When you visit Rome, don't neglect to take some of the easy day trips to other significant attractions. The Roman Emperor Hadrian's Villa (Villa Adriana in Italian) in Tivoli is definitely worth a half day of your time, and makes a great adjunct to the Roman ruins within the city.
Unless you are a Roman history geek like I am, you may not have heard of the Emperor Hadrian. So a very short bit of history is probably appropriate here. He was the head of the Roman Empire for more than 20 years, from 117 to 138 C.E. He differed in policy from most of his predecessors in that he wasn't driven to extend the Empire, but instead preferred to direct his efforts into creating a system of efficient administration for the already expansive dominion.
Under Hadrian's predecessor Trajan, the empire had reached its maximum expanse. And Hadrian decided that it was perhaps a better investment to consolidate and manage, even giving up some territory previously conquered. The most famous evidence of this is Hadrian's Wall, which stretched the width of Great Britain near the current border with Scotland.
Hadrian's other major project that's still in evidence today is his villa outside the town of Tivoli, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Rome. Wealthy Romans often built retreats in the Tivoli area to escape the heat and smell of urban Rome. The elevation and the breezes make the area very pleasant.
(Hadrian also rebuilt the Pantheon in Rome which had been originally built by Augustus's general Marcus Agrippa, but had burned down. In a humble gesture uncharacteristic of Roman emperor, Hadrian left the original inscription of Agrippa above the entrance.)
The site of Hadrian's villa was chosen also for the abundance of water. The site is blessed with natural streams and ponds. And it's also near several ancient aqueducts which carried water from the mountains to Rome. So, the site featured extensive landscaped gardens and multiple large pools. Some large plots were farmed and some areas left as wilderness.
There are more than 30 buildings on the site, many of them massive in scale. There are residences, dining halls, a theater, huge baths, and an outdoor recreation area called the Canopus, which was modeled after a garden Hadrian had seen in Alexandria, Egypt. The Villa's buildings vary in architectural styles and materials, and are said to imitate the styles Hadrian saw in his travels in his far flung empire.
The Villa, and that word might be an understatement, spans more than 80 hectares (200 acres) and so takes at least a couple of hours to explore it all.
Unfortunately, Hadrian's Villa is a ruin, and the opulence which once must have reigned is long gone. Although some of the statuary has been restored, most was carried off long ago. Luckily some of it ended up in the Capitoline and Vatican Museums in Rome.
Also, much of the marble facades and many of the remaining statues were removed in the 16th Century by the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este to his own Villa d'Este five kilometers away.
Also there is archeological evidence that some of the marble was burned for its lime, for use as building material.
If you're interested in Hadrian, there's a very readable biography, Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome, by the English historian Anthony Everitt. I've read a few of his books, and recommend them to fellow Roman history geeks.
One way to take your day trip to Hadrian's Villa, is to take the train to Tivoli from Rome's Tiburtina Station. The train leaves about every hour and cost about €6 round trip. Start with the gardens at the Villa d'Este, which, like Hadrian's Villa, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Villa is about 5 kilometers from the Gardens, so take a taxi. We found the father and son team of Roberto and Michele Rienzi who provide a taxi service to any Tivoli locations. You can arrange your Tivoli transport in advance by emailing them at email@example.com or by calling them at +39 349-233-0438.)
Another, and perhaps easier way, would be to take a tour of the two Tivoli locations that originates in Rome (see below. Click this link to book the highest rated tour of the Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa.
Hadrian's Villa is a Unesco World Heritage site in Italy. Click the link to see a list of all the World Heritage sites in Italy, with links to posts about the ones we've visited.
Hadrian's Villa is one of our 28 recommended things to do in Rome.
Tours of Hadrian's Villa and Rome
The easiest way to get to Hadrian's Villa is to take a tour from Rome. This is the most positively reviewed tour from Rome to Hadrian's Villa on Get Your Guide.
If you're not a lifelong student of Roman art, culture, and history, like we are, (or even if you are) you'd do well to take a guided tour of some of the things that interest you. Below are some links to some tours, as well as some links into some attractions that will let you skip the lines. That alone is worth the price of admission. Check these out, and know if you book a tour using one of these links, Travel Past 50 will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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13 thoughts on “A Day Trip from Rome to Hadrian’s Villa”
Have never been there and this is a great keeper of a post to remind us to go there. As history lovers, we’ll check out the book as well!
If you like Roman history, with a bit of attitude, I also recommend checking out the Life of Caesar podcast. Full of history, and often quite funny.
Even though I lived in Italy for 2 years many moons ago, I never visited Hadrian’s Villa. just Tivoli gardens. I’ll have to check out more of these tours the next time we go to Rome (thank you for those links, by the way – they will save a LOT of time in lineups!!!
Yeah, if you don’t take the tours, you could spend half of all your time in Rome standing in line. No lines at Hadrian’s place, though, but unless you know what you’re looking at, a tour might not be a bad idea. It is a huge site, and yes, it’s all ruins so it’s a bit difficult sometimes to figure it all out.
I first saw Hadrian’s Villa eons ago when I was a Pan Am “stewardess” and flew to Rome every week. I first saw it through the eyes of love. Thank you for sharing it again with me.
A lot to love there, especially if you know the stories of Hadrian and his lover Antinous, who was killed in a sea accident and later deified by Hadrian.
What a wonderful post! I’ve read about Villa Adriana in so many historical novels it would be amazing to see it in person. Love your photos!
It’s definitely worth several hours wandering around. Some locals were picnicking on the grounds, which was nice to see.
I’ve been to the Villa d’Este, but was disappointed to find the Villa Adriana closed when I was there. Having looked at your pictures I am defnitely going back next time I am in Rome!
Thanks, Karen. It’s amazing in comparison to Villa d’Este: the estate for one (and of course the court and military and all that accompanied Hadrian) vs. the ‘regular’ town.
I’m no Roman history geek, but I do love ancient history and I really enjoyed your article and photos…well done!!
Even though in ruins, there is enough there to soak up and imagine the history. Thanks.
Thanks for taking me on your “dig.” What a great photo of the Marine Theater. Will definitely include the Villa on my next trip to Rome.