One of the biggest draws to Italy–other than the food, the fashion, the wine, the natural beauty, I could go on forever here–is its history. To wander the Colosseum where gladiators fought, to explore the Forum where Julius Caesar spoke are experiences we can’t have just by looking at photos online.
So, whether you’ve left home to soak in as much history as possible and are wanting more, or just want to escape the overwhelming crowds of tourists in Rome for a while, check out these five sites in Italy, all home to ancient ruins you won’t want to miss!
Ostia Antica was the main port of ancient Rome, and provides a wonderful view into the daily life of an average Roman, rather than the Romans who could afford a villa at, say, Pompeii. This site is huge–it was a town, after all–and is perfect for an outing within the immediate vicinity of Rome. Residential homes, marketplaces and storefronts, religious spaces, the baths, the theater and so much more are accessible for visitors here. You may reserve a guided tour of the site, and here is a cafeteria, bookshop and museum, making Ostia a great option for a half- or full-day trip.
How to get there from Rome: Take the Linea B Metro to the Porta San Paolo-Piramide stop and take the Roma Lido train to the Ostia Antica stop. The ruins are a five minute walk straight out of the train station.
Site opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m. -dark, more or less (check website for closing times, as it varies by season; the earliest closing time of the year is 4:30 p.m.
Price: € 8
The lesser known victim of the eruption of Vesuvius, the town of Herculaneum was buried by pyroclastic flows, which actually preserved the town much better than its well-known neighbor, Pompeii. Here, you can still see original woodwork in some places, beautiful mosaics, and the site’s size makes it manageable enough to see in a day.
Note: there is no cafeteria here, although there are places to buy food on the way from the train station to the site. Bring water.
While you’re in the area, also check out Naples and its remarkable archaeological museum (and remarkable pizza, supposedly the birthplace of Pizza Margherita!), buy a combo ticket and get lost in Pompeii, too, or use it as an excuse to see Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
How to get there from Rome: Take a train to Napoli Centrale (about 2 hours on an Intercity train, only about an hour on a high-speed Freccia); then, take either the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento or the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Poggiomarino and get off at the Ercolano stop.
Site opening hours: Daily, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (Nov 1-March 31) or 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (Apr. 1-Oct. 31)
Price: € 11
Pro-tip: If you are planning to do a lot of sightseeing in the area, consider buying a combo-ticket at the site for € 20, which is valid for 3 days and grants entry to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia, Oplonti and Boscoreale.
If you’ve ever wanted to glimpse into the afterlife, Tarquinia is a great place to try. Home to Monterozzi, a large Etruscan necropolis that predates the Romans, visitors can enter the ancient tombs and admire the many paintings that have been preserved. Audioguides are available at the necropolis, as is a small cafeteria. Some of the more remarkable tomb paintings were painstakingly moved to the archaeological museum in town, which is truly top-notch. Plus, there’s a beach!
How to get there from Rome: Regional & Fast Regional trains go to Tarquinia, with a change at Civitavecchia for the regionals. Trip time takes 1 hour to 1:40. Note: the train station is 3 km from the actual city center; there are taxis and local buses that provide services into town and to the necropolis.
Site opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (summer hours); 8:30 a.m.- around sunset (winter season). The museum is open until 7:30 p.m.
Price: Necropolis only: € 6; Necropolis + museum combo ticket: € 8
Tivoli is home to Hadrian’s Villa, a 250-acre retreat for the emperor, who was also an architecture buff and dabbled in design himself. It is home to an excellent Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, and definitely worth a visit before the ruins are destroyed by weathering. Audioguides are available.
How to get there from Rome: Trains run from Rome to Tivoli regularly (take CAT Bus 4 to get to Villa Adriana); Or, COTRAL buses run from Ponte Mammolo on the line B metro in Rome to Hadrian’s Villa (look for “Villa Adriana”). For super detailed explanations on getting to Villa Adriana from Rome or Tivoli on public transportation–photos and all–click here.
Site opening hours: 9 a.m.-at least 6 p.m. daily (close times vary depending on time of year)
Price: € 11
These beautiful Greek temples (yup, Greek!) are more than 2500 years old and scatter the landscape at Paestum, which is a modern-day seaside resort town. Visitors can explore the roughly 60 acres of excavated land, and take a look at the goodies discovered in the temples in the nearby museum.
Note: This site is 1.5 hours south of Naples, so plan accordingly (read: probably not a good day trip from Rome, but perfect for a weekend getaway in the south!)
How to get there from Rome: See the above note. But from Naples trains leave regularly and last a little less than 90 minutes and buses and trains leave from Salerno and last about 30-45 minutes. The ruins are about a 20 minute walk from the station.
Site opening hours: Daily from 8:45 a.m. -an hour before sunset; the museum is open daily from 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Pro-tip: The museum is only open two Mondays of the month; be sure to check the schedule before your visit.
Price: € 7 for site and museum
* indicates UNESCO World Heritage Site
Have you ever seen ruins in Italy? What were your favorites?