Pearl of the Adriatic Riviera, its artistic and scenic beauty blends with the roar of the sea waves. Whether it is a short or multi-day holiday, here is a complete itinerary on what to see in and around Ancona.
Surrounded by green hills and the crystalline blue of the Adriatic Sea, the city of Ancona stands solemnly. Its fame lies in its unusual and fascinating geography, the landscapes that surround it, and the thousands of historical and artistic traces left behind during past eras.
The city’s name derives from the Greek word “Ankon”, meaning “elbow”. The promontory where it stands, close to the northernmost part of the Monte Conero park, is of this shape. Like the “Eternal City”, Ancona is also made up of multiple hills, gently sloping down to form sandy beaches along the northernmost coastline.
In this particular area we find the Gulf of Ancona, developed in the innermost part of the promontory, whose peculiar morphology gives rise to a natural harbour that has always made the city an important outlet to the sea. The steep and jagged southern coasts, on the other hand, are of a different kind, natural defences that have made the city an impenetrable fortress. We can mention, in addition to the most famous ones in tourism such as Mezzavalle or Portonovo, the white cliffs of Passetto.
In addition to the natural heritage, what to see in Ancona in the cultural-historical sphere? Clues and traces left over the centuries are scattered throughout the city, just waiting to be discovered! Due to its strategic maritime position, it was renamed as the “Gateway to the East” and played a central role during the Roman occupation, as evidenced by an engraving on one of its famous monuments, the Arch of Trajan. It was equally famous during the medieval period, included as an integral part of the Papal States and later recognised as one of the flourishing maritime republics.
During this period, its fascination grew by leaps and bounds, being increasingly enriched artistically and culturally to the extent that it was used as the subject of numerous portraits, operas and even short films. Praised by Catullus and Juvenal were the exploits of Trajan, who left to face the second Dacian wars directly from Ancona’s harbour, while artists such as Crivelli and Vanvitelli were inspired to portray some of its cult locations in their works. In Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work “The Long Road of Sand”, we find an accurate description of it. While, in the cinematographic sphere, it has been used as the setting for some of the most famous films, such as Nanni Moretti’s “The Son’s Room”.
Art, history, nature and lots of good food… Here is what to see and do in and around Ancona! 👇
What to see in Ancona city?
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Suitable for all types of tourist, from the history and culture enthusiast to the nature lover, Ancona is a perfect destination for those who want to spend a pleasant, unconventional weekend. By using the efficient bus network connecting the suburbs with the centre, or alternatively by relying on a pair of comfortable shoes, visiting Ancona city in a day or two will be easy and hassle-free.
If you’re itching to know what makes this place so special, here’s a list of the best attractions to see and enjoy 100%!
1. MOLE VANVITELLIANA AND THE OMERO STATE TACTILE MUSEUM
The legacy of the famous architect Luigi Vanvitelli, the Mole represents a rare architectural jewel, the result of the artist’s genius. Also called the “Lazzaretto of Ancona”, the building stands near the port, precisely on an artificial pentagonal island connected to the mainland by three bridges. Initially used as a precautionary warehouse for goods and to house sick people in quarantine (hence the term “Lazzaretto”), over the years this purpose has been completely overturned by enhancing the beauty of its neoclassical architectural style. It has thus become one of the most celebratory symbols, and nowadays is a perfect temple for hosting major cultural and artistic events, in the shadow of the central temple of San Rocco, towering in the centre of its courtyard.
The vast dimensions of the building are occupied by, among other organisations, the State Tactile Museum “Omero”, an innovative destination for cultural tourism in Ancona. Created from the ingenious idea of a blind couple, the museum offers the possibility of touching copies of statues of the greatest classics, allowing everyone to enjoy art beyond sight. So feel free, at last, to be able to violate the infamous “do not touch” ban.
2. PIA DOOR
Wandering around the streets, it is possible to discover many unexpected places of interest in Ancona, each with its own history. In the case of Porta Pia, you certainly cannot remain impassive before the elegance of its Baroque features. Initially erected as a gateway to the city at the behest of Pope Pius VI, its function ceased during the Second World War when it was literally moved to make way for the construction of a new road. The monument’s uniqueness can be found in its two façades: contrasting the richness of the Istrian stone ornaments on the façade facing the sea, we find the frugality of the one facing the city, clad only in tufa blocks.
3. ARCH OF TRAJAN
A legacy of the Roman Empire and fruit of the genius of Apollodorus of Damascus, the Arch of Trajan stands at the ancient port. This work in Corinthian style was built in honour of Emperor Trajan, one of the first to want to invest in the city’s potential by expanding its harbour, making it one of the most influential entrances to Italy. It was from here that the emperor set out on his second war against the Dacians, as is directly evidenced in the depiction of Trajan’s Column in Rome where the features of the arch are clearly recognisable.
4. THEATRE OF THE MUSES
What to see in Ancona, if you want to attend a theatre performance in a fantastic location? A fixed stop is the Teatro delle Muse! First in capacity among the theatres in the entire region, it was built in 1827 in the most central part (precisely near Piazza della Repubblica). Neoclassical in style, its name comes from the nine muses sculpted in the tympanum of its façade. Its large interior capacity, the excellent functionality of its audio and visual systems and the presence of a “firebreak” curtain, unique in Europe, make the theatre a renowned destination for the calibre of the shows and guests it welcomes.
5. THE ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE
Built on high ground, halfway between the Guasco and Cappuccini hills, this amphitheatre dating back to the Augustan period further enriches Ancona’s historical heritage. The panoramic-historical combination that one breathes here is delightful: in addition to breathing in history from the walls of the amphitheatre, you can also admire a breathtaking view of the Adriatic Sea and the Old Port.
6. CITY CENTRE
Moving inland, the city teems with gems to discover! Within it, you will find a myriad of majestic squares, historic streets and city landmarks that you absolutely must visit. Starting from the old port, before leaving for the centre, we must not forget to admire the majestic Clementine Arch, also designed by the genius Vanvitelli. This arch, too, has two facades similar in mirror image to Trajan’s. You can see the distinctive trait of the artist, who used to identify himself through the depiction of triglyphs and scallops. Not to be overlooked is the Loggia dei Mercanti, erected in honour of the city’s flourishing mercantile activity, with its eye-catching Venetian Gothic façade.
Leaving the harbour, we come to one of the city’s largest squares, Piazza Cavour. The statue of the protagonist stands in the centre of the square, surrounded by rich vegetation all around that can be admired while sitting on one of the many benches, perhaps drinking a cool drink.
Walking towards the historical centre, taking Corso Mazzini, we can come across the Fontana di Calamo, or better known as the “Fontana delle Tredici Cannelle”. Very dear to the people of Ancona, its fame is known for all the folklore behind it: tradition has it that, before leaving the city, the people of Ancona drink from each fountain as a good omen for a safe return.
The middle bridge between modernity and antiquity is Viale della Vittoria, a welcome destination for those who want to take a long walk. It is a direct connection between the harbour and the Passetto. Shopping and happy hour enthusiasts will find numerous historical venues and fashionable shops along the street.
7. THE PASSETTO
On a Sunday afternoon, before the 6 p.m. aperitif, what could be better than a panoramic tour around the Passetto? Continuing straight towards Viale della Vittoria, we arrive in front of the imposing War Memorial, dedicated to the victims of the First World War. In it we find some of that Greek influence that hovers over the entire city, being a circular temple accessible by a circular staircase leading to the top of an altar.
Looking at the horizon and the vastness of the sea that opens up there, we surprisingly discover that the monument is merely its gateway. Below it, an immense staircase opens up, culminating in the panoramic terrace below where, if you happen to be there at the right moment, you can admire a breathtaking sunset over the sea.
The tour didn’t end there! Descending the two flights of semicircular stairs you arrive at the picturesque Passetto metropolitan beach, a cult place of seaside tourism in Ancona. Here you can breathe in the city’s true seafaring side, described by the Passetto Caves that dot the entire coastline. These are shelters carved out of the rock, fishermen’s dwellings adorned with salvaged objects such as discarded furniture, bulk fences and recycled tiles. In the shadow of these constructions, a stony white beach opens up, surrounded by numerous rocks that can be used as diving boards during the sunniest days. Of these, the most “Instagrammed” is undoubtedly that of the Pope’s Chair, a rock set in the middle of the sea looking very much like a papal chair.
8. THE CARDETO PARK AND ITS LIGHTHOUSES
Named for the large number of milk thistles present, the Cardeto Park offers the opportunity to spend a relaxing and adventurous day in the sun! Its flowering meadows and lush vegetation are perfect for a nice picnic, made even more memorable by the fantastic panoramic views overlooking the sea. For trekking enthusiasts, there are a myriad of different trails throughout the park, winding their way through the many sights.
In fact, the area is surrounded by historical buildings and artefacts such as the Jewish Cemetery and its tombs called “cippe”, the Bastione San Paolo with its dense network of underground passages, the Polveriera Castelfidardo and many others. Honourable mention must also go to the two lighthouses here: the Old Lighthouse with its vantage point and the New Lighthouse, still functioning today.
9. PLEBISCITE SQUARE
Also called “the Pope’s Square” due to the presence of the statue of Clement XII, this place encapsulates a mix of different experiences. In addition to the picturesque Palazzo del Governo flanked by the Civic Tower and the Church of San Domenico, with its fine works of art inside, Piazza del Plebiscito is the main nightlife venue for university students.
When visiting Ancona in a day or two, after a long day out and about there is nothing better than spending a pleasant evening in one of the many trendy venues here. Because enjoying a cocktail in the midst of art and history has a whole other charm!
The entire ancient history of Le Marche region and the peoples who lived there is recounted inside the 16th-century Palazzo Ferretti, home to the Archaeological Museum of the Marche. Inside, we can go on a journey back in time, starting with the discovery of prehistoric peoples up to the remains of Greek, Roman and medieval populations. Finally, we find the largest collection dedicated to the Picenes’ civilisation, a myriad of artefacts and utensils that tell a detailed account of their lifestyle.
The artistic history of the region is instead illustrated in the Podesti Civic Art Gallery through a series of works of art ranging from the ancient to the modern. Among the most famous are the “Madonna and Child” by Carlo Crivelli and the “Gozzi Altarpiece” by Tiziano Vecellio. Its former location, Palazzo Bosdari, has recently been extended by adding a seat dedicated to the works of contemporary artists. In short, there is something for everyone!
11. CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLA PIAZZA AND THE CATHEDRAL
What to see in Ancona, if you love ecclesiastical works? Besides the already mentioned Church of San Domenico, the Church of Santa Maria della Piazza is not to be missed. It was rebuilt from the remains of an early Christian church, which can be visited with its typical mosaics through a network of underground passages. The main building, with Romanesque features, is embellished on the inside with special Byzantine touches such as the Virgin Orante, a bas-relief from Constantinople.
Erected in honour of the city’s patron saint, St Ciriaco, the Cathedral of Ancona was built over the centuries. This Romanesque church stands atop the Guasco Hill, towering above the entire city, the site of the ancient Greek acropolis. At that time, a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite was built, the foundations of which were later used to build the future Duomo. Many artists put their signature on it: in addition to the already famous Vanvitelli, the wall of the Chapel of the Sacrament was painted by the fairy touch of Piero della Francesca.
What to visit around Ancona
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In addition to the many attractions that the city of Ancona offers its visitors, the surroundings hide wonderful places to discover. If you want to organise your holiday for a longer period of time, rather than a weekend, the area between the Macerata and Ancona areas contains years of history, culture and gastronomy ready to be discovered and experienced.
Here are some of the most outstanding locations, unmissable for their beauty and uniqueness!
For historic towns (and good wine) lovers, just a few kilometres from Ancona is the town of Jesi, a medieval jewel of the Vallesina valley. In addition to the architectural beauty of the town, the many neighbouring “castles” stand out: small ancient villages to visit both for their historical beauty and for their wine production. It is here that the two important local wines are born: the white Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and the marked tannic touch of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Don’t miss a guided tour of the wine cellars, to experience first-hand every single step of their centuries-old wine making process.
During the warmer seasons, be enchanted by the crystal-clear sea around the Monte Conero resorts! Between the sandy beaches of Numana and the pebbly beaches of Sirolo and Portonovo, you can relax under the sun for a day of pure relaxation, in the evocative landscape between the beach and the forest (typical of the promontory).
Founded during the regional occupation of the Galli Senoni, the city of Senigallia with its iconic “Rotonda sul Mare” gives visitors plenty to experience! History is alive in this city, thanks to the imposing Rocca Roveresca and the Foro Annonario, but nightlife also pulsates strongly in its veins. There are many bathing establishments along the coast, which are coloured with 40-50s colours during the famous rockabilly festival of the “Summer Jamboree”.
The land that gave birth to the supreme poet Giacomo Leopardi is not far from Ancona, and that is the town of Recanati. Here you can experience and touch all the places of the writer’s heart, reliving his memories directly in his Birthplace (still visitable), in the Tower of the Lonely Sparrow and even scanning the horizon near the “the hill of infinity“.
Let us not forget one of the most famous sanctuaries in the world, which hosts millions of pilgrims from all over the world. Loreto is home to the Holy House of Our Lady of Loreto, which can be visited in the impressive Basilica of the Holy House.
One city, a thousand passions
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As you set out to discover Ancona and its surroundings, in addition to the already mentioned places of interest, you will certainly appreciate the great variety of activities on offer. There is something for all tastes: the beaches of the Conero Riviera are perfect for spending a relaxing day with the whole family, thanks also to bathing establishments equipped with every comfort.
Games and recreational activities are offered to the youngest (optimal solutions during rainy summer days), DJ sets and aperitifs by the sea for the most festive.
The uncontaminated nature, between cliffs and gentle hills, of the Conero offers adventure and extreme sports lovers a unique experience. Trekking enthusiasts can set off backpacking through the multitude of paths winding through the rich vegetation, on foot or even on a mountain bike. For the more energetic, the sea offers numerous adrenalin-pumping opportunities such as surfing, windsurfing and canoe rides.
What to do in and around Ancona for music lovers? Illustrious for lovers of jazz and good music is the “Ancona Jazz Festival”, an event popular with lovers of the genre for the large number of concerts performed by international artists, press reviews, meetings and presentations.
Also flourishing is the food and wine culture in and around Ancona, a multifaceted cuisine that is articulated between the sea and the mountains. The crystal-clear waters of the Riviera provide products with a unique taste, appreciated and sought after throughout the country.
In addition to the famous moscioli, mussels indigenous to the Conero area, we find the most representative dishes that best express the city’s seafood tradition, such as “stoccafisso all’anconetana” and “seafood brodetto from Ancona”. Moving towards the Macerata side, among the most appreciated meat products are “ciauscolo” and “salame Fabriano”, to be served as an appetiser before a warm plate of “vincisgrassi”, a more home-made reinterpretation of the typical oven-baked lasagne.
How to get to Ancona
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The best way to visit Ancona in a day is undoubtedly by car, which is very useful for easily reaching every meander of the city and its surroundings, thanks also to the 2 exits of the A14 motorway: Ancona Nord to enter the city directly, Ancona Sud to arrive directly in the Monte Conero Park.
Alternatively, for those arriving by train or plane from the nearby Falconara airport, there are special city tours available, including one on an electric scooter. Accompanied by an expert guide, don’t hesitate to discover all the secrets of the city without polluting and with the wind in your hair!
Now Ancona has no more secrets for you! So it only remains for me to wish you a happy trip to discover the fantastic Marche region! 😉
Cover photo: pixabay, 12019