The Appian way, Via Appia Antica
park, antica, appia, appian, beautiful, country, countryside, culture, european, historic, italian, landmark, landscape, mediterranean, outdoor, path, pine, roads, roma, rome, rural, southern, stone, transport, via, way

© Martina Birnbaum / Getty Images

Via Appia Antica

Top choice in Southern Rome

Lonely Planet's Ultimate Guide

Explore insider tips, fascinating history and surprising secrets to make the most of your experience.

Named after consul Appius Claudius Caecus, who laid the first 90km (56 mile) section in 312 BCE, ancient Rome’s regina viarum (queen of roads) was extended in 190 BCE to reach Brindisi. Via Appia Antica has long been one of Rome’s most exclusive addresses, a beautiful cobbled thoroughfare flanked by grassy fields, Roman structures and towering pine trees.

While a section of the Appia Antica is open to motorized traffic – which can be intense, especially during peak hours – shortly after the Basilica di San Sebastiano begins the protected area that only residents can access by car.

A large white church building, the entrance to catacombs
Basilica di San Sebastiano is one of the gateways to the many miles of catacombs under the Appian Way © Takashi Images / Shutterstock

Ancient buildings, ruins and history

The spectacular Villa di Massenzio is the first major archaeological area you’ll encounter past the Basilica. The remains of the circus built under the orders of Maxentius (278–312 CE) – an arena that could host up to 10,000 of the emperor’s guests – span for 500m (1640ft) across a green field, next to the red brick ruins of the palace and the mausoleum.

The circular mausoleum dedicated to Cecilia Metella, the daughter of one of the richest Roman families, was built between 30 and 10 BCE. It sits in front of the roofless Chiesa di San Nicola, one of the few Gothic churches in Rome dating back to the 14th century. 

Most splendid of the ancient houses was Villa dei Quintili, which was so desirable that Emperor Commodus murdered the Quintili brothers who owned it and took it for himself. The ruins – surrounded by wild orchids during springtime – still show the refined decorations and marble floors that made this residence one of Rome’s most highly prized.

The Appian Way has a dark history – it was here that Spartacus and 6000 of his slave rebels were crucified in 71 BCE, and it was here that the early Christians buried their dead in 300km (186 miles) of underground catacombs. You can’t visit all if them, but three major catacombs – San Callisto, San Sebastiano and Santa Domitilla – are open for guided exploration.

A woman rides a bike along a long cobbled road lined with trees
Riding a bike is one of the best ways to explore along Via Appia Antica © Jannis Werner / Getty Images

Tips and other practicalities

The Centro Servizi Appia Antica visitor center is located near the park’s northern edge and is easily reached on public transportation. Buses 118 and 218 stop steps away from the office, where you can pick up maps with detailed information about the sights found along the way.

The most pleasurable way of exploring the Appian Way is by foot and bicycle. Bikes are available at Ecobike Roma, the rental service affiliated with the Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica’s official visitor center. Prices start at €12 per day, discounts are available when you book your bike online.

The Appia Antica Caffè makes for a great refueling stop along the way – whether it is for a quick espresso, a light lunch, or an evening aperitivo on the way back.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Southern Rome attractions

1. Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis

0.22 MILES

This pint-sized church marks the spot where St Peter, fleeing Rome, met a vision of Jesus going the other way. When Peter asked, ‘Domine, quo vadis?’ …

3. Albergo Rosso

0.62 MILES

This iconic housing block was designed by Innocenzo Sabbatini between 1928 and '29. It's a compelling yet strange combination of modern red bricks with…

4. Catacombe di Santa Domitilla

0.78 MILES

Among Rome’s largest and oldest, these wonderful catacombs stretch for about 17km. They were established on the private burial ground of Flavia Domitilla,…

5. Terme di Caracalla

0.83 MILES

The remains of the emperor Caracalla’s vast baths complex are among Rome’s most awe-inspiring ruins. Inaugurated in AD 212, the original 10-hectare site,…

6. Catacombe di San Callisto

0.86 MILES

These are the largest and busiest of Rome’s catacombs. Founded at the end of the 2nd century and named after Pope Calixtus I, they became the official…

7. Mausoleo delle Fosse Ardeatine

0.94 MILES

This mausoleum is dedicated to the victims of Rome’s worst WWII atrocity. Buried here, outside the Ardeatine Caves, are 335 Italians shot by the Nazis on…

8. Quartiere Garbatella

0.99 MILES

A favourite location for films and TV, Quartiere Garbatella was originally conceived as a workers’ residential quarter, but in the 1920s the Fascists…