The Borghese Gallery is the perfect place for art lovers to admire art in a beautiful space without big crowds in Rome. While the Vatican Museums are filled with treasures and are a must visit site in the Eternal City, it is also one of the largest and most crowded museums on the planet! But luckily Rome is full of art, some contained inside museums, some tucked away in churches, and some weathering in its piazzas.
The Galleria Borghese, or Borghese Gallery, features one of the world’s greatest private art collections assembled by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century in his Roman garden villa. The collection is particularly rich in ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art, with major works by Bernini, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Correggio, Rubens, and Canova.
A great thing about the Borghese Gallery is that it has a timed reservation system that keeps the crowds to a minimum; however, it also means that reservations are needed and tickets are limited.
To make the most of our limited time inside this art museum, we did a tour with the tour company Walks of Italy which provided us a reserved ticket and a guided tour to help ensure we hit all the highlights in our 2 hours inside the gallery. We’ll share all you need to know to visit the Borghese Gallery in Rome and share our experience touring this great art museum!
Basic Information about the Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery is an art museum in Rome that is open to the public; however, reservations are needed to enter the museum.
The Borghese Gallery is located at Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5, 00197 Rome. The Borghese Gallery is located within the Borghese Gardens on Pincian Hill.
Getting to the Borghese Gallery?
You can get here via walking or taking public transit. The closest public transit stop is the Pinciana/Museo Borghese bus stop, but the S. Paolo del Brasile stop is also a good option. The closest metro stop is the Spagna stop; however, this option does require a bit of uphill walking and the signage is not great in directing you towards the museum (so come prepared with a map, directions, or GPS).
For bus tables, directions, and public transport maps throughout the city visit Rome’s official public transportation website.
Cost of Tickets?
The cost of regular adult tickets (as of March 2018) are € 15.00 (includes a 2 euro booking fee). If you would like a guided tour from a museum staff member (English or Italian), the cost is € 21.50 which includes your ticket, booking fee, and guided tour. Museum audio guides are available to rent for €5.00.
Discounts are available for EU teachers and EU young adults and entry is free children. The museum is free and crowded on the first Sundays of each month so avoid these days if you dislike crowds, or be sure to book well in advance if you want to visit on this day.
Note that even if a ticket is free (for children or a free Sunday), one must still make a reservation online and pay the €2 booking fee unless you are using the Roma Pass (see Reservations section below).
How to Make Reservations and Book Tickets?
All visitors must have ticket reservations. On slower times of the year, you may be able to buy tickets on the same day, but time slots are often sold out in advance so it is very wise to book ahead as soon as you know which day you plan to visit. You must book both a date and time, and you can book a guided (in English or Italian) or unguided tour.
For city pass holders, you may use your Roma Pass or OMNIA Vatican & Roma Pass to get free entry into the museum (it is one of the 6 choices of museums); however, museum tickets must still be booked by phone at +39 06 32810 (no booking fee) and picked up at the ticket office of the museum.
All visitors must arrive 30 minutes in advance of their ticket time, or they may be denied entry.
What if there are not Reservations Available During my Visit to Rome?
If you do not book in advance, you are likely to find that tickets are sold out for a particular day. You can try just heading to the Borghese Gallery office in the morning and ask at the ticket desk if there are any available tickets. If people have cancelled or do not show up on time, then the museum can sell you tickets for their spots. This may or may not work, and you may have to wait around for a few hours to get a spot so best to make reservations if possible.
How Much Time Do I have in the Borghese Gallery?
The Borghese Gallery limits the number of people touring the museum at any time (although you can spend extra time in the cafe or gift shop after your tour time ends). You will have an entry time (arrive 30 minutes before to get tickets) and you will be required to exit the gallery 2 hours after your entry time. So it is best to enter exactly on time and get the most of your 2 hours; the gallery is very manageable however and 2 hours gives you enough time to see all the highlights at a relatively relaxed pace. If you want to spend more than 2 hours inside the Borghese Gallery, you will have to exit the gallery and then you can later re-enter with another reservation.
Self-Guided or Guided Tours of the Borghese Gallery?
The Borghese Gallery can be explored at your own pace on your own, guided by museum staff guide (in Italian or English), or booked with an outside credentialed tour guide. If this is your first visit, it is very helpful to bring either a guidebook or rent an audioguide to do it at your own pace or to book a guided tour to get the most of your visit.
As noted, we booked our tour through Walks of Italy, an American-based tour company founded in 2008 with a focus on small group tours that cover the major highlights of destinations as well as some off-the-beaten path spots with knowledgeable and friendly English-speaking tour guides. We’ve had great experiences taking many of their tours in both New York City and Italy, including a fantastic after hours tour of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice and several other great tours in Rome.
Facilities at Borghese Gallery?
The Borghese Gallery contains a small cafe, coat room/storage lockers, and toilets. You will need to show your ticket to be allowed access to the toilets. If you have a larger bag, such as a backpack or large purse, you will likely be asked to check it before touring the museum.
Additional Questions about visiting the Borghese Gallery?
More information can be found by visiting the official Borghese Gallery website or by calling the information and ticket phone number at +39 06 32810.
Our Tour Experience of the Borghese Gallery with Walks of Italy
As already noted, we visited the Borghese Gallery on a guided tour with Walks of Italy. We specifically booked the 2.5 hour Villa Borghese Tour with Tickets, which includes a timed entry reservation and ticket. The guided tour is 2.5 hours long, but the first 30 minutes are outside the Villa Borghese and then a 2-hour guided tour inside the art museum as this is the amount of time allotted for all ticket holders.
Meeting & A History of the Borghese Gallery
Our tour started just outside the Villa Borghese and we had a group of about 12 people (maximum size is 15 for this tour), mostly other American and British travelers but also a Singapore business traveler. We were met by our enthusiastic and very knowledgeable tour guide Guido who introduced himself and also collected our tickets for us and helped those who needed to store a bag or use the toilet. Before entering the museum, he gave us some background on the Borghese family, the Villa Borghese, and the Galleria Borghese’s history as an art museum.
TIP: Arrive early or save time after the tour to explore the beautiful Borghese Gardens and take in the views from the Pincian Hill. Another nearby manageable museum for literature lovers, located right next to the Spanish Steps is the Keats-Shelley House.
The Borghese family is a noble and prominent Italian family from Siena who moved to Rome in the 16th century. Rome was good to the family and they continued to rise in prominence and gain wealth. The family had close ties to the Roman Catholic Church and papacy, with one Borghese becoming a pope (Pope Paul V) and others becoming cardinals, papal lawyers, and high ranking church officials. Others Borghese include the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, naval commanders, a cosmetics entrepreneur, and even a TV personality as one of the living Borghese (Prince Lorenzo Borghese) was featured on Season 9 of The Bachelor. The Borghese also hold the noble hereditary title Prince of Sulmona, which is still passed down to the present day heir.
However, the Borghese of most interest to our visit is Scipione Borghese, who was a cardinal and an avid art collector. It was Cardinal Scipione Borghese who would have the Villa Borghese built by architect Flaminio Ponzio and fill it with his ever-expanding art collection. He was particularly a great admirer of both Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Caravaggio, and works by both artists remain important parts of the current collection. We learned from our guide Guido that while most pieces were gifts, purchases, or commissions, some of the pieces of art were acquired in less than honorable ways. Unfortunately the family would run into financial difficulties in the 19th century and in 1807, Prince Camillo Borghese sold hundreds of statues, busts, bas-reliefs, columns, vases, and other pieces to the French State under Napoleon Bonaparte and the pieces remain in Paris today as the Borghese Collection in the Louvre. Fellow members of the Borghese family would continue to add to the collection and expand the gallery, although it is the pieces by Cardinal Borghese that still make up the bulk of the collection.
The Borghese Gallery is very interesting in history as one of the early notable public art museums, as the first art museums begin to appear in the mid to late 17th century. Obviously the Villa Borghese started as a private villa and was used by Cardinal Borghese to hold his lavish garden parties and display his large art collection. At this point, only those invited by the Borghese family were likely to ever see the art inside the villa.
Seeing the lavish gardens and art inside the Borghese Galley soon became a must-see on the travel itineraries of the wealthy British travelers on their Grand Tour of Europe. Our visit to the Borghese Gallery was a perfect fit for our modern-day Grand Tour themed trip.
An early Grand Tour visitor was John Evelyn who visited in November 17, 1644 and wrote a long entry in his now much-read diary about his time in Europe. He described the place as a “elysium of delight” and visited the Villa Borghese before the Vatican or St. Peter’s Basilica. Here is a much-shortened version (yes this is the short version!) of his entry about this visit (note some of the described pieces are now in the Louvre):
I walked to Villa Borghese, a house and ample garden on Mons Pincius, yet somewhat without the city walls, circumscribed by another wall full of small turrets and banqueting-houses; which makes it appear at a distance like a little town. Within it is an elysium of delight, having in the centre of it a noble palace; but the entrance of the garden presents us with a very glorious fabric, or rather door-case, adorned with divers excellent marble statues….In the first hall within, are the twelve Roman Emperors, of excellent marble; between them stand porphyry columns, and other precious stones of vast height and magnitude, with urns of oriental alabaster. Tables of pietra-commessa: and here is that renowned Diana which Pompey worshiped, of eastern marble: the most incomparable Seneca of touch, bleeding in an huge vase of porphyry, resembling the drops of his blood; the so famous Gladiator, and the Hermaphrodite upon a quilt of stone. The new piece of Daphne, and David, of Cavaliero Bernini, is observable for the pure whiteness of the stone, and the art of the statuary plainly stupendous. There is a multitude of rare pictures of infinite value, by the best masters; huge tables of porphyry, and two exquisitely wrought vases of the same….The perspective is also considerable, composed by the position of looking-glasses, which render a strange multiplication of things resembling divers most richly furnished rooms. Here stands a rare clock of German work; in a word, nothing but what is magnificent is to be seen in this Paradise.
French writer Charles de Brosses who visited Italy from 1739-1740 wrote a number of letters during his travels. He would note the great number of British at the Borghese Gallery and although he found the Villa Borghese to be quite nice, he criticized the palace being used as an art gallery rather than a home among other criticisms:
All these great compartments which are so vast and so superb are only there for foreigners: The masters of the house cannot live in them, since they contain neither washrooms, comfort, nor adequate furniture; and there is hardly any of the latter even in the upper story apartments which are inhabited.
In 1779, British Grand Tourist Lord George Augustus Herbert would complain that all the “fine things” in the Villa Borghese were laid out with no taste and thought that the art could be displayed in a much better way and that Prince Borghese should hire someone to help him. It appears that the Borghese family must have agreed. In the late 1770’s the Borghese family had the villa renovated and reorganized and reinstalled the collection over a 20 year period in an effort to make it more attractive for display.
Thereafter it would function as a semi-public museum. It is often referred to as being opened as a public museum in the late 18th century, but in fact it remained a semi-public private collection open to those members of the public deemed suitable by the Borghese or their caretakers of the collection.
But the Borghese Gallery did become more accessible to the public and the renovation and reorganization made it one of the most admired and frequently visited art collections in Rome at the time among foreign travelers, especially the British on their Grand Tour. In 1902, the museum would be sold as well as the gardens and parks to the Italian government. In 1903, it would open as the current Galleria Borghese, or Borghese Gallery with substantial restoration work taking place over the years.
Highlights from our Tour of the Borghese Gallery
The exterior of the 17th century building is quite lovely but we were more than ready after 30 minutes to get inside and explore the interior and the art collection! Groups of over 6 people are required to wear a headset in the museum so Guido handed these out as we made our way inside although honestly we could hear most of the time without it given the size of the rooms and lack of crowds.
The interior of the house is a piece of art in itself with its marble floors, columns, bas-reliefs, frescos, decorated ceilings, etc. etc. so do take a bit of time to admire the building itself which is a such a great setting for the art.
During our visit, there was a “fashion as sculpture” temporary exhibit displayed throughout the museum with clothing by designer Azzedine Alaïa. I enjoyed the beautiful dresses, but some visitors including our guide found them to just be in the way of the art and somewhat frivolous. Opens up the “what is art?” conversation, but we were not here to see clothes, we were here to see the Borghese collection!
Guido expertly guided our group around the museum, telling us about the pieces and sharing interesting stores about the artwork and the Borghese owners. He particularly had interesting tidbits to share about one of the Raphael paintings, the statue of Pauline Bonaparte by Canova, the two busts of the Cardinal himself, and the dark antics of the Cardinals’ favorite Baroque bad-boy Caravaggio. Each room held such wonderful pieces from ancient Greek and Roman busts to the works of masters such as Bernini, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Correggio, Rubens, and Canova. There are also works by Cellini, Canaletto (a Grand Tourist favorite), Lorenzo Lotto, Paolo Veronese, and many other lesser known artists.
The Bernini statues here became some of my favorite statues I’ve ever seen. It was also wonderful how close-up you can get to the art and the rooms are rarely crowded given the limited number of people allowed in the galleries at any time. Get up close to the statues, particularly Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina, the detail is exquisite and Bernini really makes the marble seem like flesh!
Rather than describe each of the 20 rooms filled with art, I’ll just share some photos of some of my favorite pieces. You’ll be able to see in the photos how the setting and positioning of some of the artwork, especially the Bernini sculptures are wonderfully situated in their respective places in the museum. This is only a small number of some of the amazing pieces in this gallery.
Overall Thoughts on Our Tour of the Borghese Gallery with Walks of Italy
The Borghese Gallery is a world-class art museum housed in the beautiful former 17th century garden villa of Cardinal Borghese. Although the art collection includes many major works, it is of a very manageable size, and in the 2 hours we still had time to go through all the rooms and hear stories behind many of the important pieces. The reservation system may be a bit annoying, but once you are inside you’ll likely greatly appreciate being able to move around the gallery without huge crowds.
Our Walks of Italy guide, Guido, was very knowledgeable, giving us a lot of information but doing it in a very interesting and engaging way. He often stopped to illustrate something he was saying on his trusty IPad which helped us visualize some of the things he was telling us. It also helped having a guide to help manage the booking and ticketing process and to keep us moving at a good pace to have enough time to see the entire collection. I think that anyone with an interest in art would enjoy experiencing the art at the Borghese Gallery, and an audioguide or guide can really help make it feel more alive. The Bernini statues in particular are very stunning and justified making a visit to the museum for us, but I think you’ll likely find a number of pieces to appreciate depending on your tastes from the ancient busts to the colorful Rubens to the darker depictions of Caravaggio. Just be sure to book in advance and leave some time before or after to explore the gardens!
Do you think you’d enjoy a visit to the Borghese Gallery in Rome? Have you visited this art gallery before? As always, feel free to comment and we’re happy to answer any questions about our visit and tour.
**Disclosure: We were provided complimentary tours by Walks of Italy in order to write a review and provide feedback; however, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. We specifically chose to take and review the Borghese Gallery tour.**