Escape the city and explore Rome’s ancient gardens

Adam Jones | 22/11/2018
Hadrian's Villa, Rome. Ancient Ruins of Hadrian's Villa.
Hadrian's Villa

Though you’ll never run out of things to do in Rome, many travelers never get to experience the ancient splendour of the Roman countryside. The city’s influence was immense, with many of the most spectacular Roman gardens located just outside the metropolis.

A visit to one of these gardens is quite possible most remarkable Rome day trips you could add to your itinerary.

Villa D’Este

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Villa D’Este gardens are famous for their profusion of fountains and their terraced Renaissance hillside garden. Construction began in 1563, which involved diverting the river Aniene to create an elaborate series of pools, fountains, and waterfalls.

The incredible system of waterworks is powered entirely by gravity; it includes 51 fountains, 64 waterfalls and more than 220 basins. The villa was built by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, a wealthy patron of the arts in Renaissance Italy. One of the most extraordinary fountains is the Fontana dell’Organo (‘The Fountain of the Organ’), which plays music using the power of water as it flows through complicated machinery in its massive castellum aquae or ‘water castle’.

Hadrian’s Villa

Though parks in Rome can be calming, why not retreat where the emperors once did? This massive Roman archaeological complex in Tivoli was built as a retreat for Emperor Hadrian in 2nd Century AD. The garden’s design was meant to recreate a sacred landscape. Hadrian was a well-traveled emperor; his garden borrows architectural features from areas all across the ancient world, including Greece and Egypt. Hadrian’s Villa would serve as a retreat for some of the most famous Roman emperors of all time, including famous Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this garden offers one of the best Rome day tours you could hope for. 

Sacro Bosco 

Sacro Bosco. Park of the Monsters. Orcus Mouth
Orcus Mouth in Sacro Bosco

If you want to lose yourself in a realm of pure fantasy, a visit to Sacro Bosco (‘Sacred Grove’) is a must. It is also known as the Gardens of Bomarzo, or locally in Italian as ‘the Park of the Monsters’. Dating back to the 16th Century, this massive garden complex is found in the forest valley below the castle of Orsini. This garden was designed to astonish with its many and massive sculptures of animals both real and mythical. The layout and design of the garden is wandering and creative — a large counterpoint to the extremely ordered and symmetrical design of Renaissance gardens of the time.

Villa Lante

A garden of surprises in the Mannerist style, Villa Lante has a harmonious interplay of water with elaborate cascades, fountains and many grottos. One of the most stunning features is the Fontana dei Lumini (‘Fountain of the Lamps’) a tiered circular fountain with smaller fountains on each tier that imitate Roman oil lamps. Under the sunlight, these fountains refract the light so that the fountains appear to blaze like lamp flames. The diversity of fountains, the fine hedge gardens, and alluring calm of the grottos is sure to make this one of your favorite day trips from Rome. 

Take a walk on the wild side

Rome’s gardens are the perfect retreat from the summer heat and crowds you’re likely to encounter near any of the city’s main attractions. Pack a lunch and some sodas and get ready to see some of the best gardens Italy has to offer.