One of the best things about Rome is that there are so many ways to get out of it. Whether it’s too hot in the city and you’re craving a beach escape or it’s too chaotic and you want a break, the small towns and countryside around Rome can certainly satisfy any itinerary even if just for enough time during a cruise ship excursion.
Many of the Rome day trips listed below can be reached by train, though renting a car offers more flexibility and allows you to stop off to enjoy a town or restaurant along the way. But beware! Traffic on the main Roman arteries on pleasant weekends can be horrendous. You won’t be the only one trying to leave or return to the city. The campagna (countryside) around Rome has been famous for over twenty centuries, and once you visit you’ll understand why its rolling hills and hilltowns deserve so much praise.
The towns in the Alban Hills, directly to the south of Rome, are known locally as Castelli Romani, or Roman Castles. Though there aren’t many castles, there certainly are white wine and porchetta, or the whole-roasted pig stuffed with garlic and fennel sold in sandwiches or slices. The Castelli are where the Romans retreat when summer gets too hot, as the emperors and other rich Romans used to do in their day. Today the air isn’t that much cooler, but a trip up to the Castelli in any weather provides a window into Italian life outside the capital.
The Castelli’s biggest town is Frascati, a half hour by train from Termini Station. It’s here that the famous fraschetta started, and it is for fraschetta that visitors flock to Frascati. Pick a picnic table restaurant with spectacular views over the valley towards Rome (most people head to Via Regina Margherita), and enjoy cool white wine with porchetta, pasta, or both! Besides from the food, Frascati’s biggest draw is the Villa Aldobrandini, a Renaissance palace that overlooks the town and valley.
Ariccia is also well known for its frashcette, but is best known as the home of succulent porchetta. The tiny town also boasts a beautiful round church (collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo) by Bernini, and its sublime location across a bridge that spans the regional park gives the feeling of retreating into nature. There are no trains going to Ariccia, so you must come by car.
If it’s nature you’re after, head to Albano Lake. In summer, since the Romans prefer the sea, you’re pretty much guaranteed a spot on the grassy beach. And once you get over the lake’s super-soft clay bottom—which must be good for your skin—a swim in the volcanic crater can be most refreshing. Get off the train (from Termini) at Castel Gandolfo—where you can also find the pope’s summer residence—and follow the road past olive trees down the hill to the beach.
Also to the south of Rome, Tivoli has always been a popular area with the rich and famous since Emperor Hadrian built his sprawling villa there. Located on the slope down from town, Hadrian’s Villa is a must see for anyone interested in learning how the emperors lived it up in style. But Tivoli is best known as the home of another fanciful villa, the Villa d’Este. Wondrous is a pale word to describe its garden where every turn surprises. Catch the train for a half hour from Rome’s Tiburtina Station.
History buffs will certainly want to depart the crowded forums of Rome to head to Ostia Antica where some of the best preserved Roman ruins survive. Once a flourishing port of the capital of the world, Ostia Antica attracted people of all kinds. Temples, houses, streets, shops, baths have all been preserved for your viewing. Take the Ostia Lido train a half hour from Pyramide Station and get off at the Ostia Antica stop. If you take this train to the end, you’ll come to Rome’s popular beaches of Ostia Lido. They are not the most beautiful for a swim, but if the weather is too hot, the water will cool you off.
The beach town of Sperlonga is a trip down the coast (about an hour by train to Formia, then bus to the seaside) but absolutely worth it for the beauty of the sea. Though the beaches are crowded in high season (like every beach in Italy), Sperlonga is so much more when compared Ostia or the other beaches near Rome (although Santa Marinella, further north near Civitavecchia is another of our favourites!). The water here can be pristine, and the white-washed city hanging from the cliff makes for a dreamy background to a most relaxing day. If you can get off the towel long enough, head to the Villa of Tiberius, where a questionable Roman emperor liked to spend his time.
About an hour north of Rome by train (departing from Ostiense Station every half hour), the town of Bracciano and its lake make for a great day trip. If the weather is good, head down to the lake where there’s always a place to for your towel, even on a Sunday. In town and along the water are plenty of good restaurants that serve coregone, or lake fish. If you decide to drive to Bracciano take a trip around the lake to the lovely towns of Trevignano and Anguillara.
The large hilltown of Orvieto sits right on the Umbrian side of the Lazio-Umbria border. Only an hour and half away by train from Rome’s Termini Station, Orvieto makes for a possible and pleasant day trip. The afternoon will certainly culminate at the striped Duomo that presides over the town and the valley below. While inside check out the napkin of the Miracle of Bolsena, onto which Jesus is said to have bled, and the stunning fresco cycle by Luca Signorelli in the Cappella di San Brizio. Besides from the church, there is so much to see, do, and eat in Orvieto that you will certainly head back to Rome sleepy eyed but satisfied.