There are things to see in Rome that do not appear in travel guides, movies or on the main routes of the Eternal City. There is life beyond the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona. Do you dare to discover it?
In this guide I uncover one of Rome' s best kept secrets: Ostia Antica*, the splendid commercial port of the Roman Empire that was buried for ten centuries and is one of the best excursions you can make from Rome . The surroundings of Rome are full of history and small corners like this one that you can discover with a day trip, either by bus or in a small group. Grab a pen and paper... and take notes!
1. Excursion to Ostia Antica by bus, the cheapest option
If you are already fully decided to save a day of your vacation to visit Ostia Antica during your trip to Rome, which is highly recommended, you should first learn about the different excursions available to travel the 35 kilometers that separate these two cities, in an easy and carefree way.
From my point of view, it is best to do it as part of an organized tour with a professional guide, who will dust off (metaphorically) the history of these ruins, give you a guided tour of the town and reveal the secrets of this city, located at the mouth of the Tiber River, from which the Emperor Claudius created a magnificent port that reached a population of 100,000 people. Almost nothing, right?
What is the bus tour like?
The most popular option among travelers is to book an air-conditioned bus tour, super important if you go to Rome in summer, which departs from a central point in Rome early in the morning and usually takes about 30 minutes to reach this enclave.
You can hire it directly, at the click of a button, without leaving your home on the Internet and in advance. Normally, in case your travel plans change for any reason, this type of tours have a free cancellation insurance, which always gives you peace of mind.
Afterwards, once you arrive at the excavations you will have plenty of time (about 4 hours) to explore the archaeological park, which is very well preserved and shaded from the heat. In addition, the guide will give you an insight into daily life in ancient Rome. Walking along the cobblestones and between the walls, you will feel like a Roman!
What will I see on this tour?
Incredible as it may seem, after almost two millennia of history, you will be able to appreciate the second floors of various heights (five-story buildings were built) for the inhabitants of the port. For me it was, without a doubt, one of the most impressive architectural landscapes in Italy.
Therefore, this tour is ideal for archaeology enthusiasts and anyone who loves ancient history and wants to spend a day away from the chaos and bustle of the capital. In total, the tour lasts half a day.
2. Small group excursion, the most personalized option
There is no doubt that booking a small group tour will elevate your experience in Ostia Antica. You will be able to relive the glory of Ancient Rome in a guided tour for a maximum of 10 people (the number depends on the tour).
Normally, this type of tour is conducted in an air-conditioned vehicle with all the comforts for you to enjoy the trip like a marquis. Usually, the departure is scheduled in the morning, around 9:00 AM, and the tour usually lasts about 5 hours or 6 hours approximately.
The good thing? You won't waste your time getting around because the tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off; you'll discover fascinating stories from the past thanks to the local guide; and you'll get more personalized attention than if you booked the bus tour with a large group.
Can you reach the ruins on your own?
The answer is yes. If you are one of those who do not like to depend on anyone, only on public transport, you can reach the Roman remains of Ostia by yourself. The train is the most recommended option to get there. The single ticket costs 1,50€.
In this case, you will have to take the Rome metro line B to the Piramide stop, and then take the train to Ostia Antica. It will take you between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on the departure point where you start your journey. Since you will have to make several trips, it may be worthwhile to buy a day pass on this day.
Timetable of the ruins
If you decide to travel on your own to the ruins, it is important to know that they open at 8:30 in the morning and close at 16:00 in winter and at approximately 18:00 in summer.
Nuria's Traveller Tip
Once you arrive at the Ostia stop you have about a 10 minute walk to the archaeological ruins. Follow the people so you don't get lost. Along the way you will find a fountain where you can refill your water bottle, take advantage and hydrate yourself!
What is the best option: an excursion or on your own?
After reading all the possibilities, you may be asking yourself the million dollar question, which is the best option for you? The answer depends largely on your budget, the time you have available and the comfort you want.
When to choose an excursion
I recommend the economic excursion in a large group if you are a natural saver, do not have much time but want to discover the history of these fascinating ruins with a guide and are looking for a simple tour, which includes transportation, entrance and guided tour but without spending too much.
I recommend going on your own if you have all the time in the world to take the subway and bus transfers to get to the village and are not interested in taking the guided tour, although then you won't be able to appreciate the true richness of the ruins!
The most exclusive option
If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy maximum comfort, be picked up at your hotel, travel in a well-equipped vehicle and have a guide in a small group to ask thousands of questions, then I advise you to choose the second option: the personalized tour.
In addition, with both excursions you will save the queues at the ticket office to buy the entrance ticket, which in summer can be very tiresome, because the town is one of the favorite destinations for Ostia's beach of fine sand and turquoise waters, and its Italian snacks while watching the sunset!
What monuments will you visit in Ostia Antica?
Did you know that the town of Ostia is commonly known as "The best Pompeii" because of its good preservation? If you have made the excursion to Pompeii from Rome and you liked it, no doubt you will also like Ostia Antica. You can stroll along the main street, the Decumanus Maximus; contemplate the Roman statues in perfect condition, and dream of taking a dip in the baths of Neptune, where you can see on the floor an impressive mosaic of the god of the sea.
In addition, theater lovers can sit on the steps of the amphitheater of Ancient Ostia, where performances are still held during the summer months.
Main points of interest in the ruins
- The open-air amphitheater will surprise you!
- The Corporations Square: this is the commercial epicenter with mosaics of the different guilds.
- 18 temples dedicated to the Persian god Mithras.
- Baths of Neptune.
- The thermopolium (the ancestor of our current restaurants).
- A Jewish synagogue.
- A Christian basilica.
Where to eat in Ostia Antica
One thing to keep in mind is that most of the excursions do not include lunch, so I suggest you bring a sandwich or, my favorite option, come and taste the delicious dishes at the Monumento al 1884 restaurant.
You will love it because the place is as curious as the ruins. Besides, surely after a whole morning of walking, you will be hungry and you will appreciate sitting down for a while to rest your legs.
What I liked most about this cozy place specialized in seafood and fish is that, with the entrance to the ruins you are entitled to a welcome gift: a flute and at the end of the meal a shot of limoncello, a very rich liqueur typical of Italy.
Among the house specialties, I recommend you try the homemade ravioli stuffed with fish, shrimp in clay and pasta with seafood, which are prepared following the traditional recipes of the Italian nonas.
Luxury dining: from Fellini to Elisabeth Taylor
According to what the waiter told us, the tavern, which was founded almost 140 years ago, became one of the Romans' favorite places for their trips out of town at the end of the Second World War.
Federico Fellini himself , a great genius of cinema, tasted in the 60s the cappelletti (a type of stuffed pasta) during the filming of the movie 'Amarcord'. He was not the only one, figures of all kinds have passed through this dining room, such as Benito Mussolini, Elisabeth Taylor, the Dalai Lama or in recent years Arnold Schwarzenegger. It must be for a reason!
Practical restaurant information
- Where: Piazza Umberto I No. 8, Ostia Antica.
- Average price: from 14€ for pasta and between 14€ and 20€ for fish and seafood dishes.
- Hours: from 12:30 to 15:30 for lunch and from 19 to 23h for dinner.
- Chef's tip: the fish of this place, one of the specialties of the house. Meats are not at the same level. For those with a sweet tooth, a tip: leave room for dessert!
- Recommended if... you want a legendary restaurant and feel at home. In summer, sit in the fresh air at one of the tables on the terrace.
When is the best time to visit Ostia Antica?
The Eternal City is one of the few capitals in the world where any time of the year is good to visit, as well as its ruins. Particularly I would not recommend July and August because they are the hottest and most suffocating months of the summer.
However, the archaeological park of Ostia Antica is the exception that proves the rule: you can go any month, unlike the Colosseum and the Roman Forum where you will die from scorching, because it has wonderful shadows. You don't know how much you will be grateful for them!
Spring in Ostia Antica
Spring in Rome is one of the best seasons to visit Ostia Antica: there are more daylight hours and the weather is perfect for a whole morning of sightseeing. The icing on the cake? If the walk gives you an appetite, you can enjoy a plate of pasta on the terrace of the restaurant I have recommended.
Summer in Ostia Antica
During the summer in Rome it is very hot, very hot! The thermometers usually go up to 35ºC and can even reach 40ºC. My advice is that, if you go on your own, take the opportunity to visit the village early in the morning (remember that it opens at 8:30AM) and avoid the central hours of the day.
If you return early to the center of the Eternal City and your guts are roaring, take a look at my article on where to eat in Trastevere, the most genuine and picturesque neighborhood of the capital, to regain energy.
Winter in Ostia Antica
If you are not afraid of freezing, visiting Ostia Antica during the Roman winter can have its charm. Plus, it's the lowest and best-priced season of the year in Rome. Therefore, you are likely to walk like an emperor practically by yourself through the Roman remains. Of course, I recommend that you book the tour (if possible) on a day when it is not raining. Check the weather first, so you can enjoy the experience to the fullest!
Autumn in Ostia Antica
One of the most photogenic seasons in Ostia Antica is autumn in Rome, as the trees in the park lose their leaves and fill the grounds and ruins with color, transforming them into a beautiful orange landscape. The monuments, surrounded by greenery, look spectacular! In addition, the good thing is that you will not find overcrowding of travelers.
In short, we compare the different options
- Guided bus tour
- The most comfortable option
- : Duration: 4 to 5 hours
- : You can book it with Hellotickets
- Small group tour
- The most exclusive option
- : Duration: 5 or 6 hours
- : You can book it with Hellotickets
- Go on your own
- The cheapest option
- : Duration: whatever you choose
- : Ticket at the box office