Seagulls are a surprising presence in Rome. They squawk relentlessly and flock on rooftops. Often, they perch on the heads of ancient statues in piazzas, seeking out scraps from osteria patios or leftovers from open air markets or even an unsuspecting pigeon. Seabirds in the Italian capital are an indication of an often overlooked fact: the center of Rome is less than 20 miles from the sea – and the coastal area of Ostia is worth a visit.
A day at the beach in the areas past Ostia Antica, the original Roman seaport, was not available until Mussolini had a direct train line built to the sea from Rome’s Porto San Paolo station, very close to Rome’s center. The idea was to get the proletariat out of the city and to the seaside. Few in contemporary Italy are nostalgic for fascism, but the frequent trains from Rome to Ostia provide a quick ride to the sea, an easy day trip for citizens and tourists alike.
The Porto San Paolo station is quickly reached by subway or bus or an inexpensive cab ride. It is directly across from The Pyramid of Cestius and the Protestant Cemetery, home to the tombs of poets Keats and Shelley (definitely worth a quick visit). At Porto San Paolo, two tickets (there and back) are less than 5 Euros. Up to twelve trains leave per hour, so climb aboard and soon you’ll be rolling through the ramparts of south-west Rome, passing apartment complexes and uninspired views. The topography turns verdant soon, above the former marshland, rich with undergrowth and canopies of umbrella pines. It’s 13 stops till the end of the line, with the last five, after Ostia Antica, all "Lido" or beach stops.
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The second Lido stop, Ostia Lido Centrale, takes 30 minutes to reach and is probably the place for a tourist. After a quick walk through the historic town center, the Tyrrhenian Sea will come into view beyond the facades of beach clubs which border the shoreline. Not to worry – these are not private clubs. This is how Italians do the beach.
At the entrance, a fee is paid, respectively and a la carte, for a lounge chair, an umbrella, or even a cabana. The former two items run around 8 Euros each, with a cabana for four coming in around 20 Euros total. There are also lockers for storage (at a minimal fee, if at all), clean bathrooms, showers, and - of course - a restaurant and bar. Towels are not provided. Children can keep busy with volleyballs courts, playgrounds, and parlor games until they are ready to swim.
Past the black and tan sand, the flat green sea is brackish and bracing. The waves are gentle and refreshing, especially after trudging around Rome’s sweltering city center for a few days. The beaches at Ostia, accessible and affordable, a simple day trip from Rome, make you wonder why the seagulls ever left for the city in the first place.