Deciding whether or not to do a day trip out of the city when you're only in Rome for a limited amount of time can be tough. But a good friend who also happens to be a superb traveler recommended that we see Ostia Antica, a well-preserved ancient Roman port town that's not too far away. Since we like ruins, we decided to go for it and were not disappointed.
Ostia Antica used to hold a strategic position at the mouth of the Tiber river, but then the river changed its course. As a successful commercial hub, Ostia was a prosperous city full of schools, temples, baths, gymnasiums and a type of multilevel, multifamily home that is thought to be the forerunner to today's apartment buildings. The baths and gymnasiums were adorned by mosaics (pictured left), and these beautiful works art are among the key factors that lure tourists away from Rome for a couple of hours.
Another major reason why it's worth it to take the 40-minute train ride from Rome's Piramide metro stop is that Ostia is a city that was preserved in its entirety like Pompeii. Usually, only major monuments survive or are thought to be deserving of restoration. But in this case, mud and sand from the river buried the whole area and it was left largely untouched until the early 1900s.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins. You can really walk right through the ruins and feel the past, realizing that you're standing in what was once a bustling square or a mansion's private garden. The site becomes more interesting after the initial structures. We wasted far too much time in the beginning at the necropolis (cemetery) when there were much more interesting sights to see, such as the remains of an ancient restaurant (pictured right). Also, be sure to ask at the entrance gate when the museum takes its midday break because just as we got there its doors were closing. The museum is small but worth seeing as that's where they keep the most valuable statues and other artifacts that have been unearthed. If your timing is bad like ours, just hang out in the nearby cafeteria and enjoy the air conditioning and gelato like we did.
After we explored the ruins for a couple of hours, we took the same train we had taken to Ostia Antica 10 minutes further to its last stop to — Lido di Ostia, Rome's closest beach (pictured left). After walking around the ruins in extreme heat, we wanted to relax and cool off. Lido di Ostia gets a bad rap from disappointed travelers who are expecting something like the beaches of Sardinia or Portofino, but it's been cleaned up in recent years. The Romans must really like it because the beach was utterly packed on that late Tuesday afternoon in mid-July. It's lined with beach clubs that will let you rent a lounge chair for the day, which you'll want as its fine black sand. Combining Ostia Antica and Lido di Ostia is an excellent day trip, but I wouldn't just do Lido di Ostia on its own. If I was devoting a whole day to the beach, I'd venture further south where there are supposed to be better beaches.