There’s a lot more to Civitavecchia (pronounced chee-vee-ta-VEK-ee-uh, Italian for "old city") than meets the eye. Often overlooked in favor of Rome, this bustling Italian port — built on the ruins of the historic Roman harbor, Centumcellae — is full of surprises. You'll find a rich blend of history, culture, and natural beauty off the heavily beaten tourist track. From ancient ruins and thermal baths, to vibrant local markets and nearby scenic beaches, there's something for everyone.
Towering over the Tyrrhenian coastline, this imposing 16th century stronghold is impossible to miss. In fact, if you’re arriving by boat, it will probably be the first thing you’ll see from the water as you approach Civitavecchia’s harbor. Have your camera ready at this point — the monument is so massive you’ll get the best photos from a distance.
Pope Julius II first commissioned Renaissance architect Donato Bramante to build Forte Michaelangelo over the ruins of ancient Roman barracks to defend the port of Rome. The great artist and sculptor Michaelangelo Buonarrati was hired to design one of the towers, which is how the fort ultimately got its name. Inside, you’ll find a small chapel honoring the city’s celebrated patron saint, Santa Firmina, built over the cave where she found refuge in the third century.
Walking the length of Viale Garibaldi is one of the best ways to get your bearings when you first arrive in Civitavecchia. You’ll find some of the city’s most popular hotels, shops, bars, tourist attractions, and local eateries on this vibrant tree-lined thoroughfare. Named for famed Italian unification leader Guiseppe Garibaldi, the stretch of road runs right along the waterfront, connecting the port and business district with the railroad station.
Built by the Franciscans in 1769, the Cattedrale Di San Francesco in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the largest (and many would say loveliest) churches in the area. The small-scale Baroque-style cathedral is pleasingly photogenic both inside and out, with statues, frescoes and ornate architectural details at every turn. The cathedral’s bells, which ring on the hour every hour, were built using the metal from two cannons donated by the Pope.
If you venture inside, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered. The church maintains a modest dress code.
Need some time to unwind after your transatlantic trip? Soak your stresses away at La Ficoncella (fee-con-CHEL-la), a natural hot spring steeped in ancient Etruscan history. The spa gets its name from the wild fig tree (“fico” in Italian) that provides shade to bathers. The thermal waters that flow through the five pools and showers are rich in sulfur and other minerals renowned for their natural healing properties. If you're feeling peckish, stop by the small coffee and snack bar for a perfect post-soak pick-me-up. Note that the spa does not provide towels, bathrobes, and slippers, so remember to bring your own!
If you love history, be sure to tour the ruins of the Taurine Baths (also known as the Baths of Trajan or Terme Taurine), an ancient Roman bathing complex built on a hill overlooking Civitavecchia in 86 BCE. Here, you’ll find the extremely well-preserved archaeological remains of pools, dry heat rooms, dressing areas, and a villa built by Emperor Trajan himself. The bathhouse was built over naturally flowing thermal sulfur springs, and it was once a popular stop for visitors to the nearby port.
Piazza Leandra is an oasis of calm at the heart of Civitavecchia’s historic district. Surrounded on all sides by sunset-hued buildings, the cobblestoned square features a moss-adorned medieval-era fountain, charming 17th century Church of the Star (Chiesa della Stella), and an ancient archway (Porta dell’Archetto) that leads to the neighboring Piazza Aurelio Saffi.
The square has a few secrets, too: one of the houses has stunning replicas of Vatican frescoes painted on its interior walls. To this day, nobody really knows how or why they ended up there. The paintings were revealed during a redecorating project in the 1970s.
Civitavecchia is a port city, so it’s no surprise that seafood is the star of its culinary scene. There’s no shortage of waterfront restaurants serving up fresh fish dishes al fresco while you savor spectacular views from your table. A few local favorites include L’aqua Salata, Ristorante Il Delfino, and Forma.
Not a fan of fish? Fear not. The promenade is packed with plenty of pizzerias, trattorias and bars to suit any palate (or pocket).
Remember that early evening is “aperitivo” (happy hour) time in Italy! This time-honored tradition typically begins around 6 pm. Enter a bar of your choosing, and join the locals for a pre-dinner drink and snack before heading for the restaurants. Order an Aperol Spritz or Negroni for an authentic aperitivo experience.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale showcases ancient relics from the distant past, when Civitavecchia was Centumcellae, the port of Trajan. The museum itself is also a relic of sorts. The building was once a papal garrison that belonged to Pope Clement XIII in the 1700s. Make sure to visit all three floors so you don’t miss the statue of Greek God Apollo, arguably one of the museum’s finest pieces.
Civitavecchia might be on the water, but if you’re looking for sandy beaches, it comes up short. The good news is, there are plenty of spiagge in the surrounding area that are worth checking out.
Spiaggia di Santa Marinella, located just south of the city, is a top choice for swimming and sunbathing. There’s also nearby Spiaggia di Santa Severa, which has a picturesque castle overlooking its shores. Further south, you’ll find the fashionable Spiaggia di Fregene in a lively beach town full of restaurants and nightlife.
For a day of family-friendly fun in the sun, look no further than Aquafelix Water Park, just a short drive from downtown Civitavecchia. A few hours of wading in the wave pool, whooshing down the water slides, lounging along the lazy river, and whirling around the whirlpool will wash all your cares down the drain. Don’t want to get your feet wet? The park has plenty of sun loungers so you can put your feet up instead. You'll also find ample food and beverage options for poolside picnics.
Just make sure you double-check operation dates before you plan your visit. The water park is only open during the summer months.
The Santuario Madonnina delle Lacrime is nothing short of a “small” miracle — literally. The white plaster statue is only about 16 inches tall. (Madonnina means “little Madonna” in Italian.)
That doesn’t stop faithful pilgrims around the world from flocking to the holy shrine to catch a glimpse of the figurine, which reportedly wept tears of blood in 1995. Although this claim has always been controversial, it remains one of the most important religious attractions in the area.
Spanning several blocks, the city’s sprawling open air marketplace features stall after stall of regional specialties to sample — prosciutto, mozzarella, salami, bread, olives, tomatoes, and so much more. The surrounding area is also bursting at the seams with lively bars, cafes, local shops, souvenir stands, and a multi-screen cinema.
Note that Il Mercato (as locals call it) is only open in the mornings, so stop by bright and early for the best selection.
Civitavecchia was built by Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the second century over the remains of the old Roman port of Centumcellae. In the 2,000 or so years since, the ancient harbor remains as active as ever, with fishing boats, sailing vessels, ferries and cruises coming and going from dawn till dusk. If you want to feel a connection to this Mediterranean port city’s history, book a ferry tour and admire the coastline as seafaring travelers have since the dawn of antiquity.
Lungomare (Italian for “seafront”) is Civitavecchia’s pedestrianized promenade. It’s the perfect place to grab a gelato and catch a cool breeze in the shade of a palm tree as you soak in the scenery. The views of the sun melting below the Mediterranean horizon here are magical, so time your visit and have your camera ready.
As you stroll down the walkway, don’t forget to stop and take a selfie with the larger-than-life “Unconditional Surrender” statue of a sailor kissing a nurse to mark the end of World War II.
If you’ve always dreamed of cruising the Med, you couldn’t pick a better starting point. Not only is Civitavecchia the gateway to Rome, but it’s also a gateway to ports of call all over the Mediterranean. In addition to large cruise ships, ferries make daily excursions to destinations like Barcelona, Palermo, Tunis, Sardinia Olbia, and Porto Torres. Be sure to check out cruise or ferry itineraries for inspiration.