Civitavecchia is the small ancient town viewed most often by cruise travelers as they board a ship in the busy harbor, or end a cruise and hurry through on their way to Rome by train or bus. Consider the less expensive and more relaxed option to hotels in Rome, by spending two or three nights, pre or post cruise in Civitavecchia. Arrival in the departure port city at least one night ahead of a cruise, and preferably two, is a great way to begin a vacation without adding stress due to delayed flights.
The Roman Emperor Trajan, as a port to service Rome, built Civitavecchia in the 2nd century AD. It was the major port of the papal state for more than a millennium. Pope Leo VII built fortified walls around the city in the 9th century and Pope Innocent XII conducted lucrative trade through Civitavecchia in the 17th century.
Today locals and visitors stroll along the beachfront and enjoy the cafes. Above the wharf, overlooking the fort, are several restaurants serving fresh fish and pasta. Valentina at Sora Maria Trattoria served us their first pesto pizza. Within the old walled city there are still more restaurants and a wine bar. Favorites of CTH are within the Old Ghetto, a street back of Garibaldi Plaza, the main street, where you will find Maria and Simone serving coffee, gelato, and wine at the Cafeteria corner shop, and Chef Christian serving seafood plates and pasta at Antica Ristorante.
Hotels and restaurants at about half the cost of those in Rome are only a bargain if they are of quality. Expect fish caught just hours before your meal, cooked with pride by local chefs and served in family restaurants in Civitavecchia. Hotels are spacious, clean, and quiet. The staff at Hotel San Giorgio on Garibaldi Square are always welcoming. Enjoy your espresso at breakfast while overlooking the beach.
To enjoy Rome on any day, walk the short distance to the train station, where for € 5 you can take the hourly train to the city. The trip takes about an hour. To board your ship, hotels like the San Giorgio offer a shuttle, or take a short cab ride. Shuttles can also be arranged to the airport, about half the distance to Rome, or the cost-conscious can take the train.
For me, the cost savings of a stay in Civitavecchia is not the compelling reason for preferring a port stay there rather than other options. In Civitavecchia I find an historic city, negotiable on foot, which continues to be a living city of families. The pedestrian plaza is alive with activity at night, particularly if there is a performance at the theater. I feel safe and welcome walking the streets where young boys are playing ball and little tykes run, never far from their watchful parents.
Every side street and plaza has at least one bar, which also serves coffee and gelato. At the bar behind the theater, young people gather to meet friends, drink coffee, of course, and, most impressive, talk to each other. My husband says he always feels safe in a town where the young people have better cell-phones than his. I am impressed to see the cell phones go on the tables, and the conversations occurring person-to-person.
In the relaxed pace of Civitavecchia it is fun to wander the streets and discover the many shops with top Italian fashion at realistic prices. Start with the Luisa Spagnoli boutique in the arcade near the wharf and more shops along the pedestrian mall. Italian shoe shops are everywhere. Tucked in the Ghetto piazza is a favorite, Di Benedetti Maurizia, on the Piazzeta Antonio Fratti. Where else could you find blue velvet shoes with jewels, which are comfortable and go with jeans or silk brocade?
Rome is a great city for history, food, and shopping. It can also be a bit overwhelming. When boarding a ship in Civitavecchia, look forward to time in the port city shops, cafes, and hotels, where the feeling is that of a relaxed small town, in an ancient setting.
For the story of Rome see Cruise through History, Itinerary I, London to Rome, and Itinerary II, Rome to Venice, at Amazon.com.
Hotel San Giorgio, rooms from € 120 – € 180 with extensive breakfast buffet.
La Piazzeta Fratti, rooms from € 60 with a coupon for coffee and pastry.