Rome’s Green Havens
When you think of the Eternal City, it’s far more likely that its architectural treasures will come to mind before its botanical. Yet its parks, named after the villas and in turn the families who built and occupied them, are verdant masterpieces. If you’re visiting Rome any time soon, you’ll probably want to escape the hordes of tourists at some point, especially during the summer when the city gets hot and the streets are crowded. Surprisingly, for such a bustling city, this is possible. Read on below, and take a tour around the gardens and parks of Rome.
Main entrances at Porta Pinciana, Piazzale Flaminio (Piazza del Popolo), Viale delle Belle Arti, Via Raimondi and Via Mercadante.
Activities: Rowboats rental / Rickshaws, Bicycle, Ebike, Segway rent and tours / Cultural visit at Galleria Borghese or Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna; catch a movie at Casa del Cinema; a visit to the zoo, the Bioparco di Roma; spend a summer night with Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre
The most famous of the Roman parks, the Villa Borghese gardens wouldn’t look out of place behind an English stately home. They include features such as secret gardens, temples, and lakes. The grounds span from the Piazza del Popolo to the Via Veneto, and can be reached at the top of the Spanish Steps. In Villa Borghese park, which belonged to the Borghese Princes’ private villa up until the end of the nineteenth century, you can rent bikes, electric scooters, eco-cars or rowboats. There’s also a lake with a temple dedicated to Esculapio. You can dine with a spectacular view over Rome in the elegant Casina Valadier near Pincio, or grab a coffee and something light at La Casina dell’Orologio cafe, bar and restaurant, which has been serving up panini and sweets on Viale dei Bambini since 1922. Got little ones in tow? Take your children to the Bioparco Zoo or visit the magnificent Galleria Borghese.
Entrances: Piazzale Napoleone I and Viale dell’Obelisco
From the balustraded Pincio terrace you can enjoy one of the best views over Rome looking directly down onto Piazza del Popolo. This is a great starting point to enter the gardens and there are always kiosks right near this terrace selling drinks and refreshments if the short but steep path up from Piazza del Popolo leaves you a bit breathless.
Casa del Cinema
Here you’ll find a cafe, a bookshop specialized in cinema and performing arts, occasional screenings of foreign films in their original version, exhibitions, debates, and book presentations. The daily program includes regular weekly fixtures: films and documentaries, meetings with directors, screenwriters and actors, homage to cinema celebrities and “cinema classes” with some of the most important directors in the world.
Piazzale del Giardino Zoologico, 1
This zoo has been carefully remodeled under eco-friendly guidelines with special attention to the treatment of the animals. There is a train, the Reptilarium, a farm for children to feed the animals and rickshaw hire for a tour of the park. On the 2, 9, and 16 of September, guided night tours of the zoo will take place. Reservation obligatory!
Largo Aqua Felix on the Viale Pietro Canonica
This theater replicates the London original, built entirely of wood, seating 1,250 with standing room for 420. Performances are from July to September, usually in Italian. It is located between the Bioparco Zoo and the Carlo Bilotti museum.
Museo e Galleria Borghese
Piazza Scipione Borghese 5, off Via Pinciana
This enchanting villa, built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1615, houses an incredible collection of 17th- and 18th-century art. It is worth seeing just for the magnificent interior design, frescoed ceilings, and Roman extravagance. However, the art, including works by Italian greats such as Canova, Caravaggio and Bernini, is as equally breathtaking as the setting. Book in advance (+39 06 32810).
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art)
Viale delle Belle Arti, 131
The gallery contains the largest collection of Italian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Works by Boccioni, De Chirico, Modigliani, Van Goghn, Klimt, and Klee are on display.
Parco degli Acquedotti
Via Lemonia, 256
Activities: Jogging / Bike Rental and Tours
Restaurant: 629 Osteria & Baretto (seinovedue.it)
The park, named after the ruins of ancient Roman aqueducts that litter the space, lies between Via Appia and Via Tuscolana, and is bordered by Via Lemonia, where the park entrance has an information point, Via delle Capannelle, Via Appia and Via del Quadraro. If you’re a fan of Italian cinema, you recognize it from films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita or the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, where it was featured prominently. It has a rustic, agricultural air to it, and it is still used for grazing sheep and growing crops. The park is visited by everyone, whether they be runners, readers, musicians, or dog walkers.
Via Salaria, 275
Activities: Jogging / Exercise Equipment / Roma Incontra Il Mondo Festival (villaada.org)
A tranquil park with a bike rental service, winding paths, a lake, a cafe, and an annual live music festival running this month, called Roma Incontra Il Mondo. Villa Ada also holds the title of Rome’s second largest park, with 450 acres, and is rich in flora and fauna: cypresses, pines, dwarf palm trees, turtles, and swans flourish here. One of the most loved and visited parks of Romans.
Viale delle Mura Gianicolensi, 11
Activities: Small play area for children
For those seeking smaller parks with a hidden and esoteric feel, head to Villa Sciarra, found behind the hustle and bustle of the Trastevere neighborhood. A treasure trove of statues, fountains, and topiaries, the villa and its garden were once a private residence, yet became accessible to outsiders when the final resident of Villa Sciarra handed it over to Mussolini as a public park for the people of Rome.
Via Nomentana, 70
Activities: Villa Torlonia Museums (en.museivillatorlonia.it) and the Mussolini Bunker (bunkerdiroma.it/villatorlonia) / Technotown, a science and technology activity centre for kids (technotown.it/) / Villa Torlonia Theatre (teatrodivillatorlonia.it)
Restaurant: La Limonaia (facebook.com/LaLimonaiaRoma)
Villa Torlonia is famous not just for its garden, but its imposing architecture. Its three former residences are Casino Nobile, designed by Giuseppe Valadier, which is a picture of neoclassicalism; Casina delle Civette, a whimsical amalgamation of gothic and art-nouveau; and Casino dei Principi, where Mussolini once lived. Each are used as exhibition spaces for the Musei di Villa Di Torlonia where visitors can view an impressive collection of sculptures and paintings, stretching from antiquity to the Art Nouveau movement.
Via della Navicella, Piazza SS. Giovanni e Paolo
The picture-perfect 16th-century Villa Celimontana was once owned by the aristocratic Mattei family who is said to have placed their priceless collectables in its gardens. One of them, an obelisk, still sits on the grounds to this day. The views from this garden are over the Baths of Caracalla. The Villa is now the home of the Italian Geographical Society, where some of the most important maps of Italy are kept.
Villa Doria Pamphili
Entrances: Via di S.Pancrazio, Via Aurelia Antica, Via Leone XII, Largo M. Luther King, Via Vitellia, Via della Nocetta
Activities: Jogging / Bike Rental / Yoga
Restaurant: Vivi Bistrot (vivibistrot.com)
The Villa Doria Pamphili takes the latter part of its name from the aristocratic Pamphili family, whose members it housed up until the 18th-century. When the Pamphilis died out, the villa was passed over to the Dorias, from whom it takes the middle part of its name. Today, it holds the distinction of being the city’s largest landscaped public park. A stunning villa completed in 1648, called Casino del Bel Respiro, is the centerpiece of the grounds. Although the building is closed to the public in the summer, you can still peruse its gardens. Joggers and cyclists are also a frequent sight, as are the fountains and statues that characterise so many of Rome’s beautiful open spaces. The above-mentioned Vivi Bistrot will also prepare a picnic for two in an old-fashioned wicker basket upon request.