A Day Trip from Rome to Hadrian’s Villa

By |2018-07-23T13:11:44+00:00July 22, 2018|Categories: Europe, History Travel, Italy, Unesco World Heritage Sites|Tags: , |13 Comments
Italy Tivoli Hadrians villa day trip rome canopus

The Canopus, modeled after a park Hadrian saw in Alexandria, Egypt, at Hadrian’s Villa.

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.)

Italy Tivoli Hadrians villa day trip from rome maritime theater

The so-called Maritime Theater, which probably amused the emperor and his court with recreations of famous sea battles.

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.

italy tivoli hadrians villa day trip from rome baths

The baths were among the first buildings constructed at the Villa.

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.

Italy Tivoli Hadrians villa day trip from rome barracks

The building on the left was the barracks that housed the soldiers that guarded Hadrian and his villa.

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.

To take your day trip to Hadrian’s Villa, 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. (The father and son team of Roberto and Michele Rienzi provides a taxi service to any Tivoli locations. You can arrange your Tivoli transport in advance by emailing them at [email protected] or by calling them at +39 349-233-0438.)

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.

You can see a shopping list of a lot of the gear we use and the books we read all in one place here on Amazon. If you buy something from this list, Travel Past 50 receives a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Tours in Rome

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.

Sign up for our newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit


  1. Jackie Smith August 29, 2018 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    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!

    • Tom Bartel August 30, 2018 at 11:18 am - Reply

      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.

  2. jane Canapini August 30, 2018 at 10:07 am - Reply

    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!!!

    • Tom Bartel August 30, 2018 at 11:21 am - Reply

      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.

  3. Michelle da Silva Richmond August 30, 2018 at 11:12 am - Reply

    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.

    • Tom Bartel August 30, 2018 at 11:36 am - Reply

      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.

  4. michele h peterson August 31, 2018 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    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!

    • Kristin Henning September 7, 2018 at 10:15 am - Reply

      It’s definitely worth several hours wandering around. Some locals were picnicking on the grounds, which was nice to see.

  5. Karen Warren September 2, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

    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!

    • Kristin Henning September 7, 2018 at 10:18 am - Reply

      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.

  6. Marilyn Jones September 2, 2018 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    I’m no Roman history geek, but I do love ancient history and I really enjoyed your article and photos…well done!!

    • Kristin Henning September 7, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

      Even though in ruins, there is enough there to soak up and imagine the history. Thanks.

  7. Irene S. Levine September 7, 2018 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    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.

Leave A Comment