Updated December 6, 2023
Rome is on most people's must-visit list, and for good reason. It is full of ancient Roman ruins, history, art and architecture, and also contains Vatican City, the center the Catholic faith.
Only in Rome can you trace all of western civilization, from the founding of the city in the 8th century BC through to modern times.
In Rome it's not unusual to see the ancient and modern side by side. History runs so deep that it's considered normal for construction projects to be stalled, sometimes for years, so archaeologists can excavate newly discovered layers of history.
You can spend weeks exploring all that Rome has to offer. The Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum and Roman Forum, Saint Peter's, and many other sites are recognizable to people around the world, attracting millions of visitors each year.
But, if you have time, sometimes it's worth getting out of the city to see what else Italy has to offer.
Spoiler alert: Italy has a lot to offer!
Some of the cities you can visit on day trips from Rome are destinations in their own right, like Florence and Naples. You can get a taste of them in a day, but it takes several days to really do them justice.
Other Rome day trip options are more easily experienced in their entirety in a day, like Cerveteri or Ostia Antica.
No matter what your interests may be, you can find a day trip from Rome to suit every taste. Each of these can be reached in under two hours by train from either Roma Termini or Roma Tiburtina, and none of them require a car to get to.
If you like Italian food you'll want to visit Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Much of the food we associate with Italy originates in this region.
Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena), mortadella sausage (what we refer to as Bologna), and tagliatelle al ragu (often mistakenly called Spaghetti Bolognese) all have their roots here.
In between stops to sample Bologna's delicious cuisine, you can take some time to explore the other things the city has to offer.
Consider a visit to the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, it's the oldest university in the western world, as well as one of the most beautiful. While you're there you can explore the University's Anatomical Theater, a room intricately carved entirely from spruce wood.
If you need to burn off some calories after sampling all the food, you can climb the 498 steps to the top of the Asinelli Tower. From there you'll get one of the best views over the city.
You can also browse the markets, or go in hunt of the city's hidden canals.
You may think all of Italy's beautiful lakes are located in the north part of the country, but they aren't. About 20 miles north of Rome, Bracciano is a picturesque village on the shores of Lake Bracciano.
The most famous site in the medieval town is Castello Odescalchi. Built between 1470 and 1485, it's one of the largest and most beautiful castles in Italy. It's also a sought after wedding venue, with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes being one of the most famous couples to get married there.
Take a stroll through the town's picturesque streets and enjoy a leisurely lunch, taking in views of the lake before you head back to Rome.
Wine lovers will enjoy a day trip to the Castelli Romani, the small wine-producing towns scattered through the Alban Hills.
The most famous of these towns is Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope, which overlooks the shores of Lake Albano.
In Castel Gandolfo you can tour the Pontifical Villas, the Barberini Gardens and the Giardino della Madonnina (the Papal gardens). If you prefer a day on the water you can rent a paddle boat and take yourself on a boat tour of the shoreline.
Frascati is another popular destination in the Castelli Romani, where you can exchange the summer heat of Rome for a table at a cafe on a picturesque piazza, complete with a carafe of chilled Frascati wine.
In Cerveteri you'll find one of Italy's greatest Etruscan treasures, the Necropolis of Banditaccia. This UNESCO World Heritage site was used as a burial ground between the 9th and 1st centuries BC. It contains thousands of tombs, organized like a city, with streets, piazzas and even neighborhoods.
Some of the tombs are simple trenches carved into the rock, while others are shaped like houses and provide our only glimpse into what an Etruscan city would have looked like.
While Florence deserves far more than a day to explore (for my suggestions of what to see on your first trip to Florence check out this post), it's possible to get an overview of the city in a day, before going back on a longer visit at another time.
Florence is the Cradle of the Renaissance and the jewel of Tuscany, and a day trip to the city can feel like drinking from an art and architecture firehose. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can't miss the Florence Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, which dominates the city's skyline. Its dome, still the largest masonry dome in the world, is one of the crowning glories of Renaissance architecture, and stands as a lasting tribute to its architect, Filippo Brunelleschi.
View one of the world's most famous sculptures, Michelangelo's David, at the Accademia Gallery. As you walk around town make sure to stop by the Palazzo Vecchio, where you can see a replica of The David standing in its original location.
You'll also want to see the Ponte Vecchio, and maybe shop for a bit of jewelry to take home with you from one of its famous gold shops. The bridge is the oldest in Florence, and was the only bridge in the city to survive WWII.
If you stay late enough in the day for sunset, you can make your way up to Piazzale Michelangelo. From there you'll have views over the city as the sunset paints the sky in color.
If you only have a day in the city and you want to visit a museum, especially the Accademia or the Uffizi Gallery, make sure to book your tickets in advance. Florence's museums are some of the most visited in Europe, and if you don't book in advance you'll end up missing out or spending half your day standing in lines.
Naples, the heart of the Campania region, has a reputation of being crowded and dirty, but underneath its grittiness it is a beautiful city, with as fascinating of a history as Florence or Venice.
It also boasts stunning views over the Bay of Naples, and is the birthplace of pizza as we know and love it.
If you want to visit a museum, explore the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the city's archaeological museum. It contains an extensive collection of artifacts, with the first two floors devoted to the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Both cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
You'll definitely want to stop and sample as much pizza as you can. You may want to consider a food or pizza tour to find the best hidden spots in the city.
Located in the Italian region of Umbria, Orvieto is everything you'd expect from an Italian hilltop town.
Take some time to visit the Duomo, one of Italy's most impressive Gothic churches. Once inside, stop and see the Chapel of San Brizio, with Luca Signorelli's beautiful frescos of the Day of Judgment and Life after Death.
Artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari claimed that these frescos are where Michelangelo found inspiration his the Last Judgement, which is painted in the Sistine Chapel.
You can also visit Orvieto's fascinating underground with its network of caves, wells and tunnels left by the Etruscans.
When it's time for a meal you can try the regional specialty of piccione (pigeon), washed down with a glass of Orvieto wine.
While not as well known as Roman cities like Pompeii or Herculaneum, Ostia Antica offers a similar glimpse into what daily life would have been like in ancient Rome.
Formerly the harbor city of Rome, the site now lies about two miles inland due to silting in the Tiber River.
The city entered a slow decline after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and was finally abandoned in the 9th century.
What remained of the city was left largely undisturbed until the 19th century, when the first excavations were begun under Papal authority.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s more extensive excavations were performed at the site by order of Mussolini, who hoped to present Ostia during a World's Fair in Rome. Excavations continue through to the present day, with significant finds still being made.
Santa Marinella Beach
For a taste of the Italian seaside, take a short trip out to Santa Marinella Beach. The small port town is easily accessible, and has plenty of sun, sand, and fresh seafood brought in daily by the local fishermen.
It may not be as pretty of a beach as Sperlonga, which is known for being the most beautiful beach near Rome, but its much easier to get to. Regional trains depart from Roma Termini and you'll be dipping your toes in the ocean within an hour or so of departing the city.
Tivoli, located in the Monti Tiburtini hills, is a former resort town for wealthy Romans looking for respite from the hot Roman summers. One of the most popular day trips from Rome, Tivoli's ancient villas and gardens are beautiful to visit in any season.
Villa d'Este and Villa Adriana (also known as Hadrian's Villa) are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Villa Gregoriana, while less well known than the other two, boasts the most beautiful natural location in Tivoli.
The Villa Adriana was Emperor Hadrian's country estate and is considered to be his greatest artistic and architectural achievement.
It was built in the 2nd century AD and covers almost 300 acres. Included in the site are baths, temples, theaters, and gardens.
Many of the villa's statues and sculptures were taken after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. Of those that remained, most were removed in the 16th century by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este to decorate his nearby estate, the Villa d'Este.
The Villa d'Este contains some of the most beautiful Italianate gardens in all of Italy. There you'll find dozens of elaborate fountains and waterfalls, drawing water from the nearby Aniene River through a 600-meter underground channel.
If you prefer more natural surroundings to the sculpted perfection of an Italianate garden, you may prefer the Villa Gregoriana.
This natural park was commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1834, and is made up of wooded parks, paths, waterfalls and grottos. The Villa Gregoriana was a regular stop on the "Grand Tour" that was customary in the 19th century, and artists regularly took time there to paint the landscape.
The most popular view is looking out over the the waterfall and temples. This view has been captured in numerous paintings, and is considered to be one of the most painted landscapes in the world.
The bottom line: The best day trips from Rome
When it's time for a break from the city, Rome offers many options. No matter what type of destination you prefer, you can probably find it within a couple hours of one of Rome's train stations.
If you're looking for more Rome travel inspiration, check out my other Rome, Italy travel blog posts.