Villa Borghese Gardens are one of my favorite parks in Rome. It’s probably my favorite park in the historic center of Rome (the other one I truly love is the Parco degli Acquedotti), a place I head to whenever I want to go for a run, or when I feel the need to get away from the busy city life without having to leave town.
The park is lined with lots of trails where people run, bike or simply go for a relaxing walk. It’s ideal for families with children, safe for solo travelers, and a great place if you have a dog. There are plenty of benches were you can sit, cafés and food truck where you can get a drink, and lots and lots of interesting sights.
Chances are you will walk though the Villa Borghese Gardens on your way to Borghese Gallery. Just make sure not to overlook the park, as it has a lot to offer! Curious to find out more? Continue reading!
Check out my post The Most Beautiful Parks And Gardens In Rome.
The History Of Villa Borghese Gardens
At 80 hectares, the Villa Borghese Gardens are the third largest public park in Rome after the gardens at Doria Pamphili and Villa Ada. It’s not surprising then that this slice of Rome’s greenery has a long history. The land was originally owned by the nephew of Pope Paul V, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In 1605, the Cardinal began to develop the estate and the surrounding vineyard into the famous gardens that later on became a symbol of the Borghese family’s power and wealth.
Architect Flaminio Ponzio was enlisted to work with the original sketches planned out by Scipione. Buildings such as the opulent Casino Nobile, which is known today as the Galleria Borghese were constructed. Scipione’s vision was for a suburban villa where he could throw parties and showcase his collection of artworks.
The entire property was enlarged with the gardens designed in an organized symmetrical layout with fountains and statues edging neat squares.
Following Ponzio’s death in 1613 the project was handed to Dutch architect and garden designer Jan Van Santen who worked alongside gardener Domenico Savino da Montepulciano. The garden was further extended and additions such as a hunting area were created, but the most important of all the additions was the giardini segreti or “secret gardens.”
Situated on both sides of the Casino Nobile, the secret gardens were given the highest prestige. During the Renaissance, secret gardens became particularly popular and were usually sealed-off, private places that had their roots in kitchen gardens at convents. Sandwiched between the two secret gardens was the uccelliera or the aviary, which was home to Scipione’s array of exotic birds.
Overall, the gardens were divided into three sections; the garden in front of the Casino Nobile, the area leading to the Parco dei Daini, and the Barco which spans the space from Piazza di Siena to where the Bioparco is now located.
The villa and its gardens remained much the same after Scipione Borghese’s death until they fell into the hands of Marcantonio IV Borghese. In 1770 the noble set about redesigning the park land with a focus on the Casino Nobile, and the Casino dei Giochi. The gardens were expanded and neoclassical marble statues and frescoes were added.
Architects Antonio and Mario Asprucci were drafted in alongside a long list of artists and gardeners to create new landscapes such as the Lake Garden. The grounds were further transformed with fountains and waterways.
After Marcantonio’s death, his son Camillo Borghese and his wife – and sister of Napoleon – Paolina Bonaparte took over the running of the estate. They continued the legacy of the property by putting on festivals and shows in the grounds. By the end of the 19th century the costs of running the gardens became so high that public admission was charged for the first time.
Sadly much damage was done to the Villa Borghese during the 1849 Siege of Rome. In the following years ticketed parties and shows were put on in an attempt to fund the running of the estate. A zoo was opened, and some buildings even opened to the public as restaurants.
In 1861, following the unification of Italy, the garden’s future hung in the balance. There was a long battle over ownership which ended in 1901 when the villa was purchased by the Italian state, after which it was sold to Rome and officially opened for public use. Additions were made to the gardens and entrances were created to allow for access from neighboring areas.
Over the years, much change has taken place to the landscape. During World War II, the land was even used as a kitchen garden to grow vegetables in order to feed the people of Rome. In 1997, refurbishment projects began to bring the historic layout back to life. In the years following, the secret gardens were successfully reinstated and today these historic gardens remain open to the public as a beautiful place to enjoy the layered history of Rome’s landscapes.
What To See When Visiting Villa Borghese Gardens
Villa Borghese gardens are a beautiful place to wander throughout the year. The carefully curated landscape offers up a breath of fresh air and a much needed open green space to relax in.
Even though a visit to the gardens is always enjoyable, the best way to get the most out of the visit is to first get a better understanding of the layout and the different gardens and monuments located within the grounds.
Together with the Vatican Museums, the Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese) is probably the most famous and popular museum in Rome, hosting a superb collection of paintings by artists such as Raphael and Caravaggio on its first floor, and many of Bernini‘s masterpieces and other sculptures on the ground floor.
The magnificent villa (and the park where it is found) where the gallery is located was once property of Scipione Borghese.
Borghese Gallery works on a time-slot system and you’ll have to book your visit well in advance.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Visiting Borghese Gallery.
The beautiful gardens extend out across the Pincio Hill and offer stunning views of the city. This part of the garden is designed with impressive tree-lined walkways and picturesque avenues dotted with busts of famous artists and writers. Make sure to stop off here for a moment to take in the city sights. The balcony offers sweeping views out across the Piazza del Popolo below and across to the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Right by the Pincio Terrace you will also find Casina Valadier, a beautiful liberty villa housing a nice café and a restaurant perfect for a date.
Villa Borghese’s creative fountains were installed between the 17th and early 20th century. Adorned with opulent stuccos and rich decorations, visitors can spot carvings of goddesses and strange mythological beings with jets of water gushing from them. The mystical creations help to make the gardens feel almost otherworldly.
Water from the Peschiera aqueduct feeds the garden’s water features and makes it a verdant oasis in the city. Some of the more iconic fountains to take note of include the Fountain of Venus at the center of a rectangular garden, which depicts a naked Venus carved in marble. Also in marble, the Seahorse Fountain was designed in 1791 by Cristoforo Unterberger and sculpted by Vincenzo Pacetti.
Head over to my post The Most Beautiful Fountains In Rome.
As you explore the winding grounds of the Villa you will notice a number of statues dedicated to artists and writers. These busts were mostly added between the years of 1851 to 1952 and include prominent figures such as the likes of Dante Alighieri, Horace, and Virgil.
Some of the most notable statues in the park include the statue of Lord Byron. Carved out of Carrara marble, the statue is located in Via della Pineta. This iteration may be a copy of the one by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, but it’s still attractive nonetheless. The writer appears as if waiting for inspiration to strike, holding a pen in one hand and a page in the other.
The prominent Russian poet and playwright Aleksandr Pushkin is also remembered by a monument. Although he never actually visited Italy, Pushkin wrote about his admiration for the nation in his work; his lasting legacy on the literary world is still evident to this day.
Don’t forget to read my post The Most Famous Statues In Rome.
The Laghetto di Villa Borghese was built in 1766 by landscape designer Jacob Moore. The Villa Borghese pond features an artificial island at its center which is home to the ancient Greek-style Temple of Aesculapius.
However, the pond is not just for gazing at. Many visitors choose to go boating here in order to soak up the natural surroundings of the garden from the water. Rowing boats are available for rental near the pond for a low fare.
Carlo Bilotti Museum
Close to the pond, Carlo Bilotti Museum is an interesting place to visit. You will find the gallery – which hosts exhibits of contemporary art – in the orangeries of the Borghese Family.
Known as Rome Zoo, it might not be the most impressive in the world but it is actually one the oldest zoos in Europe. Created by Carl Hagenbeck in 1908, the design intended to rethink the way zoos were laid out. Rather than using cages, channels were dug in the ground in order to keep visitors from the animals. The idea was to make it seem as if the animals were living freely in the gardens. The zoo became a really popular place for people to come and see an array of different animals.
Today, visitors can (for a fee) see species of tigers and monkeys as well as many different animals from around the world; there are also environmental projects and activities often taking place, which makes it a great attraction for children, too.
Close to the Pincio Terrace is the garden’s famous water clock. The invention of Giovan Battista Embriaco, the clock was built in 1867 and is located at the center of a small lake. It works by telling time by regulating the flow of water into and out of vessels. It’s actually a fascinating site to see in the gardens. This way of telling time is particularly old – some estimate that it was first used in China as early as 4000 BC, while it was also utilized in ancient Greece and ancient Rome.
Practical Info For Visiting Villa Borghese Gardens
Villa Borghese Gardens opening hours and tickets
Villa Borghese Gardens are only during day time – so from sunrise to dusk – throughout the year. There is no admission fee.
Should you wish to visit Galleria Borghese, which is also set within the park, take care to notice this is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm; last admission is at 5:00 pm. It’s closed on Mondays, December 25th, and January 1st.
This is one of the most popular museums in Rome, and you will need to book your visit in advance.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Visiting Borghese Gallery.
Should you get a guided tour?
A guided tour is not necessarily needed in order to explore the gardens. However, if you are planning on visiting Villa Borghese Gallery as well as the garden, you can combine a visit to the two with a tour. A tour guide will help to unravel the history of the house and its gardens for those who are really interested in getting to know more historical details about the property. There also are some tours that don’t go into the gallery, in case that’s not of interest.
For a guided tour of the historic center of Rome and Borghese Gardens by segway, click here.
For a kids friendly tour, click here.
Best time to visit
The Villa Borghese Gardens are beautiful to visit throughout the year. Different plants will be in bloom depending on what month you visit, but as with many gardens the best time to visit it is in the spring. This is when you can see the gardens coming to life and enjoy sunny weather and fresh air. In the summer, the gardens are busy with tourists, but are a good place to come to get a break from the city’s high temperatures – there is a lot of shade.
If you want to avoid crowds, it’s best to visit the gardens earlier in the day. In the summer, visiting earlier will also mean you avoid the hottest part of the day. Later on in the afternoon is also a charming time to visit, when the gardens are usually quieter, and you can catch a spectacular sunset from the terrace.
Personally, I love taking a stroll there on Sunday mornings, when locals go there for a run, families take their children out to play at one of the many playgrounds or rent bikes and roam around, or have picnics. It gives the entire place an aura of joy.
For a park which spans multiple acres and attracts many visitors, there’s a decidedly small number of public toilets. The limited amount of public toilets available can cause difficulties and a long wait, especially if you visit on a busy day. For those visiting the Borghese Gallery you can use the facilities inside the house.
For the most part the Villa Borghese Gardens are completely accessible by wheelchair.
For those who wish to visit the house, entrances and elevators are designed for people with mobility issues. Wheelchairs are also available to be rented at the house.
A good tip for wheelchair users who want to explore the gardens with ease is to enter at the top of the park and then the rest of the gardens are downhill from there.
How to get to the Villa Borghese Gardens
The metro stop closest to the gardens is Flaminio on Line A. The exit for the station is situated just in front of the park’s main entrance on Piazza del Popolo. The park can also be accessed by the Spagna metro stop, close to the Spanish Steps.
Villa Borghese Gardens access points
Speaking of how to get to Villa Borghese Gardens, you should know that the park has several access points. Here are the ones you should make a note of:
Pincio – the Salita del Pincio, AKA the steep staircase climbing from Piazza del Popolo, is probably my favorite way of accessing the gardens. I can never get enough of the view from the terrace!
Piazzale Belle Arti – you can get there by tram n. 3 and 19. It’s the closest entrance to Borghese Pond and the best access point to go to the zoo.
Porta Pinciana – best if you want to access the Casa del Cinema for a free movie night during the summer, and the closest to Villa Borghese’s best playground in case you have kids in tow.
Parco dei Daini – best to access Borghese Gallery and the zoo.
Other useful information
Eating and drinking at Borghese Gardens
You can certainly bring your own picnic at Borghese Gardens, but if you prefer you will find a few places to grab a bite and a drink, including various food trucks and a café. Just make sure to dispose of any garbage in the correct bins!
If you wish to visit the gallery you will need to pass through security checks and store any large baggage such as backpacks. A security check is not needed for the gardens.
Is photography allowed?
Yes, photography is allowed in the gardens. It’s a beautiful place to snap pictures so don’t forget your camera.