One of the most beautiful ancient sites near Rome and a real treat for history lovers is the ancient town of Ostia Antica.
Located just outside of Rome city centre, Ostia Antica is the ancient port of Rome and now has two areas worth visiting: the archaeological park and the ‘borgo‘.
This is one of my favorite places in the whole of Italy and one that is really easy to visit from Rome. Here, ancient cobbled roads stretch along rows of pine trees, mosaics embellish the remains of historical dwellings and Roman statues bear witness to the busy life this port city used to be home to.
In this post, I talk about why visiting Ostia Antica and share practical tips on when and how to visit from Rome.
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Is Ostia Antica worth seeing?
The first question I want to tackle about Ostia Antica is whether it is worth making time to visit.
Lesser know than let’s say Pompei, Ostia if often mentioned as an alternative to the most famous roman town and indeed, it is a great place to visit if you want to get out of the city, learn about ancient Rome history but avoid the crazy crowds that swamp Pompeii.
I believe a visit to Ostia Antica is well worth it and I recommend it to history lovers but also anyone who wants to take a break from the Rome busy streets without having to drive or cover long distances.
What is special about Ostia Antica?
Ostia antica is one of the most important archaeological sites in the whole of Italy. Legend tells us that Ostia dates back to the VII century, to the times of Rome King Anco Marzio, but archaeological findings tell us its foundation seems to date between the the VI and III century BC.
The city grew in size and importance and stayed active for centuries.
Nowadays it is one of the best examples of ancient Roman city and one of the best places in the work to gauge how Rome developed and what daily life in this ancient capital looked like.
The main historical characteristic about Ostia antica is that it was a port city. The position on the mouth of the Tiber and on the Thyrrenian coast made it an important hub for trade and saw it growing with populations living together, coming form different parts of the world.
This richness is testified by the many different temples in the city, devoted to deities from as far as Egypt and Persia.
Because of its role in trade, Ostia grew in importance over the course of the centuries and peaked under Emperor Hadrian.
To give you a sense of how successful the city was and how dynamic, Ostia grew to have a population over one million inhabitants! A huge number not juts for ancient cities but modern ones.
Like the rest of the empire, it witnessed the many changes in society Rome saw at this time including the coming to life of ancient Christianity, whose presence is testified in Ostia by several architectural findings.
How long to visit Ostia Antica?
Ostia antica is a short day excursion from Rome: with transport time to and from and a visit to the park and borgo you will need an afternoon to visit.
For the best experience, I recommend you come late morning, spend the afternoon and have dinner in the area.
How to reach Ostia Antica from Rome
Ostia antica is connected to Rome by an efficient train service.
You board the train at the station in Piazzale Ostiense: the ticket is the same you use on Rome buses and can be bough at the ticket teller at the station.
Currently the cost is the same a ride on the metro, 1.50 Euro.Journey time takes approximately 30 minutes and trains are frequent.
In Ostia Antica, the station is just across the road from the archaeological park and the borgo. To reach them you need to cross the road and walk a couple of minutes.
Both the park and borgo and well indicted and visible from the station: you cannot get lost.
How to visit Ostia antica archaeological park: tickets
The ancient site of Ostia Antica is now an archaeological park opened to visitors. At the entrance you have the ticket shop and bathroom facilities and then you pass the official entrance via turnstiles.
You do not need to book tickets in advance and you can get a small leaflet with info or even an audio guide at the ticket stall.
The audio guide is a great resource to understand the park but unfortunately comes with a downside: you need to return it half an hour before the park closes.
This is not a problem if you arrive early in the day but is an issue if you only have the afternoon here: the park is big so once you are back to the ticket office you are unlikely to be able so see much else – meaning you will miss out of the last half hour.
Just take this into account when planning your day here: if short on time, head to the farthest part of the park first and work your way back to the ticket office for efficiency.
Currently the park is open every day except Mondays from 8.30 to 16:30 or 19:15 depending on the time of the year.
Ostia Antica tours?
This post is written with the self guided visitor in mind but, should you prefer to have a guide, there are tours available.
Personally, I find strolling at your own pace more pleasurable but if you don’t like audio guides, which can indeed be fiddly, these are a great option.
What to wear to visit Ostia Antica
The park is an open air archaeological site and visiting requires a lot of walking.
The road are ancient paved Roman roads and are therefore uneven and dusty. You do not need special shoes to walk here, it is not hiking, but it is advisable to have good cushioned walking shoes if you want to protect your ankles from sprains and your toes from pine needles.
If visiting in any season that is not the heart of winter, do come prepared with layers you can peel off, sun screen and water.
The park has some shaded areas but is mostly under the sun and you will need to protect yourself.
Facilities inside Ostia Antica park
Ostia antica is a large park but this doesn’t mean it is devoid of facilities.
Aside from the ticket office at the entrance, which has bathrooms and a small selection of souvenirs, inside the park you have a lovely complex with a good cafe with terrace and a good bookshop and souvenir shop, plus additional bathroom facilities.
The cafe has both an indoor and outdoor area, is family friendly and a great place to relax also with children.
What to see in Ostia Antica park
Ostia antica is all beautiful but there are a few locations that I believe are exceptionally wort seeking out.
Ostia antica theatre
Th theater sits on the right hand side of one of the two main Ostia roads and is one of the first sights you encounter when entering the park
You can access the main stage area or sit on its many steps and it is a wonderful sight.
You can only see ruins of what used to be the scene architectural backdrop but nowadays the beautiful pine trees against the Italian blue sky make it nonetheless a wonderful spot.
This is a great example of Roman theater and while less scenic maybe than the one in Taormina Sicily, is a great pace to see the difference between the Roman take theaters and the Greek style, so well maintained in Siracusa.
Some of the ancient Ostia antica houses still host wonderful mosaics. You find them in several parts of the park and they are incredible to see, under the beautiful Italian sun.
Unfortunately, lack of information panels mean you cannot understand anything about them without the audio guide but they are nonetheless an easy sight to enjoy.
Mosaics are an ancient form of art and one that dates back to well before Roman times and that came to Europe from the East.
If you have time, I highly recommend you seek them out in Ostia but also in Rome (Santa Prassede or Santa Maria in Trastevere have great examples, find some info about them in my post on Rome hidden gems).
If you have kids and one extra day, you can even take a mosaic making lab with them: we took it recently (you can read about our experience here) and it was a very informative and educational, fun activity.
One of the most impressive parts of Ostia antica is the thermopilus in Via Diana (yes, this is a real city so you get full addresses here!).
The thermopilum is an ancient roman bar: here we can see the main bar serving area, seating area and the outdoor dining space.
While we cannot break bread with ancient Romans, we can sure feel closer to them in a space such as this one, where they relaxed and enjoyed themselves in a way so similar to ours that centuries seem to shrink away.
This is one of the most impressive of all sites: thinking of ancient Romans ordering their drinks or food and then sitting al fresco in the thermopilum patio gives a totally different spin to a society we so often only associated with wars and fighting!
Tips for visiting Ostia antica with kids
We visited Ostia antica with our tow young kids and it was a good day out, albeit tiring for them.
The park is easy to enjoy for children who can run around freely but it requires a lot of walking: make sure you give them good shoes, plenty of water if visiting on a hot day and do plan a stop in the park cafe.
If you have a bay or toddler, I highly recommend you do not bring a stroller.
The old Roman roads are not suitable for buggies and your child would have a super bumpy ride – umbrella strollers with small wheels may even break. If you can, bring a carrier for the day.
There are no storage facilities that we saw but if you make your way to the cafe you may ask if they hold the buggy for you. They might agree but please be advised that it would be at your own risk.
What to see in Ostia antica beside the park: Borgo di ostia antica
Ostia antica is famous for is fabulous archaeological park but there is more to see in it than just roman ruins.
A few minutes down the road you find the gorgeous Ostia antica borgo: this is a tiny area, little more than a square, and develops around the ancient castle.
This is a very atmospheric corner and a photographers’ dream: you can visit the borgo in a matter of minutes or you can stay the evening and have dinner in one of the few but lovely local restaurants. If you do so, I highly recommend the one right in the borgo (you will recognize it thanks to the checked table cloths on tables on the road): if you are unsure what to have, let the owner decide for you – you will not be disappointed!
I hope you found this overview useful and it helped answer the questions: is a visit to Ostia Antica worth is and what is the best way to get there?
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