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Gillian Knows Best guide to Villa Borghese
Where to find small museums, a cold drink & a great sunset viewing spot inside one of Rome’s most beloved parks
Villa Borghese is not for me.I get lost, there are bikes (I loathe bikes,) I can’t see the edges. I realize that I am in the minority here. It is a wonderful park in the middle of the city. One sunny morning after a meeting in Parioli I decided to walk home the long way through the park and actually spend some time there. It’s still not for me but it probably is for you. Here is my mini guide to the Villa Borghese.
In the late 1500’s what is now the Villa Borghese were the private gardens and vineyards of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It has been a public park since 1901 and covers almost 200 acres. You could spend all day in there. There are museums and a zoo and cafes. There are dog runs and 17th-century sculptures and tiny ponys and a puppet theater. And if you must, this is where to rent bikes.
Museums in (and near) Villa Borghese
Museo Carlo Bilotti: I am a big fan of the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. This free museum has more than a dozen of them.
Museo Pietro Canonica: Pietro Canonica was an artist and musician. He is mainly known for his monumental sculptures of Tsars and kings and queens and WWI war memorials. He lived and worked in this building inside the park from 1922 until his death in 1959. There are a few rooms of casts and sculptures but I love the rooms in the back with Canonica’s light filled studio.
Villa Medici is home to the French Academy of Rome (and one of Rome’s most exclusive places to sleep) There is a very pretty Renaissance garden where you can hear parrots and peacocks. The current show in the exhibition space is all about the Orient Express.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea is just outside the park and is filled with a quite wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art. There are pieces by Giacomo Balla, Alighiero Boetti, Klimt, Monet, Pollock and Warhol.
Villa Borghese highlights
Terrazza del Pincio has a wonderful view over Piazza del Popolo and it is a popular place to to watch the sunset.
Piazza di Siena: Every May there is a big horse event with show jumping inside the Galoppatoio. Last Christmas there was a Christmas village that had shows and food stalls and rides. There is also a fancy private clinic.
Tempio di Esculapio: There is a little lake and in the middle there is an 18th century neoclassical copy of a temple that has an original statue of a statue of Aesculapius. Until last week you could rent a boat and row around with the turtles and swans and ducks. Maybe Roman bureaucracy will be swift? If not, it’s still very pretty.
There is a full scale reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre that used to host Rome’s annual Shakespeare festival but the wooden stairs collapsed last fall and it has been closed indefinitely.
Movies in Villa Borghese
Cinema dei Piccoli is a small cinema that screens children’s films, usually dubbed in Italian, and sometimes there are art films in original language. It can be rented for birthday parties. This is my dream birthday party.
The Casa del Cinema opens in May and shows art house films outside during the summer.
Things to do with kids in Villa Borghese
Bioparco di Roma: Rome’s zoo sprawls over 42 acres on the edge of the park close to the residential Parioli neighborhood. There are lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The Teatro San Carlino is a puppet theater that has weekend performances in Italian. In April the show is Alice in Wonderland and in May it’s the Ugly Duckling.
There are several basic playgrounds with swings and slides and things to climb inside the park.
There is a cute little train that goes in a circle around the park. It costs a few euro and takes about 30 minutes. Look for stops in front of the Galleria Borghese, near the Casa del Cinema and near the Pincio.
Where to eat in Villa Borghese
I wouldn’t recommend having a meal inside the park. What you can do is go shopping for supplies like prosciutto and mozzarella and a slice of crostata and have a picnic.
Or, there are several cafes and kiosks where you can sit down for a drink.