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What not to miss in Rome’s Villa Borghese gardens

The city’s gloriously green heart is almost a neighbourhood in itself, full of sweeping views, lavish villas and world-class art collections. Here are five of its most unmissable sights for whiling away an afternoon.

Photographs By Francesco Lastrucci
Published 11 Nov 2021, 06:00 GMT
Boaters explore the laghetto in Villa Borghese gardens, one of Rome's most spectacular green spaces.

Boaters explore the laghetto in Villa Borghese gardens, one of Rome's most spectacular green spaces. 

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

Terrazza del Pincio

This is one of Rome’s greatest viewpoints, presiding over Piazza del Popolo with sweeping views of the city’s domes and terracotta roofs. Look closely and you’ll also see the Pantheon, swelling up above the skyline of the Centro Storico. A short stroll north of this elegant promenade is the laghetto (little lake) — rent a rowing boat and join the ducks sculling around the faux-classical Temple of Asclepius, hidden among the trees on a tiny island. 

Galleria Borghese

Housed in the grand, 17th-century Villa Borghese, this is one of Rome’s top galleries — it’s small enough not to be overwhelming, but has masterworks that pack a punch. The Bernini room pits the sculptor’s extraordinarily lifelike works (including one of Daphne and Apollo) against a gilded, stuccoed and marbled backdrop. You’ll also find works by Caravaggio here, including the world-renowned David with the Head of Goliath. Art aside, the truly lavish setting makes this well worth a visit. 

Villa Medici

If you’ve ever looked out over Rome from the other side of the Tiber, you’ll likely have seen the cream-coloured, castle-like edifice dominating the skyline. As the name suggests, the 16th-century villa was built for the Medici family, but Napoleon nabbed it for the French Academy in Rome in 1803. These days, it’s open for visitors and hosts modern art exhibitions in its beautiful Renaissance gardens. There are exceptional city views from Colbert, the elegant cafe and restaurant that’s one of the best kept secrets in Rome. 

Caffe Ciampini

Just outside the park, beside the Villa Medici, is this icon of Roman snacking. A restaurant, pizzeria and gelateria, Ciampini is known for its delicious tartufo: cocoa-rolled chocolate ice cream with a glacé cherry and chocolate chips at its heart. Taste it on the terrace overlooking the dome-filled skyline before taking a walk along the Terrazza del Pincio.  

Villa Giulia

The likes of Michelangelo and Giorgio Vasari worked on the Villa Giulia, which was built on the edge of the city for 16th-century Pope Julius III. Today, it houses the National Etruscan Museum, an extraordinary collection of artefacts from Italy’s ancient Etruscan civilisation. Highlights include the Sarcophagus of the Spouses — depicting a married couple with Mona Lisa-like smiles reclining together in the afterlife — and the gold Pyrgi Tablets, inscribed in Etruscan and Phoenician script.

Published in the November 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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