Many people are unaware that just a 25-minute train ride away from Rome lies the magnificently preserved and kid-friendly Roman town of Ostia Antica (Ancient Ostia). This archeological park is lesser-known than Pompeii, but its ancient buildings, magnificent frescos, and impressive mosaics have been excellently preserved. If you will be staying in Rome, this is an easier day trip than the two-plus hours trip down to Pompeii. Its trees provide shade (something Pompeii is lacking), and the lack of tourists make it an enjoyable visit with kids.
History of Ostia Antica
Two-thousand years ago, Ostia Antica once was Rome’s thriving seaport with residents in the hundreds of thousands. It was a bustling port city with docks, warehouses, apartments, mansions, inns, taverns, shopping centers, a large theater, and many public baths. When the Roman Empire fell, the port was slowly abandoned due to repeated invasions, sackings by pirates and malaria. Over time, mud buried the city, protecting its buildings and treasures so they can still be viewed today.
How to get to Ostia Antica
It is easy to use public transportation to get to Ostia Antica. At a metro station, purchase a one-way ticket (BIT) for unlimited transfers between the metro, buses, and trains. Take the metro line B and get off at Porta San Paolo (Piramide Station). From here, you can transfer to the local “Roma Lido” commuter train to Ostia Antica.
The Ostia Antica train station is across the street from the archeological park. Follow the signs to the entrance, about a 5-minute walk.
Tips for Visiting with Kids
- Wear comfortable shoes (No Flip Flops). I think this goes without saying when visiting Rome. Ostia Antica is a large site with a lot of walking on areas of uneven, bumpy roads.
- Don’t bring a stroller. The ancient Roman roads were not built for strollers and would make for a very uncomfortable ride. For young ones, consider a baby carrier.
We visited with our daughter when she was one year old. The wide-open spaces and lack of crowds made it the perfect place for her to roam around unrestrained.
- Consider a guide, audio guide, or purchase a guide book at the bookshop. Having access to information about the site will help make the town come alive with the stories of how the ancient Romans lived.
While You’re There
We choose to purchase a small guide book for 6 Euros in the bookshop. It had rendering overlays of how the city would have looked over photos of how they look now, plus information about the important sites. Since we were visiting with a one-year-old, we preferred to take it slow at our own pace rather than with a guide, and we still have the book to enjoy today. Our daughter was a little too young at the time to appreciate the book, but older children would enjoy seeing how the renderings of Ostia Antica compare to how it looks today.
- Bring snacks and water. There is a lovely café in the middle of the site, but the site is pretty large. If you have the type of child who gets “hangry,” you may want to consider having something to eat on hand in case you are not near the café.
- Wear hats & sunscreen. While there is some tree cover, it still is a massive site and you are exposed to the elements. So, come prepared.
Ostia Antica Highlights
Ostia Antica’s main street cuts right through the city called the Decumanus Maximus. Along this street, there are ancient houses and shops and other structures that still stand from the once-thriving city. Walking down this ancient Roman street, you can imagine what it might have been like to live during those times. Some highlights to help kids imagine what it was like to live in Ostia Antica include:
Baths of Neptune
- Since most people living in Ostia would not have had a bathroom in their home, residents had the option to use one of the twenty bath establishments existing in Ostia. The Bath of Neptune was one of these locations, where the citizens went to take a bath and socialize. There were basins for cold water, warm water, and hot water. The baths were heated by a Roman system called hypocaust that circulated hot air from wood-burning furnaces under the floors.
- Built to hold 4,000 spectators, this typical “Roman” theater was the site of traditional tragedies, comedies and parodies, and in the 4th century even water games (tetimimi).
Piazzale delle Corporazioni.
The “Forum of Corporations” was the center of commerce and trade for the Roman Empire during the Age of Augustus. Merchants gathered here to sell and trade goods such as grains, shipping services, and exotic animals such as elephants and giraffes for gladiator battles. The mosaics in front of each stall signified the owner’s occupation. It’s a fun game to guess what the merchant’s trade may have been from looking at the mosaics.
- House of Diana
- A multi-level structure once made up of rented apartments once stood four stories tall, it housed families and was an apartment building in its time. The lower floors were reserved for the middle-class families; the higher floors were for the less well-to-do and servants. The upper class lived in single-unit homes throughout the city.
Caseggiato of the Thermopolium
- An ancient Roman tavern were the merchants, craftsmen, laborers, and harbor workers would meet to purchase beverages and food. You can still make out the sales counter with its marble slabs. You can still even see a painting that shows the foods available for guests to purchase: eggs in brine, grapes, olives, and a hot turnip.
- What kid wouldn’t be fascinated by a room with twenty seats, connected to basins and water channels, that once served as the public restroom? No private stalls here!
The archeological park opens every day at 8:30 am except for Mondays when it is closed. Check the website for closing times as it varies from 4:30 to 7:15 pm throughout the year.
The price for adults is 8 Euros. It is free for anyone under the age of 18.
About the Author
Jana is the owner of www.mypiccoloitaliano.com. My Piccolo Italiano is a blog dedicated to exploring Italian travel and culture with kids! Follow her Instagram @mypiccoloitaliano, and Facebook accounts for inspiration, tips, and information on traveling to Italy with kids.