Fifteen years ago my husband and I went to Rome and a visit to the water gardens at Tivoli was on my list. Due to incorrect advice from our tour operator at the time we were unable to do this trip but vowed if we ever return to Rome we would. We now have a 10 year old son who loves to travel and wanted to visit Rome after learning some of its history at school. We decided that this time in Rome we would do our own thing, using public transport and go to Tivoli as a must- our little adventure.
You can get to Tivoli via a blue bus which I understand you pick up at Termini. It passes approximately one mile away from Villa Adriane on route to Tivoli/Rome depending on direction and I believe it takes 1-1.5 hrs.
You can also get to Tivoli via train, the station being at the bottom of a hill on the edge of town. Trains are at worst hourly and mainly go from the metro stations of Tiburtina or Prenestina, but there is one direct train that leaves Termini once a day at 8.57. To return you do need to use the metro and change where necessary. For ease we chose the direct train from Termini. We obtained the tickets from the automatic machines (6.5 euro, one way for the three of us), got them validated using the green ticket validation machine and got on the train. We spotted the waterfall through the trees on the right as we climbed the hill into Tivoli. It took about an hour before we pulled into Tivoli. As hardened rail travellers in the UK it was a pleasant journey as we viewed the Italian countryside. To begin with getting the tickets at the station was confusing but just follow the instructions and it’s easy to do, paid using my credit card. To wait at the ticket advice/help area would have taken over 0.5 hour which would have meant we would have missed the train. Take care not to accept offers of help from strangers wandering around. They are not officials and want payment for help given.
We left the station at Tivoli, turning left out of the car park down a footpath which crossed the river via a bridge. Once over the other side, up the steps, cross the road and wind your way up the hill through the town to the central square. Behind the square, tucked in a corner is the entrance to the villa d’Este and the water gardens of Tivoli. It was a 10-15 minute walk from the station but nice to get a view of the town. We did come across signs to the villa along the way.
Once through the entrance there is a quaint court yard (toilets and cafe) and the villa. The villa is mainly empty of furniture but has two floors where you can see the lovely painted walls. Leaving the villa takes you into the water gardens. These gardens are formally set out but hidden around various corners you find small and large fountains. Walk along every path otherwise you will miss something. We ambled around for 2-3 hours. It can be done quicker but we loved the peace and quiet after the crowds of the city. It was nice just to sit and watch the bigger pieces- quite spectacular. Some of the features are new as time has taken its toll but still worth a visit.
Leaving the Villa d'Este and a lovely lunch around the corner in the square, we decided to attempt to get to Villa Adriane which is a few miles out of town. The information kiosk tells us to get a ticket at the tobacconist around the corner and an orange bus from the edge of the square. If you get the blue bus to Rome it passes about a mile from the villa entrance, a 15-20 minute walk along a straight road. The orange bus stops 5 minutes walk from the villa entrance.
The villa Adriane is huge in size and site. We spent 2-3 hours walking around only briefly looking at everything, knowing we were running out of time. You could easily take a picnic and spend all day there. A well preserved site and well worth a visit, different sights around each corner. We were quite awestruck by it all, it being much grander than our expectations. Loved seeing the way the buildings had been constructed.
We returned to Tivoli by bus after a 5 minute wait. We were told the buses can be erratic in time and often late but we found no problems, maybe we were just lucky. They were busy and limited seating due to their popularity. After walking back through the town we got the train back into Rome, no stopping taking 40 minutes. Tickets were again obtained using the machines, including validation. We changed to the metro at Tiburtina, which seemed a bit of a warren but easy to follow the signs. A point to note is that all train (not metro) tickets need to be validated before boarding. If this is not done you may be issued with quite a hefty fine. First get ticket, second validate, third board. For buses you just a ticket to board.
Our little adventure had gone without a hitch and we had a great day. We would recommend. We understand there are half day organised bus tours running from the city which cover both sites. It’s nice to just be taken sometimes but our feel is that you wouldn't have enough time at either venue to appreciate what they have to offer. For the extra effort and a little bit of walking it is more fun doing it yourself and having your own little adventure. Enjoy Tivoli, it was a lovely clean town. Great food and drink too, half the price of the city.