The Best Day Trips From Rome

Ruins of the Roman Forum
Ruins of the Roman Forum

Rome may be the Eternal City, but that doesn't mean you can't sneak away for a day to explore the handful of other sites nearby. Whether you haven't quite had your fill of ruins, feel like drinking wine spouting from a town fountain, are looking for a different perspective, or want to pump your feet down the side of a mountain, we've got an unforgettable day trip for you. We've tried to go beyond the obvious (but still well-worth-it) places like Pompeii, Ostia Antica, and Tuscany to give you a glimpse at other sweet spots between one to three hours from Rome. Some of these places are accessible by public transportation, but for most, you'll have to either rent a car or join a tour group. Trust us, they're worth it. 

1. Tread through two UNESCO World Heritage sites at Tivoli.

Villa d'Este; photo by Dmitry Dzhus via Flickr

Villa d’Este; photo by Dmitry Dzhus via Flickr

Back in ancient Roman and Renaissance times, the small hilltop town of Tibur was the place to spend your summer. It offered the Mediterranean’s wealthy and socially elite a naturally scenic and quiet spot. Today, known as Tivoli, it’s less exclusive, giving tourists the chance to walk through the beautiful decay of two separate UNESCO World Heritage sites. Start at the top with Villa Adriana, the second-century vacation estate of Roman emperor Hadrian. This gorgeous, 30-building complex is filled with several baths, fountains, and statues (some of which were actually stolen 1,400 years later and used to decorate neighboring Villa d’Este). The classical architecture combines ancient design elements from Egypt, Greece, and Rome, making this spot both stunning and culturally significant. A few miles down the hill you can wander around the pinnacle of Renaissance splendor and extravagance at the 16th-century Villa d’Este, home to Tivoli’s then-governor Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. Known for its sensational gardens and aesthetics, this place is a must-see.  

Time fom Rome: 50 minutes by car or train

How much time to budget: You’ll want at least a half-day to soak in all the splendor. 

2. Swim through the ruins of the ancient elite's hedonistic vacation town.

Mosaic from Baiae; photo by Carole Raddato via Flickr

Mosaic from Baiae; photo by Carole Raddato via Flickr

The hedonistic haven of Baia could be considered one of the first wellness resort towns. Catering to the ultra-rich, this original sin city was built over volcanic rock, featured mineral hot springs and saunas, and was no stranger to granting its visitors desires. Some of history’s most famous ancient emperors, like Nero and Caesar, built vacation villas in Baia, and Hadrian died here. It earned a reputation as being even more remarkable than Pompeii and Capri over hundreds of years. Over time, the glory faded, the site got pillaged, and the volcanic springs overtook Baia until it was submerged. So, strap on your snorkels or scuba gear because the best way to experience this underwater archeological site is to get below the surface and swim around. Can’t swim? No problem — just hop in one of the glass-bottomed boats as you float over the ruins of one of the most indulgent vacation spots ever.

Time from Rome: Around two hours and 45 minutes by car

How much time to budget: A whole day

3. Eat and drink your way through stunning views in the Roman Castles.

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If you’re looking for more of where Romans go to escape the city nowadays, then look no further than the 13 lakeside villages of Castelli Romani (a.k.a. the Roman Castles). You won’t find any castles here, but you will find good wine. During October, the closest village, Marino, gets into the harvest spirit by replacing their fountains’ water with actual wine — and everyone can drink it for free. If you’re going for picturesque, then hit up Monte Cavo in Rocca di Papa, where you’ll snag panoramic mountainside views of the volcanic Alban lakes and the gorgeous Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo. In late spring and early summer, Nemi, which has been a favorite among Romans since ancient times, is a must. Here, you can try some of the world’s best strawberries in season and gaze out on to the lake where the mentally unstable emperor Caligula once floated bronze and marble boats. If all else fails, eat your way through the area or just sunbathe by the lake. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. 

Time from Rome: One hour drive from Rome

How much time to budget: You’ll need anywhere from a quarter-day to a full day, depending on how much you want to do. 

4. Walk The Path of the Gods in the Amalfi Coast.

View from the Path of the Gods; photo by Katherine Alex Beaven

View from the Path of the Gods; photo by Katherine Alex Beaven

This one is a bit of a drive from Rome, but if you aren’t planning on visiting the Amalfi Coast during your trip, we think it’s definitely worth shaving off a full day for this. However you get here, be sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’re going to be walking a lot. We suggest starting up at the top in Agerola, taking the hundreds (if not thousands) of steps down the footpath to its end in Nocelle. Then, reward yourself with a bus ride and limoncello in Positano. On the way down you’ll pass incredible views over the sea, above towns, and down onto stone beaches. It’s suitable for most walkers, though not the faint of heart, as there are tons of hairpin turns and times when you’ll be sharing the narrow roads with traffic. That said, it’s an unforgettable experience. If you wanted to tack on an extra day, you could squeeze in the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

Time from Rome: About three hours by car

How much time to budget: All day

5. Haunt the massive Etruscan necropolis near Cerveteri.

Tomb; photo by k.steudel via Flickr

Tomb; photo by k.steudel via Flickr

If you’re looking to mingle with history on a more macabre note, the Necropoli di Banditaccia may be just the place for you. Only five percent of the 494-acre property is tourist-friendly, leaving tourists with a hefty 25 acres of overgrown grass and crumbled streets and squares to navigate through. Visitors can uncover a whopping 2,000 ancient tombs, including grass-covered domes called tumuli. Several of the tombs in this UNESCO World Heritage site have an inherent eeriness, thanks to the deliberate styling to make them resemble the homes — right down to the furniture and rooms — of the folks laid to rest. 

Time from Rome: One hour drive 

How much time to budget: A half-day should do the trick

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