The day before I decided to go there, I also was wondering, “Is spending 2 days in Tivoli worth it?” I had only vaguely heard of this place but knew nothing about it. On my recent trip to Italy (March 2022), winging it was the theme. After our two days in Montepulciano, we wanted to head south and to a bigger city.
While trying to decide where to go after breakfast the next morning, my husband asked if there was a big city that’s right outside of Rome or something like that where we could go. And given that Tivoli has a bigger font on the map than others, that’s where we chose! (Yes, I often choose destinations based on their font size on the map. I did this for my adventure in Aosta, Italy and my two days in Turin, Italy as well!)
And guess what? Tivoli is AWESOME. I’m sad I only had two days there and I’ve definitely put this very cool city on my list of places to return to. So, don’t miss out on this totally under-the-radar destination on your next trip to Italy. Here’s what you need to know about visiting and your guide to spending 2 days in Tivoli.
So, why visit Tivoli, Italy?
Tivoli, Italy is an ancient hill-top city about 45-minutes east of Rome. Back in the day, it was seen as a “retreat” from the busy city life of Rome and every emperor and his brother had a sprawling and elaborate villa here. It’s where they ruled Rome from when they didn’t want to rule Rome from Rome. You can think of it like: Tivoli is to Rome what Versailles is to Paris. King Louis XIV was the new Emperor Hadrian.
Fortunately for us in the 21st century, much of these ancient villas still stand and are now the biggest draw to the city of Tivoli. While Tivoli is very much a bustling city now and a welcome change from the off-season isolation of Montepulciano in Tuscany, Tivoli is certainly not as big and bustling as Rome. It is still very much a “retreat” from Italy’s capital.
How long to spend in Tivoli, Italy?
Because of its proximity to Rome, most travelers visit Tivoli on day trips. There are many day trip options that include transportation and are easy to take and will show you a sampling of what this cool city offers.
However, to see even just the three most popular sites in Tivoli (and you’ll want to see all 3!) you need at least two days. This is because:
- The opening days/times of each site + how long you’ll need to spend at each + traveling between them makes visiting more than two in one day just impossible.
- If you don’t have your own car and will be relying on public transportation, getting between the sites will take a bit longer. (Do yourself a favor, check out rental car deals here so you can travel around Italy at your own pace!)
That said, I spent 2 days in Tivoli concentrating on the top three sites and I definitely wish I had planned more time there. There are so many cool ancient sites to see, the city itself is worth more exploration, and this place just has the best vibe. But, if you’re short on time like I was, aim for at least two days.
Day trip to Tivoli from Rome
It’s totally understandable if you don’t have more than a day to devote to visiting Tivoli. After all, we’re all time budget travelers around here. If this is you, know that even a day trip to Tivoli is worth it if that’s all you can squeeze in. And if that’s the case, the easiest and most stress-free way to do this is via an organized tour.
On a day trip to Tivoli from Rome you’ll at least be able to visit the city’s two most popular sites: Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este. The trip each way is about 45 minutes via your own air-conditioned bus and you’ll have a knowledgeable local guide explaining what’s what. (But you’ll still have plenty of free time to explore on your own.)
If this sounds like the way to go for you, check out this highly-rated Tivoli Day Trip from Rome. It includes everything I just mentioned: a dedicated guide, air conditioned transportation, and a visit to Tivoli’s top two sites. (And cost-wise it’s the best deal out there!)
What to do in Tivoli in 2 days
But, if you have more than a day to dedicate to this ancient and beautiful town, here’s what you can see and do with 2 days in Tivoli. For starters, you’ll want to check out Tivoli’s three main sites: Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), Villa d’Este (the Gardens of Tivoli), and Villa Gregoriana (my favorite).
Villa Adriana – Hadrian’s Villa
One of the most ancient sites in Tivoli is Villa Adriana, more commonly known as Hadrian’s Villa. It was built in the 2nd century A.D. at the behest of Roman Emperor Hadrian and served as his home-away-from-Rome.
And it. is. huge. Hadrian’s Villa encompasses almost 300 acres and contains tons of buildings and other structures, ancient Roman art, pools, flora and fauna, and tons more. Basically, it was like a small Roman city of its own during its time. However, given its age and the fact that it was voraciously pillaged after the fall of the Roman Empire, this massive complex is essentially all ruins at this point.
However, that does not make it less interesting at all! There is still tons of interesting art and architecture to see here. You should plan on at least 2 hours here, but maybe more like 3 simply because of its size.
When you arrive, take a look at the informational signs inside the park. Besides a giant map of the complex, it tells you which areas to concentrate on if you’re in a hurry (basically, the highlights), which to see if you have a little bit more time, and all the places to check out if you have an entire day to spend. Base your time at Hadrian’s Villa around this plan for an easy itinerary.
Villa d’Este – the Gardens of Tivoli
When people talk about “the Gardens of Tivoli,” what you’re hearing about is Villa d’Este – another massive, decadent complex you must see during your 2 days in Tivoli.
Villa d’Este was constructed in the mid-1500s and is one of the best examples of Renaissance garden splendor. It takes up about 11 acres that appear somehow hidden in the center of Tivoli. The Villa d’Este complex includes a residential palace (Palazzo d’Este), a series of gardens, and hundreds of fountains.
The many fountains of all shapes, sizes, and designs are the centerpiece here, and the nearby Aniene River was actually diverted to accommodate these goals.
Besides the gardens and fountains, you can tour the palace as well and get some of the absolute best views in Tivoli from all over the site. Plan to spend about 2 hours here checking it all out.
Parco Villa Gregoriana
The third of the three major sites you need to see on your 2 days in Tivoli is Villa Gregoriana—the most offbeat of them all. It’s also conveniently located in the center of Tivoli and is a super unique outdoor Italian adventure.
Villa Gregoriana is a complex made up of wooded walking paths, mysterious grottoes and caves, waterfalls, hidden passageways, and so much more stuff that is just out-there. Basically, you’ll feel like you took a left after the pizzeria and somehow wandered into a storybook fairy tale dreamland. But let me back up.
The aforementioned Aniene River used to be a real pain in the Pope and caused wild devastation many times due to its persistent flooding. Finally, in 1826 they had had it and finally resolved to come up with a permanent solution.
The cure was then to totally divert the river (again) and the now-empty river bed was turned into a giant urban park. They named it Villa Gregoriana after Pope Gregory XVI who commission the project, though it’s also called the Valley of Hell sometimes. Go figure.
Its reconstruction took place over time but the site was eventually abandoned for the last half of the 20th century. It has since been revamped but the years of neglect equated to uncontrolled growth of the vegetation which actually gives it a more enchanted feel today.
Visiting Villa Gregoriana
Villa Gregoriana is basically a 400-foot deep gorge in the middle of Tivoli. To explore it, you start at the top, hike all the way down to the bottom, then hike back up on the other side.
The paths are a mixture of natural dirt paths and some constructed walkways and staircases. It winds through the forest, past waterfalls, through caves, and more. On the opposite side of Villa Gregoriana are two temples that date back to the 2nd century B.C. Depending on how often you stop to take photos (it’ll be a lot) and how many of the hidden grottoes you check out, plan for around 2 hours here.
Get Villa Gregoriana visiting information here.
Rocca Pia is a medieval castle smack in the center of town, just next to the popular Plaza Garibaldi and around the corner from Villa d’Este. It dates back to the mid-1400s and was commissioned by Pope Pius II.
You can visit and tour the castle today, but note that it’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays! To get a better idea of what you can see, check out these Tripadvisor reviews.
Sanctuary of Hercules Victor
The Sanctuary of Hercules Victor is another complex of Roman architecture and dates back to the 2nd century B.C. This hillside complex consists of a giant amphitheater, a temple, and other cool ancient areas to explore. Get more historical and visiting information here.
Is it worth visiting Tivoli, Italy?
Tivoli is absolutely worth a visit if you’re looking for something different and enchanting. Beyond these sites, Tivoli is simply an awesome city to just explore. While it does have a handful of world renowned UNESCO Heritage and other sites, it still has an off-the-beaten-path kinda vibe. Its tourism industry exists, but it’s small.
When you’re in Tivoli, you’ll very much feel like you’re among locals. Even the tourists you’ll encounter in the lines to the villas are Italian. Even though it’s so close and accessible from Rome, you really do feel a world away. Emperor Hadrian, I feel you.
How to get to Tivoli, Italy
Unless you’re taking one of the organized tours that include transportation, here’s how you can easily get to Tivoli from a few different destinations:
How to get to Tivoli by car
From the center of Rome, Tivoli is just a 45-minute drive. (But it’s easily accessible from all over Italy.) Once there, we parked in the lot next to Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, right in the center, as a parking pass there was included with our hotel stay. I’ll spare you detailed directions as we all know how to use GPS at this point.
On a side note, traveling Italy by car is so much fun! It’s definitely my preferred way to move up and down the boot. If you think you’d like to do it this way too, check out the deals at rentalcars.com and see if this would work for you!
How to get to Tivoli by train
If you’re taking the train to Tivoli from Rome, the trip can take anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on which train you take. The fastest (35 minutes) is direct, while some others have changes. I don’t know why on earth you would ever choose one of those, but there they are.
Check out TrenItalia for schedules and tickets. Put in Roma Termini as your “From” and Tivoli as your “To.” These train tickets are also around €3. Bellissimo!
That being said, you can also train it to Tivoli from other locations in Italy. If you’re coming from Florence (Firenze SM Novella), you will have to change trains in Rome, but that will be your only change. The trip will take anywhere from 2 hours 45 minutes to 6 hours. (Please choose the short one, I mean really.)
If you’re coming up from Naples (Napoli Centrale) or the Amalfi Coast (Salerno), the trip will take between 2.5 and 4 hours. And, again, you’ll have to change trains in Rome.
Those trains get you into Tivoli’s main train station. BUT, if you check out the TrenItalia website, you’ll see that you can actually put Villa Adriana or Villa d’Este in as your destination.
In that case, your ticket will take you to the nearest train station, and will also include a ticket for the bus that will take you to the Villas themselves. Depending on your plans, this could save you a great deal of time!
Getting around in Tivoli
If you have your own rental car, getting around Tivoli is going to be a cinch. Park wherever your accommodation tells you to, and you can walk to a great deal of places from within Tivoli’s center. (If you stay at the places I suggest below, Villa d’Este is right outside your front door, and Parco Villa Gregoriana is just a 9-minute walk.)
The one site you’ll actually need to drive to is Villa Adriana, a 10-minute drive away from Villa d’Este. But, Hadrian’s Villa has a big private parking lot, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
Tivoli’s Cat Bus
Otherwise, Tivoli has the Cat Bus. Yes, the Cat Bus. (Specifically, the Cooperativa Autoservizi Tiburtini, but whatever.) This is the public bus system that runs through Tivoli and will take you where you want to go. Get all the information and routes here: https://www.catbustivoli.com/. It even shows you which buses to take to get to the main attractions.
Where to stay in Tivoli, Italy
For your 2 days in Tivoli, I cannot recommend the B&B Villa d’Este enough. This place is so perfect and I would not hesitate to stay here again. The welcome was so warm and the location could not be more perfect. The rates are great, parking is included, and the rooms (and showers) are big. Read reviews here.
B&B Villa d’Este is located, I kid you not, right outside the front door of the Villa d’Este. I thought the reviews were joking when they said the location was ideal, but they were not. It’s right across from Piazza Garibaldi where you can park for free. It’s within walking distance of just about everything. And our room views were just *chef’s kiss*.
The room was bigger than (Italian) normal and the shower was more high-tech than I thought existed in Italy. The owners are so delightful and didn’t hesitate to accommodate me when I texted them for utensils so I could eat my beans out of the can. (I have a thing for Italian canned tuna + beans. I’m happy to talk more about that if you’d like more information.)
Besides B&B Villa d’Este, check out these other nearby options in case they work better for you:
- B&B Il Castello – Also right near the Villa d’Este and the Rocca Pia. It has great reviews (9.2 on Booking.com!) and excellent rates.
- Dimora D’Este – At Dimora D’Este you get the whole 2-bedroom apartment with full kitchen and, yes, it’s also in the perfect location. Also exceptional reviews (9.7/10!) and a really cute space.
What to pack for your 2 days in Tivoli
While most of what you need in Tivoli is the standard stuff you’d pack for any trip to Italy, there are a few things I want to emphasize. Here’s what you’ll need during your 2-day trip to Tivoli:
Sturdy shoes for the villas
All three of Tivoli’s famous villas are going to require some heavy duty shoes. At Villa d’Este you can get by with probably anything you’re wearing as it’s mostly paved paths. But for Villa Adriana and Villa Gregoriana you’ll want something that can pull more weight.
Both Hadrian’s Villa and Parco Villa Gregoriana are mostly dirt, gravel, rock, uneven, grassy, wet paths that go uphill, downhill, over bridges, into wet caves, and more. For your visit to Tivoli, make sure you have something sturdier than fancy sandals or casual sneakers.
My personal recommendations are:
- Sorel duck boots for chillier seasons – check them out here on Zappos and Amazon
- Chacos hiking sandals for summer – check them out here on Zappos and Amazon
I am obsessed with both of these and wear them anytime I’m doing something that’s a little on the Italian outdoor adventure side of things. Both have excellent traction for wet and uneven surfaces, both are waterproof, and both are comfortable as heck even for wearing all day while touring ancient Italian cities.
Other items to consider
- Culture Smart! Italy – I preach these pocket-sized guidebooks for just about every international destination. They focus on the customs and culture of each country and clue you in to the things traditional guidebooks skip. Highly recommend. (I have a whole review post on these books if you’d like to learn more!)
- European outlet adapters – This is such an easy thing to forget about but 1000% essential to your trip. Go ahead and pick up a 6-pack of them so you won’t have any trouble charging all your devices.
- Anti-Theft purse – Not that Tivoli is unsafe or anything, this is just a smart thing to have for any European/Italian trip. I don’t go anywhere without my theftproof purse/backpack/camera bag/etc. They come in all different sizes and styles. I have some from both PacSafe and Travelon and I love them all! Currently, I never leave home without this Anti-theft Slim Backpack.
- Refillable water bottle – Tivoli (and all over Italy) is full of nasoni, the free, fresh water sources. Be sure to always have a refillable water bottle with you so you never have to pay for bottles of water.
Have a great time on your 2 days in Tivoli!
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