The Appian Way
Via Appia Antica
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In my opinion this is the best free sightseeing in the world. Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to reside merely a whisper away from the ancient cobblestones of the Via Appia Antica (The Appian Way). It became a cherished ritual to meander along this historic pathway with my dog, beneath the towering cypress sentinels, occasionally traversing lands under the Pope's watchful eye, and now and then, finding ourselves gently ushered off the lawns by a robed guardian. Open the map to see the itinerary.

This unique excursion from the historic center of Rome offers a sublime immersion into the heart of ancient Rome, a journey through time where the modern world and traffic fades into the background. On weekdays, the route bestows a sense of solitude, save for the occasional local, making it feel as though you've stepped into a private realm of history. It is truly a place for meditation and contemplation. 

tombs on the appian way

Visiting the Via Appia Antica & Catacombs of Rome - The basics

  • Via Appia Antica is one of the oldest and most important roads in ancient Rome, known for its historical significance and archaeological remains. Visiting Via Appia Antica allows you to explore ancient ruins, aqueducts, and historical landmarks along the road.
  • The Catacombs of Rome are underground burial sites used by early Christians to bury their dead and gather for worship in secret. Although, it is entirely up to you if you want to incorporate a visit into your excursion of the Appian Way. Touring the Catacombs of Rome gives you a glimpse into early Christian history and burial practices in ancient Rome. 

Info & Tours Via Appia & Catacombs

Appian Way - Some of the best scenery along your walk

Today, the Appian Way is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, offering a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans and explore historical sites along the route. One of the highlights of a visit to the Appian Way is the chance to explore the Catacombs of Rome, underground burial sites that date back to early Christian times. These underground tunnels are filled with fascinating history and provide insight into ancient burial practices and religious beliefs. Tours of the catacombs should be booked ahead, you will always enter as a group. 

Circus of Maxentius

There are private guided tours to fully appreciate the historical significance of these sites. Tours often include visits to ancient ruins, aqueducts, and other landmarks along the way, providing a comprehensive look at life in ancient Rome. However, the nicest way to visit is at your leisure without a set timetable. 

Whether you're a history buff or simply looking for a unique experience in Rome, exploring the Appian Way and Catacombs is sure to leave you with lasting memories of this extraordinary journey through time.

Is the Via Appia Antica the oldest road in Rome?

The park surrounding the San Callisto Catacombs with ancient olive tree orchards

The Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica in Latin, is one of the oldest and most important roads in Rome. It was originally built in 312 BC by the Roman statesman Appius Claudius Caecus, and it served as a crucial artery for trade and military movement in ancient times. The road stretched from Rome to the city of Brindisi in southern Italy, covering a distance of over 350 miles. Today, visitors can walk along a preserved section of the road, lined with ancient tombs, villas, and ruins.

Catacombs of San Callisto Visitors Centre

One of the most famous landmarks along Via Appia Antica is the Circus of Maxentius, a well-preserved ancient Roman circus that once hosted chariot races and other public spectacles. Nearby, you can also visit the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella

Remember to respect these ancient sites and follow any guidelines or restrictions put in place to preserve their integrity for future generations to enjoy.

When to visit the Appian Way?

Some of the views on the Appian Way in Rome

You can visit the Via Appia Antica and the Catacombs of Rome at any time of the year. However, it's recommended to check the opening hours of the sites and book guided tours in advance to ensure you have a smooth and enjoyable experience. The weather in Rome is generally pleasant during the spring and fall months, making them ideal times to explore these ancient sites. Avoid visiting during peak tourist seasons if you prefer a less crowded experience.

Support slow tourism

Biking down the Appian Way

Weekends, however, paint a different picture; the path comes alive with Roman families, a heartwarming sight as parents guide their young through the echoes of bygone eras. In recent efforts to scatter the footfall of visitors across Rome's multitude of wonders, the city's tourist office has turned the spotlight onto the Appian Way.

This initiative aims to promote slow tourism and alleviate the pressures on Rome's most frequented sights, introducing travelers to the enchanting tranquility of this ancient route. As a result, the path may now host a few more souls, drawn by its historic allure, yet it remains a testament to the timeless beauty that thrives in Rome's less-trodden paths.

The tomb of Caecilia Metella as seen from the Museo delle Mure

Every bit of this road is amazing, and walking or biking here, you're literally stepping through history. Not too long ago, they closed off the part of the road starting from the Catacombs of San Sebastiano to cars, which really improved the whole experience.

This change has made the Via Appia Antica a peaceful escape from the city. It's a spot where you can take a break from the hustle and bustle and just soak in the beauty and history around you. Whether you're strolling or cycling, this tour is your ticket to explore one of Rome's hidden gems, where every step is a journey back in time.

Here, a narrow road, often congested during rush hour, makes for a challenging journey on foot or by bike. Yet, outside these peak times, the journey is truly rewarding, with the road lined by age-old red stone walls.

Where is the Appian Way located?

Some of the serious italian bikers you may come across

The Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica, is located at a short distance, 3 miles, from the historic center of Rome. Whilst you can walk the distance, tourists usually opt to rent a bike at Easy Rent located at Circo Massimo and cycle the distance. The Appian Way actually stretches from Rome all the way to the city of Brindisi in southern Italy! Therefore this excursion is short; however, you will see the most interesting part of the road. 

Walking and bike tour of the Appian Way

Be sure to stop, explore and enjoy the views of the Appian Way

We've put together a walking and biking tour that highlights the best parts of the Via Appia Antica and the surrounding park. The excursion takes you from Circo Massimo on an official bike lane along the Baths of Caracalla, down the Via di Porta San Sebastiano and passes under the Aurelian Walls to meet the first part of the Appian Way. Just past the ancient walls, you'll discover fascinating sites like a gladiator school (which, I must admit, have never visited myself) and an ancient paper mill beside the Almone river, now home to a museum and calligraphy workshops. Convenient amenities like camper parking and picnic tables add to the allure. Just beyond there is a tiny shop window next to a bar, marking the entrance to the Via Appia Antica Regional Park office. Here, you can pick up maps or rent bikes (should you have changed your mind about walking), with prices ranging from 4 Euros for a standard bike to 8 Euros for an e-bike per hour, courtesy of Ecobike.

Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica, Via Appia Antica, 42, 00178 Roma RM - http://www.parcoappiaantica.it/

Chapel of Quo Vadis and the Catacombs of San Callisto

Infopoint Appia Antica, Quo Vadis Chapel, Gates to the Catacombs and Trattoria Priscilla

Your journey continues past the Quo Vadis chapel on your left, leading you onto Vatican-owned lands through the gates towards the Catacombs of San Callisto which, even considering the incline, is the prettier and more comfortable way to reach the real monumental starting point of the Appia Antica trail.

However, this part of the route is also unpredictable, as it may be closed without notice due to Vatican regulations. In this case, you'll need to take the road adjacent which is open for regular traffic for about 1 km. 

The Monumental Row of the Appian Way

Effigies for various nobility along the Appian Way.

After you exit the grounds of the Catacombs of San Callisto you are on the ancient Via Appia Antica, on your right you will pass the San Sebastiano Catacombs entrance and a bit further on your left you'll see the Circus of Maxentius and Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella.  

The most ancient part of the road starts here. Truth be told cyclists do face some small challenges, navigating a narrow, unofficial track not really suited for the standard rental bikes, a reminder of the road's historical significance, where every few steps a stone marker tells the story of what once was. Alongside private villas, some hosting events, you'll encounter sites of archaeological interest, including churches, castles, and tombs of notable Roman figures. All of the main sites are present on the map under the group 'sights'. 

Relief in marble for the sons of a nobleman dating from the second half of the 1st century BC

The private villas (yes, some mortals actually live here), some behind impressive gates, are available for weddings and other events. However, there are some with more archaeological value, excavations, mosaic floors, a church, a castle, a mausoleum, and tombs for every Roman Tom, Dick, and Harry, too many to mention. If you get hungry along the way, there are a few restaurants and a vivaio where you can grab a drink, these are added to the map.

The Caffarelle Park

La Vacarria, the Sheep Farm in Caffarelle Park

As you bike back through the Caffarella Park, there is a different and less landscaped scenery to explore dotted with ruins, chapels, and epigraphs on burial stones and monuments but also bird watching, sheepherding, and a small animal farm!

Ninfeo di Egeria in Caffarelle Park

Beyond the beaten track of the Appian Way

Tombs of Via Latina visible from the Appian Way

For those of you who would like to experience more slow tourist tips I have added some of my favorite tourist attractions which are a bit beyond our excursion for today, however, are very much worth your time such as the Monumental Tombs of the Via Latina, Cinecittà, Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the Futurist Art collections of the Palazzo Merulana plus an excellent bakery called Pasticceria Bompiani run by an award winning pastry chef Walter Musco

Cinecittà - The moviesets for favourites such as The Gladiator and The Romans

Eating and drinking along the Appian Way

L'Archeologia - The best dining on the Via Appia Antica

As mentioned I have taken the time to add the main pitstops to my map, and then some. If you get thirsty and you come upon a water fountain, the water is perfectly fine to drink or refill your water bottle. There are actually a few good restaurants along this route. 2 of them are on the road itself and the other one, Orazio, is near the Caracalla baths.

Ristorante Orazio

This is by far the best-located restaurant of all of Rome, you cannot beat the view. Walk up the meadow behind the restaurant for the best view of the Caracalla baths. I found this place accidentally, the food is typically Roman and it isn't much frequented by tourists. It shut down after the lockdown and has reopened under new management, or so I hear. Worth a try, in any case.

Ristorante Da Orazio a Caracalla, Via di Porta Latina, 5, 00179 Roma RM, Italy

L'Archeologia

L'Archeologia is a well-known restaurant and an absolute gem, especially if you manage to reserve a table on one of the verandas. Don't try to get there with your own car, get a taxi, and hopefully, your driver won't curse you all the way down, like ours did, but after we gave him a well-deserved tip, he seemed happier.

Ristorante L'Archeologia - dal 1804 Ristorante a Roma, Via Appia Antica, 139, 00179 Roma RM, Italy - https://www.larcheologia.it

Trattoria Priscilla

Trattoria Priscilla - Typical Roman fare at a fair price

Next door to the Appian Way Park office, you'll find a small, almost obscure osteria, in front, a little porch covered with vines and inside ochre-colored walls and uncomfortable wooden chairs and tables which made me turn around a few times. Until a Roman invited me for lunch one day to change my mind. This place is so authentic, menu and all, everything seems to fall into place. It has actually been an osteria since the Middle Ages, the present owners' great-great-grandmother took it over in the early 1900s and I don't think it has changed since. The food is great and very democratically priced. Named after Priscilla's tomb, which happens to be in their backyard.

Trattoria Priscilla, Via Appia Antica, 68, 00179 Roma RM, Italy - https://www.trattoriapriscilla.it

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