Find out the best way to walk the Appian Way by learning from my mistakes!
The Appian Way (Via Appia Antica in Italian), is the straightest, oldest and original road leading to Rome. It has been marched and strolled upon by all walks of life over the past 2,300 years. Step back in time by walking along the large, volcanic cobblestones, while picturing the centuries of history of this famous road.
How to walk the Appian Way the wrong way!
I’ll start by saying there are better ways to walk the Appian Way than the way I did. Hopefully my long day of walking will help you from making the same mistakes!
Before heading off, I hadn’t really planned the way there and more importantly, the way back. All I had was the city of Rome saved on my Google Maps so I could figure out where I was without the need for data. Come to find out later, that map isn’t helpful when you’re 20km outside the city in the middle of nowhere with no access to bus schedules!
Options for getting to the start of the Appian Way
So how do you start the Appia Antica walk? You can take a taxi (easiest), the bus (still easy) or walk (tiring in the hot sun but doable).
I opted for the bus because I really don’t like paying for taxis when buses are an easy option. The bus that drives along a portion of the Appia Antica is bus number 118. It leaves from Piazza Venezia, the Colosseum on days other than Sunday or from a stop near Circus Maximus. I’d been visiting Circus Maximus and opted for that stop, but after waiting 20 minutes, I just missed it. The bus number was posted on a piece of white paper in the window and I only noticed after it left the “bus stop” in the middle of the street.
So I waited for about 25 minutes for another bus and not knowing how long it would take, I started to walk. One thing you’ll find when using the Rome public transport system, is that they bus stops show all the buses for that line. But it doesn’t tell you how often they arrive and of all days, I tend to have the most issues on Sundays!
Of course as soon as I started walking, the bus I needed went flying by. So I kept walking and 30 minutes later missed the next one. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t eventually flag down a taxi. At this point I would have been happy to pay but didn’t see one along the route. I decided to keep walking and eventually I made the start of the road after one or two small detours across a multi-lane road with lots of traffic!
Where to Start the Appian Way Walk (if you take the bus)
On the map, the Appia Antica Regional Park is huge and it’s hard to figure out where all the sights are. If I did the walk again, I’d take the bus past Il Museo delle Mura, a small museum built into one of the city gates about 2km from Circus Maximus (free toilets inside). From here you’ll need to walk the first few kilometres on a road with vehicles and private residences for a long bit of the walk with not a lot to see until you reach the Catacombs of St Callixtus and the Catacombs of San Callisto. Jump off the bus at either of the Catacombs or start the walk a bit earlier at the Church of Quo Vadis, where Via Appia Antica veers off to the left.
The catacombs are a popular highlight, but check the times before going if they are of interest. On the day I visited, they were closed from 12 – 2pm so I didn’t get a chance to go inside. I recommend taking the dirt road between the two since it gets you off the main road. In this section the main road is fairly narrow, with high stone walls on both sides, local traffic and not a lot of shade.
Circus of Maxentius
My first real stop was the Circus of Maxentius, which was originally an ancient racetrack. It also happens to be free to visit. If you don’t already have a map of the park, ask for one at the information both (also free).
Restaurants and Cafes on the Appian Way
Continuing along the road, you’ll pass by a few restaurants (all with signs saying full on the day I visited – the locals are more organised than I was!) with lovely gardens.
If you’re after a smaller lunch, there are also a couple cafes along the road. These sell everything from bottled water, to packaged ice creams and takeaway lasagna. At least one of the cafes rented bicycles. If walking all day doesn’t sound appealing, cycling seemed to be a very popular option, especially with families.
Be warned that after these two cafes, there’s not much else along the road. Once the road turns into large cobblestones, traffic is not allow so there is no services provided. This is where the walkers switched from tourists arriving by tour bus to locals out for a family afternoon.
Finally the road turned into the pretty scenic views I’d seen online. Though by this point my feet were a bit too tired to really enjoy the scenery!
Getting Back to Rome
By this time I had walked about 15km, so my feet were starting to hate me.
The first sign of cars was on Via Erodi Attico. My google maps app showed a bus stop so I decided to bail on the rest of the walk and hope that a bus would arrive. I waited for about 20 – 25 minutes and then decided to keep walking towards a main road. This was Via Appia Pignatelli, and was a little less than a kilometre away. The road had no side walks so I was walking on the road with local traffic flying past me. My instincts paid off and a bus stop for the 118 was just across the road. Yes, the bus that has so far eluded me, but was now going back towards Rome.
Hot, sweaty, thirsty and with feet that were pretty angry with me, I waited in the sun (no shade of course) for the bus. The stop was next to a bunch of rubbish bins, but at this point I didn’t care. Another 20 minutes or so and my savour arrived. I’d never been so happy to see a bus! The bus took me back to the city centre, stopping at Piazza Venezia, near the Victor Emmanuel monument.
Overall walking along the Appian Way was a nice afternoon out of the hustle and bustle of Rome’s Centro Storico.
Next time I would take the bus and hop off at the Catacombs, bring lots of water and figure out the bus system for the return trip. I thought I’d hop on the bus when I got tired but hadn’t realised the bus doesn’t go the whole length of the road and by the time you realise this, there’s no information along the way to direct you to a spot to catch a bus.
- Walks of Italy has a great overview of the history of the area – Walks of Italy
- Rome Public Transport website in English – ATAC Website
- Appia Antica Cafe’s website – Appia Antica Cafe
Check out my post on the sights of Rome within the city centre – click here