The port of Civitavecchia is a strange place. (In fact, sorry to say it, but most port cities are.) Located on the West coast of the great big golden boot of Italy, the city is known as the ‘Gateway to Rome’, which makes it sound far more glamorous and majestic than it appears upon first arrival. Don’t get me wrong guys, the city has been considered Rome’s port for CENTURIES…but don’t be fooled into thinking that means that Rome is by the sea; in actual fact it’ll take you just short of an hour to reach Italy’s capital by train. So, whilst I’m not gonna lie and tell you that this is secretly the most stunning city in the world, I’d also like to fill you in on the prettier, more interesting areas to explore and places to eat, as well as give you a wee bit of info on the best day trips from Civitavecchia. Or, as we began to call it on the ship- ‘Chivvy.’
Old Town Civitavecchia
The day that I first arrived in Civitavecchia, I wrongly presumed it to be one of the most boring ports that I had ever set foot in. (WRONG. That prize currently goes to mouldy Molde in Norway- sorry Molde.) The buildings on the main street seemed devoid of any personality save for a church that looked quite out of place and was closed, and there didn’t really seem to be very much going on at all. If you get a shuttle from the port to the city, they are also super cheeky and drop you miles away from anything so that you either have to walk for ages down the long and boring road, or pay to get a taxi to take you to the train station that the shuttle basically just drove past. It’s a classic cruise ship manoeuvre pals- don’t fall for it! The majority of my cruise ship crew pals pretty much just stuck to the same WiFi-cafes (or McDonalds), and didn’t really consider the notion of attempting to find anywhere more interesting to head to within the hypothetical city walls. And I can’t say I blame them, pals!
By the time we returned to Civitavecchia however, I was prepared to explore a little further, and give the poor place a second chance. And it turns out there is more character to it, after all! A mere stones throw away from that main road, is the old town, filled with crumbly buildings in an Autumnal pallet of oranges, pinks and yellows. It’s actually rather pretty, ya know!?
Once the Medieval heart of the city, the tiny mish-mash of streets and squares actually holds a host of stories and mysterious goings-on. Piazza Leandra, with its old moss-covered fountain, is the oldest square in the city, and on the interior walls of a house on this square are the replicas of some frescoes from the inside of the Vatican. An old lad discovered them in the seventies, after he bought the house and began peeling away at the layers of wallpaper to redecorate. What an absolute find that was. It’s stories like that one that could convince more people to stick around within the city instead of hop on the first train out of there as soon as they arrive.
Get your food fix at the market
Truly one of my favourite things to do in Civitavecchia, was hit the market and purchase as much food as was possible. Believe it or not, crew mess food can sometimes be rather questionable, and so if we made it off the ship early enough, we’d head to San Lorenzo market, bustling with all the people, and sit in the rather chilly winter air on a wall overlooking the port, eating a truly brilliant picnic of fresh market goods. Mozzarella, prosciutto, salami, olives, bread…and the crowning glory- TOMATOES. Ripe, flavourful tomatoes!! I have never eaten a tomato with flavour on a ship- they’re always the sort that are picked too soon so that they last longer- but at the Civitavecchia market you could be guaranteed of the juiciest, ripest tomatoes you’d seen all cruise long!
Where to grab a coffee
For the most delectable pastries and coffee in Civitavecchia, the best place to head to is without a shadow of a doubt Bar Pasticceria Danilo. This cozy little place on a corner became my go-to coffee stop, with a gargantuan selection of cakes to boot. Not only were the staff always super-friendly, they also always remembered that I would probably be wanting a WiFi Code with my coffee- what a bunch of good’uns. I spent Christmas Eve hanging out here with my Indian pal Gospel, eating all the Christmas-themed cannoli, downing coffees, and cheering each other up with tales of what Christmas was like in our respective countries.
A close second for coffee and pastries in Civitavecchia is La Fontana Caffetteria Pasticceria, overlooking that lovely creamy old fountain that I mentioned earlier. Inside, the cafe feels almost as if it’s been built into the walls of a cave (it hasn’t, it’s just got really low ceilings), and it has an old town vibe to match its old town surroundings.
Hit the beach
I may have been visiting Civitavecchia in winter, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the beach. I can imagine that in summertime, this place can actually be a real gem, with beach bars and palm trees running up and down the promenade, and water that is crystal clear. Even in winter it’s worth a stroll along the seafront to appreciate it all- this place really is a beaut.
What to eat in Civitavecchia
It makes sense as a port city- the main thing you should be eating in Civitavecchia (aside from the pastries) is seafood. In fact, word on the street is that people come all the way from Rome just to sample the fish here! (That might be pushing it a bit, but it’s worth a try) There are a whole tone of seafood restaurants to choose from, and in my opinion some of the best ones to be found are right on the seafront, with a glorious view of the sea.
How to get from Civitavecchia to Rome
If you’re arriving in Civitavecchia by cruise ship, as a passenger, you will most certainly be sold the idea of visiting Rome by coach. Please, please, please, for the love of God, don’t go to Rome on a coach trip. It’s ridiculously easy and cheap to get into the city by train, and you will have way more time and freedom to explore if you go it alone. Plus, the train station in Civitavecchia is actually walkable from the port in around fifteen minutes, although cruise ships don’t like to brag about that.
Once at the station, you can get a ticket from either the ticket booths, or the machines- which also let you know in a really loud mechanical voice to beware of pickpockets. For a mere €4.60 each way, you can boogy on out all the way to Roma Termini, or stop on the way at the Vatican, or Trastevere. Trains run roughly twice an hour, although it makes sense to double check the old timetable before you leave, and once there it’s incredibly easy to find your way around the city because you’re smack bang in the centre of everything you might want to see.