The beaches of Italy are always a drawcard for Italians and tourists to Italy. Finding a sandy spot or hiring a beach chair is perfect for soaking up the sun while swimming in the clear blue waters.
And not quite a two-hour drive south of Rome, Terracina is one of those beaches on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
In summer, the population of 45,000 doubles as holidaymakers come to enjoy the seaside, fresh seafood and a place to unwind and relax.
They also discover a modern history of canals in Terracina, an ancient Temple to roam, and stunning sunsets to enjoy.
Terracina is perfect for a weekend break from Rome.
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Where is Terracina?
Terracina is situated on the coast between Rome and Naples.
- Terracina is 110kms from Rome (allow 2 hours driving)
- Naples is 126km from Terracina (about a 2-hour drive)
You have the options to fly, drive or take the train, which may vary on cost and time.
Things to See and Places to Visit in Terracina
Terracina – a Little Bit of History
Terracina was once an essential seaport due to its strategic location.
Stretching back some 2,500 years, Terracina was included within the region of Rome (until 1934.) With the Volscian Hills reaching the coastline and the Pontine Marshes surrounding the city. There was no passage on land to the south.
This all changed around 98-117 AD when the hill was cut to allow access to the Appian Way, east of Terracina.
Another significant period of Terracina’s history occurred between the 16th-19th centuries. Terracina’s marshes were drained, a new port built, and nobility built mansions in the city.
And like Rome, each period of Terracina’s history has left its mark on the city.
Walk the Canals of Terracina
When walking back from the beach promenade towards town, you will see small boats moored along the canals. And you will find an abundance of local fish markets and seafood restaurants.
These picturesque canals of Terracina were built when the nearby marshes were drained.
Terracina was originally a marshland with outbreaks of malaria.
However, in 1520, Pope Pius VI instigated the draining of the marshes. Unfortunately, it was not completed. But thanks to Mussolini, in the 1930s, Venetians were hired to drain the swamps. Now the land became productive.
It was clearly a great success when you see rows and rows of greenhouses filled with delicious local produce.
We learnt this great insight from our Airbnb host, who also said we should also explore the old town of Terracina.
Stroll the Old Town of Terracina
If, after a day at the beach, you are in need of a new dining experience, take a stroll up to Terracina’s old town.
We found the access to the hillside old town a little unusual when using MapsMe.
As we were led to an old staircase on the main road, it took us up a few flights of steps. We emerged onto the cobblestoned streets of the medieval old town. Quite ingenious.
But it was the entrance through the old archways into Piazza del Municipio where we discovered more of the history of Terracina.
At Piazza del Municipio, you’ll find the remains of :
- an old Roman Forum
- ancient sculptures on display at the Museo Civico
- the San Cesareo Cathedral.
Museo Civico has free pamphlets on Terracina you can read while enjoying a coffee at one of the small cafés. And it was here we stayed to watch local teenagers taking part in a group activity near the steps of the cathedral.
San Cesareo Cathedral was built on top of two old Roman temples dedicated to Roma and Augustus. You can still see the columns of the ancient temple, along with the pulpit resting on the columns of lions.
And there is an old Roman bath at the entrance of the Cathedral steps. We learnt the tub was used to boil Christians. Eek!
Nearby, the Bishop’s Palace dates back to the Carolingian period, with a renovation carried out in the 17th century.
But what caught our attention was the sunlight beaming from the stone temple above the old town.
Visit the Temple of Jupiter Anzur
What remains of the Roman Temple of Jupiter Anxur, sits atop a cliff overlooking the Terracina. A visit is one of the key things to do in Terracina.
Only the vaulted basement of the temple remains, plus some smaller ruins.
The entrance cost is €6 (cheaper if you are a resident), giving you access to ruins. But it’s the magnificent view you won’t want to miss when visiting Terracina.
The views from the Temple of Jupiter Anxur are spectacular.
While sunset is popular, the early morning is when you will capture the light on the old town. Ans on a sunny day, it’s easy to see Mt Vesuvius in the distance.
The best vantage point, if you don’t want to pay a second entrance fee, is the last bend of the road before reaching the temple carpark.
Sunsets to Remember Forever
We’ll just let these photos tell the story.
Walk the Appian Way in Terracina
Looking down from the temple, you’ll see the engineering results of the Appian Way.
When you enter Terracina from the east, you pass by the cliff face, which changed the direction of the Appian Way (Roman road connecting Rome to Brindisi).
This cliff extended further to the shoreline and is why the Appian Way had to be travelled inland and over the hills.
In the time of Trajan, Roman engineering used slaves to cut back the cliff by 36m to allow traffic to pass.
If you walk to the cliff face from below, look up and search for the axe marks and roman numerals. These indicate where the incisions were made.
Now it’s time to taste the variety of local produce.
Eat Mozzarella di Bufala (Buffalo Mozzarella)
If you think you know what mozzarella tastes like, then think again. Terracina is worth a day trip just to taste the mozzarella produced locally here.
Buffalo Mozzarella has been produced in Terracine since the arrival of Buffalo around the year 1000AD.
Our Airbnb host told us we had to try it. Of course, we have eaten mozzarella, but for someone to describe a ball of mozzarella with so much enjoyment had us intrigued.
Down to the local supermarket, we went with instructions to purchase fresh mozzarella from the deli. They keep it in a bucket at the back of the counter.
We watched as a ball of mozzarella was retrieved, weighed and placed in a bag. Now, all we had to do was eat it.
Not wanting to wait too long to experience the taste, we retrieved the mozzarella from the bag of liquid and took our first bites.
Oh wow – the mozzarella tasted fantastic.
The texture and flavour were so smooth and delicious. We ate the whole ball and knew we had to buy more.
Try Fresh Seafood along the Beach Promenade
Seafood is always one of our favourites, and there are plenty of restaurant choices along the seafront promenade.
One local restaurant lets you select a plate costing upwards of €5 and fill it with the seafood on display.
We chose delicious Calamari, a starter of fried sardines, before choosing another local fish dish.
But there was also another dish we were told to try on a day trip from Terracina.
5 Day Trips from Terracina
1. Taste a Tiella Dish in Gaeta
Throughout history, the seaport town of Gaeta has been a military stronghold. Above the port, you’ll see the Angevin-Aragonese castle, still used for military purposes today.
But we were here to taste a local dish called Tiella.
Tiella was a recommendation from Luca, his favourite dish, who we met at Arcomagno. Tiella is a pie filled with seafood (octopus) and vegetables. And enjoyed with a glass of wine, it made for a perfect lunch.
But before you leave Gaeta, visit Monte Orlando, an urban nature park overlooking Gaeta. Here you can learn of named fauna or find the ancient Roman Mausoleum of Lucius Muniatus Plancus.
2. Visit Grotta del Turco at Gaeta
However, what held our interest in Gaeta was the Montagna Spaccata and the Grotta del Turco (Grotto of the Turk).
The grotto or cavern is a split in the rock for the incoming sea. The legend is the rock split on the death of Jesus at Calvary.
The entrance to Grotta del Turco is a gate to the left of the monastery. Straight ahead of the gates is a small chapel with frescoes. But it is the walk down from here through the rock formation where you find a lower chapel.
Or, for the more adventurous, there is a short climb up to a lighthouse set amongst the rocks.
3. Walk up to Sperlonga
Only 20 minutes from Terracina is the old hilltop town of Sperlonga. Another wonderful old town that overlooks its beautiful white sandy beaches dotted with beach bars and restaurants.
Even in October, people were still swimming, with at least 20 surfers enjoying the moderate waves.
And in the distance, you will see a watchtower jutting out from the base of the old town.
It’s one of many along the coast of Gaeta. In the 6th century, they were used to forewarn attacks from the Saracens.
But a unique place in Sperlonga is the Villa of Tiberius and Sea Grotto. Here you will find sculptures celebrating the deeds of Odysseus discovered in a cavern.
To get to the grotto, walk south to the end of the beach, away from the old town. However, there is a museum on the left before the grotto to see the sculptures.
4. Take a Ferry to the Pontine Islands
When standing at the Temple of Jupiter Anxur, it is the Pontine Islands you see.
This archipelago is made up of 6 islands, but only Ponza and Venetone are inhabited. The islands are popular for swimming and diving.
To get to Ponza and Venetone, you can book a ferry from Terracina with OK Ferry.
5. Stop at San Felice Circeo
Another recommendation was to visit the small commune of San Felice Circeo.
It forms part of the Circeo National Park, where the remains of Neanderthals were discovered in the Grotta Guattari.
The small town is ideal for lunch, swimming and walks along the rugged coastline.
Where to Stay in Terracina
Our Airbnb, with our Host Denny, was fantastic. Denny spent time providing us with places of interest to visit, where to find good local food and about Terracina’s local history.
But if you prefer to stay at a hotel, then Hotels.com is a favourite for reasonable deals.
Enjoying the Best of Terracina
When you plan a road trip around Italy, the added benefit is finding lesser-known places in Italy like Terracina.
We loved Terracina so much that we stayed longer than expected.
With clean beaches and clear water. The taste sensations of local produce and seafood. And discovering more stories of Terracina’s history. We spent more time enjoying this city.
To discover more of the best in Italy, look at some of these posts.