by Amy Knauff
The Italians’ beloved national holiday Ferragosto has passed, which means summer is starting to wind down – but it’s still hot in Rome, and central Italy’s moderate climate means there’s about a month of potential beach time left.
The good news is that you don’t need a car to get to the beach – there are several different beaches easily reachable by bus or train. The bad news is that the beaches near Rome aren’t known for being particularly beautiful (or clean). Having said that, if you’re willing to go just a little farther out you can find some very nice, clean beaches. And even a day at one of the closer beaches can be fun – if nothing else, it’s a very typically Roman experience.
Ostia / Torvajanica
Ostia is the beach closest to Rome, and it’s packed with Italians all summer long. The water here does not win any cleanliness awards, so taking a dip is up to your own personal squeamish factor (although plenty of people do!). You can pay a fee to go into a stabilimento – an organized beach complex where you rent an ombrellone (beach umbrella) and lettini (loungers) or sdrai (deck chairs). Otherwise, you can “rough it” by going to the part of Ostia known as i cancelli – a stretch of coastline with several free beaches in a row that are identified by numbered front gates (cancello means gate in Italian). Here you just throw down your beach towel wherever you find a free spot of sand. Heading away from Ostia and the cancelli, you’ll get to another beach called Torvajanica. It’s similar to Ostia, but as it’s slightly farther out, it’s a little less crowded and the water is a little cleaner. In Torvajanica, you’ll find both stabilimenti and free beaches.
Do as the Romans do: go early in the morning and stay until evening. Rent an ombrellone and lettino and spend the day tanning, reading, snoozing, strolling along the water, chatting, playing cards, and taking swims. Have a panino and gelato from the closest bar for lunch, or better yet, if you’re at a stabilimento, take a break from the sun and have a long, leisurely lunch at their (usually cafeteria-style) restaurant. Don’t forget the Italian summer favorite insalata di riso (a cold rice “salad” with mixed vegetables) or pomodori ripieni (baked tomatoes stuffed with rice). Seafood is a good option too. And if you want to be truly Italian, follow up your meal with some fresh fruit (like a juicy peach or slice of watermelon) and an espresso.
Getting there: Take the metro line B (blue line) to Piramide. Exit the metro station straight into the small Porta San Paolo train station (just next to it, you don’t have to go through a turnstile; use the same ticket you used on the metro). Board the train and exit at the last stop, Cristoforo Colombo (about 40 mins). From there, simply cross the piazza and big street to the other side and you’ll find a few stabilimenti there. Otherwise, you can take the bus from right in front of the train station (bus 07) farther away to the cancelli (another 10-20 minutes) or Torvajanica (another 15 minutes or so). Total transportation cost: €1.50 one way.
Again, this beach is winning no beauty contests, but it can actually be easier to get to than Ostia, depending on where you’re coming from, and it’s not quite as close to Rome so the train and beaches are not as packed.
Santa Marinella, near Rome’s port Civitavecchia, is mostly full of stabilimenti but there’s one small free beach – tucked away in a corner near a cement wall. Not very picturesque, but if you’re on a budget, it works.
Getting there: Take the train from Termini station (you can also get a train direct from Trastevere station or San Pietro station) – it takes about 1 hour. When you exit the train station, walk straight up to the main road: the sea is in front of you. Make a right on the main road and walk up until you can cross the street and take the stairs down to where the beach is. It’s about a 5-minute walk. Total transportation cost (from Termini): €4.60 one way.
The swimming is not great – last time I was here I saw some trash floating in the water. However, the beach is free (and therefore particularly popular with students and young people) so if you’re into sunbathing, it can be fun to just hang out. Fregene is also known for being something of a pick-up scene, so if you feel like flirting and maybe getting a phone number or two, this is the place to go.
The real reason I’m mentioning Fregene, though, is not for the swimming, but for its nightlife. In the summer, several outdoor bars/restaurants on the beach open up and they get packed with people who come for aperitivo (drinks and a buffet) and to watch the sun set. The bar Singita is particularly popular: you can sit at tables, lie on beds (yes, beds), or lounge on big sheets on the sand while you listen to chill “Buddha bar” type music and sip drinks out of pitchers with extra-long straws.
Getting there: Take the train from Termini to Maccarese-Fregene. From outside the Maccarese station, you’ll need to take a local bus (like the 020) to Fregene. Total transportation cost (from Termini): €4.10 one way.
This one’s a little trickier to get to by public transport, but well worth it. By far this is one of the prettiest, cleanest beaches near Rome. It regularly wins awards for having some of the cleanest beaches/water in the Lazio region. It’s also less crowded, and the beach is rather large so rather than feeling like sardines packed in with rows of lettini, you have room to breathe and even play a game of frisbee without tripping over your neighbors. The lovely San Felice Circeo mountain overlooks the beach (also worth a visit, but sadly, you really do need a car for that one).
Getting there: Take the train from Termini station to Priverno-Fossanova. From there, take the Cotral bus to the town of Sabaudia. From Sabaudia town, there is another bus that goes to the beach, but it’s also possible to walk (about 15 minutes). Total transportation cost (from Termini): €6.10 one way.
I’ve saved the best for last – in my opinion. It’s also the farthest away, just past Sabaudia. It’s definitely worth it, though, so whenever I have a whole day free to spend at the beach, I go here.
The beach itself is probably prettier at Sabaudia (as it’s less “built up” with stabilimenti), but the water here is equally as clean and beautiful. What wins me over, though, is the town itself. The other beaches on this list have pretty unattractive towns (relatively new, Mussolini-era blocky cement towns), but Sperlonga looks like a little white-washed Greek village. The town’s main square and pedestrian street have a gorgeous view over the beach below. It’s possible to take the bus directly down to the beach, but I always choose to get off first at the town so I can walk through the tiny, labyrinthine streets and stairs to get down to the beach. I also head to the alimentari to get a fresh sandwich made (opt for mozzarella as one of the fillings – being pretty close to Naples, the mozzarella around here is amazing!). You can also get some fresh fruit, snacks, and water, and you’ll be set for the day.
Head down the stairs (follow all the people dressed for the beach, or ask somebody) to the beach below. If you want to go to the free beach, make a left and walk for about 10 minutes. Otherwise, you’ll have no trouble finding a nearby stabilimento.
Getting there: Take the train from Termini station to Fondi-Sperlonga. From right outside the train station, there is a bus that leaves regularly (it coincides with the train arrivals) for Sperlonga town and beach. Total transportation cost (from Termini): €7.90 one way.