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17 Best Ruins in Italy to Visit on Vacation

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The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

From the remnants of the Roman Empire to the Etruscan relics of the old world, the 17 best ruins in Italy reveal insight into the great eras and historical civilizations of ancient Italy.

In Italy, whole villages of ruins hang on hills beneath volcanic mountains, crumbling stadiums once the battlegrounds of Roman gladiators stand in the cities, and historic necropolises preserve the memory of ancient civilizations.

There are thousands of ancient ruins in Italy to explore, with this list sharing the best to visit as you travel around the capital city, along the Gulf of Naples, or to the island of Sicily.

  1. 1. Colosseum, Rome
  2. 2. Roman Forum, Rome
  3. 3. Pompeii, Naples
  4. 4. Ostia Antica, Ostia
  5. 5. Valley of the Temples, Sicily
  6. 6. Paestum, Salerno
  7. 7. Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli
  8. 8. Segesta, Sicily
  9. 9. Arena di Verona, Verona
  10. 10. Herculaneum, Naples
  11. 11. Pantheon, Rome
  12. 12. Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis, Tarquinia
  13. 13. Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily
  14. 14. Sassi di Matera, Matera
  15. 15. Catacombs of Rome, Rome
  16. 16. Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna
  17. 17. Teatro Antico di Taormina, Sicily
  18. Explore the Best Ruins in Italy on Vacation

1. Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

The Colosseum is one of the most famous ancient landmarks and ruins in Italy’s capital, Rome. The oval arena is over 1,900 years old, yet its colossal columns still stand in the capital in varying states of ruin and repair.

The Colosseum, one of the best places to visit in Rome, once held more than 50,000 Roman spectators watching the gladiator games. You can feel the magnitude of these historical events as you look across the stands where thousands of ancient Roman civilians and emperors would cheer for their favorite champions.

Learn more: Rome Vacations & Tour Packages

2. Roman Forum, Rome

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The Roman Forum was the center of social activity in Ancient Rome. Religious, political, and social representatives would gather in the open-air forum as early as 500BC to discuss and shape the socioeconomic landscape of the ancient city.

Intrinsically connected to the origins of the Roman Empire, the Roman Forum is one of the most significant ruins to visit as you explore Roman heritage, one of the top experiences to have in Rome on vacation. The remains of its arches, temples, and government buildings offer a lens through which to imagine the former city center.

Learn more: Rome Travel Guide

3. Pompeii, Naples

Archeological site of Pompeii in Naples, Italy

Pompeii in Naples, Italy

The southern Italian archeological site of Pompeii is a must-visit destination on history tours along the base of Mount Vesuvius. You can wander the ruins of the village devastated by a volcanic eruption in 79AD to understand life during the Roman Empire’s rule. Cobbled lanes, stone temples, amphora containers, and wall paintings mark moments in time before the dramatic natural events that left Pompeii in ruins.

You can see the relics and admire stunning views of Mount Vesuvius as you peruse this iconic site. After exploring the ancient city ruins, you can return to the coastline to discover what else Campania’s regional capital is famous for, its culinary culture expressed in the best Naples dishes to try on your trip.

4. Ostia Antica, Ostia

Ruins of Ostia Antica Port in Ostia, Italy

Ruins of Ostia Antica Port in Ostia, Italy

Ostia Antica is another Ancient Roman archeological site that brings travelers closer to the empirical era on tours of the theater, bathhouses, markets, and more. Now ruins, these archaic landmarks provide the backdrop from which to build memories of Ancient Rome with your imagination.

The notable ruins around Ancient Ostia are well-preserved and guides share great detail about the happenings in the harbor city long before our time. Just around the corner from Rome, a quick day trip lets you see the meticulous mosaics, marble statues, and historic ruins of Ostia, entirely abandoned by the 9th century.

5. Valley of the Temples, Sicily

Path toward the Valley of the Temples in Sicily, Italy

Valley of the Temples in Sicily, Italy

Sicily’s Valley of the Temples is an Ancient Greek site on the Italian island famous for its Doric temples that the former civilization built across Greece and the shores of southern Italy. It is over 2,000 years old and one of Italy’s greatest depictions of Ancient Greek art and architecture, sharing distinctions in the stylings and design choices of Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman architects.

Each Doric temple honors a Greek god, some identifying the deity through massive telamons, ancient load-bearing sculptures, while others showcase historical bronze statues and altars. When exploring the Valley of the Temples, you discover eight famous temples in one tour, offering a well-rounded view of the Ancient Greek settlement in southern Italy and Sicily.

Learn more: Southern Italy & Sicily Tours

6. Paestum, Salerno

Temple of Hera at the ancient Paestum, Salerno, Italy

Temple of Hera at the ancient Paestum, Salerno, Italy

Boasting Ancient Greek Doric temples dating back to 450BC, Paestum is another representation of Greek colonization in Italy centuries ago. A massive archeological site of temples, homes, public squares, and sculptures preserves the memories of the great Greek city formerly known as Poseidonia.

Honoring the Greek god Poseidon, Paestum shares a glimpse into the myths and legends of the ancient world in and around the towering columns that hold up what’s left of the ceilings of the temples. These, even in ruins, are glorious examples of Ancient Greece’s architecture. Being around the corner from the Amalfi Coast, you can easily visit Paestum from the famous coastal towns during tours of the Amalfi Coast.

7. Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

Statue in the Canopus at Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, Italy

Statue in the Canopus at Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, Italy

Roman emperor Hadrian built this villa between 117 and 138AD as a getaway from Rome. The ancient Roman ruin is an architectural and design masterpiece that incorporates styles famous in Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. The culmination was an exquisite country residence, with bathhouses, sculptural pieces, immaculate gardens, theaters, private suites, and more.

Today, the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa keep much of the glamorous design intact, from marble sculptures to the tranquil moat, landscaped lawns to underground galleries. Walking between the Italian ruins, you can imagine the royal atmosphere that many Roman elites must have enjoyed during their time in Hadrian’s Villa.

8. Segesta, Sicily

Greek Theatre of Segesta in Sicily, Italy

Greek Theatre of Segesta in Sicily, Italy

Sicily’s iconic Elymian site, Segesta is a gateway into the life of ancient Sicilian people. The Elymians of western Sicily settled in the culturally Greek Segesta city from around 420BC, and archeologists can trace its Greek cultural background in the pottery left behind. Today, the Doric temple remains for travelers visiting the Italian island.

Surprisingly, it was never finished and various conflicting reports try to understand the origin of the building and city founded before Greek records, yet supposedly built by Trojan colonists. Exploring the island on tours of Southern Italy, you can uncover Greek history dating as far back as the Elymian people in the Sicilian landmark of Segesta.

9. Arena di Verona, Verona

Aerial view of the Arena di Verona in Verona

Arena di Verona, Verona, Italy

Verona’s Roman amphitheater, the Arena di Verona, built in 30AD, is a grand arena of historical importance still used for events and performances in the modern day. Opera performances take center stage in the Arena di Verona, with thousands gathering in the stands of the open-air stadium to watch the world’s greatest opera singers.

The performances in the Arena di Verona are magnificent, as the venue imbues each concert with a historical atmosphere. You can watch your favorite performers from the stands where Ancient Romans once came to watch gladiators battle. Verona is a short trip from Venice, so travelers can visit the Arena di Verona on a day trip during vacations in Venice.

10. Herculaneum, Naples

Mosaic at Herculaneum ancient ruins in Naples, Italy

Mosaic at Herculaneum ancient ruins in Naples, Italy

Italy’s ancient town of Herculaneum, founded between the 6th and 7th centuries BC, was built in honor of the Greek god Hercules. The historical settlement, with Pompeii, was devastated by the Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79AD. However, Herculaneum was buried in volcanic ash and abandoned, and many buildings remain preserved following archeological excavation.

In Herculaneum, some decaying ruins remain, while other sites are in relatively good condition, albeit exposed to degradation over time. From the House of Galba’s cross-shaped water feature to the frescoes of Sacello degli Augustali depicting battles between Greek and Etruscan gods, Herculaneum is a historical treasure trove to explore after lunch in one of Campania’s best cities for food.

11. Pantheon, Rome

The Pantheon in Rome, Italy

The Pantheon in Rome, Italy

Along with the Colosseum, the Pantheon is one of the best Roman ruins in Italy’s capital city. Dating back to 125AD, it is a monument of the old world in the heart of the bustling city. The Pantheon is an immaculate preservation of Ancient Roman history, hosting Catholic masses to this day inside the intricately-designed dome structure.

Visitors gather outside in the main square to capture its towering fortifications in all their glory and you can skip the line on private tours of its interior. You can see its stunning murals, marble floors, meticulous dome ceiling, and oculus as you explore during the best time to visit Rome for a tour of the Pantheon.

12. Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis, Tarquinia

Etruscan frescoes in the Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis, Tarquinia, Italy

Etruscan frescoes in the Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis, Tarquinia, Italy

Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis’ 6,000 Etruscan tombs share a dramatic view of old Italy in the historical city of Tarquinia. As a resting place for ancient Etruscan people, the Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis symbolizes central Italian heritage as far back as the 8th century BC.

Stunning Etruscan frescoes decorate the interior walls of burial chambers, small stone grave structures dot the landscape, and the museum houses antique artifacts like sculptures, pottery, and coins. The burial grounds are a powerful reminder of how far Italy has come, while honoring the memory of the Etruscan civilization.

13. Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale ruins in Sicily, Italy

Villa Romana del Casale ruins in Sicily, Italy

Sicily’s Villa Romana del Casale was a grand Roman villa that expressed the historic luxuries of Italy’s ancient economy. Remarkable mosaics covering the walls and floors are the main attractions for visitors exploring the palatial site. Thermal baths and basilicas also display the opulent design of the villa that seems excessive even by Ancient Roman standards.

The villa’s preservations are a prime example of the divide in socioeconomic status in Ancient Rome, helping visitors draw a clear line between the classes of the former civilization. The decorative richness of the villa is fascinating to experience as you uncover what separated Roman commoners from the elite.

Learn more: Sicily Tours & Vacation Packages

14. Sassi di Matera, Matera

View of ancient town of Sassi di Matera, Matera, Italy

View of ancient town of Sassi di Matera, Matera, Italy

Italy’s rocky outcrop city Matera is one of the country’s best-kept secrets, a treasure trove of historical discoveries dating back to 7,000BC and the Sassi settlements. Many regard the Sassi people as among the earliest in Italy, making Sassi di Matera a must-visit, with ruins revealing more about the mysterious people.

In and around the towns of Matera, you can learn more about the Sassi people and visit the ruins that lie among more modern buildings. You can follow cobbled streets to desolate cave homes and look back in time, with your guide sharing what little we know about the ancient Italian cave dwellers from southern Italy.

Learn more: Southern Italy Travel Guide

15. Catacombs of Rome, Rome

The Catacombs of Rome in Italy

The Catacombs of Rome in Italy

Rome’s ancient underground burial chambers, the Catacombs of Rome, are a dramatic yet impressive network of tunnels, with some of the oldest dating back to the first century. They display a diverse ceremonial history, from Jewish community-built tunnels to Christian cemeteries.

Travelers can explore parts of the catacombs, while other sections remain mysterious and rarely visited. They have an eerie atmosphere, yet are a fascinating historical find, with a wealth of discovery awaiting travelers who see them.

Learn more: Italy Tours from Rome

16. Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna

Basilica di San Vitale interior mosaics, Ravenna, Italy

Basilica di San Vitale interior mosaics, Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna’s 6th-century antique church, Basilica di San Vitale, is a spectacular Christian Byzantine building that displays the beauty of old Italy's art and architecture. The church’s colorful mosaics and ornate interior walls reveal the fascinating design choices of a somewhat more modern Italy compared with other features in this list.

Yet history drips from each mural, overflowing within the marvelously preserved walls of the basilica. The town of Ravenna lies in northern Italy and travelers can visit the iconic basilica when touring neighboring cities and towns on the best Emilia-Romagna itineraries.

Learn more: Northern Italy Itineraries & ToursNorthern Italy Travel Guide

17. Teatro Antico di Taormina, Sicily

Teatro Antico di Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Teatro Antico di Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Taormina is a Sicilian commune that’s home to the impressive Teatro Antico di Taormina ruin, an Ancient Greek theater on the Italian island dating back to the 3rd century BC. It is a famous ruin to visit in Italy as it is the second-largest theater on the island and sits on a hilltop with gorgeous panoramic views.

The theater's Corinthian columns and ample performance space are immaculate ruins, depicting Italy’s historical connection to entertainment. Hosting musicians and orchestras long before our time, you can embrace the sensational atmosphere as you wander the Ancient Greek performance theater on Italy’s island of Sicily.

Learn more: Sicily Travel Guide

Explore the Best Ruins in Italy on Vacation

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The best ruins in Italy showcase ancient civilizations' diverse cultures and significance in shaping Italy as we know it today. From Roman ruins in the capital city to Ancient Greek Doric temples on the island of Sicily, you can explore the most famous ruins on our tours and vacations of Italy.

When planning your vacation in Italy, you can find more insight into the best places and experiences you can have in our Italy travel guide.

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