One of the most beautiful villas in Italy is certainly Villa D’Este. The Italian garden of Villa D’Este is included in the UNESCO world heritage list. There are more than 500 fountains, incredible statuary and beautiful flowers.
The gardens were created by Cardinal Ippolito II D’Este after the disappointment of his failed bid for the papacy. His vision was to bring back the grandeur of Rome, Fontainebleau, and Villa Adriana.
When he became governor of Tivoli in 1550 he took over the Governor’s palace, and immediately work to “recreate” the palace. He asked painter-architect-archeologist Pirro Ligorio to remodel the villa. Over the years the rooms of the palace were decorated under the tutelage of the stars of the late Roman Mannerism, such as Livio Agresti, Federico Zuccari, Durante Alberti, Girolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia and Antonio Tempesta. The work was not completed at the time of the Cardinal’s death in 1572.
How to Get to Villa Adriana
How to Read a COTRAL Bus Schedule
Riding buses in Rome
The Metro in Rome
In 1605 Cardinal Alessandro D’Este gave approval for a new set of plans to restore and repair the gardens, the waterworks, and also create innovations to the layout of the garden and the decorations of the fountains. In the 1660 – 1670 Bernini worked in Villa D’Este. In the 18th century the lack of maintenance and attention led to the decay of the villa. The gardens were abandoned and many of the ancient statues were scattered.
In the middle of the 19th century Gustav von Hohelohe obtained the villa from the Dukes of Modena and started to rebuild the complex. After renovations, the Villa again became a cultural center. Franz Liszt, composed Giochi d’acqua a Villa D’Este while a guest here, and gave one of his final concerts here in 1879.
After WWI started, the villa became the property of the Italian State, and during the 1920s it was restored and opened to the public. After WWII, another major restoration occurred, in part to repair the damage caused by bombings in 1944. For the last twenty years there has been constant restoration at the Villa. Certainly today, Villa D’Este and the town Tivoli is a delightful place to visit. If you’d like to also see Villa Adriana, it’s a short bus ride away. See this post, How to get to Villa Adriana for assistance. It’s well worth the trip!
How to get to Tivoli and Villa D’Este
Tivoli is an easy ride from Rome. By car, you take Autostrada 24 and exit at Tivoli – or you can the S5 out of Rome to Tivoli. By train, you would take the Roma-Pescara Line and get off at Stazione Tivoli, which is located on the northern side of the town. From here you can catch a bus into town or walk across the bridge and up the hill into town. By bus, you would take the Cotral Bus from the bus station at Metro Stop Ponte Mammolo to the main square in Tivoli. The Blue Cotral buses leave the bus station at Ponte Mammolo about every 15 minutes. It takes about 50 minutes by bus to get from Ponte Mammolo to the Main Square of Tivoli. (Hadrian’s Villa is not in Tivoli but on the plain below. You can get off at Bagni di Tivoli (before reaching Tivoli), and then walk or take a local bus to Hadrian’s Villa. I’d take the bus as it’s a little bit of a hike!)
We usually take the bus or train out to Tivoli. So first I’m going to give you an example of taking the bus out to Tivoli directly to the main square of the town. The second example will be taking the train back to Rome from Tivoli.
First, we’ll ride the Cotral bus to Tivoli. So head for the Metro and get on the B Line, heading in the direction: Rebibbia. Here’s a sign inside the Termini Station coming from Line A towards Line B. Note that P. Mammolo, our stop, is nine stops from Termini and the second to last stop on the Metro B Line. So plan on riding the metro for 15 minutes!
At Ponte Mammolo Station, get off the Metro and head downstairs FIRST. Yes, the Tivoli Cotral bus stop is upstairs…. but you can only buy tickets downstairs. There are no ticket outlets on the upstairs level. So exit the train, then go downstairs, exit through the turnstiles, leaving the Metro section of Ponte Mammolo behind.
Just outside the Station is this newstand where you can buy your Cotral bus tickets.
We went inside at the newstand pictured below:
You can see folks standing in line to get tickets and the “printed” sign identifying this as a sport where you can get your “bilglietti” for the Cotral Bus. The sign even says Tivoli. If you plan on riding back on the bus, go ahead and purchase the tickets for your RETURN TRIP NOW. This will help you avoid the hassle of looking for a ticket outlet in Tivoli. The Cotral tickets, like ATAC bus and metro tickets are not “used” until you validate them on the bus – so you can just hang on to them until you need them.
In the Bus Station section of Ponte Mammolo you will see multiple display boards. These are for arrivals and departures. The close-up above is of a departure board. You can see the NUMEROUS buses headed to Tivoli. This trip was taken on a weekday. We actually got on the 11:10 bus. The PLATF on the right side of the screeen represents the “platform” that the bus will leave from. ALMOST ALL buses to Tivoli will leave from platform 2, as you see in the picture above.
So after you purchase your tickets downstairs (unless you bought your Cotral tickets somewhere else in town), head up the escalator you see in this back of this picture (above). On the top left of the picture, you see the direction signs saying GO LEFT for COTRAL buses. To the right is the metro (that’s where you exited from a few minutes ago).
When you get to the top of the escalator, you’ll see this signage – Go right and outside.
Your now in the “platforms” area… where the incoming buses arrive and you will get on. There are many here, but head for #2, second from your farthest left. There will probably already be some folks waiting there as this is a popular destination.
Close-up shot of the pole and signage at Platform 2 – the spot where you will get on the bus to Tivoli.
A shot of a Cotral bus preparing to leave the station. These buses DO NOT sit long, so if you’re not in place when they pull up, you will probably get left behind.
Once on the bus, it’s like a motorcoach. There is 2×2 seating which will probably fill up BEFORE the bus leaves the station. As you can see, you must VALIDATE your ticket in the machine at the front of the bus. My suggestion, get on at either the front or middle doors and GET A SEAT… then send someone to validate your tickets – otherwise you will be standing during the 45-60 minute trip to Tivoli.
These buses will make 20 stops (or so it seems) and it will continue to fill up! When you go to get on this bus at Platform 2 – HOLD YOUR GROUND… and push back if necessary. The locals KNOW that getting on first is a prerequisite to getting a seat.
You’ll ride the bus through many smaller towns and usually it starts to empty out before getting to Tivoli tourist area. You’ll know you’re getting close as you start to climb the mountain and see incredible views to your Left. That’s ROME way, way off in the distance -OKAY, you really can’t see ROME in this picture… but you get the idea!
This is where the bus stops in Tivoli. Once you get to the top of the climb, it’s the first “big” stop. It’s a beautiful little square, bustling with activity and many buses coming and going! Get off here and head slightly to your left crossing the square to get to Villa D’Este. The bus stop is probably less than 300 yards from the Villa. SO NOW YOU ARE HERE – Congrats… you’ll see signage, like in the picture below, that will direct you to Villa D’Este.
Getting back to Rome
If you’re riding the bus back, you come back to this SAME Square on the opposite side of the street, almost across from where you jumped off the bus upon arrival in Tivoli, you catch the bus BACK to Roma.
Here are two shots walking back from Villa D’Este toward the bus stop. These are the buses heading back to Rome. It’s on the opposite side of the street where you arrived, and the buses are clearly labeled ROMA. If you’re unsure, just asked the driver, “Roma?” and they will let you know! If you’re headed back on the train, you’ll have to head up the hill through the center of town, then downhill to the river, cross the bridge, and go to the train station. Okay, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
Taking the Train
First , you’ll see a castle in the center of town (Above). Walk alongside this castle until you can turn left (see the building in the far distance in this picture). Turn LEFT onto this main road and now you’re heading down towards the river.
You’ll see signage directing you to the Train Station.
You’ll come to THIS bridge, and you’ll walk across the bridge, and then TURN LEFT on the opposite bank of the river and head up the hill on the sidewalk.
From the bridge, the train station is across the river.
It’s the yellow and white building in the center of this photo.
You’ll walk up this sidewalk that will lead you from the bridge to the train station (we’re looking back DOWN the hill in this shot – back towards the bridge.)
When you get to the top of the hill, you’ll see the train station – Tivoli – just across the street.
This is a very small train station.
Once inside, you can look at the train schedule (Top picture) or the departure boards (bottom picture) to see when the trains to Roma are leaving. You will be headed to Roma Tiburtina station. Tiburtina is ALSO a metro stop on the B line, so you’ll be coming back to the same metro line that you left Rome from – only to a different stop a little closer to the center of town than the Ponte Mammolo station.
The best spot to buy tickets here is probably this snack bar in the station. I’ve NEVER seen the ticket counter open and the ticket machines infrequently DO NOT work. So cut out the headaches and just go here and ask for a bilglietti to Roma! The folks here WILL KNOW you’re a tourist and they KNOW where you’re going! DO make sure once you get your ticket to VALIDATE it before you get on the train. For more info see our post on Riding Trains in Italy.
Once you have your ticket, and you’ve validated it… just go find a spot to sit and wait! The trains are usually on-time. The trip back, depending on which train you’re on, will probably take 55-65 minutes. Although not as convenient to the city center as the bus, the train has more rooms, more seats, bathrooms, stops less frequently, and is usually less crowded.
The views heading back to Roma on the train are incredible as you’re leaving Tivoli. For the best views, sit on the left side of the train as it pulls out of the station.
Your train will probably arrive at tracks 23-25 at Roma Tiburtina Station, so you’ll have to follow the crowd through these underground passages to the Metro Line. You’ll see plenty of signage directing you to the Metro. Congrats…. you’re back in town!
The Beauty of Villa D’Este
The entrance plaque on the wall as you approach the Villa. Cardinal Ippolito D’Este was the son of Lucrezia Borgia and the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. Pirro Ligorio worked seventeen years designing the garden. The cardinal wanted a villa and garden worthy of “one of the wealthiest ecclesiastics of the sixteenth century”
Inside the Villa you will find many incredibly painted rooms, like the picture above. It was formerly a Benedictine cloister. The Cardinal remodeled the villa to his tastes. You find many rooms with beautiful frescoes.
This is the view looking from inside the Villa out into the garden below. It is a sprawling Italian garden with beautiful cypress trees, shrubbery and flowers. The garden seems to fall away from the villa, as you see in this picture. The garden is carved out of the sheer rock face that the villa sits on. There are also fish ponds, paths going in all directions, and always statues – everywhere
The Hundred Fountains, as seen above, is a wall of water. It is a tree-lined path with the 100 fountains leading from the Oval Fountain to the Fountain of Rome, known as “Rometta”. The Hundred Fountains are structured on three levels. These levels represent the waters of three “rivers” – the Albuneo, Aniene, Ercolaneo. The Hundred Fountains have the many shapes, including that of lilies, eagles, obelisks, and small boats. Water emanates from all these fixtures, forming a natural wall.
In April, this purple blossoms were just starting to peek out through the trellis. The gardens were designed as a living museum of the classical beauty that represented ancient Rome.
Looking through the fountain from the Water Organ
Above is a close-up of The Water Organ Fountain, close view. Claude Venard, a Burgundian and a highly regarded manufacturer of hydraulic organs, worked on this incredible work of art. It’s said that the hydraulic-pneumatic technology that made this water-and-air-powered musical fountain possible in the 16th century actually dates back to 1st-century Alexandria.
After falling victim to lack of maintenance and the calcification from the water running through the fountain, the Organ was silent more than 100 years. Today though, thanks to craftsmen and organ specialists from Great Britain, the Organ Fountain plays again!
The Neptune fountain, close view. Behind it, the Water Organ Fountain
Edith Wharton once wrote that an Italian garden “does not exist for its flowers; its flowers exist for it.” It is certainly true at Villa D’Este!
Another view of the Le Cento Fontane (The Hundred Fountains).
One of the most famous fountains at Villa D’Este is the The Fontana dei Dragoni (The Dragons Fountain). This fountain was created in 1572 for the visit to Villa D’Este by Pope Gregory XIII, whose coat of arms features a dragon. The fountain is set between two steep staircases and pools in the shapes of dolphins and sea shells. The water gushes from the mouths of the four dragons.
The Rometta Fountain reproduces allusive key-parts of the Eternal City. You’ll see the she-wolf with the twins and Rome is represented by a statue with armor, helmet and lance. There is also a boat that represents Tiberina island.
Villa D’Este is a wonderful site to visit – especially in the Spring as all the flowers start to bloom. In the summer, it is a cooling, welcoming garden that helps off set the summer heat. After visiting Villa D’Este, we often head into town for more sites!
Information on Villa D’Este
From the Villa D’Este website (http://www.villadestetivoli.info/indexe.htm)
Piazza Trento, 5
00019 Tivoli, Italia
Call Center – 199.766.166
Number to dial from all of Italy for pre-sales and reservations for: tickets, guided tours, school groups, instructional visits.
Bookings from abroad:
Opening 8.30 – closed one hour before sunset.
The ticket office closes one hour before the closing of the monument.
The hydraulic organ of the Organ Fountain is active daily, from 10.30am, every two hours.
The Fontana della Civetta functions daily, from 10.00am, every two hours.
The Monument is closed the following days:
All Mondays, January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. If Monday is a holiday, the monument will remain open and the weekly closure will then be delayed
- Full price €6,50
- Reduced price € 3,25
- The right to purchase reduced price tickets belongs to all citizens of the European Union between the ages of 18 and 24 as well as permanent teachers of state schools (upon presentation of identity documents).
- The right of free admission belongs to all citizens of the European Union under 18 and over 65 upon presentation of identity documents.For citizens of extra-European states, the norms will apply according to the specific reciprocity agreements between each individual state and the Italian state.
Header: Tivoli – Photo by Jack Tol
If you are interested in more travel support, contact me – Ron in Rome – at:
Ron Phillips Travel
An Independent Advisor for Brownell Travel – A Virtuoso® Agency
Phone: (404) 474-3851
FAX: (678) 528-2672
And if you’d like more updates on travel specials, news, and events LIKE us on Facebook at