Admittedly, part of the charm of Rome is the absolute electricity emanating from the Eternal City every second of the day. Vespas buzz by the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps are a playground for lovers (and cat-calling Romans), and the Trevi Fountain radiates the wishes of a return. But even in the most captivating cities, it’s sometimes nice just to escape it all, even for just a little bit. The Borghese Gardens are Rome’s version of Central Park and stretch for 226 acres from Piazza del Poppolo to the top of Via Veneto.
The lush, green Borghese Gardens have it all: bust-lined paths, statues, a carousel for the kiddos, an artificial lake that you can rent a row boat on, and even a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater – performances are only in Italian though.
Originally a private vineyard, in 1605, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, began turning the gardens into the most extensive in Rome since Antiquity. Only on the condition that the gardens would boast the most luxurious dwelling in Rome, did the Borghese family agree to name the gardens and villa after them. Grandiose and exquisite it was! Shrouded in trees, “secret gardens” can be found throughout the expanse. Tranquil and secluded, back then these secret gardens were only for the invited and the privileged. Today, they are lovely spots to escape with a picnic for two.
A small island sits in the middle of the artificial lake with the 19th century “Temple of Aesculapius” built on it. Ducks, geese, and swans swim round and it’s romantic to have your fella row you under the weeping willows for a smooch a la a Kiss the Girl scene right out of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
The best way to explore the Borghese Gardens is to walk to rent a bike. There are actually tons of attractions throughout the park and it’s taken me three different trips to Rome to explore them. I still haven’t seen the entirety of the park, though a favorite for adults and kids alike is the more than 100 year old Bioparco, one of Europe’s oldest zoological gardens. Here you’ll mostly find endangered animals that are being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild and natural habitats allow the animals to live mostly cage free.
The main path runs north and south straight through the park, leading to my other favorite, the Villa Borghese, which now houses Cardinal Borghese’s fine art collection and most prized Bernini statues. I could spend hours admiring the way the light illuminates the thin marble leaves sprouting from nymph Daphne’s hands as she turns herself into a tree to escape Apollo in my favorite sculpture, the Apollo and Daphne. I highly recommend visiting the Galleria Borghese! Even Tim, who is even less into museums than I am, enjoyed the visit. Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed inside, so you’ll just have to go to see the amazing Bernini sculptures for yourself.
Know Before You Go
- The Borghese Gardens can be reached via the metro Linea A to Flaminio stop at Piazza del Popolo, from which a short flight of steps will take you to the Pincio gardens. Alternatively, the Borghese Gardens call also be reached by going to the top of the Spanish Steps and turning left. Walk along the road to enter the park.
- Check the calendar of performances for the Globe Theatre Roma. Tickets start at just €10 (€8 if you’re under the age of 25).
- Boat rental is €5 for 20 minutes, which is plenty of time to row around the small lake.
- Bike rental is €4 per hour or €10 for the day. Four person electric bikes are also available and start at €20 per hour.
- Galleria Borghese is open Tuesday – Sunday from 8.30am – 7:30pm. Closed Mondays, January 1, and December 25. Tickets are €13 per adult. Reservations are required and can be booked online. *Note that everything must left in the cloak room, including all types of bags.
- Bioparco is open every day except December 25. Closing times vary between 5pm – 7pm depending on time of year. Check the website for the opening hours before you go.
- If you have kids, there is a puppet theater located near the entrance from Piazza del Popolo. It is closed in January and August.
- If walking or biking the park don’t suit your fancy, you can also try a segway tour of the Borghese Gardens. We haven’t done the segway tour here, but had great fun on a segway tour of Budapest!
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