Frommer's EasyGuide to Rome, Florence and Venice (2015)
DAY TRIPS FROM ROME
If you only have 3 days or so, you will probably want to spend them in Rome itself. But if you are here for a week—or on your second visit to Rome—you will want to head out of the city to see some of the ruins, old towns, and ancient villas that lie beyond, for a true all-around Roman experience.
24km (15 miles) SW of Rome
The ruins of Rome’s ancient port are a must-see for anyone who can’t make it to Pompeii (see below). It’s a more comfortable day trip than Pompeii, on a similar theme: the chance to wander around the preserved ruins of an ancient Roman settlement that has been barely touched since its abandonment.
Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, was the port of Rome, serving as the gateway for the riches from the far corners of the Empire. It was founded in the 4th century B.C. and became a major port and naval base primarily under two later emperors, Claudius and Trajan.
A prosperous city developed, complete with temples, baths, theaters, and patrician homes. Ostia flourished between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and survived until around the 9th century before it was abandoned. Gradually it became little more than a malaria bed, a buried ghost city that faded into history. A papal-sponsored commission launched a series of digs in the 19th century; however, the major work of unearthing was carried out under Mussolini’s orders between 1938 and 1942 (the work had to stop because of WWII). The city is only partially dug out today, but it’s believed that all the chief monuments have been uncovered, although digs continue with private sponsorships. There are quite a few impressive ruins—this is no dusty field like the Circus Maximus.
Take the Metro to Piramide, changing lines there for the Lido train to Ostia Antica. (From the platform, exit for “Air Terminal” and turn right at the top of the steps, where the station name changes to Porta San Paolo.) Departures to Ostia are about every half-hour; the trip takes 25 minutes and is included in the price of a Metro single-journey ticket or Roma Pass (p. 29). It’s just a 5-minute walk to the excavations from the Metro stop: Exit the station, walk ahead and over the footbridge, and then continue straight ahead until you reach the car park. The ticket booth is to the left.
The site opens at 8:30am each morning. Closing times vary with the season: It’s 7:15pm April through August, 7pm in September, 6:30pm in October, 4:30pm November to February 15, 5pm February 16 to March 15, and 5:30pm in the second half of March. The ticket office closes 1 hour before the ruins. Admission costs 8€ (11€ if there’s an additional exhibition), free for ages 17 and under and 65 and over. The 2€ map on sale at the ticket booth is a wise investment. For more information, see www.ostiaantica.beniculturali.it or call 06-56350215.
There is no need for hiking boots, but the Roman streets underfoot are all clad in giant basalt cobblestones. Bear that in mind when choosing footwear.
The car park, on Viale dei Romagnoli, costs 2.50€ for an unlimited period. Arrive early if you’re driving: It is fairly small.
Exploring Ostia Antica
The principal monuments are all labeled. On arrival, visitors first pass the Necropoli (burial grounds, always outside the city gates in Roman towns and cities). The main route follows the giant cobblestones of the Decumanus (the main street) into the heart of Ostia. The Piazzale delle Corporazioni is like an early version of Wall Street. Near the theater, this square contained nearly 75 corporations, the nature of their businesses identified by the patterns of preserved mosaics. Greek dramas were performed at the Teatro, built in the early days of the Empire. The theater as it looks today is the result of much rebuilding. Every town the size of Ostia had a Forum , and the layout is still intact: A well-preserved Capitolium (once the largest temple in Ostia) faces the remains of the A.D. 1st-century Temple of Roma and Augustus.
Elsewhere in the grid of streets are the ruins of the Thermopolium, which was a bar; its name means “sale of hot drinks.” Of an insula, a Roman block of apartments, Casa Diana remains, with its rooms arranged around an inner courtyard. Climb the building at the entrance to the Terme di Nettuno to look down on the preserved mosaics of this vast baths complex. In addition, in the enclave is a museum displaying Roman statuary along with fragmentary frescoes.
Where to Dine
There is no real need to eat by the ruins—a half-day here should suffice, and Ostia is within easy reach of the abundant restaurants of the center. The obvious alternative is a picnic; well-stocked foodie Shangri-La is Eataly (p. 102) located only a couple of minutes from the Lido platform at the Piramide Metro station. Stock up when you make the Metro interchange. There are perfect picnic spots beside fallen columns or old temple walls. If you really crave a sit-down meal, Allo Sbarco di Enea, Viale dei Romagnoli 675 ( 06-5650034), has a menu of trattoria staples, a shaded garden, and two-course tourist menus starting at 12€, excluding drinks. There’s also a snack and coffee bar outside Ostia’s Metro station.
240km (150 miles) SE of Rome
Completely destroyed by Vesuvius on August 24, A.D. 79, the Roman city of Pompeii was one of Italy’s most important commercial centers. Effectively frozen in time by a thick layer of ash for almost 2,000 years, today the excavated ruins provide an unparalleled insight into the everyday life of Roman Italy, especially that of its ordinary citizens and, notoriously, the erotic art that decorated its homes and villas. It is estimated that only 2,000 people actually died in the disaster, with most of the population of 20,000 evacuated before the full eruption. Those that stayed perished horribly: asphyxiated by toxic gases, and buried in several feet of volcanic ash. Pliny the Elder, the celebrated Roman naturalist, was one of the casualties. Although parts of the city were rediscovered in 1599, full excavations only began in 1748, starting a process that has never really ended, with new finds still being made.
Making a long day trip to the famous ruins from Rome might seem a little crazy, but on a good day it’s only a 31⁄2 hour drive from the capital, and even less by train. Reckon on spending at least 4 or 5 hours wandering the site to do it justice. Remember also to take plenty of water with you as well as sunscreen, as there’s not much shade anywhere among the ruins, and that you’ll be doing a lot of walking: Wear flat, comfortable shoes.
The best option is to take the Trenitalia “Frecciarossa” high-speed train from Termini to Naples (1 hr. 10 min.; 70€ one-way), though InterCity trains are cheaper (around 28€) and take just over 2 hours—still doable if you start early. The first Frecciarossa usually departs around 7:30am. Once at Napoli Centrale (Naples Central Station), follow the signs to Napoli Piazza Garibaldi station downstairs, where you transfer to the Circumvesuviana Railway (www.eavcampania.it; 800-053939). Note that this railway is separate to Trenitalia, so you won’t be able to buy a through ticket to Pompeii from Rome; just get a return to Naples, and buy the Pompeii portion on arrival in Naples. Trains depart to Pompeii every half-hour from Piazza Garibaldi, but make sure you get on the train headed toward Sorrento and get off at Pompeii/Scavi (scavi means “archaeological excavation”). If you get on the “Pompei” train (toward Poggiomarino), you’ll end up in the town of Pompei—which is in a totally different place—and will have to double back to get to the ruins. A ticket costs 2.90€ one-way; trip time is 35 minutes.
To reach Pompeii by car from Rome, take the A1 autostrada toward Naples, then the A3 all the way to the signposted turnoff for the ruins—a straightforward and usually hassle-free drive.
Plenty of tour operators run guided tours or transport to Pompeii from Rome. Enjoy Rome (www.enjoyrome.com; 06-4451843) runs a Pompeii Shuttle (air-conditioned bus) on Tuesdays and Fridays (Apr-Oct) at 7:30am from its office at Via Marghera 8a (near Termini Station), arriving at the ruins at around 10:45am. You can wander around independently before leaving at 3:30pm (back around 7pm). The shuttle costs 60€ and 45€ for children aged 4 to12. Aggregators such as www.localrometours.com sell fully guided tours to Pompeii and Vesuvius for around 130€ per person.
Official infopoints (www.pompeiisites.org; 081-8575347) can be found at the Porta Marina, Piazza Esedra, and Piazza Anfiteatro entrances. The ruins are open April to October 8:30am to 7:30pm (last entry at 6pm), and November to March 8:30am to 5pm (last entry at 3:30pm). Admission is 11€.
There is a parking lot at Pompeii, though it is quite small. If you plan on driving, get there early. The charge is 2€ per hour.
Pompeii covers a large area with a lot to see, so try and be selective. Note that many of the streets run through little more than stone foundations, and although wandering the site is a magical experience, ruin-fatigue can set in by the end of a frenetic day of sightseeing.
Entering through the Porta Marina, the Forum (Foro) is a long, narrow, open space surrounded by the ruins of the basilica (the city’s largest single structure), the Temple of Apollo (Tempio di Apollo) , the Temple of Jupiter (Tempio di Giove) , and a little farther west, the Terme Stabian (Baths) , where some skeletons have been preserved.
Walk north along the Via di Mercurio to see some of Pompeii’s most famous villas: The Casa del Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet) contains some eye-catching mosaics, notable the CAVE CANEM (“Beware of the Dog”) design by the main entrance. The vast Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun) features an amicable “Ave” (“welcome”) mosaic and the copy of a tiny, bronze faun (the original is in Naples’ Archaeological Museum). Nearby the Casa dei Vettii is in excellent shape, arranged around a pretty central courtyard and containing celebrated murals, notably an image of Priapus (the fertility god), resting his ludicrously oversized phallus on a pair of scales.
Keep walking beyond the old city walls to the northwest for the Villa dei Misteri , Pompeii’s best-preserved mansion, a 3rd-century B.C. structure containing a series of stunning depictions of the Dionysiac initiation rites. The paintings are remarkably clear, bright, and richly colored after all these years.
Walking to the eastern side of Pompeii from the Porta Marina, you’ll pass the 5th-century B.C. Teatro Grande (Grand Theatre) , well preserved and still used for performances today. Continue west on the Via dell’ Abbondanza, passing the Fullonica Stephanus (a laundry with a large tiered washtub); and the Casa della Venere in Conchiglia (House of the Venus in a Shell) , named after the curious painting on its back wall. At the far western end of the town lies the Anfiteatro , one of Italy’s most complete amphitheaters and also the oldest, dating from 80 B.C.
Where to Dine
To dine really well around Pompeii, you have to go into (and stay overnight in) Naples. If you’re doing Pompeii as a day trip, skip the so-so restaurants around Pompeii itself and pack a picnic from Eataly (p. 102), Panificio Bonci (p. 51), or Gina (p. 58) before you set off from Rome.
TIVOLI & THE VILLAS
32km (20 miles) E of Rome
Perched high on a hill east of Rome, Tivoli is an ancient town that has always been something of a retreat from the city. In Roman times it was known as Tibur, a retirement town for the wealthy; later during the Renaissance, it again became the playground of the rich, who built their country villas out here. To do justice to the gardens and villas that remain—especially if the Villa Adriana is on your list, as indeed it should be—you’ll need time, so it’s worth setting out early.
Tivoli is 32km (20 miles) east of Rome on Via Tiburtina, about an hour’s drive with traffic (the Rome-L’Aquila autostrada, A24, is usually faster). If you don’t have a car, take Metro Line B to Ponte Mammolo. After exiting the station, transfer to a Cotral bus for Tivoli (www.cotralspa.it). Cotral buses depart every 15 to 30 minutes during the day (2.20€ one-way). Villa d’Este is in Tivoli itself, close to the bus stop; to get to Villa Adriana you need to catch another bus (the orange no. 4; buy tickets at a tabacchi in the center of Tivoli).
Exploring Tivoli & the Villas
Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) HISTORIC SITE/RUINS The globe-trotting Emperor Hadrian spent the last 3 years of his life in the grandest style. Less than 6km (33⁄4 miles) from Tivoli, between 118 and A.D. 138 he built one of the greatest estates ever conceived, and he filled acre after acre with some of the architectural wonders he’d seen on his many travels. Hadrian erected theaters, baths, temples, fountains, gardens, and canals bordered with statuary, filling the palaces and temples with sculptures, some of which now rest in the museums of Rome. In later centuries, barbarians, popes, and cardinals, as well as anyone who needed a slab of marble, carted off much that made the villa so spectacular. But enough of the fragmented ruins remain to inspire a real sense of awe. For a glimpse of what the villa used to be, see the accurate plastic reconstruction at the entrance.
The most outstanding remnant is the Canopo, a recreation of the town of Canope with its famous Temple of the Serapis. The ruins of a rectangular area, Piazza d’Oro, are still surrounded by a double portico. Likewise, the Edificio con Pilastri Dorici (Doric Pillared Hall) remains, with its pilasters with Doric bases and capitals holding up a Doric architrave. The apse and the ruins of some magnificent vaulting are found at the Grandi Terme (Great Baths), while only the north wall remains of the Pecile, otherwise known as the “Stoà Poikile di Atene” or “Painted Porch,” which Hadrian discovered in Athens and had reproduced here. The best is saved for last—the Teatro Marittimo, a circular maritime theater in ruins with its central building enveloped by a canal spanned by small swing bridges, said to have been Hadrian’s private “studio.”
For a closer look at some of the items excavated, you can visit the museum on the premises and a visitor center near the villa parking area.
Largo Marguerite Yourcenar 1, Tivoli. www.villaadriana.beniculturali.it. 0774-530203. Admission 11€. Daily 9am-sunset (about 7:30pm in May-Aug, 5pm Nov-Jan, 6pm Feb, 6.30pm Mar, and 7pm Apr and Oct). Bus: 4 from Tivoli.
Villa d’Este PARK/GARDEN Like Hadrian centuries before, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este of Ferrara ordered this villa built on a Tivoli hillside in the mid-16th century. The Renaissance structure, with its second-rate paintings, is not that interesting; the big draw for visitors is the spectacular gardens below (designed by Pirro Ligorio).
As you descend the cypress-studded garden slope you’re rewarded with everything from lilies to gargoyles spouting water, torrential streams, and waterfalls. The loveliest fountain is the Fontana dell’Ovato, by Ligorio. But nearby is the most spectacular engineering achievement: the Fontana dell’Organo Idraulico (Fountain of the Hydraulic Organ), dazzling with its music and water jets in front of a baroque chapel, with four maidens who look tipsy (the fountain “plays” every 2 hours from 10:30am).
The moss-covered Fontana dei Draghi (Fountain of the Dragons), also by Ligorio, and the so-called Fontana di Vetro (Fountain of Glass), by Bernini, are also worth seeking out, as is the main promenade, lined with 100 spraying fountains. The garden is worth hours of exploration, but it involves a lot of walking, with some steep climbs.
Piazza Trento 5, Tivoli. www.villadestetivoli.info. 0774-332920. Admission 11€ (8€ Nov-Apr). Tues-Sun 8:30am to 1 hr. before sunset. Bus: Cotral service from Ponte Mammolo (Roma-Tivoli); the bus stops near the entrance.
Villa Gregoriana PARK/GARDEN Villa d’Este dazzles with artificial glamour, but the Villa Gregoriana relies more on nature. The gardens were built by Pope Gregory XVI in the 1830s and reopened in 2005 after a $5.5-million restoration. The main highlight is the panoramic waterfall of Aniene, with the trek to the bottom on the banks of the Aniene River studded with grottoes and balconies that open onto the chasm. The only problem is that if you do make the full descent, you might need a helicopter to pull you up again (the climb back up is fierce). From one of the belvederes, there’s a view of the Temple of Vesta on the hill. A former school has been converted into a visitor center designed by architect Gae Aulenti.
Largo Sant’Angelo, Tivoli. www.villagregoriana.it. 06-39967701. Admission 6€. Apr-Oct Tues-Sun 10am-6:30pm; Mar, Nov, and Dec Tues-Sun 10am-4pm. Bus: Cotral service from Ponte Mammolo (Roma-Tivoli); the bus stops near the entrance.
Where to Dine
Tivoli’s gardens make for a pleasant place for a picnic (see Eataly, p. 102), but if you crave a sit-down meal, Antica Trattoria del Falcone, Via del Trevio 34 (www.ristoranteilfalcone.it; 0774-312358), is a dependable option in Tivoli itself, just off Largo Garibaldi, open since 1918 and specializing in excellent pizza (ask for the pizza menu), Roman pastas, and roast meats. It is open daily 11:30am to 4pm and 6:30 to 11:30pm.