

Sunset at Circus Maximus| ©Ruben Holthuijsen
Sunset at Circus Maximus| ©Ruben Holthuijsen

The Circus Maximus is a public access area, so in addition to being open 24 hours, there is no need to pay for an entrance fee. Of the activities I have named, only the virtual reality experience needs to be paid for, but you do not have to give money for any of the following activities:

  • Visit the ruins of the Circus.
  • Visit the Torre della Moletta.
  • Enter with children.

Likewise, walking around the Palatine and Aventine mountains is free, but to enter some of the buildings you will be asked to pay the entrance fee.

How to get to Circus Maximus?

Rome subway| ©Juan Enrique Gilardi
Rome subway| ©Juan Enrique Gilardi

The means of transport available to reach this Roman circus are: metro, cab, streetcar and bus. Below I specify how to use each one to reach your destination without complications:

  • Metro of Rome: take the B line, this takes you to a station that bears the name "Circo Massimo".
  • Cab: it is the fastest way to get there and takes you directly to the Circus, just tell the cab driver where you want to go.
  • Streetcar: line 3 or 8 to the Aventino/Circo Massimo stop.
  • Bus: lines 75, 80, 81, 85, 118, 122, 175, 271 and 673. If you want to get an idea of how far it is to the Circus Maximus in Rome from where you plan to stay, here is an idea. This place is located just over 600 meters from the Colosseum.

Is the Circus used for any event nowadays?

A different evening at Circus Maximus| ©HarshLight
A different evening at Circus Maximus| ©HarshLight

Although it doesn't have the same glory as it did a few centuries ago, this is still an important spot in Rome and not only for tourists, but also for citizens. In the Circus have been held several events in modern times, some that I would like to name are:

  • Celebration of Italy's victory in the 2006 World Cup.
  • Laura Pausini concert in 2018.
  • Rolling Stones performance in 2014.

Maybe when you visit Rome, some musical (or other) event is planned at the Circus Maximus. That way, you'll have something else to do in this historic place. I wish you a happy trip!