There’s something about the summer in Italy which makes the city’s delights pale in comparison to the natural world. Whether you love beaches or mountains, relaxing in the heat or flexing your legs, here are five cheap and cheerful ideas for nature excursions in Rome. I’ve favoured plans that involve public transport but you might need a car for some of these days out.

1. Nature excursions in Rome: head for the beach

The well-organised sea-front of Ostia (it’s covered in private bathing establishments, apart from the odd strip of public beach) always does the job if you’ve got a couple of spare hours and you fancy reclining under an umbrella on a sunbed. Take the Lido train from Porta San Paolo to Lido Centro (about 30 minutes), walk over the road, past the church of Santa Maria Regina Pacis and you’ll reach the sea-front, where you have your pick of stabilimenti. If you’d rather not pay to lounge and you prefer a bit more space, the best public beaches are the eight cancelli of Castel Fusano. Stay on the train until the Cristoforo Colombo stop and then take the 07 MARE bus for the cancelli (I like cancello number 8, just because it’s a bit more spacious, but do experiment as they are all quite different).

Otherwise, from Termini and Ostiense stations you can take a 45 minute -1 hour train north to Santa Marinella. There are some public beaches here but they require taking another bus; the stabilimenti are small and well-organised, while the sea is often cleaner here than Ostia. One of the best kinds of nature excursions in Rome.

If you have a full day available and don’t mind a longer journey, Sperlonga in the south is worth the trip. Take a train to Fondi from Termini (approximately 1′ 10″), and then a bus to Sperlonga. These don’t run very frequently (around every two hours) but a taxi to Sperlonga only costs around €20. The town of Sperlonga, a collection of white cubes perched on top of an outcrop of rock, is full of charm; enjoy pasta alle vongole at one of the local restaurants or take a dip in one of its two broad bays. The water is usually sparkling clean (at least at the start of the summer). For my full guide to beaches near Rome, head here.

2. Plan a picnic in Rome

Whether you like snacking under the shade of an ombrellone on the beach, or prefer a grassy meadow, there are plenty of Roman picnic ideas here.

3. Take a walk in a Roman park or garden in Rome

Rome is pretty well served by its city parks, which all have a character of their own. From the museums, Zoo and lake of Villa Borghese, to the English meadows of Villa Pamphili, there’s something for everyone – don’t miss Villa Ada’s shady woods and lake or the rolling hills of Parco della Caffarella if you really want to immerse yourself in nature. If you’re looking for a more finely cultivated garden, Ninfa may be just the place.

Nature excursions in Rome: visiting the gardens of Ninfa
Visiting Ninfa near Rome

4. Go for a bike ride in Rome

The cycle path along the river Tiber is covered in pop-up bars in the summer, but bike riders needn’t despair. Head for Rome’s parks instead and enjoy a little more freedom and space; you’ll also find bikes to hire in the principal parks. Approaching Villa Borghese from the river, bikers can make the most of the cycle path along Viale delle Belle Arti and then explore one of Rome’s most beloved parks. If you exit Villa Borghese in the north-east corner, you can also go on to Villa Ada and then ultimately cycle alongside the river Aniene (a small tributary of the Tiber) which is set in a beautiful green space of its own (better for mountain bikes or hybrids, but you might manage it with a city bike). Otherwise, from the south, explore the Appia Antica park, or hoist your bike onto the Lido train and head for Ostia (bikes are admitted on this train only at weekends).

5. Visit a lake or hilltown near Rome

If salt-water isn’t your thing but you love to relax by water, try exploring one of Rome’s volcanic lakes: Bracciano or Martignano in the north, or Albano and Nemi in the south-east. Bracciano is just a train ride away and has a cool castle to break up your day, as well as the lake you can swim in; otherwise, tiny Martignano has a laid-back, hippy atmosphere, but you really need a car to reach it. The lakes of the Castelli Romani offer pedaloes and strips of dark sand for sun-bathers, or enjoy a fabulous lunch in one of the hill towns famous for its fare – more here. While you’re there, why don’t you try a wine tasting in one of the vineyards in Frascati and the Castelli Romani? Full information here.

Read next: How to visit the Gardens of Ninfa near Rome