I never planned to spend 1 day in Aosta, Italy. I was in the middle of a completely different trip when things went sideways and, we’ll just say, backwards down a mountain. But, travel is nothing if not unpredictable and I’m happy to have found Aosta—an otherwise complete travel secret. Until now, mwahahha!
Despite all the time I’ve spent traveling around Italy (more than any other country outside my own), I’d never heard of Aosta or the Aosta Valley—the tiniest of Italy’s 20 regions. You can find it way up north, bordered by the Alps, right there in the nook between Italy, France, and Switzerland. I’m fairly certain it’s hidden just inside the barrel around a Saint Bernard’s neck.
Aosta Valley, Italy
The Aosta Valley is an area famous for skiing given its Alpine location, the home of numerous castles, and for being the birthplace of Fontina cheese–a cause I think we can all behind.
Aosta the city has a population of just over 34,000. This makes Aosta similar in size to such American cultural centers as Marion City, Iowa and Delaware City, Ohio. It’s the kind of Italian town that’s so quaint none of the places I’m going to mention in this post have websites. We’re going to have to do things the ancient way–with maps!
A friend and I were staying in nearby Courmayeur and, without a plan at all, took a bus to the closest city on the map with a larger than average font. Yes, you read that right. Literally, the letters spelling AOSTA were bigger than the rest within a couple hours’ drive and that’s all we needed.
Bigger fonts meant there had to be something to do during 1 day in Aosta, right? The phrase you’re searching for right now is “sheer genius.” (Every trip you take with me is basically a trust fall.)
1 day in Aosta
Our 1 day in Aosta, the capital of the Aosta Valley region, was an incredibly interesting experience. From the city’s bilingualism (everything is in both Italian and French), the ancient Roman ruins literally on every corner, to the fact that we were the only non-Italians in sight—it was clear we’d found a lovely little oasis in the mountains.
It’s the kind of town where important information and funeral service announcements are posted on a central bulletin board in the town square. Needless to say, all the spots you’ll visit in Aosta are about as close together as you are to your phone screen right now.
Hidden gem status aside, that’s not to say their tourism is non-existent. Their tourism infrastructure is pretty good and almost all of the tourists we encountered were also Italian. Go ahead and file Aosta under: places to hide after I win the lottery.
There’s plenty to do during 1 day in Aosta—historic and archaeological sites-a-plenty, great food and entertainment, beautiful scenery, and the chance to visit a town that truly feels like a secret.
How to get to Aosta
In my case, I was heading to Aosta from Courmayeur, Italy—an Alpine city on the border with France just an hour away.
Getting to Aosta from Courmayeur was as simple as entering the ticket office and stating we wanted to go to Aosta. They sold us tickets (for around 3.50€ each) for a ride on the local SAVDA bus the next morning. You can find SAVDA bus information here.
The ride was quick and easy and not at all as awkwardly entertaining as it would have been on the Flixbus (which we would soon discover), another cheap option for traveling to and from Aosta.
Additionally, you can travel to and from Aosta and throughout the Aosta Valley via regional trains. I didn’t travel this way so I can’t help you anymore than that, but visit the Trenitalia website for ticket and schedule info.
Where to stay during your 1 day in Aosta
Though a day trip to Aosta is a perfect getaway from neighboring cities like Courmayeur and Turin, we decided to spend the night there to get the full feel of our 1 day in Aosta. If you’ve ever traveled in Italy, you know the small towns really come alive (and the shirts come unbuttoned) after the sun goes down.
We stayed at the Duca D’Aosta Hotel and it was one of the nicest places we stayed during our almost three weeks in France and Italy choosing cities at random based on font size.
The hotel staff was friendly and spoke English (among many other languages, showoffs), the room was big and clean and mildly indulgent after a week of much more questionable accommodations, and I can’t recommend it enough. Not having to bring my own sheets and sleep in a wooden bunk bed I’m allergic to with only a curtain for a door = priceless.
If you’re planning to spend 1 day in Aosta, check out Duca D’Aosta Hotel here on Booking.com, my favorite booking site.
How to spend 1 day in Aosta
Even with just 1 day in Aosta you can still see the city’s biggest tourist attractions as well as experience the culture that makes this little town tick. Prepare to say, “OMG this place is SO cute” for 12 straight hours.
Wake up at Latteria 37
Begin your 1 day in Aosta with a cappuccino and a cream-filled croissant at Latteria 37. This cute little bakery is on one of Aosta’s main commercial streets and opens before everything else.
The staff is friendly (and so are the drinks) and the food is great and fast. If Italy does anything with a sense of urgency, it’s caffeine.
Latteria 37 Address: Via Porta Pretoria 37, Aosta
Aosta tourism office / Porta Praetoria
Next, stop by the Aosta tourism office for more information and the resources you’ll need for your 1 day in Aosta. Here you can pick up a map of the town, an Aosta guide that lists all the things to do in Aosta, purchase a Culture Pass, and probably pet a puppy or two.
Valle d’Aosta Culture Pass
The Valle d’Aosta Culture Pass is a ticket you can purchase for just 7€ that gets you into the city’s top four tourist attractions:
- the Roman Theater
- the Forensic Cryptoporticus
- the Early Christian Basilica of San Lorenzo
- and the Regional Archaeological Museum.
- All for 7 euros. OMG this place is SO cute.
The tourism office itself is located in one of the city’s oldest structures: the Porta Praetoria. The Porta Praetoria was once the main gate into the city and built in 25 BC. You can still see the gate’s three openings: one for carriages and the other two for pedestrians (and their pooches, apparently).
Aosta Tourism Office Address: Piazza Porta Praetoria, Aosta
Arch of Augustus
Further down the same road (Via Porta Pretoria—it’s a small town ok?) the street turns into a rotary surrounding an enormous and visibly ancient stone arch—the Arch of Augustus.
The Romans constructed the Arch of Augustus in 25 BC as a monument dedicated to and following their victory over a Celtic tribe called the Salassi. Throughout history it has served as a home for a noble family, a fortification, and a super elaborate storage unit. If even the lords and ladies of the Middle Ages had a place to store their junk then I don’t see why I can’t store my boxes of childhood crap in my parents’ garage for a few more years.
Today, a copy of a wooden crucifix from 1449 hangs as an offering to stop the nearby river from flooding. (The original is in one of Aosta’s museums.) And speaking of weird things the Buthier River has done…
Pont de Pierre
Continue straight through the Arch of Augustus (if on foot—huge side note right there), cross over the river, and you’ll find yourself on the Pont de Pierre, an equally ancient stone bridge. An ancient Roman bridge with a French name pretty much sums up Aosta, a town where you can buy potted edelweiss on the sidewalk while getting stared at by an old woman on a balcony at the same time.
The Pont de Pierre is a perfectly preserved Roman segmental arch bridge that also dates back to the reign of Augustus. It used to span the nearby Buthier River (which is actually referred to as a mountain torrent ’round these parts) but, ever since the river changed course in the Middle Ages, now just spans a lovely piece of grass in between some houses. I imagine the river being like, “Meh… I like it better over there.”
Collegiate Church of Sant Orso
Like I always say, when passing an ancient church while in Italy, you must go inside. Not for religious reasons or to find out if I will, indeed, burst into flames as has been insinuated on so many occasions. Really, I’m just the nerdiest of all history nerds and inside centuries-old churches in Italy is my nerdy happy place.
This church, as old as it is, was actually completely rebuilt in the 9th century with the bell tower dating to the year 989.
Inside you can see 15th century frescoes, relics of Saints Gratus (patron saint of both Aosta and of vineyards, hip-hip-hooray!) and Ursus (who the church was named after) down in the crypt, and original Roman mosaics through glass windows in the floor.
The Roman Theater is Aosta’s crown tourism jewel. It, too, was built during the reign of Augustus in the 1st century, which is exactly how I feel about myself every time I watch the Grammys. What you can see today is just the southern façade of the theater, but there are numerous ruins to explore inside the complex. (And cats! I honestly don’t think Roman ruins could survive without cats.)
The highlight of Aosta sightseeing, the Roman Theater also still serves as a theater for outdoor musical and theatrical performances today. Grammys be damned!
1 day in Aosta: Where to eat lunch
Because I actually ate two lunches in Aosta, I have two recommendations for you. Both spots are cheap, easy, and delizioso/délicieux!
A great spot for a sit-down lunch of simple sandwiches and phenomenal people-watching. (Because, if you don’t already know, people watching in the Italian public is the best people watching.) Caffe Anfiteatro has outdoor seating right there on Via Porta Pretoria
Keep walking until the Arch of Augustus is directly in front of you, now look to your right. Right there on the corner of the rotary is a walk-up pizza window with delicious and quick offerings. (And if you’re lucky, there will also be a breastfeeding baby making eye contact with you while you wait to order. Thank you for that, little one, for I hadn’t felt that uncomfortable since the day before when I had to dry off from a shower with a tea towel.)
These walk-up pizza joints in Italy are some of my favorite ways to eat in Italy. They’re quick, they’re no-fuss, and the food is both good and cheap.
After lunch we headed to the Forensic Cryptoporticus. Despite this place having the word ‘forensic’ in the name, no one even knows what this place is for or why it was built. But damn it’s cool.
The Forensic Cryptoporticus dates back to—yeah—the times of Augustus and no one really knows what its purpose was. It’s believed to have been a warehouse for military storage, but also as just a way to level out the city, in a roundabout way.
Eventually, they simply used it as cellars throughout time. There’s a chance you’ll find Augustus’s old stuffed animals and polyester tops from Wet Seal in a trunk down here somewhere. Don’t worry, he’ll go through them “the next time he’s in town.” Which is why you’re having to chip away at them with a fossil brush.
Today you can tour the underground areas and see some active archaeological digs and ruins among other things.
Regional Archaeology Museum
Next up was a visit to the Regional Archaeology Museum—a museum that has, get this, archaeological artifacts from the region.
This museum has a ton of exhibits with tons of artifacts, and the building itself is built over ancient ruins you can see through windows in the floor and walls. There’s a large variety of, umm, things going on… made even more confusing by the fact that the displays are only explained in French and Italian and at some point there was some stuff about the Smurfs in there. The Smurfs. Give that a second.
Regardless, the staff is friendly, the place is interesting, and admission is included in your Culture Pass.
Passegiatta & Aosta’s Main Square
Now that the sightseeing portion of your 1 day in Aosta has come to end, it’s time to unwind Italian style. Though this little town is unique in its own way, there’s still one solid Italian tradition that happens every night: passegiatta.
Passegiatta is a “leisurely stroll” taken in small Italian towns such as this one, around dusk… simply for the act of strolling. It’s a way to shop, get some fresh air, and socialize since you know everyone here knows everyone else.
Passegiatta is maybe my favorite thing about traveling in Italy. Grab yourself a gelato and simply wander through the streets of town—there are a million ways to be entertained. And most of them have their shirts unbuttoned to their navels.
During your 1 day in Aosta, you must spend some time in and around Piazza Emile Channoux, Aosta’s main square. There are shops and monuments and, when we were there in August, an absolutely massive board game festival. Witnessing this, and the city-wide scavenger hunt, was awesome to experience as an outsider. (Okay, maybe this is a city for nerds.)
Dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Belvedere
During your passegiatta you can search for a place to eat dinner, or simply take my recommendation of Ristorante Pizzeria Belvedere because, when the first thing on an Italian menu is “lard,” you know you in the right place.
Pizzeria Belvedere serves amazing food, as you would expect from an Italian town of this lack-of-magnitude. We loved the outdoor seating and, of course, the people watching and listening to our new favorite street performer rocking out.
The service was great, they have menus in English, and your whole dinner experience will be watched over from a wise balcony cat. What more could you ask for?
Hope you enjoyed this look at what you can do with 1 day in Aosta, Italy!