|Taking a row in the lake surrounding the Temple of Aesculapius|
Most tourists head to Rome for the ancient sites, churches, and charming but narrow streets. When you've had enough and just need a breath of fresh air and open space, head to Villa Borghese. This 148 acre park near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo is the perfect place to run free and enjoy the outdoors in Rome, especially for kids. For centuries, it has been an oasis of greenery in a bustling metropolis.
|Formal landscaping and classical statues at Villa Borghese with plenty of napping space on the surrounding grass|
A Brief HistoryOriginally a vineyard on the outskirts of town, Cardinal Scipione Borghese began remaking Villa Borghese into a landscaped park in 1605 with the idea of creating the most grandiose gardens Rome had seen since ancient times. If you're like me, when you hear "Villa" you imagine a house. But in this case, "villa" refers to the entire park. His house, called "Galleria Borghese" and located within the park, holds his magnificent art collection. I highly recommend visiting it. The aristocratic family opened the park to the public on Sundays and public holidays, thus securing its place dear in the hearts of the people of Rome. The city became Villa Borghese's official owner in 1903, and it truly became a full-time public park. In 1911, it was the site of the World Exposition, and a few of the pavilions are still standing.
|Numerous "secret gardens" dot the park such as the Aviary as seen from the Galleria Borghese|
Take out a Boat at Lake GardensThe first stop during our visit to Villa Borghese was the Lake Gardens to take a boat out for a row (top picture). Fun for the kids, I think it would also be a highly romantic excursion for a couple. This part of the park was redone in the 19th century to make it less formal and more in the style of a proper English park. The Temple of Aesculapius in the center of the artificial lake is purely a landscape feature, not from ancient times, and on top of all that, Greek.
Boat rentals are €3 per person for 20 minutes, even if you are sharing a boat. Children under 1.10 meters are €1,50.
|Refilling bottles at a very ornate drinking water fountain|
Outdoor FunWe explored this park for hours and did not get around to seeing half of it. There is so much to do! Some people were jogging or playing with their families while others simply put down a blanket and took a nap in the shade. Bicycles seemed to be everywhere. (Take a picture of the park map at the entrance for bike rental locations.) Rollerbladers and skateboarders zipped by us, too. We even saw a miniature train making its way along the paths.
|Care for a pony-drawn wagon ride?|
Surrey without a Fringe on TopWe finally decided to rent a bicycle surrey from the stand on Viale dell'Orologio for an hour as the best way to corral all the kids together and not get separated while exploring this vast park. With hubby at the steering wheel, the rest of us crammed in and started pedaling away. This claimed to seat 6 people, but that's counting that front basket holding our backpack as a kiddie seat.
|Exploring via bicycle surrey|
One popular place to take bicycle surreys for a spin is the 200 meter (220 feet) long Piazza di Siena hippodrome which is the home of Rome's international horse show. If you're lucky enough to be there at the same time as another bike, go ahead and see who's faster. If you want to tire everyone out on a bumpy ride, go around a second time.
|Riding around the Piazza di Siena. That's us in the highlighted circle.|
Most of the pathways around Villa Borghese are an easy ride on pavement. You do need to watch out for stairs and be prepared for the occasional turn around if you reach a dead end.
|View from the back of the bicycle surrey.|
We were able to cover a lot of ground this way and came across sites that I'm not sure we would have reached on foot (because we are lazy). One grand building caught my eye. Built as a residence in the 19th century, it is the Casina Valadier restaurant and looked like the type of place that is better suited to a romantic dinner for two than a raucous meal for five. So, on we pedaled...
On a terrace on Pincian Hill near the Piazza del Popolo entrance, we came upon one of the best views of Rome I encountered during our trip to the Eternal City. I bet it's absolutely gorgeous at sunset. What struck me is the lack of high rise buildings and the abundance of cupolas that spread out into the distance. With its muted colors, I truly felt as if I could have been looking back in time.
|View from Pincian Hill|
Still Get a Dose of High Culture
Villa Borghese is not all gardens and greenery, though. You can also get your fair bit of high culture here in this place nicknamed the "Park of Museums." For classical and Baroque art, visit the acclaimed Galleria Borghese. Be sure to make advance reservations as walk-up tickets are usually unavailable. Villa Giulia, built in 1553 as the summer home of Pope Julius II, houses the pre-Roman times, Etruscan era collection of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco as well as a cafe in the conservatory for your dining pleasure.The Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna displays 20th-century Italian art with an adjacent terrace cafe. And if you had actually wanted to visit England instead of Italy, sooth your pain with a stop at the full-scale replica of London's Shakespearean Globe Theatre.
|Galleria Borghese houses classical and Baroque art|
For the Kids
In addition to all these exciting activities, Villa Borghese has a small conservation zoo called Bioparco di Roma. Casina di Raffaello is a perfect little playroom for the preschool crowd which includes a toy store, chalkboard tables, and a library of Italian children's books. The adjoining playground looked like so much fun, too, and I wished that my own kids were still young enough to have a go at it. The Cinema dei Piccoli is the world's smallest purpose-built cinema according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It shows children's movies in the afternoon, but they are dubbed in Italian with no subtitles. A marionette theatre has shows from September to December and February to July.
|Ride the carousel on Viale dell'Orologio|
Do you like to escape to a big public park when visiting a city? What's your favorite one?
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This post is part of the following link-ups. Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
- Travel Photo Thursday in Budget Travelers Sandbox
- Friday Postcards on Walking On Travels
- Weekend Wanderlust on A Brit and a Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Carmen's Travel Tips, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer
- Sunday Traveler on Pack Me To..., Chasing the Donkey, A Southern Gypsy, The Fairytale Traveler, and Ice Cream & Permafrost
- Travel Photo Mondays on Travel Photo Discovery