Are you in Rome and have your heart set on visiting an ancient Roman city, but can’t face the long journey to Pompeii and its crowds? Then why not take a day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome?
One of the most underacknowledged archaeological sites in Italy, Ostia Antica was once the thriving seaport for Ancient Rome. This wonderful site is an easy and inexpensive day trip from Rome and can rival much of what Pompeii offers.
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Why You Should Visit Ostia Antica from Rome
1. It has huge historical significance
Why was Ostia Antica important to the city of Rome? Even in Ancient Roman times, it was location, location, location.
According to legend, Ostia was founded by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, as a castrum (military fortification) to guard the mouth of the Tiber. In the 3rd Century AD, the city developed into the port of Rome and was the gateway for Rome’s exports and imports, notably the supply of grain to the capital.
The town was named after its location, Ostia meaning “mouth” in Latin.
Ostia developed into a busy and important city, integral to Rome’s commercial operations, and also became a naval base.
Why was Ostia Antica abandoned?
Ostia Antica’s fall from grace began at the time of Constantine (306 – 377 AD), who favoured the newer port of Portus built by Claudius to the northwest. In subsequent centuries, Ostia’s decline was accelerated by a loss of trade and an increased prevalence of malaria.
It’s thought that the city was largely abandoned by the 10th Century. At the height of its prosperity, Ostia had 80,000 inhabitants; in 1756 its population numbered 156.
Over the millennia the shoreline has moved seawards, due to silting of the Tiber, and Ostia Antica now lies three kilometres from the sea.
2. Ostia Antica lacks the crowds of Rome or Pompeii
I love Rome on so many levels and have lost count of the number of times I have visited. But at any time of the year, the crowds can be something else.
Ostia Antica is a perfect refuge from the crowds, traffic horns and selfie stick-wielding tourists of Rome.
Equally, Pompeii is a wonderful archaeological site but is not exactly a well-kept secret. There are extremely good reasons why it is popular, but this is of little comfort when you are trying to navigate a path around coachloads of tour groups.
3. Getting to Ostia Antica from Rome is super easy
Pompeii is a LONG day trip from Rome.
Consider this. It will take you at least 2 – 3 hours to travel from Rome to Pompeii, involving a change of train at Naples. After this journey, you then have to do the massive site of Pompeii justice before jumping back on your return train to Rome.
I know that many people do visit Pompeii as a day trip from Rome. But not me.
By comparison, getting to Ostia Antica from Rome is a breeze with frequent connections from the city centre. Depending on where you start in Rome, the journey time is approximately 30 – 45 minutes.
4. Ostia Antica is an inexpensive day trip from Rome
Let’s do the maths.
Your one-way metro ticket from central Rome to Ostia Antica will cost you €1.50 (2022 price).
An entrance ticket for Ostia Antica costs €12.
Therefore, a day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome will set you back €15. This is ludicrously inexpensive.
In contrast, when booked in advance, a one-way train ticket between Rome and Pompeii will cost at least €30. As ItaliaRail has dynamic pricing, you are looking at significantly more expensive fares if you book near the day of travel. You will need to plan in advance.
In 2022, an entrance ticket for Pompeii costs €16.
This brings the minimum cost of a day trip from Rome to Pompeii to over €70. Not so cheap.
5. The site provides an insight into the everyday lives of Ancient Romans
Pompeii and Ostia were two very different towns.
Pompeii was a cosmopolitan resort town inhabited by wealthy Romans who were known for lavish spending on their homes. Archaeologists have found a motto on one of the town’s walls that celebrates wealth.
Ostia was a working port town, not a wealthy city like Pompeii, populated by a spectrum of social classes.
In its heyday, although Ostia was ruled by a small number of aristocratic families, it was immigration and the import of slaves that swelled the town’s population. Once freed, slaves often remained active in the trade of their former patron.
6. Ostia Antica is a wonderfully preserved archaeological site
I’m not suggesting that this isn’t the case with Pompeii. Volcanic lava took care of that.
But if you are looking for first-class archaeology that represents everyday life, Ostia Antica is Pompeii’s equal.
Most of what we see in Ostia Antica today dates from the 3rd century BC. The excavated structures – houses, apartments, temples, bars, public baths, workshops, stores and latrines – are a window into what life was like in a commercial town at the zenith of the Roman Empire.
7. This archaeological park has superb mosaics
Mosaics were a common feature of both private homes and public buildings in Roman cities. Ostia Antica is home to a wonderful collection of floor mosaics, which are mostly black and white.
These mosaics were inspired by nature (flowers, marine animals, seahorses), gods and mythological creatures and ships and fishing. Some of the most famous mosaics at Ostia decorate the Baths of Neptune.
What to See at Ostia Antica: The Highlights
Immediately upon entering the site, you will find yourself on the Decumanus Maximus, Ostia’s main street. Some of the town’s most important buildings flank this street.
Roman City Planning
In Roman city planning, the Decumanus Maximus (or Decumanus) ran from east to west. This was intersected by the Cardo Maximus (Cardo) running north-south.
Baths of Neptune
The Baths of Neptune, built between 117 and 161 AD, are one of the first buildings that you’ll come across walking along the Decumanus Maximus. One of the biggest excavations in Ostia Antica, these baths have several rooms and a palestra (exercise area).
Climb the steps for a great view of the massive black and white mosaic, depicting the god Neptune riding four horses through the sea.
The adjacent Theatre of Ostia is not exactly understated.
Built in the 1st Century BC by Agrippa, and later expanded between by Commodus and Septimius Severus, this theatre could host up to 4,000 spectators. Not unlike today, the best seats were close to the action; the cheap seats up in the gods.
Most of the original seating area is intact as is the orchestra’s marble floor.
Climb to the higher levels for a great view of both the theatre and the town.
Did You Know?
The size of the theatre in towns and cities in Ancient Rome, and especially its seating capacity, are used to estimate the size of their population.
Forum and Capitolium
At the crossroads of the Decumanus and Cardo, is the Forum, which was Ostia’s administrative centre.
In Ancient Rome, important buildings were clustered around the Forum. Ostia was no different and the Capitolium, the temple dedicated to the three main Roman gods – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva – still stands.
Baths of the Forum
On the eastern side of the Forum are the 2nd Century Baths of the Forum, one of the largest baths in Ostia. Off the north side of the baths is the town’s forica, the public latrine, with its 20 perfectly preserved marble seats.
How to get to Ostia Antica from Rome
Getting the train from Rome to Ostia Antica
From Rome, take Metro line B to Piramide stop (direction Laurentina). From Piramide, it’s a one-minute walk to Roma Porta San Paolo train station.
Transfer to the Rome-Lido line headed towards Cristoforo Colombo. Get off at the stop for Ostia Antica (30 minutes).
A normal metro ticket will cover you for the entire journey.
On leaving the station take the footbridge that crosses the motorway running between the station and the archaeological site.
Visiting Ostia Antica on a guided day trip from Rome
However, if you feel more comfortable visiting Ostia Antica on an organised tour, or want to learn more about the site from a professional guide, why not join one of these day trips from Rome with free cancellation.
Ostia Half-Day Tour from Rome by Train
This 4-hour tour of Ostia Antica includes your transfer by train from Rome and a tour guide.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK
Ancient Ostia Guided Walking Tour
Make the most of your day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome by joining this 3-hour walking tour that includes the services of a professional guide.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK
Plan Your Ostia Antica Visit
Tips for Visiting Ostia Antica
- Make an early start to give yourself enough time to explore Ostia Antica. In summer, arriving early will also allow you to start sightseeing at a cooler time of day.
- As with many archaeological sites, there is little shade and it can get hot. Wear a hat, sunglasses, slather on sunscreen and bring a big bottle of water with you.
- Due to uneven surfaces, a comfortable pair of shoes is essential.
- Photography is allowed (but no flash).
- Pick up an audio guide at the site’s entrance or bring a good guide book. This is necessary as, with the exception of the major buildings, many of the structures at Ostia Antica are unmarked.
Recommended Guide Book
There is an excellent section on Ostia Antica in the Blue Guide: Rome.
How much time should you spend in Ostia Antica?
Ostia Antica is not a huge site but you should allow at least two hours to see the highlights.
What is Ostia Antica Archaeological Park’s opening hours?
Ostia Antica is open Tuesday – Friday from 8:30 am; closing time depends on the season and ranges between 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm.
It is closed on Mondays and on 25th December and 1st January.
Check opening hours for Ostia Antica here.
Ostia Antica ticket price
Tickets for Ostia Antica cost €12 (March 2022 price) when purchased on the day (buy them at the small ticket office by the entrance to the archaeological site). Advance online purchase attracts a surcharge of 2 Euro.
Entry to Ostia Antica is free for those under the age of 18 and a number of other categories of visitors, including journalists and those with a disability.
The entry price is reduced to €2 for EU citizens between 18 and 25 years old.
Is there a restaurant or cafe at Ostia Antica?
Although there is a small restaurant near the museum, the food is not cheap. I recommend bringing a packed lunch to munch on amongst the ruins.
Is there luggage storage at Ostia Antica?
As of April 2021, there are no luggage storage facilities at Ostia Antica. Bring only what you can comfortably carry and leave your large bags at your hotel (or use the storage facility at Rome Termini Station).
Is Ostia Antica Worth Visiting?
For my money, Ostia Antica is one of the best day trips from Rome.
If you are a history fangirl or fanboy, you will relish the opportunity to learn more about ancient Rome in the absence of the crowds that descend on Pompeii. But even if history isn’t your thing, Ostia Antica is a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Rome.
Ostia Antica vs Pompeii: Final Thoughts
Both Pompeii and Ostia Antica are fascinating archaeological sites.
Each has intact public buildings, a theatre and a bathhouse. Pompeii has many more houses to see than Ostia Antica, which has mainly public buildings. Thanks to its dramatic backstory, Pompeii is better preserved.
However, if I was pushed to choose between the two, I would plump for Ostia Antica.
Ostia’s ruins, providing a remarkable insight into the domestic and commercial life of the Roman Empire, are set in a beautiful park of stately cypresses and umbrella pines.
Embrace the slower pace and fewer crowds of Ostia Antica. Whilst you are unlikely to have the site to yourself, it is not so well established on the tourist radar. There’s a lot to be said about being able to walk along the streets of an ancient Roman town in near solitude.
Accessibility is a key factor too. To preserve the ruins, Pompeii is thoroughly fenced or roped-off to stop you from entering some buildings. Exploration of the site is via a prescribed route.
Exploration of Ostia Antica, on the other hand, is much more laissez-faire. Getting from A to B is more random but allows you to “discover” something else to explore further.
Having said this, if you are visiting Naples and Southern Italy, I would urge you to include Pompeii on your itinerary.
But if you are staying in Rome, don’t go all the way to Pompeii to see Roman life. Instead, choose Ostia Antica. You won’t regret it.