Toggle Sidebar

What to Do in Civitavecchia Italy, Rome’s Ancient Port

Civitavecchia, Italy, gets thousands of visitors a day even though is not known as a tourist destination. As a matter of fact, you wouldn't even find it listed in most tour books were it not for its location. So the question is, What's the attraction and why do so many people visit?

{Here’s a hint: Rome is not on the water.)

Rome’s port

All Rome-bound ferries and cruise lines dock at Civitavecchia. Most people head straight to the train station but actually, there is really no need to hurry off. Nor is there any reason to rush into town only a few hours before a cruise begins. There is plenty to see and do in the port as well.

Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Civitavecchia (pronounced chee-vee-ta-VEK-ee-uh) is an excellent option for anyone who wants to enjoy a tranquil day meandering instead of dealing with big-city Rome's hustle and bustle. Super clean and pleasantly relaxing, it has a well kept promenade along the sea and is chock full of shopping opportunities and open air cafes.

Civitavecchia town dates back to Etruscan times. Around 100 A.D, after the Etruscans were absorbed by the Romans, Emperor Trajan built the harbor, with the goal of creating a port for Rome. He gave it the name Centum Cellae, and the port reached its peak of its magnificence in the Imperial age.

Corso Centocelle

3 days in Civitavecchia – attractions and what to see

A while ago, we found an incredible deal on an 11-day Mediterranean cruise that began in Civitavecchia (Rome) and ended in Piraeus (Athens). Ten fabulous ports in four countries around the Adriatic? The deal was too irresistible to pass up.

Every cruise has two options:

  • Arrive in Civitavecchia the morning of the cruise via morning train, then hope there are no delays or problems en route.
  • Arrive in Civitavecchia a few days early, then explore the Italian port at our leisure and enjoy some fine Italian cuisine.

Which would you choose?

Regrets after visiting Civitavecchia

If I could change one thing about our time in Civitavecchia, it would be that we might have visited its outskirts. The entire area is full of Etruscan sites, and we both love historic ruins and ancient history.

  • We could have toured Tarquinia and Cerveteri, two UNESCO World Heritage sites,
  • or traveled to nearby Tuscania to explore on our own. We published an interesting article about Tuscania, by someone who lives there. Now I want to go.

Even without leaving Civitavecchia, we could have seen Terme Taurine, Trajan’s well preserved villa and thermal baths. Or we might have indulged ourselves by soaking away our own aches and pains at the nearby Ficoncella hot springs. Sadly, we didn’t visit either of those, either.

My second mitsake was in not buying a travel guide like this one before our cruise. We missed out on some interesting things along the way. Considering the once-in-a-lifetime itinerary, I should have spent the $15 or so instead of cheaping out. Stupid. In the long run, it wasn't a bargain. And it sure wasn't fun realizing we'd missed something interesting when we later chatted with our dinner companions. Ugh.

Regrets aside, Civitavecchia kept us busy enough.

Getting to Civitavecchia

Civitavecchia is on the western coast of Italy, about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Rome and straight up the coast from the airport. Train service from the airport is easy enough. Take the train from Fiumicino Airport station to Rome city center, get off at “Trastevere Station” and change to the train going in the direction of Civitavecchia.

Scam alert: Don't accept anyone's offer to help with your bags at Trastavere. They won't leave you alone until you pay them a hefty fee.  

Our train stopped, spit out its passengers, and we found ourselves in a busy train station. Not knowing the area, we figured most of them would be heading toward the port. So we joined the suitcase-toting throngs out onto the street, then went with the flow as they turned right toward the cruise ships.

Tip: The port is not far from the train station. If you can manage your own bags and have no mobility issues, you can walk.

 

Our Civitavecchia walking tour

It was an easy 100-yard walk to our hotel, which was right on the main street. The front desk offered free maps of the city, with two walking tour itineraries to choose from, historical and religious. We enjoy both ancient ruins and visiting churches (so much art!), so we decided to combine them by plotting our route over a relaxing meal. Before long, we had a map full of lines and a day to look forward to.

Follow along and I'll walk you through Civitavecchia, as we saw it.

Our map was more detailed, but you get the idea.

Il Ghetto di Civitavecchia

Pope Innocent XII built the ghetto at the end of the 17th century to host the Jews … who never came. With all its old buildings, Civitavecchia's not-so-Jewish ghetto is picturesque and full of life, yet it's an area where we saw few tourists.

The heart of the ghetto, Piazza Fratti, became our favorite spot in town, mainly because it offered authentic and quality food at a reasonable price along with local patrons. When we entered and were greeted in Italian, we knew that we would be eating at a place that catered to locals, rather than tourists. What that told us was that we'd get authentic flavors, cooked by a chef who cared about getting repeat customers. Naturally, we ate two dinners and one lunch there.

Knowing Italians eat dinner after 7:30 and take all evening socializing over their meals, we arrived earlier. It was the easiest way to ensure we would find an available table.

Tip: If you are unsure which restaurant to choose, opt for the most crowded one, away from tourist areas. A busy eatery is a good indication that the locals like the food.

Civitavecchia restaurant in mid-afternoon
We took this photo in mid-afternoon, before aperitivo (happy hour).

Corso Centocelle

Not far from the shuttle terminal is the main pedestrian walkway, Corso Centocelle. It is usually crowded with tourists spending their shore time in its numerous shops, buskers hoping for a tip, and quality al fresco dining.

Keep your eyes open while you're walking along the Corso. During its modernization, the construction crew discovered a number of Etruscan ruins buried under the pavement. The ruins are on display, exposed under glass here and there underfoot.

The other don't-miss sight is Theatre Traiano. Named in honor of the city's founder, Trajan Theater is the principal theater of the city, and its neoclassical façade dates from somewhere around 1800. The building was completely restored and modernized in 1999, and now the auditorium can seat almost 650 people.

Tip: If you enjoy events and shows, check the playbill to see what is going on for the evening. The theater offers both local and international entertainment. 

3 buskers on Corso Centocentelle, playing base, violin and guitar

Piazza Regina Margherita

At the far end of the walkway is the square for Il Mercato, Civitavecchia's traditional market. It's fun to wander through local markets to see what appeals to the locals.

Besides, you can usually find a local flavor to try. We purchased a variety of new-to-us cheeses to snack on, then went off in search of the fish market that our desk clerk had recommended. He forgot to mention that they are only open in the mornings. By the time we got there, they were already closing up, but a few stalls were still doing a brisk business to late comers.

Exiting on the other side, we found the meat market. Just so you know, they offera variety of meats – including horse. Ew!

fishmongers in Civitavecchia
Prices are in kilograms (2.2 pounds).
stall selling horsemeat
Equina is the Italian word for “horse.”

Chiesa della Stella

This church is the starting point of Civitavecchia’s traditional Good Friday procession. The entire town participates in this annual event. Inside, you'll find frescoes by a local artist, a valuable wooden crucifix from the 1700s and a statue of Our Lady of Mercy. That is, if you can get inside. It was locked up tight when we were there.

Church of Chiesa della Stella in Civitavecchia

Piazza Leandra

Civitavecchia's historic center, centro storico, is almost completely free of tourists. This makes for some nice atmospheric shots. Ancient Piazza Leandra enchanted us with all its well-trod cobbles, weathered green shutters and laundry hung out to dry.

One end of Piazza Leandra, green shutters and laundry

We especially liked an old stone tower that we discovered sandwiched between two old houses. Quite obviously, it had been part of Civitavecchia's original wall.

If you venture through the tower's passageway, you'll find that you've descended to a lower level on the far side. The stone wall can still be seen on this lower level. Shop and building entrances haven't changed much over the centuries. Kind of cool!

Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte

Our map called Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte “a true Roman basilica in miniature.” Dating from the late 1700s, It has an elegant elliptical shape and a dome, which was painted by Giuseppe Errante.

Like many others in town, this Baroque church has beautiful frescoes. However, it is probably the only church that has a balustrade from the stern of a boat inside, and that is what it is best known for. It is also home to a wooden statue of the resurrected Christ, which they carry in the Easter Procession.

dome of Santa Maria della Orazione, one of the sights in Civitavecchia

Darsena Romana

The Roman dock that was built back in Trajan’s day still exists, though not much else. Civitavecchia was almost completely destroyed in World War II.

You can still see the old Roman seawall.

La Rocca and Il Lazaretto

Our map mentioned two older structures: a fortress called “La Rocca” and “il lazaretto,” a hospital for contagious diseases. LIke the rest of Civitavecchia, both suffered severe bomb damage during World War II, so not much remains.

Our map was deceptive: They are way out on the edge of the water and take a long time to get to. We were thwarted by fences, detours and dead ends, and once we got to the perimeter we couldn't find any way to sneak in. The buildings may be in ruins, but the fences seem to be carefully maintained. Darn.

Don't waste your time trying to get there. To be honest, the views are just as good, if not better, from up above, when you're on your ship.

Principe Tommaso promenade

So, back to the mainland, through the harbor and marina, along the “Principe Tommaso” promenade and past a 17th century defense wall that was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Yes, that Bernini, the same person who designed St. Peter’s Basilica. It might seem surprising that such a famous artist would deign to work on a mundane city wall, but because Pope Urban VIII told him to.

Apparently, the pope was concerned about enemy landings and wanted to protect the city from naval attacks. I guess he trusted that Bernini would do the best job of it.

16th Century defense wall designed by Bernini

Fountain of Vanvitelli

In the center of the wall is a beautiful travertine fountain, with water coming out of the mouth of a faun. Pope Benedict XIV commissioned the fountain in 1740, and it's the only piece of artwork on the entire wall. The fountain was named after its designer, Luigi Vanvitelli. Few visit these days, but it used to be a meeting place for the locals.

Civitavecchia travertine mask on fountain of Vanivitelli,

Forte Michelangelo

Forte Michelangelo is Civitavecchia's most imposing building, which makes it a convenient shuttle drop off point for shuttles from the cruise ships. The fortress has 6-meter-thick walls and is still in perfect condition, though it no longer has the moat that once surrounded it.

Full view of Forte Michelangelo in Civitavecchia

Forte Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Giulio II in the early 1500s, and earned its name because Michelangelo had designed its central tower. Like all other forts, it surrounds a central courtyard.

Open doorway to Forte Michelangelo, ship anchors on each side and view to inner courtyard
Entrance to Forte Michelangelo

The building's entryway fooled us into thinking it was a museum. Just so you know, it's not. We walked through the old entrance expecting to pay an admission fee, but the place was deserted. All we got to see was the courtyard and the bronze pulley that was once used to lower and raise the bridge.

We later learned that the building was badly damaged by World War II bombing and restored in the 1950s. Today, it's only used for exhibitions and cultural events. Nothing to see here. Move along.

St. Francis Cathedral

Back we went, past the shuttle buses and tourists buzzing around souvenir shops and ice cream stands. We U-turned back to the Cathedral in Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle, because I had read that it has a fresco depicting St. Francis receiving the stigmata. Another disappointment: The doors were closed and we couldn’t enter.

Perhaps we’d have more luck at our next destination, nearby Chiesa della SS. Concezione. Word has it that this 18th century church has a painting of Our Lady of Mercy that has moved its eyes. But no, that was closed as well.

At least the war memorial is always visible.

view of front of Chiesa della SS. Concezione, door closed

So much for sightseeing in Civitavecchia. Let's see what attractions the waterfront has to offer.

Discover what to do in Civitavecchia, Italy. Why take a high-priced group excursion to Rome when the ancient port itself has so much to offer? Read more at https://www.aswesawit.com/civitavecchia-attractions/

Unconditional Surrender on the Promenade

No Civitaveccia visitor can miss “Unconditional Surrender.” It's a colorful, larger-than-life sculpture of a Navy sailor kissing a nurse, and it is front-and-center on the seaside promenade.

Does it look familiar? This is one of many statues around the world that depict the famous Eisenstadt photo that was taken in Times Square at the end of World War II.

Unconditional Surrender statue of kissing couple on Civitavecchia waterfront

The warm breeze and calm ocean beckoned us to the water’s edge, where fishermen angled for a bite. It's quite relaxing to sit and watch them cast and reel, cast and reel. Then Dan had me sit on the rocks to pose for a photo. It's hard to smile when the blinding sun is shining in your eyes.

Civitavecchia fisherman sitting on concrete dock

As the sun dropped toward the horizon, we walked the length of the promenade, savoring the relative peace and quiet away from the tourist area. We ended up at the far end of the city beach, where we found a pier and a collection of eateries.

Verdict: For a day in the sun, the pristine, sandy beach is worthy, but as for photography, the graffiti-covered pier looks better from a distance.

Tip: Late afternoon is time for aperitivo, so we suggest entering a bar to join other Italians and enjoy a glass of wine (or something more to your liking).

 

Inspired?
 If this article was useful, you can thank us without paying a dime. Just use these links to make your plans, and some of these companies will pay us a referral fee, at no extra cost to you.

Plan:

  • Civitavecchia's tourism website is full of in-depth information to begin planning your own trip. In port, you'll find Civitavecchia's Tourist Information Office next to the port's south entrance. This is where you can pick up a city map, ask questions, get directions, and book excursions.
  • Lodging: For sleeping options, Tripadvisor and HotelsCombined offer good deals.
  • Transportation: This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
  • iPhone offers a free itinerary app called TarGet Civitavecchia. (I know of no similar app for Android.)

Want a private tour?

  • We’ve partnered with Get Your Guide,a reliable source for booking local tours, attractions and activities. To see their current list of tours and tickets, click here.

See:

  • For more sightseeing of this ancient port, take a look at our Civitavecchia photo gallery.
  • Google's satellite photo map gives a clear aerial overview of Civitavecchia's waterfront, You can clearly see Forte Michelangelo and the port entrance on the left, with the main waterfront promenade along the beaches and the railroad station on the right.

Where we stayed:

  • Dan booked us into Hotel De La Ville Civitavecchia, a large 19th-century mansion-turned-hotel that overlooks the waterfront. It looks luxurious from the outside and feels even more so once you pass through its doors. Our windows opened out to a scenic sunset view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, but our favorite part of the hotel was the taverna-cum-breakfast room in the vaulted cellar. It was built within the walls of ancient Roman baths. Highly recommend it!

Read:

Pay it forward:

  • Help your fellow cruise lovers. Share this article in your favorite cruise forum.
  • Save this for later on Pinterest
Discover what to do in Civitavecchia, Italy. Why take a high-priced group excursion to Rome when the ancient port itself has so much to offer?

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries She has an insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

You may also like...

29 thoughts on “What to Do in Civitavecchia Italy, Rome’s Ancient Port

  1. Very comprehensive post about Civitavecchia, Linda. We’ve been in Rome a couple of times so far, but never made it to the port area. From your report I can see that we missed a lot. The Jewish ghetto sounds particularly interesting. I didn’t know they made a statue after that famous photo in Times Square. It looks so real. ‘ll have to make it to Civitavecchia next time we are in Rome. Thanks for sharing this information.

    1. Well, Anda, maybe you can use your desire to see Civitavecchia as a reason to take a Mediterranean cruise. After all, you’ll be at the port, right?

  2. Can you believe I lived in Rome for 22 years and never went to Civitavecchia? Now that I read how many attractions it offers, shame on me!

    1. We’re only a few miles from a smaller version of that statue, at the marina in Sarasota, Florida. I’m told there’s also one in San Diego.

  3. Hi Linda, I’ve been to Rome three times but this is the first time I’ve heard about Civitavecchia. Thanks for the introduction to the city and for the lovely virtual tour.It think it has so much history and sights to offer that ti’s worth visiting even if you’re not going on a cruise. And I think it would be such a shame for those going on a cruise and not explore it like you did.

    1. You’re right, Marisol, though we certainly understand why people might want to spend their day in the Eternal City instead. It’s a shame it’s a 90-minute train ride away. Three hours of travel seems like an awful lot for one day in a port.

      1. Only 40 minutes on fast train I have also been to Rome twice on a cruise. But looked around the port going again in May will give the eternal city a miss and have a look around the port.

        1. Thanks for the info about the fast train, Simon – we missed that gem of a tip. No disrespect to Rome of course, but there’s plenty to see in and around Civitavecchia. It would be wonderful to hear what you think of the port once you return. 🙂

  4. HI Linda,

    Great write-up! you know, I’ve passed Civitavecchia a gazillion times- and I never bothered to stop! Now i know there’s plenty to explore and I’ll make a point of making a proper visit sometime soon. Thanks for this!

    PS the comment boxes here don’t really show up on my Mac-both using Chrome and Sfarai. I hope i put the right info n the right places… if not- sorry!

    1. You’re so welcome, Michiel. It was a real temptation to skip it ourselves because of all the Etruscan ruins nearby. I’m glad we didn’t.

      Obviously your comment went into the right place. I use the standard WordPress comment box so I have no idea why it’s not showing up on your Mac. Mega apologies!

  5. I’ve been through Civitavecchia as a cruise stop and went on to Rome for the day. Thanks for your fantastic write-up. When I make it back to this area, I will most definitely try to spend some time in this city as it has so much to offer.

  6. Civitavecchia looks like my kind of destination! It’s probably due to the proximity to a body of water. 🙂 I’ve been researching on Italy and this is the first I’ve heard of it. Definitely adding this to my itinerary when I do go. 🙂

  7. It looks so nice, or maybe your great photos make it look beautiful! Years ago I had a romance with a boy from Civitavecchia and he told me it was horrible – his parents were born there and he had to spend a month there every summer. So I always had in my mind that it would be awful! This is a gorgeous professional-looking post. I love Lazio it has some real hidden gems.

    1. Thanks for the compliment. It is a nice place but maybe it wasn’t quite the same back when your boyfriend spent his summers there. Judging from the condition of the cruise port it appears Civitavecchia might had a facelift in recent years.

  8. after reading this i chose to go to the port 2 days before my cruise on the 23 april 2017 and stay at the same hotel.. about four years ago i saw the unconditional statue and want a relaxing time before the cruise. i am gay 62 nz guy

  9. That’s nice! if you are staying in Civitavecchia you can also have a typical Italian lunch at my home with my family. You will be immersed in an Italian family atmosphere and you can taste some delicious traditional homemade food I prepare myself. I can host a party from 1 to 6 people, the house has a very nice view on the town/ seaside and if the weather is good you can have lunch on the balcony. As a rule the meal includes some fish or meat plates but we can also prepare vegetarian and vegan meals. We have choice of italian wines and arti If you find it interesting just book the service : Maria 393351285214 Email civitavecchiahomerestaurant@gmail.com

  10. Thanks to you, Linda, here we are : http://www.xn--blogmaril-e5a.it/myself/
    I will add some pictures of my place on the web page soon.
    Them I am preparing some menus for the coming cruising season that I will post in few weeks.
    At home it’s me, my husband and my daughter. Kids are more than welcome.
    If you should come back to this part of the world do not hesitate to come and see me !
    Have a great day.
    Maria Elisa (Marilì)

  11. Civitavecchia is like a lot of places around the world – it is what you make it! The majority of the locals are either extremely negative (maybe because they have never been able to “break free” from all the expectations/disappointments of family and friends) or else they have a wider view and are able
    to see the beauty & history of this old city.

    My wife’s family is from CV, so she has known it all her life and certainly remembers it as it was many decades ago, good and bad. It is different for me, the “straniero” of the family (from downunder) who first visited CV in 2000. I have seen the port area redeveloped from a dirty, post-industrial wreck to the vibrant, friendly and much more liveable “destination” of today.

    We are fortunate to have a 3rd floor apartment overlooking the Roman Darsena and central port area with amazing views of the panorama, so are able to enjoy the port all year round.

    We would strongly recommend any visitors to this part of Italy to spend a day or so in Civitavecchia.

    1. Wow, Richard, you must have a fantastic view! I’m glad you agree that Civitavecchia is worth visiting. Would you like to share any of your favorite spots with our readers?

  12. Running into an issue. didn’t realize the port was that far away from Rome. I have never been to Rome, but in reality I have never been to Europe. We are leaving on a cruise out of this port in May and I was wondering if you think it is easier to stay near the port and commute into Rome. Or to stay in Rome then commute out to the port on the morning of the cruise. I want to be able to look around the port town so I’m thinking maybe if we came into the area easier we could explore before we got on the ship, but that might be a hassle with all of our luggage. Looking for some ideas.

    1. We always recommend arriving in port early because it would be horrible to miss sailing due to a rail strike or flight delay. If you have the time, we’d suggest that you spend at least 3 days in Rome (save one day for Vatican City), then spend at least one night in Civitavecchia before your cruise. You can spend your time exploring the port or on a day trip. (Here are some to consider.)

      Hotels will hold luggage for guests who arrive before check-in time (a free service), so don’t worry about that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow As We Saw It on