10 Best day trips from Rome: my favorites for a great day in the surroundings!

These are ten day trips from Rome that I strongly, strongly recommend to anyone who's visiting my city and has few extra days to explore the surroundings. Since I grew up in the province I know these places very well, and I almost can't believe how most tourists overlook these gems! Here:

1. The Unesco villas in TIVOLI. In this town located on the east side of Rome there are -not one- but two wonders you really can't miss. The first is Hadrian's villa, in a huge archaeological area, where the Roman emperor Hadrian built his monumental extra-urban residence.

Canopo at Hadrian's villa

It's said that Hadrian disliked the imperial palace on the Palatine hill in Rome, so after this gigantic villa was completed he moved here with all his court, and from here he ruled the entire Roman empire during the later years of his reign.

If you like ancient history, this is a great trip: you can walk for hours (you can do a shorter itinerary of course) between ruins, fountains, temples, centenarian olive trees, reliving the splendor of this residence during Hadrian's empire. Choose a day with nice weather -you'll be outdoor most of the time-, and if you want bring also some food with you: the Canopo (in the picture above) is an ideal place to stop for a sandwich while recharging your energies.

Ruins of Hadrian's residence

The reason why I recommend Tivoli as number one day trip from Rome is that there is another stunning villa here: Villa d'Este. And like Hadrian's villa, this is also included in the Unesco World Heritage, but unlike Hadrian's villa this is a Renaissance villa, built at the order of cardinal Ippolito II d'Este around 1560.

Villa d'Este has a glorious example of Italian gardens based on axial geometry, refreshed by hundreds of fountains and pools of imaginative forms. The water is provided by the river Aniene, partially diverted through the town. The are beautiful nymphaeums, caves, water games, with terraces over terraces that will remind you the hanging gardens of Babylon. It's super beautiful!

How to go from Rome to Tivoli:

Car. Tivoli is just within 30 minutes driving from Rome. Very easy. With the car you can reach both villas in the same day trip, if you want. Note that Hadrian's Villa is slightly outside the town center (4,7 km from Tivoli) while Villa d'Este is inside the town.

Train. The trains to Tivoli depart from Tiburtina station, from there it's a trip of about 50 minutes. You can also depart from the bigger Termini station, but you'll have to switch to Tiburtina anyway. Once at Tivoli station, a bus will get you 300 mt from Hadrian's villa. Villa d'Este is just a 15 minutes walk from Tivoli's train station instead, because it's inside the town, but you can get a short ride on the local bus to get there.

2. The Benedictine monasteries in SUBIACO. The name of this town on the Simbruini mountains, 70 km from Rome, comes from latin "sub lacum", under the lake. In fact, it's in this area that emperor Nero built his summer residence, in front of which a huge artificial lake was created by blocking the river Aniene.

The residence is almost completely destroyed today, but since those ancient Roman times two gems of sublime beauty appeared in the same area, and they're still there for us today.

Sacro Speco monastery in Subiaco

They are two benedictine monasteries: Santa Scolastica and Sacro Speco. Their story started in the VI century, after the first experiment of hermitage by saint Benedict, who lived for a period in an antrum of Nero's villa.

Santa Scolastica is the first monastery you'll meet as you climb up the mountain. Entitled to the sister of the saint, it has an active community of benedictin monks, frescoes, a beautiful cloister, and you can even sleep here, as the monks have rooms for guests who desire a period of peace, away from the city life. It's also possible to participate to their meals and religious celebrations.

From the bottom, near the cave where saint Benedict prayed

The Sacro Speco is a little bit higher on the mountain, set against an abrupt rock wall. What can I say about it? I consider it one of the most incredible places on the planet. Its beauty really shocks me, and the fact that many people don't know it exists... this shocks me too!

Defined "gateway to heaven" -and it is, even a non religious person like me recognizes the spiritual qualities of this amazing place- the Sacro Speco has niches inside the rock where the monks built altars, with magnificent frescoes, paintings, marbled floors, stairscases that penetrate the mountain, down until the lonely cavity where saint Benedict prayed.

How to go from Rome to Subiaco:

Car. Subiaco is 1 hour drive on the east side of Rome. You have to pass Tivoli and drive another little bit.

Train. You can't reach Subiaco with a train from Rome. If you really can't go with a car, a bus departs from metro B station Ponte Mammolo, but I advice to pass this day trip with public transportation, as you need a car to reach the monasteries.

See more Monasteries, abbeys and sanctuaries near Rome.

3. The "dying towns" in CALCATA and BAGNOREGIO. They're both on the north of Rome, and they're both very special places. Of the two, Calcata is the nearest to Rome (approx. 50 mins drive). From it, if you continue driving on the north for other 50 mins, you reach the second dying town: Civita Di Bagnoregio (total time 1 hour 40 mins).

Panoramic view of Calcata

Calcata is a picturesque medieval village anchored to a cliff and in a very precarious balance. The cliff is made of tufo rock, a very porous material, that is gradually falling down the valley, eroded by water and wind. The buildings themselves are made of tufo rock, coming out of the ground like extensions of the cliff.

These days, Calcata is definitely not an easy place to live in, for the residents. The town is quite isolated, and many houses are in bad conditions, not exempt from the risk of crumbling down. Only few dozens of residents resist and populate the suggestive borgo. Fortunately, a small flow of alternative tourism allows the city to survive, and you will find a handful of nice art boutiques and tiny restaurants with local food.

Bagnoregio, the "dying town"

The same considerations are valid for Bagnoregio, but in a more extreme and spectacular form. Bagnoregio is even more isolated: there is only one street to access the town, and as you can see from the picture it's an aerial bridge! Gradually slipping down the valley as well, for the unfavorable geology, Bagnoregio offers a gorgeous view and gives you the chance to see a real, original, old italian town.

You can totally include both dying towns in the same day trip, however if you want to make it easier, just pick one of the two. Calcata has the advantage that it's closer to Rome, Bagnoregio that it's more spectacular. Whatever you choose, you'll be happy with the trip!

How to go from Rome to Calcata and Bagnoregio:

Car. Drive north direction Viterbo, after around 40 mins you'll get the exit to Mazzano/Trevignano. From there you'll find indications to Calcata. Once finished the visit, to go to Bagnoregio, go back to Mazzano and from there take the street to Orte.

Train. No way, you totally need a car to do this. Rent one or try the trip down here.

See more Picturesque towns near Rome.

4. The castle and the oasis in SERMONETA. Sermoneta is a very charming town at the south of Rome, and it definitely looks medieval with its fortifications, the castle, the facades of the buildings and the streets all paved with white stones and cement.

Access to Caetani castle

There are a lot of attractions that you can visit in this area: the town itself, the Caetani castle, the Ninfa oasis, Valvisciolo abbey, the town of Norma nearby, they're all beautiful. But if you're doing this as a day trip, then I advice to pick the castle and the oasis.

The beautiful Ninfa oasis

They both belonged to a nobiliary italian family, the Caetani, that rose to power in 1294 with the election of one of its members, Benedetto, as pope of the Catholic curch. After seven hundred years of domain in this area, the family went estincted in 1977, as the last Caetani woman, princess Lelia, died without descendants.

But Lelia created a foundation, and to these days it's the foundation that takes care of the Caetani heritage, granting access to the visitors to the castle in Sermoneta and to the glorious Ninfa oasis.

How to go from Rome to Sermoneta:

Car. It takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Sermoneta from the center of Rome with a car. With a car it will be easier for you to reach also the attractions that are outside the town of Sermoneta (Ninfa oasis, Valvisciolo abbey...)

Train. You can take a train from Termini station to Latina (the big city near Sermoneta). Then, from Latina station you can take a taxi or a bus for Sermoneta. The bus lines are called Cotral and Gioiabus.

5. The monster park in BOMARZO. The monster park is a very suggestive and original park, full of evocative "monstrous" statues, giants of rock in a luxuriant nature.

The ogre. On his lips it's written: "each thought flies"

This successful blend of art and nature was built in the 16th century by an italian nobleman, duke Pier Francesco Orsini (known as Vicino), in memory of his wife Giulia. All the monsters have enourmous proportions compared to the vegetation around, and they were carved out of local stone. The architect was Pirro Ligorio, who completed parts of saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, after Michelangelo's death.

Like many other Italian renaissance gardens, Vicino's sacred wood is not simply ornamental. Strewn with fantastical images and permeated with ideas, the statues and the garden can be read like a book, providing a philosophical journey through love, death, memory and truth.

Female statue

The visit will not take you more than a couple of hours, and there are so many beautiful places in this area that you only have to choose. Of course you can start with a little walk in Bomarzo itself, the town is quite small but very characteristic.

I suggest paying a visit also to Bagnaia, a little town near to the bigger city of this area Viterbo (very beautiful as well), where there is another super precious: Villa Lante. Very differently from the sacred wood, Villa Lante has precise geometric gardens. One of its highlights is definitely the fountain of the Pegasus in the middle, composed of a concentric set of three circular pools.

How to go from Rome to Bomarzo:

Car. Head north towards Florence. You have to stop much sooner of course, after around 55 minutes you'll be in Bomarzo. Then you can drive other 15 minutes if you want to visit Bagnaia as well.

Train. You can do this day trip with a train, in this case I advice to cut out the park of monsters and focus instead on Viterbo and Villa Lante. Yes, it's still really worth it. Viterbo is a beautiful city as well. In this case, take the train from Rome Ostiense station and head to Viterbo Porta Fiorentina. It will take almost 2 hours, but you'll be in the center of Viterbo already.

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007 Notes: updated last time on May 29, 2015

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