Rome has no shortage of public parks and manicured gardens. Villa Borghese is not the largest public green area, and not the oldest, but it’s certainly one of the city’s most loved.
Rome’s public parks are ideal for relaxing passeggiatas, but also perfect for playing soccer, running, picnicking, bicycling and skating. Rome’s green lungs, as they’re often referred to, have much more to offer. Many of the parks include museums in their perimeters.
Today we’re touring Villa Borghese and learning a little about its attractions and services.
The country club-style gardens were the playground of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In the late 1500s he started buying vineyards and annexing them to his property, creating a “villa of delights,” as he liked to define it. After long legal battle with his heirs, the Italian State purchased the entire property in 1901. Two years later the park was ceded to the Rome Mayor’s Office and opened to the public.
Several generations earlier, Prince Marcantonio Borghese IV (1730–1800) undertook major works to transform the main buildings built by Scipione, including portions of the gardens. The most far-reaching project saw the construction of the Giardino del Lago (the lake garden). I love strolling the pond’s perimeter and feed bread to the ducks and gulls that live there. The best is renting a small rowboat and navigating under the willows and magnolias.
The park is heart shaped and located in the north-east part of the city. Here you can visit a number of museums; rent bikes, roller blades and quadri-cycles. Villa Borghese is also home to the world’s smallest cinema, Cinema dei Piccoli which only seats 63. If theater is more your thing, you can watch a Shakespearean play acted out (in English) in a perfect replica of the Globe Theater. If your stomach grumbles, you can snack and dine in a number of historic cafés and surf the net in the many wireless hot-spots.
The Pincio is one of the park’s most popular panoramic terraces, overlooking Piazza del Popolo and a million rooftops of the ancient city.
The Rome Conservation Zoo is another Villa Borghese must. Built in 1911 with ditches and pits instead of bars and cages, generous green spaces, rocks and water, plus other visually attractive enclosures, the Rome zoo was an immediate success. But this did not hold, soon the Rome zoo fell in decline. In 1933 two main attractions were added: a large dome-shaped aviary and a reptile house which opened in 1935. After World War I the story repeats itself. The zoo deteriorated and the situation kept worsening. In 1970, the reptile house had to be closed due to abandonement; the improvements took about nine years before it finally reopened in 1983. Up until a few years ago, the moribund Rome zoo had a terrible reputation. Fortunately a decade ago new money was raised and the Rome zoo changed its name to Bioparco di Roma and started a new life.
Kiddie Rides & Mini-car Racetrack are located across from Cinema dei Piccoli, open every day from 10:30am to sunset.
The Pony Corral is on Viale J.W. Goethe, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30am to sunset.
The Train is a Villa Borghese classic. The miniature diesel train provides a general park overview shuttle service. Three stops: Casa del Cinema, Viale Goethe and the Borghese Gallery, every day from 10:30am to sunset.
Bike rental with vast selection of models depending on your needs and number of passengers. Infant/toddler seats, children’s bikes with or without training wheels.
Rental & drop offs:
Piazzale M. Cervantes
Viale J. W. Goethe
Viale Medici (Pincio)
Viale dell’Orologio (Pincio)
Skates, Roller blades, 4-Wheelers & Golf Carts
Rates: €20 per hour for a quadricycle seating 6. There are also full day rental rates. Viale dell’Orologio across the street from the Merry-go-Round and the antique Casina dell’Orologio café (be sure to pop in here at least once and take in all the music paraphernalia on the walls while enjoying their homemade gelato).
Villa Borghese Main Entrances:
Via Raimondi (3 entrances)
Via Pinciana (2 entrances)
Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile
Pincio Hill access
Viale del Bioparco access
Trinità dei Monti access
Villa Borghese is always open, although some gated areas may close at sundown.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.