What to see in Aosta in a day

What to see in Aosta-Roman Theater-remains-

A Brief Guide to Discovering the Beauties of the Capital of Aosta Valley

Are you planning a vacation in Aosta Valley but unsure whether to explore its capital? Keep reading to discover what to see in Aosta in just one day!

Like many, we used to visit Valle d’Aosta for skiing in winter and enjoying nature in summer. Aosta was merely a highway toll booth, observed from a distance with indifferent eyes. Only in recent years, inspired by friends’ tales and fellow bloggers’ articles, did we delve deeper into understanding this city.

Aosta pleasantly surprised us with its immense archaeological heritage, actively promoted in recent years. Its significant past dates back to 3000 B.C. when the megalithic culture inhabited the area. The most evident Roman-era remains are seen in the city, a crucial center on the Gaul route, established by Emperor Augustus to control alpine passes.

Despite the empire’s fall, Aosta remained a reference point for centuries, becoming an episcopal seat in the 4th century AD. Subsequently, it became a crucial stop for pilgrims on the Via Francigena. Aosta eventually fell under the control of the County of Savoy at the beginning of the second millennium, following its fate until Italian unification.

With this brief introduction, let’s begin our tour to discover what to see in Aosta in a day. Keep reading.

What to See in Aosta in a Day: Roman Monuments

As mentioned, Aosta retained clear signs of its Roman origin in its urban structure and numerous monuments. Let’s start our itinerary of what to see in Aosta in a day with them.

The Arch of Augustus

Upon arriving in Aosta, the first monument you encounter is usually the Arch of Augustus. Built in 25 B.C. to celebrate the Roman victory over the Salassi people, it features a single arch adorned with Corinthian semi-columns and a Doric frieze. The distinctive slate roof, added in the 18th century to prevent collapse due to water infiltration, sets it apart from typical Roman triumphal arches. Interestingly, over the centuries, it served various purposes, from medieval processions to housing noble families and even functioning as a small fort for crossbowmen.

Arco di Augusto- croce- tetto in ardesia
Arco di Augusto (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)
Arch of Augustus - cross - slate roof
Arch of Augustus (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Porta Pretoria

Continuing towards the center, you’ll encounter Porta Pretoria, the last surviving of the four gates providing access to the Roman city. In excellent condition today, it features two sets of three arches—larger ones in the center for carts and smaller ones on the sides for pedestrians. Look up, and you’ll notice walkways where sentinels once guarded city access. On the southern side stands one of the two rectangular defensive towers, now housing the Tourist Office—an ideal spot for information on the city and surrounding areas.

Aosta- Porta Pretoria- Fornici-Passerelle
Scorcio di Porta Pretoria ad Aosta (Credit to Philippe Germanier CC-BY-SA)
Aosta - Porta Pretoria - Fornici - Walkways
Glimpse of Porta Pretoria in Aosta (Credit to Philippe Germanier CC-BY-SA)

The Roman Theatre

A few dozen meters from Porta Pretoria stands what is considered Aosta’s symbol: the Roman Theatre. Its colossal dimensions, with a surface of 81 meters in width and 64 meters in length, reaching a height of over 20 meters, highlight its significance during its construction. The cavea could accommodate 3,500 to 3,400 spectators and is enclosed within the impressive southern wall. Recent years have seen the theatre hosting various events, concerts, and colorful Christmas markets. The entrance fee includes access to the Forensic Cryptoporticus, the Archaeological Museum of Valle d’Aosta, and the archaeological site of San Lorenzo.

Forensic Cryptoporticus

An astonishing place we didn’t hesitate to include among the must-see things in Aosta is the Forensic Cryptoporticus. This semi-subterranean path, forming a horseshoe-shaped double corridor with barrel vaults supported by sturdy tufa pillars, likely served as a ambulatory surrounding the sacred area of Aosta’s ancient forum. Thanks to restoration efforts, visitors can now enjoy the subdued light illuminating the raw stone, appreciating the perfection of the barrel vaults and large pillars supporting the row of arches.

Forensic Cryptoporticus - perspective - round arches - pillars
The Forensic Cryptoporticus (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Regional Archaeological Museum of Valle d’Aosta

Following the visits to the Theatre and Forensic Cryptoporticus, we highly recommend exploring the Regional Archaeological Museum of Valle d’Aosta. Housed in a building constructed on the site of the ancient Porta Principalis Sinistra, one of the city’s four gates, the museum’s exhibition is fascinating. From prehistoric artifacts to Roman and medieval relics from across Valle d’Aosta, the chronological and thematic arrangement ensures easy navigation. Noteworthy features include reconstructions of environments like a thermopolium, aiding visitors in understanding the use of various objects, and provisions for tactile experiences and Braille captions for the visually impaired.

For numismatics enthusiasts, the museum boasts a remarkable collection of coins from ancient Greece to the Savoy period. Celtic, Gallic, and Padanian coins particularly fascinated us, offering a firsthand glimpse of these historical currencies.

What to See in Aosta: Bourg Saint Ours

Another intriguing area in Aosta to explore is Bourg Saint Ours (Sant’Orso Quarter), just outside the ancient walls, where the city’s early Christians practiced their worship on the remains of a necropolis.

The Collegiate Church of Sant’Orso

Attracting visitors to this quaint quarter is the Collegiate Church of Sant’Orso, among the most significant religious complexes in the valley, artistically and historically. The Romanesque bell tower dominates the small square upon arrival. The church’s facade exhibits late Gothic elements like the pointed arch portal, terracotta ghibelline, and a tall pinnacle.

Bell tower and facade of the Collegiate Church of Sant’Orso (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The interior, featuring late Gothic architecture with elements from earlier and Baroque periods, showcases remarkable frescoes from the 11th century between the vaults and roof, and a 12th-century mosaic recently unveiled. Adjacent to the church, the cloister stands out as one of the city’s most evocative corners. Despite renovations in the 15th and 18th centuries, it preserves 37 of the original 52 marble capitals, which were originally white but now sport a dark color due to a transparent waterproofing compound mixed with ash.

Archaeological Site of San Lorenzo

Opposite the Collegiate Church of Sant’Orso lies another site worth visiting, and not just because it’s part of the cumulative ticket. The Archaeological Site of San Lorenzo exemplifies how this Aosta region was the first free center of the city’s Christian worship. Under the ancient church of the Borgo, the remains of an ancient cruciform Paleochristian basilica, erected on the tombs of the first martyrs, have been unearthed. Recognizable structures include parts of liturgical facilities, tombs of early bishops Grato, Agnello, and Gallo, and other contemporary graves.

What to See in Aosta: The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

A place allowing you to trace Aosta’s evolution from antiquity to the present is undoubtedly the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The church’s area, overlooking the ancient forum, housed a Domus Ecclesiae (private house used for worship) as early as the 4th century, before the liberalization of Christianity..

Clear signs of transformations from the 11th-century construction to modern times are visible from the outside. Two square campaniles flanked the church from the start. The facade, neoclassical in style, mostly covers the vibrant Renaissance facade. Inside, varied styles and elements from different eras coexist

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in the evening (Credit to Luca Aless CC-BY-SA)

Striking features include beautiful 15th-century polychrome stained glass and a large crucifix from the previous century. The cathedral also houses Mannerist frescoes from the late 16th century in the Baron’s Chapel of Cly, medieval mosaics in the choir depicting the months and real/fantastic animals, and early medieval frescoes.

What to See in Aosta: Piazza Chanoux and the Central Streets

Aosta’s historic center is compact and easy to navigate. Strolling through its streets inevitably leads to Piazza Chanoux, a large square branching into the city’s main streets. At the square’s center stands the monument dedicated to the Alpine troops, with the neoclassical facade of the Municipality as its backdrop. The Municipality’s portico features the historic Caffè Nazionale, dating back to around 1815 and likely the city’s most elegant establishment. Next to the Municipality stands the 18th-century Hôtel des États, once the local parliament under the Savoy rule.

Glimpse of Piazza Chanoux (Credit to Luca Aless CC-BY-Sa)

Exploring the rest of Aosta’s historic center allows you to immerse yourself in the city’s discreet charm and relax while shopping or seeking authentic artisanal shops for souvenirs. Explore less-traveled streets for the most genuine crafts, and consider purchasing wooden items. We chose to buy the traditional friendship cup, from which Valdostan coffee (coffee and grappa) is enjoyed in the company of friends and relatives.

What to See in Aosta: The Megalithic Area of Saint Martin de Corléans

Another fascinating discovery we made about what to see in Aosta is the Megalithic Area of Saint Martin de Corléans. Discovered in 1969, this archaeological site, just outside the center, now hosts a super-modern museum. Even for those less inclined towards prehistory, the structures built around this ancient megalithic site make the visit enjoyable and interesting.

What to see in Aosta - Megalithic area of Saint Martin de Corlèans - prehistoric remains
Interior of the Megalithic Area of Saint Martin de Corléans

The path allows exploration of many megalithic structures and numerous artifacts discovered, providing a literal leap into the past. Descending six meters below ground reveals that this area wasn’t just an alignment of menhirs and anthropomorphic steles or a simple dolmenic necropolis. It was also a sacred area intended for recurring events related to worship and burial. Remarkably, this megalithic area boasts the largest covered megalithic space in Europe!

What to Eat in Aosta

As we always say, to truly understand a city’s soul, you must taste its typical dishes. For Aosta, we never missed visiting the typical restaurants in the center, indulging in the tasty dishes of Valdostan tradition. If you’re interested, follow our culinary advice—we’re sure you won’t regret it. First and foremost, try Chnéfflene, homemade pasta balls with milk and flour, seasoned with onions and butter or fondue. For a rustic first course, also taste Seupa de grì, a soup of pork, barley, and vegetables typical of alpine valleys.

The main courses feature the famous Cotoletta alla valdostana, filled with cooked ham and fontina, fried in butter, and Carbonade—a salted beef dish cooked with lard and garlic, flavored with a wine and flour-based sauce. To pair with these dishes, we recommend a Petit Rouge D.O.C, a native red wine recognizable for its intense ruby color.

Now that you know what to eat and what to see in Aosta in one day, all that’s left is to decide when to plan your visit!

Ultimi consigli

If you plan to stay in Aosta, click here and discover the best accommodations at the best prices!

If you prefer a well-prepared guide to introduce you to Aosta thoroughly, click here!

Oh, and if you have some spare time, also check out our article on what to see around Aosta!


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What to see in Aosta in a day
Plan your Aosta Valley vacation with confidence! Discover what to see in Aosta in a day for an amazing experience!
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La Scimmia Viaggiatrice

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