Explored most of Rome’s ancient ruins? Filled your belly with all the gelato you can handle? It might be time to take a break from soaking up Italy’s wonderful capital and set out on an exciting day trip to another fascinating spot nearby.
Keen not to spend too much time in the car, though? History buffs (or simply those of you who can’t resist taking photos of beautiful buildings and pretty fountains) are in luck as the picturesque heritage town of Tivoli is less than hour away from Rome by road.
What is Tivoli?
Located just east of the Italian capital yet still within the Lazio region, Tivoli is a small town with a past that’s nearly as old as Rome itself. Its hilltop position, abundance of fresh air and thermal waters historically made it popular as a summer retreat for the Roman ruling classes and later the Renaissance elite. Plus it was located right on an important trading route between Rome and Abruzzo on Italy’s east coast.
Today, the sleepy town is a hotbed for tourists after a glimpse of Ancient Roman life. Its position in a truly picturesque corner of Lazio also means it offers the best of both worlds when it comes to intriguing attractions and jaw-dropping rural scenery.
What to see and do in Tivoli
Wondering what to put on your Tivoli road trip itinerary? Here are just a handful of brilliant things to do while you’re in this magical town:
Explore the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa
Hadrian’s Villa (known as Villa Adriana in Italian) is perhaps one of the most important Roman ruins outside of the capital and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999. Once the summer residence of Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century AD, the archaeological complex’s size is truly extraordinary – it’s practically a town in itself – and you could easily spend a day exploring its various stone bathhouses, temples, gardens and libraries.
Within the villa’s grounds, you’ll spot several glistening lakes as well as some impressive fountains decorated with exquisite sculptures and mosaics. One of the highlights has to be the mighty former emperor’s Canopus – an ornamental lake lined with statues and arcades that’s overlooked by what was once several grand feasting halls.
Wander around the gorgeous gardens at the Villa d’Este
The stunning Villa d’Este may not be as old as Hadrian’s Villa, but it’s equally as monumental. The vast house is found on the northern fringes of Tivoli and it was originally constructed in the 16th century for the son of Lucrezia Borgia (of the infamous Borgia family).
While the palace itself is extremely lavish and purely designed for entertaining, it’s the landscaped grounds which really steal the show at Villa d’Este. Set aside at least an hour to wander around them and get ready to be wowed by dozens of beautiful fountains and water features, including the huge Water Organ Fountain that’s surrounded by tiny pools and situated right in the heart of the gardens.
Gaze in awe at the interiors of the Duomo di Tivoli
Can’t resist touring a captivating church? You’ll be glad to hear that Tivoli is home to a huge medieval cathedral. It’s on Piazza del Duomo and is iconic for its huge Romanesque bell tower built in the 12th century.
The cathedral is said to have been constructed by Emperor Constantine on the site of an ancient Roman forum. While it may look fairly plain on the outside, the interiors are awash with shiny marble work, opulent frescoes and plenty of gilded detailing.
Stroll over the Ponte Gregoriano for fantastic panoramic vistas
Set above the gorge of the same name, Ponte Gregoriano is a truly magnificent viewpoint on the eastern side of Tivoli. Both – as well as a gorgeous villa – were named after Pope Gregory XVI who, after some severe flooding hit the town in the 1820s, organised for the River Aniene to be diverted down the valley via a waterfall and created a public park for it to be admired by visitors.
For the best views of the valley and the enchanting gardens which surround the Villa Gregoriano, you’ll want to park up and walk across the Ponte Gregoriano. From there, follow one of the paths down into the valley to discover its magical grottos and peaceful waterfalls.
Soak in healing thermal waters at Acque Albule Spring
If you fancy some pampering after a few days of traipsing around Rome’s many world-famous sights, you should definitely put some time aside for this Tivoli spa. As well as its ruins and temples, Tivoli has always been famed for its thermal waters. While there aren’t any intact bathhouses dating from the Roman era, it’s still possible to soak your weary limbs in warm waters at the more contemporary Acque Albule Spring.
The Acque Albule Spring’s waters are white in colour due to their sulphurous and hypothermal properties. As well as indulging in a relaxing beauty treatment or swimming in its pools, many flock to the spa for its healing treatments which are said to be enhanced by the quality and contents of the water.
Driving to Tivoli from Rome
If you’re setting off on a short road trip from Rome to Tivoli in your rental car, you’ll need to get on the A24 eastbound for around 15 minutes. At the SP51a junction, turn off towards Tivoli. After about 9 miles (14 km), you’ll want to bear left onto the SR5.
It’s then another 15 minutes before you reach the outskirts of Tivoli. To park, check if there are free spaces at the carpark off Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi or make a beeline for the park and ride on Via Aldo Moro.
After you’ve soaked up the spectacular ruins and enjoyed the thermal baths of Tivoli, why not discover some other fabulous regions of Italy by road? Drive north-west for half an hour to uncover the charming town of Monterotondo or set off for the balmy region of Tuscany to visit the sacred mountaintop La Verna Sanctuary.