When I mentioned I was off to Rome for a few days a number of people recommended Ostia Antica. Although I knew about the site, I was not aware that it was so close to Rome. Given my time limitations I really did want to make the most of my brief stay in Rome, and did not want to be travelling to sites such Hadrian’s Villa (a few hours by bus) or Pompeii (four hours south by train) when there was so much to see in Rome itself. Ostia Antica, about 30km south west of Rome, is not only easy to get to if you are relying on public transport, but you also do not waste time getting there.
Ostia makes for an interesting contrast to the archaeology in Rome. City life has just carried on, with remnants seemingly scattered here, there and everywhere. There are even fragments of the Republican city wall now exposed in the MacDonalds at the Termini Station! Whereas at Ostia you get to experience a substantial part of what remains of the ancient commercial port of Rome, almost uninterrupted and undisturbed by more recent urban developments.
As the harbour city of ancient Rome, Ostia (Latin for ‘mouth’) was a seaport at the mouth of the Tiber River. With the subsequent drop in sea level and centuries during which the river has silted up significantly, the archaeological site of Ostia is now about three kilometres from the sea. And it was the river silting up that buried the town, which is why it is so well preserved.
The area was first inhabited by Bronze Age (1400 – 1000 BC) and Iron Age (1000 – 700 BC) communities, who were attracted to the nearby salt flats. Fairly reliable written accounts suggest that a small town was then established by a Roman king in the 7th century BC. As Rome expanded during the fourth century BC Ostia became a naval base providing the city with protection. As Rome began to take control of the Mediterranean during the second century AD commercial activities gradually replaced the port’s military function.
What remains today, the docks, warehouses, apartments, mansions, a theatre, temples, shops, baths, all provide a good idea of what this thriving port was like for the estimated 60,000 people who lived and worked here. Today it is easy to stay on the centuries old, well trodden roads, but I strongly recommend stepping off these and exploring the back lanes. The main features of the town are well signposted with good maps, so you can not get lost.
I got to Ostia just after it opened (08.30 am) and only saw two other visitors until I left at about 11.00 am, just as a large group of excited school children arrived. It was a glorious day with a bright blue, cloudless sky. Much like my reaction to some of the other archaeological sites in Rome, I was surprised at how substantial the ruins are here. Also, the physical extent of the site is much bigger than I had anticipated, and I only saw a fraction of what is accessible to the public, despite being there for over two hours.
Getting to Ostia Antica
If you only have a few days in Rome and you are looking for spectacular archaeology, then I can thoroughly recommend spending a few hours in Ostia Antica. If you have a lot of time in Rome, or you have already been and are looking for something new to visit, you could easily spend the better part of a day at Ostia with a good guide book. There is a good restaurant within the grounds, but there are also a number of restaurants outside.
From the centre of Rome to Ostia it is a 20 minute or so train ride from the Piramide station (which is also on the Metro B line). Either a Roma Pass or a standard metro ticket can be used for the journey. The stop you will want is called ‘Ostia Antica’. On leaving the station you will see a footbridge that crosses the motorway that runs between the station and the archaeological site, take that and the site is well sign posted from there on. Pay your entrance fee, enter and start walking along the decumano maximus and enjoy!
Guided Tours of Ostia Antica
Ostia is a popular archaeological site to visit when visiting Rome, not surprising then there are a number of good Guided Tours for Ostia. These vary in the length of time the tour takes, whether the tour starts in Rome or at the ticket office for Ostia – so read the ‘what is included’ section carefully when comparing the tours.
Remember, with all GetYourGuide tours and activities, you can cancel up to 24 hours before the start of your activity without getting a refund. This is one of the reasons we are happy to promote the GetYourGuide platform over others. Of all the guided tours of Ostia listed on GetYourGuide, I think the following are well worth considering:
Guided Tour With and Archaeologist
While many of the guided tours listed on GetYourGuide for Ostia get good ratings, this one consistently gets higher scores. It is a bit more expensive, but you get three hours in Ostia (meet at the ticket office) with a knowledgeable archaeologist who speaks very good English. This is not a private tour. Perhaps because it is a bit more expensive, it is not so popular as a small group tour. But this means, as you will see in the reviews, the chances of getting the tour guide to yourself seems to be quite high. The tour is available twice a day – and you get to skip-the-queue on entrance. More Information and Book Online >>
Kid-Friendly Guided Tour of Ostia Antica
This is advertised as a family-friendly tour of the archaeological site. The guide not only takes you all to the best preserved and perhaps more relatable parts of the site, but also has a few activities to keep your children’s attention and interest. The tour is three hours and you can choose a morning or afternoon tour. You will meet the guide at the ticket office – and will not be kept waiting in any queues. More Information and Book Online >>
Private Guided Tour of Ostia, From Rome
If you are looking for a private guided tour, and one that begins in Rome, this is the tour for you. You and your group will meet the guide at the Piazzale Ostiense in Rome and travel by train (included in the cost of the tour) to Ostia (entrance included). The tour lasts four hours. More Information and Book Online >>
Half Day Guided Tour of Ostia Antica from Rome
This tour also starts in Rome (the meeting place is the Cafe Piramide opposite the Piramide Metro Station), but unlike the tour mentioned above, it is not private. But the size is limited to 12 people. Hence it is much cheaper. The tour has a morning start and ends by lunchtime, but you can stay on and explore the site at your leisure after the tour with your guide is complete. More Information and Book Online >>