Bucket-list builder: Roman ruins
PUBLISHED: 10:00 23 May 2020
When working on your post-Covid lockdown bucket list, ask yourself what have the Romans ever done for us? Inspired some amazing trips, for a start. Then there’s the aqueduct...
In theory, producing a bucket list is all about looking forwards: in this case, to fascinating places to visit once the coronavirus has been sufficiently contained to allow travel to resume. They do say, though, that you need to understand where you’ve come from to really know where you’re going – so a little history can’t hurt, especially if it’s in a glorious setting.
If you want history, it doesn’t get much better than the Romans. And while every Monty Python fan knows what they’ve done for us, seeing Roman relics in all their glory should put our current coronavirus problems into perspective. Standing beside a structure that was built more than 2000 years ago is sure to make this couple of months, waiting to get out again, seem like less of a big deal. Plus many Roman sites are in gloriously sunny places, famed for their great food – perfect places for a bucket-list trip.
Okay, the English/Scottish border may not be so famous for its hours of uninterrupted sunshine, but a sunny summer’s day there is lovely. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the great feats of Roman engineering – 84 miles of wall and fortresses, spanning the country from the Tyne on the east coast to the Solway Firth on the west. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and Much of the wall and many of the settlements are well preserved - with sites like Vindolanda, Chesters, Housesteads and Birdoswald to visit. It’s ambitious, but bucket lists are supposed to be ambitious, so walking well-maintained trail along the wall from coast to coast surely has to be done. No? You can also visit all the key sites by car...
How to get there: Heading north on the A1 will get you to Newcastle upon Tyne, with the wall’s eastern end in the suburb of, ahem, Wallsend. For information on English Heritage sites, including Chesters and Birdoswald, click here. For information on Vindolanda, click here.
With an empire stretching from Scotland to North Africa and the Atlantic to the Middle East, there’s no shortage of Roman ruins to visit all over Europe and some of the finest are in Spain – from the amphitheatre of Cartagena in the south to the city walls of Lugo in the north. However, we’d head to the small city of Merida, near the border with Portugal. The traces of Rome’s builders are everywhere in the city – from the Roman bridge and the temple of Diana to the amphitheatre, the theatre, even the chariot-racing stadium and more.
How to get there: Merida is a four-hour drive north west of Malaga, or three hours south west from Madrid. For information click here.
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As a destination, Nimes delivers two cultures for the price of one: modern French and Ancient Roman. This city in the south of France has three things going for it, with great weather, great food and great Roman ruins. The sublime amphitheatre is one of the best preserved in Europe but there’s much more besides, from the temple of Diana to the water gardens, from the Roman walls and lofty tower (the Tour Magne) to the palatial Maison Carree... and that’s not even mentioning the nearby three-tiered aqueduct at Pont du Gard (okay, that was mentioning it).
How to get there: Nimes has a small airport, but there are more regular flights to Marseille (two hours away). Or make it a road trip and enjoy two-to-three days driving down from Calais. For information click here.
Obviously, if you want a bit or Roman culture it makes sense to go to the source. There’s so much to see in Rome – much more than just the colosseum, the pantheon and the ruins of the forum. Trajan’s market and the remains of Diocletian are must-see sites (the baths are part of the National Roman Museum). If that’s not enough – especially combined with the cultural overload of Rome’s renaissance heritage – then venturing out of the city reveals even more riches, with fabulous ancient sites in Ostia Antica towards the coast and the sublime Villa Adriana inland, near Tivoli.
How to get there: There are regular flights to Rome, with good public transport links to get around the city (or taxis if you have nerves of steel). For information, click here.
What’s there to see in Bath? The clue’s in the name... The settlement that sprung up around what the Romans called Aqua Sulis may have been largely replaced but the Roman baths that give the West Country city its modern name are still here, perfectly preserved and are some of the finest in the world - making Bath a World Heritage Site. You’ll need to book a ticket for a tour of the baths themselves, making the visit just a part of a weekend break in one of England’s most charming small cities – a simple and easily achieved bucket-list Roman holiday.
How to get there: Bath is easily reached by road or rail. For information about the baths, click here.
There are amazing Roman sites all around the Mediterranean – in Libya, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Albania and pretty much every other country, as well as in the closer bits of Western Europe. So many would be worth visiting, but for our bucket list we’d head to Israel to this town originally built by King Herod (yes, that one). That’s not purely in case the aqueduct at Caesarea is THE aqueduct, but also because this well preserved site, sitting in a national park, features a unique underwater museum where you get the chance to dive among the ruins. On land, there are plenty of carefully maintained ruins - including an amazing Roman theatre with spectacular sea views.
How to get there: Caesarea is halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, so a flight to either airport puts you within an hour of the ruins. For more information click here.
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