Sitting right in the center of the city, just east of the Piazza di Spagna, the Borghese Gardens are the Roman equivalent of Central Park. This remarkable green space truly has something for everyone: art for the art lover, fun for the kids, all the trappings of a very romantic destination. Most of all, the vast green space provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of Rome’s busy streets.
After battling the crowds for the coveted selfie at the Trevi fountain and the endless lines to get into the Colosseum, stop by the Borghese Gardens to wander one of Rome’s main attractions and enjoy some history while listening to the sound of the breeze through the trees.
The Villa Borghese gardens officially date back to 1605 when Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Bernini’s patron and the nephew of Pope Paul V, began converting the 200-acre vineyard around his villa suburbana into the largest Roman garden the city had seen since ancient times. We can only speculate that he was inspired by rumors that identified these vineyards with the ancient site of the most famous gardens in Roman antiquity, the gardens of Lucullus.
In the 19th century, the Borghese Gardens were redesigned in the trendy “English Fashion”. Think rolling green lawns, groves of trees, the requisite lake and classic temple — all of which are present in the park today. Though the gardens were always informally open to the public, they became officially so in 1903 when the city of Rome purchased the land and the villa.
Accessing the Borghese Gardens
There are two main entrances to the park: you can enter through the Porta Pinciana, near the Spanish Steps, or through the park’s main entrance, the Porte del Popolo near the Piazza del Popolo.
The best time to visit
The Borghese Gardens are free, and open from dawn to dusk so go anytime!
The park itself is very popular, especially between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. — and even more so on weekends. But the gardens are so large that crowds are generally not an issue. If you’re looking for as much quiet time as possible, consider visiting outside peak hours on a weekday.
You can still get your culture on while enjoying a respite from the busy Roman streets — The Borghese Gardens are home to several world-class museums.
The most famous and worth seeing of these is the Borghese Gallery. The Villa Borghese, built in the 17th century as a country home (at the time it was outside Rome’s city walls), was converted into a museum in 1903 to house the extensive art collection begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. The collection consists of paintings, sculptures and antiquities including important works by Bernini, Caravaggio, Rubens, Raphael and Canova. An added bonus: many of the sculptures are displayed in their originally intended locations.
As the Borghese Gallery is one of the must-see attractions in Rome, buy your tickets in advance to avoid very long lines.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The most popular time slot to enter the museum is 11 a.m. We recommend planning your visit either before or after.
Pietro Canonica Museum
Other museums within the park include the Pietro Canonica museum, which is devoted to the sculptor’s work. Canonica, whose life and work spanned the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries, was considered so important Rome gave him the lovely Fortezzuela mansion in the Borghese Gardens, where he lived until his death. Now the mansion serves as a museum to his work, providing a glimpse into the artist’s private home and studio.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Carlo Bilotti Museum
The Museo Carlo Bilotti is a small museum located in the park’s orangerie. Its collection includes works donated by the cosmetics magnet, Carlo Bilotti, including 18 Giorgio de Chirico paintings and a Warhol portrait of Bilotti’s wife and daughter. Even better? The museum is free of charge.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Villa Medici
The Villa Medici, located on the outskirts of the park near the Spanish Steps, is also known as the French Academy in Rome. It is notorious for being the forced residence of Galileo during his trial for heresy between 1630 and 1633. The guided tour of this 16th century villa (the only way you get to see the place) includes gardens peppered with sculptures, a beautifully decorated garden studio painted by Zucchi in 1577, and the private apartments of Cardinal Ricci da Montepulciano, the original owner of this sumptuous residence.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday. Tours start at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Museum of Environmental Crime
The Villa Borghese park also houses the Museum of Environmental Crime, a one-of-a kind museum not seen anywhere else in Europe. True to its title, its exhibits chronicle the history of environmental abuses the world has seen, from pollution to poaching to illegal trade. Located near the Bioparco di Roma in the northeast corner of the park, it is a great place to take the kids and teach them about the mistakes humanity has made in the past, and the conservation efforts we need to practice to mitigate them. The tickets are included with admission to the zoo.
Opening hours: Daily (except December 25), 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Museum of Zoology
A little more lighthearted than the Museum of Environmental Crime, the Museum of Zoology is also located in the same area near the Bioparco. With exhibits such as the Hall of Amphibians, the Great Barrier Reef and the fossils of giraffes, elephants and a giant whale on display, kids of all ages will enjoy this museum. It is free for children under six.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Next door to the park: The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art
Since you’re already in the neighborhood, stop by the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, located across the street from the northern side of the Borghese Gardens. The collection includes more than 5,000 paintings and sculptures from neoclassical to modern abstract. Highlights include works by Cezanne, Canova, Monet and van Gogh.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. 7:30 p.m.
The Borghese Garden for kids
If you’re traveling with kids in tow and wondering what to see in Rome to keep them entertained, look no further than the Borghese Gardens. Besides offering vast spaces for kids to simply run around and blow off steam after so much sightseeing, the Borghese park offers activities and spaces dedicated to children.
Take your kids to the zoo! Established in 1911, the Bioparco di Roma, or Rome Zoo, is not a traditional zoo. All the animals there have either been confiscated by the authorities for illegal possession, or they were born in captivity. The zoo has a three-tiered mission: educate the public on the environment, conserve endangered species, and conduct scientific research. You’ll be able to see lions, and tigers and bears (oh my!) as well as the reptile house and amazing educational exhibits on the environment.
Opening hours: Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring/summer and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in fall/winter
Villa Borghese playground
Sometimes kids just need to run around and climb stuff. The Villa Borghese playground near the villa will give your kids an opportunity to shake off all the sightseeing. There’s a playhouse, a couple swing sets, a slide and some open space to run the children. It’s also a popular place for food vendors, so grab a bite and relax while your kids play.
Casina di Raffaello
The Casina di Raffaello, a lovely 16th century building, is the home of la Casina delle Meraviglie, a children’s play center that offers activities, events, workshops, temporary exhibits and summer camp activities for kids aged three to ten. You need to buy tickets for the exhibits and workshops, everything else is free.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cinema dei Piccoli
The Cinema dei Piccoli, the smallest cinema in the world, has been entertaining kids since 1934. The cinema’s viewing rooms are so small, they were practically designed for kids. Visit their website to see what’s playing when you’re in town.
San Carlino Puppet Theater
Located near the Piazza del Popolo entrance of the park, the Teatro Dei Burattani San Carlino, or San Carlino Puppet Theater, offers year round puppet shows for children aged three and up. Although mostly in Italian, their shows feature live actors, clowns and musicians. Showtimes are listed here and tickets are very affordable.
Explora Children’s Museum
Although technically not in the park, the Explora Children’s museum is just a couple of blocks away in the northwest corner (just north of the Piazza del Popolo). It offers interactive exhibits and a chance for kids to play scientist and conduct hands-on experiments. The museum offers four timed visits of 1 hour 45 minutes each. We recommend buying your tickets in advance.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am. to 6:45 p.m.
Cinema and theater in the Borghese Gardens
The Borghese Gardens has something for everyone — even the wayward Shakespeare lover. If you are a fan of the bard and are feeling an itch for iambic pentameter, check out the park’s full-scale Globe Theatre. The open-air theater runs only during the warmer months and focuses on plays by the Great Will Shakespeare himself. Buy tickets for the Globe Theater here.
Casa del Cinema
Don your black beret and visit the Casa del Cinema near the entrance of the Porta Pinciana. The cinema features three projection rooms, an exhibit space, and a 200-seat outdoor theater. The Casa del Cinema screens everything from documentaries and shorts to independent movies and art-house films. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch one of their retrospectives or other cinema events. Find out what’s playing at Casa del Cinema during your visit.
Other cool stuff in the gardens
If you’ve googled the Borghese gardens, chances are an idyllic image of a classical-style temple on a lake will be the first thing that pops up. That picture-perfect temple is the Tempio di Esculapio, or the temple of Aesculapius, built in 1786 and still well worth a visit in person. If temples are your thing, check out the smaller Tempietto di Diana. Built in 1789, this tiny temple is right near the Casina di Raffaello and the Cinema dei Piccoli.
The park also has many beautiful fountains, including the Fontana di Esculapio near the temple, identifiable by the large arch in the middle with an eagle perched on top. The Fontana dei Cavalli Marini, or Fountain of the Sea Horses, is also worth a visit. Built in 1791, it is one of the largest fountains in the park. Also impressive is the Fontana Rotunda, located to the south of the lake across from the Museo Carlo Bilotti.
The water clock
In the Pincio area of the park, near the Piazza del Popolo you will find the beautiful Water clock, or hydrochronometer. Designed by Friar Embriaco, the clock was built in 1867 and still works to this day.
Other remarkable structures
Near the Fontana Rotunda, make some time to wonder at the beautiful late 18th century Portico dei Leoni, so called for the two lion sculptures that stand guard over a small reflection pool. Located near the Fontana di Esculapio is the Propilei Egizi or Egyptian Propylaia, a structure that forms the entrance to the temple. This remarkable piece was built during the Egyptian craze of the 19th century.
A garden of delights awaits you
The first thing anyone should do when visiting the Borghese gardens is to explore. There are numerous statues, fountains, points of interest and even special promenades — for example the Pincio Promenade, which links the Villa Borghese with the Pincio terrace. From here you can feast your eyes on one of the most gorgeous views of the city.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter head over to the Parco dei Daini, a small enclosed garden that also includes the Acqua Marcia reservoir. Located just north of the Villa Borghese, it is a great place for a stroll and a picnic. The more adventurous can rent a boat and paddle around the lake or rent a bike and cruise from site to site. Most of all, take a moment to breathe in this beautiful, historical green space in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities.