Tivoli is one of the most popular day trips from Rome thanks to its proximity to the capital and its two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana. Nestled in the Sabine Hills and famed for its healing springs, the town became a popular residential and resort area when wealthy ancient Romans like Hadrian, Maecenas, and Augustus began building villas in the countryside. Popes and cardinals followed suit during the Renaissance and Tivoli became an essential stop for intellectuals traveling throughout Italy on the Grand Tour in the 18th century.
Today, Tivoli is recognized for its rich cultural heritage, numerous garden villas, and beautiful scenery. Here’s what to see, do and eat in a day.
The Villas of Tivoli
Villa Adriana was built during the 2nd century AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Designed as an “ideal city,” the villa incorporates elements from across the Mediterranean region. This includes a mix of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture. The archeological park is a large palatial complex with reflective pools, ancient theaters, and residential buildings. The impressive vaulted bath structures are interspersed by gardens, lawns, and luscious fountains.
Together with Villa d’Este, Villa Adriana is considered to be a remarkable feat of engineering. This is due to its abundant use of water and its integration of manmade elements. Villa Adriana is an evocative setting that influenced many artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is definitely worth visiting with a guide to fully appreciate the significance of this important site.
Villa d’Este was considered remarkably innovative during the 16th century due to its network of fountains, pools, and basins. It still astounds visitors to this day, as it is one of the best examples of Italian Renaissance garden architecture. The villa includes an impressive network of “51 fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins fed by 875 meters of canals, channels, and cascades working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps” (source).
Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este of Ferrara commissioned the gardens of Villa d’Este after he became governor of Tivoli. Pirro Ligorio, the leading classical scholar of the time, carried out the designs. Ligorio carefully studied the nearby Villa Adriana and sought to create something that would exceed the fame of its predecessor. Cardinal Ippolito even went as far as removing marble statues from Emperor Hadrian’s villa to decorate Villa d’Este.
The villa features panoramic gardens set upon two levels, a long alley with a canal and 100 fountains. You can even visit the cardinal’s apartment with its richly-decorated halls, frescoed ceilings and gorgeous views of the countryside.
Although Villa Gregoriana has not achieved UNESCO status like its neighbors, this park is a true verdant oasis in the heart of Tivoli. Villa Gregoriana was established by Pope Gregory XVI in the early 19th century and is home to the Cascata Grande (Italy’s second-highest waterfall). The park is located along the transumanza path which saw shepherds migrate from southern Italy to the north during the changing seasons. It’s also home to the 1st century Roman Temple of Vesta which sits atop the acropolis overlooking the waterfall. Today, Villa Gregoriana is managed by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust of Italy.
The Best Restaurants In Tivoli
While you’re in Tivoli, you can’t miss the chance to dine at the 300-year-old Ristorante Sibilla. This picturesque dining spot is located at the foot of the Acropolis of Tivoli near Villa Gregoriana. The restaurant has attracted notable personalities throughout the years, including King Frederick William III of Prussia, Princess Margaret, Yoko Ono, and Lance Armstrong. The dishes consist of seasonal Italian recipes with a contemporary spin, as well as excellent seafood. Sibilla serves delicious risotto, cacio e pepe, and ravioli stuffed with buffalo mozzarella. Their delicious sea bass carpaccio is served with fresh passionfruit and grilled lamb served atop an artichoke cream.
Located inside a medieval palazzo in Tivoli’s Piazza delle Erbe, La Fornarina is a trendy restaurant and pizzeria beloved by locals. Acclaimed pizzaiolo Duilio Girotto consults on the pizza menu, which includes classic and gourmet varieties — and leavened for 72 hours! Here you can also find calzoni and “I Fornaretti” pizza sandwiches stuffed with local ingredients like porchetta di Ariccia. The rest of the menu is tantalizing as well. Look out for tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola, or seafood ravioli with clams and crispy zucchini blossoms.
Tivoli spelled backward — and a play on “I love it”– Ilovit is an artisanal cafe and bakery founded by two women. Ilovit serves coffee, cakes, and smoothies, and is a great place for breakfast. As well as a taste of their signature tiramisu, which is perfect for any time of the day. Here you’ll find the classic coffee and chocolate combo, along with creative varieties like passionfruit, pistachio, strawberry, and more. Ilovit’s special occasion and birthday cakes are delicious as well if you happen to stay in town for a while.
The Best Hotels In Tivoli
Residenze Gregoriane is a plush hotel set in a 15th-century mansion decorated with beautiful mosaics, frescoes, and courtyards. This hotel boasts 3 opulent suites located right near Villa Gregoriana. While you’re here, treat yourself to a spa treatment in the property’s ancient Roman baths, and enjoy a drink on its atmospheric outdoor terrace.
Torre Sant’Antonio is a charming bed & breakfast set within an ancient tower. The tower has two bright, contemporary bedrooms outfitted with thoughtful, historic furnishings. This gorgeous site is located in a quiet piazza in the center of town, guaranteeing peace and privacy to guests.