There are things to see in Rome that are not in the guidebooks, not in the movies and not on the main routes to 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. Rome's surroundings are full of history and little corners like this that you can discover with a day trip, either by bus or in a small group. Grab a pen and paper... and make a note!
Excursion to Ostia Antica by bus, the cheapest option
If you've already decided to save a day of your holiday to visit Ostia Antica during your trip to Rome, which is highly recommended, you should first find out about the different excursions available to cover the 35 kilometres that separate these two cities, in an easy and carefree way.
From my point of view, the best thing to do is to do it as part of an organised excursion with a professional guide, who will (metaphorically) dust off 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 travellers is to book an organised air-conditioned bus tour, super important if you are going to Rome in summer, which leaves 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, online and in advance. Normally, in case your travel plans change for any reason, this type of excursion comes with 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 well-preserved archaeological park.
Small group tour, the most personalised option
There is no doubt that hiring a private tour will elevate your experience in Ostia Antica. You will be able to relive the glory of Ancient Rome on 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 to make you 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 to 6 hours approximately.
The good thing? You won't waste time travelling as 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 personal attention than if you booked the bus tour with a large group.
Can you get to the ruins on your own?
The answer is yes. If you are someone who doesn't like to rely on anyone but public transport, you can get to the Roman remains of Ostia on your own. The train is the best way to get there. A single ticket costs €1.50.
In this case, take the Rome metro line B to the Piramide stop, and then take the train to Ostia Antica. It will take between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on where you start your journey. As you will have to make several journeys, it may be worth buying 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!
Which is the better option: a tour or on your own?
After reading all the possibilities, you may be asking yourself the million-dollar question: what is the best option for you? The answer largely depends on your budget, the time you have available and how comfortable you want to be.
When to choose a tour
I recommend the budget large group tour if you are a natural saver, don't have a lot of time but want to discover the history of these fascinating ruins with a guide and are looking for a simple tour, including transport, 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 make the bus and metro transfers to get to the village and are not interested in 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, to be picked up at your hotel, to travel in a well-equipped vehicle and to have a guide in a small group to whom you can ask a thousand questions, then I advise you to choose the second option: the personalised tour.
Both excursions will also save you the queues at the ticket office, which in summer can be quite a chore, as the town is a favourite destination for Ostia's fine sandy beach and turquoise waters, and its Italian snacks while you watch the sunset!
Which 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've made the trip to Pompeii from Rome and liked it, you'll definitely like Ostia Antica too. 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 an impressive mosaic of the god of the sea on the floor.
Theatre lovers can also sit on the steps of the amphitheatre of Ancient Ostia, where performances are still held during the summer months.
Main points of interest in the ruins
- The open-air amphitheatre will surprise you!
- The Piazza delle Corporazioni: this is the commercial epicentre with mosaics of the various guilds.
- 18 temples dedicated to the Persian god Mithras.
- Neptune's Baths.
- The Thermopolium (the ancestor of today's restaurants).
- A Jewish synagogue.
- A Christian basilica.
Where to eat in Ostia Antica
One thing to bear in mind is that most tours do not include lunch, so I suggest you bring a sandwich or, my favourite option, go and sample the delicious dishes at the Monument to 1884 restaurant.
You'll love it because the place is as curious as the ruins. Besides, after a whole morning of walking, you'll probably be hungry and you'll be grateful to sit down for a while and rest your legs.
What I liked most about this welcoming place specialising 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 tasty liqueur typical of Italy.
Among the specialities of the house, I recommend you try the homemade ravioli stuffed with fish, the prawns in clay and the pasta with seafood, which are prepared following the traditional recipes of the Italian nonas.
Luxury diners: 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 favourite places for Romans on their trips out of the city after the end of the Second World War.
The great film genius Federico Fellini himself tried cappelletti (a type of stuffed pasta) during the shooting of the film 'Amarcord' in the 1960s. He wasn't the only one to try cappelletti, as this canteen has been frequented by figures of all kinds such as Benito Mussolini, Elisabeth Taylor, the Dalai Lama and, 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.
- Opening hours: 12.30-3.30pm for lunch and 7-11pm for dinner.
- Chef's tip: the fish here is one of the house specialities. Meat dishes 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 to feel at home. In summer, sit in the cool 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 a good time to visit, as well as its ruins. I wouldn't particularly recommend July and August because they are the hottest and most stifling 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'll burn to death, because it has wonderful shadows. You don't know how much you'll appreciate 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've recommended.
Summer in Ostia Antica
Summer in Rome is very hot, very hot! The thermometers often go up to 35ºC and can even reach 40ºC. My advice is that, if you go on your own, you should visit the village early in the morning (remember that it opens at 8:30AM) and avoid the middle of the day.
If you're heading back to the centre of the Eternal City early and your guts are growling, check out my article on where to eat in Trastevere, the capital's most authentic and picturesque neighbourhood, to get your energy back.
Winter in Ostia Antica
If you're not afraid of freezing, visiting Ostia Antica during the Roman winter can have its charms. It's also the lowest and best-priced season of the year in Rome. As such, you're likely to walk like an emperor practically on your own through the Roman remains. However, I recommend that you book the tour (if possible) on a day when it's not raining. Check the weather first, so you can enjoy the whole experience!
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 site and the ruins with colour, transforming them into a beautiful orange landscape. The monuments, surrounded by greenery, look spectacular! What's more, the good thing is that you won't find overcrowding either.
In short, we compare the different options
- Guided bus tour
- The most comfortable option
- Duration: 4 or 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 office admission