Ancient monuments, beautiful piazzas, picturesque lakes, and white sandy beaches, these items are usually present on the bucket lists of those who travel to Italy. First-time travelers to Italy usually don’t expect to stumble upon incredible gardens, which often have centuries of history. Yet the Italian garden is one of the most important design styles in the history of landscape architecture.
If you want to learn more about some of the most unique gardens in Italy, you’ll find many insights in this article. You’ll discover little-known city parks that are every bit as good as the Boboli Gardens and the Villa Borghese Gardens, woods that become contemporary art galleries, gardens that invite you on mysterious initiation journeys, and of course gardens that are part of opulent Renaissance villas.
Discover 11 incredible and lesser-known gardens in Italy
Parco Giardino Sigurtà, Mincio
Parco Giardino Sigurtà at Mincio is simply stunning to visit and a real surprise in Northern Italy. Located in Mincio – an area that is part of the Lake Garda region, Parco Giardino Sigurta is a private garden estate that is open to visitors and garden lovers to enjoy. The historic garden was originally a farm and converted into a historic botanical garden in 1978 with over 600000 meters of parkland and a variety of beautiful garden rooms to explore, including an oriental garden, a hermitage, an elaborate green maze, thousands of topiaries and formed trees, annual plant beds, and 18 ornamental ponds.
You can take a guided train tour of the expansive gardens in English or other languages or do your own DIY tour of this large park/garden area.
Springtime is definitely the best time to see all the elaborate annual, perennial and fruiting trees in full display throughout the garden park. The park views from the top of the gardens to the areas and valley below are simply stunning and there are borrowed views to gorgeous castles and ruins that make the garden views even more spectacular. If you are in the Garda region, make sure to visit this spectacular botanical garden which is well maintained and fun to visit.
By Noel of Travel Photo Discovery
Opera Bosco – Museum of Art in Nature, Calcata
In the second half of the ’90s, an Italian artist and a Belgian artist founded Opera Bosco, a museum of art in nature in Calcata, a medieval village 50 km north of Rome.
The museum, the only museum of its kind in Italy, consists of an open-air gallery, on 3 hectares of woodland, where 40+ contemporary art installations are exhibited, made only with the materials naturally present in the woodland.
Halfway between an excursion in nature and a visit to a museum, visiting Opera Bosco allows you to get to know one of the least known natural landmarks in Italy: the gorge of the Treja Valley.
Sculptures and bas-reliefs emerge from huge boulders of tufa rock, covered with soft moss and ferns, cleverly intertwined branches form human figures and mythological animals, the forest is full of works of art to be discovered walking slowly.
Along 4km of well-kept paths through a forest that looks more like a tropical forest than a typical Italian landscape, there are 3 ancient caves carved into the rock, traces of the civilizations that inhabited this place before the Romans, known as the Etruscans and the Faliscans.
The best time to visit is spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November). Hiking shoes and good physical shape are highly recommended.
A visit to this museum is especially recommended for families with children and small dogs.
To reach Opera Bosco, the best way is by car; parking on site is free, while the guided tour of the museum costs €15.
Reservation is required at firstname.lastname@example.org
Giardini di Palazzo Pfanner, Lucca
A visit to Palazzo Pfanner is a real insider tip, especially if you are a fan of marvelous and unique gardens in Italy. This baroque jewel is located right in the old town’s center of Lucca in Tuscany and is part of a beautiful city palace.
The imposing building was built in 1660 for the wealthy Moricani merchant family. However, this palace is named as Pfanner Palace after its current owner, who has owned this property since the mid-19th century. Today, the palace has been beautifully renovated, and the ultimate centerpiece is considered to be the small but exceedingly fine baroque garden.
When you visit, you feel as if you have stepped back in time, especially when walking through the picturesque garden of the green complex. The ultimate highlight and a beloved photo spot of the garden is the square with the beautiful fountain in the center, which is decorated with countless statues and flowers. For sure one of the most unique and beautiful small baroque gardens in Italy!
By Martina & Jürgen of Places of Juma
The Tarot Garden in Capalbio, most incredible art garden in Italy
Southern Tuscany holds some of the most undiscovered historical and artistic sites in Italy. One of these is the Tarot Garden, perhaps the most extraordinary of the artistic gardens in Italy.
This vast sculpture park of sparkling colors was created by Niki De Saint Phalle, a contemporary French-American artist who created large sculptures in many cities around the world before devoting 20 years to building her own art garden in Tuscany.
Niki’s style is unmistakable: round, simple, voluptuous figures in bright colors, which assault the eye a little, causing joy.
In the garden live the major arcana of the tarot, which can be visited through a fascinating path that is almost an initiation. The installations are made with iron, mirrors, and colored ceramics.
The garden is open from April 1 to October 15, reservation is required, the ticket costs €12.
Giardini di Palazzo Borromeo, Isola Bella
When traveling to northern Italy, the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore are a must-visit. Most of them are still owned by the Borromeo family since the 16th century, hence the name.
The second-largest island, Isola Bella, is home to a stunning palace and gardens, which are some of the most remarkable in Italy. Isola Bella was essentially a rock until the Palazzo Borromeo and its gardens were constructed in the 17th century.
The gardens’ main focal point is the Teatro Massimo, a beautiful monument consisting of terraces, statues, and fountains, topped with a big sculpture of a unicorn – the symbol of the coat of arms of the House of Borromeo. It is surrounded by rare flowers, shrubs, and trees, and you’ll also get to see plenty of white peacocks wandering around.
These Baroque-style gardens are an absolute delight to explore and certainly feel like the cherry on top of the tour around the Palazzo. Visit them in late spring or early autumn to enjoy the best weather and colorful scenery.
The Borromean Islands are easily reachable by ferry from the city of Stresa, and the palace and gardens of Isola Bella cost €18 to visit. You can also purchase discount combo tickets to enter the landmarks on the other islands as well.
By Or from My Path in the World
Parco Miramare, Trieste
The Parco di Miramare is a beautiful 54-acre garden and park overlooking the Gulf of Trieste. It is located adjacent to the Miramare Castle in the northeastern Italian city of Trieste. The creation of the park was initiated by the former archduke and imperial prince of Austria, Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg-Lorraine, who was later appointed Emperor of Mexico. He never intended the garden to be for public use, but eventually opened it up a few days a week for visitors to enjoy.
Beyond the history of the Parco di Miramare, guests can turn their visit into the ultimate experience with a tour of the Miramare Castle along with a relaxing stroll through the exotic gardens. Many of the park’s greenery (tree and shrub species) were brought over from outside of Europe. In addition to the rare botanicals, you’ll find winding paths, fountains, ponds, stunning views of the sea, and more.
There are multiple ways to get to the Parco di Miramare. The easiest and quickest method is driving (depending on where you are traveling from), but there are also plenty of public transportation options via train or bus. After exploring the park, head on over to the nearby downtown area of Trieste to explore.
By Kylie Loyd of Catch the Drift travel blog
Parco Ducale, Parma
Parma is quite often overshadowed by other more important Italian cities, and also by the nearby Bologna, suggestive and popular among tourists.
However, Parma has a rich historic and artistic heritage, not second to other Italian cities. Because of that the city has been named Italian Capital of Culture for 2020 and confirmed for 2021 as well. One of the best spots to visit in Parma is the beautiful Parco Ducale. This incredible space which is near the old town was once the Royal Park of the local ruling family, The Estensi. The park hosts unique biodiversity, with the beautiful fountain of Trianon standing right in the middle, and the old Duke’s residence which is also open to visitors.
The park is an open garden, attracting mostly locals looking for a bench in the shade, especially in summer.
To get into the Parco Ducale you have to pass a beautiful red brick bridge over the river Parma. Walk from Parma’s old town, past the Pilotta Palace, until you reach the entrance of the public park.
Parma should not be skipped on your itinerary through Italy! Other than just culinary special things like the prosciutto, this city features many other incredible features worth discovering. While you stroll around the Parco Ducale, note down to admire the frescoes of Agostino Carracci in the Palazzo del Giardino, hosted in the “Room of Love”, the Trianon Fountain, and the Oranges’ greenhouse transformed into a beautiful cafe.
By Alessia & Toti of Italian Trip Abroad
Villa Celimontana, Rome
Situated on the slope of the Caelian Hill, the garden was once covered by a vineyard, and was a favored meeting place for kings and nymphs. You can still see some Roman remains here, but today the Villa Celimontana is more notable for its sculptures, fountains and landscaped gardens, first laid out in the 16th century.
At the center of the garden is a 12m high Egyptian obelisk, built in the 14th century from fragments of ancient monuments. A parapet at the top of the garden provides panoramic views across Rome.
In the summer, it is an ideal place for a picnic, and children can enjoy the small playground. You might also be lucky enough to catch some of the annual Jazz Festival.
The Villa Celimontana is a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum. The nearest metro stations are Colosseo and Circo Massimo. Entrance to the garden is free.
By Karen of Bewitched by Italy
Giardini Margherita, Bologna
When you’re visiting the city of Bologna, a stop at the Parco Giardini Margherita (Margherita Garden), the largest and most popular garden in Bologna, is a must. Spanning over 26 hectares (64 acres), strolling this unique garden is one of the best things to do in Bologna and a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon or evening.
Getting to the park is easy. From the historic center of Bologna, head south on any of the streets that lead to the highway around the city. You can’t miss the large ornate wrought iron gates at the Park entrance, and there are usually a few food trucks just outside. Once inside the park you can follow any of the paved walking or running paths that circle the lake and enjoy food or wine at several cafes. When in season, there are beautiful flower beds and restored greenhouses. In fact, right near the flowers is a lovely canopied bar called The Greenhouse that serves wine, beverages, and food. It’s a popular nighttime venue that often features live music, poetry readings and even scientific lectures.
Two of the most interesting spots in the Park are the Etruscan burial ground near the central lawn and a stretch of the medieval Savena Canal that is still viewable. When you need a change from sightseeing, the Margherita Gardens are an oasis of relaxing green space in Bologna.
By Lori of Travlinmad
Giardino Giusti, Verona
Giusti Garden is a stunning palace and garden created at the end of the 15th century. It is located in Verona, just an hour away from Venice tucked away in the east of the city, and situated behind a walled entrance.
When you first enter, you can go inside the palace and explore the intricate interiors of this Renaissance-style building. The best part about visiting is seeing the gorgeous views of the city after climbing to the top of the garden where you will find the belvedere. The garden was developed by the knight of the Venetian Republic, Agostino Giusti. It has a very unique and complex design that features 4 flower beds surrounded by an avenue of trees. Inside you will find a maze pathway with hedges all around. In the center, you will find a pool and fountain with carved dolphins. There is also a statue representing Minerva.
As you might imagine, this hidden gem is a must-see place if you are in the Verona area. To visit the garden and palace, there is an entry fee of 10 euros and it is open between the hours of 9 and 7 pm.
Jackie Rezk from Jou Jou Travels
Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza
Visiting Villa Valmarana ai Nani is one of the top things to do in Vicenza, the northeastern Italian town famous for its Palladian architecture. With a tragic legend attached to it, the villa is located in the hills above the city center and features a stunning park and gardens.
Right in front of the historic villa are its magnificent circular formal rose gardens, a treat to see in the summer when it is in full bloom. Roses in different colors contrast with the deep green of formal hedges, making for the perfect picture postcard.
Climbing roses embrace the high walls of the villa, making a great complement to the statues of the dwarfs that line the wall.
Along the sides of the buildings are more lush plantings, with hydrangeas offering color in season. Pause to take in the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, as well as of the Church of St. Mary of Mount Berico, which also sits on a hilltop above the city.
At the back of the main villa, you will find garden pathways covered with wisteria and other climbers. It looks spectacular when the wisteria is in bloom, but also good when just covered with lush green.
From the Vicenza train station, you can walk up to the villa, but it is an uphill trek. You can also take a taxi, or the local bus, from the train station or the city center. There is a fee to tour the villa and gardens.
By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
Let us know about more spectacular gardens to visit in Italy in the comments.