A day trip from Rome took me to Tivoli where I found mesmerizing villas and playful waters. In short, the remnants of Antique Roman wealth.
Mind you, already Mr. Hadrian used to spend relaxing weekends at Tivoli almost 2,000 years ago.
So when I had to choose just one day trip from Rome, I finally decided against hitting the beach. With a little yearning for the sea, I bought a ticket and went in the opposite direction. Straight to the Roman Campagna.
The luxurious holiday resort of Emperors and Popes sounded too exceptional to resist.
Tivoli – but isn’t that this old-fashioned amusement park in Copenhagen?
However, the true Tivoli lies around 30 kilometers east of Rome. It was this town that gave all those amusement parks their name.
It’s on the western slopes of the Tiburtina Mountains and the Aniene River. This idyllic location has attracted first emperors, then artists, and now tourists.
How it all Began
Tiber, Tibur, Tiberius – the Roman river, the Etruscan Tivoli, or the ancient Latin name – they are all honoring Tiburtus. According to Roman mythology, Amphiaraus’ grandson Tiburtus came to Italy to found Tibur, today’s Tivoli.
In 90 BC, the city became part of Rome. Its beauty and excellent waters made it a famed resort so that wealthy Romans commissioned beautiful villas in the area.
The most famous one, of which today only ruins remain, has been the Villa Adriana. On the city’s outskirts, Emperor Hadrian commissioned this extensive complex as his summer residence.
Eventually, in the 8th century AD, Charlemagne conquered Italy. Henceforth, Tivoli was under the authority of a Count, serving the Emperor.
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
In the Middle Ages, Tivoli was one of the most important places around Rome. Actually, it was Rome’s most ardent rival regarding the power over central Lazio.
From the 10th century onwards, Tivoli was an independent commune. It was governed by elected consuls.
During the Renaissance era, popes and cardinals did not limit their improving and embellishing activities to Rome. They also commissioned buildings in Tivoli.
In 1461, Pope Pius II built the massive Rocca Pia as a symbol of the permanence of papal power.
From the 16th century, the city experienced further construction of villas.
Yes, Tivoli is a cute little town. But if you’ve been to other places in Italy, it probably won’t overwhelm you.
The most alluring attractions are definitely the three villas. However, you’ll need an entire day if you plan on visiting all three of them.
If you have more time to spare, there is also the above-mentioned fortress Rocca Pia. Then, there are the Tivoli Cathedral, the Roman Temple of the Tosse, and the Temple of Hercules. All three landmarks are within walking distance from the Villa d’Este.
Apart from tourism, Tivoli’s main sources of income are the vineyard and olive groves on the neighboring hills. They add this specific Italian flair to the rolling hills and pleasing landscape.
Of the three sites that I’m introducing in this post, the Villa Gregoriana is actually the youngest complex. Howsoever, it’s the first villa you’ll reach when coming from Tivoli’s train station. Hence, I opted for order by geography rather than chronology.
The Villa Gregoriana is actually a large park. Here, you can enjoy the charming ensemble of ancient Roman elements and a romantic garden.
Pope Gregory XVI. commissioned the greeneries of the Villa Gregoriana. After the devastating flood of 1826, he intended to protect Tivoli from the destructive floods of the Aniene. Hence, he built a waterfall as an outlet for the river’s waters. Today, this chute plunges 120 meters down into the villa.
As a matter of fact, he tried to combine the useful with the aesthetic.
Maybe this is a fine moment to make clear that a villa in Italian doesn’t refer exclusively to a mansion. That would be rather a palazzo. Villa describes rather a manor or estate. Therefore, it might be confusing that the Villa Borghese in Rome is not some fat crib but a spacious park.
So don’t worry, the waterfall running into the villa will not cause any water damage.
To adorn the gardens of the Villa Gregoriana, ruins of the former villa of Manlius Vopiscus were placed there. Also, steps, paths, and passageways were added. The work was then completed in 1835.
Also, the glorious Villa d’Este can be easily reached by walking. Coming either from the train station or the Villa Gregoriana, you cross the Piazza Massimo. At the next corner, you turn from the Viale Roma right into the Vicolo dei Sosii. Up a narrow alley, you find yourself at Tivoli’s historic center.
The Villa d’Este is the most important landmark in the downtown area. Consequently, there are signs and you’ll easily find your way to the Piazza Trento.
Here, right next to the church Santa Maria Maggiore, is the entrance to the truly spectacular premises.
Commissioning a Masterpiece
From 1550, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este was the governor of Tivoli. For having ecclesiastical as well as secular ties, he became one of the wealthiest cardinals of his time.
His residence at a former Benedictine monastery soon did not meet the Cardinal’s requirements anymore. On the other hand, it had a fantastic view of the landscape, greeneries, as well as extensive water reservoirs.
Therefore, Ippolito, instead of chartering a U-Haul-truck, planned a garden on the slopes of the Valle Gaudente below his palace. The artist and architect Pirro Ligorio sketched the blueprint. Court architect Alberto Galvani then implemented the designs.
The best artists of late Roman Mannerism such as Durante Alberti, Girolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia, Antonio Tempesta, and Federico Zuccari richly decorated the walls and ceilings of the palace.
33 years after Ippolito’s death, his successor Cardinal Alessandro d’Este commissioned further work in 1605.
The existing systems were restored, but the overall conception of the gardens changed extensively. Also, the decorations of the fountains were renewed. Now, even Roman superstar Gian Lorenzo Bernini was involved
In the 18th century, the complex, then owned by the House of Habsburg, decayed from poor maintenance.
The gardens ran to seeds, the fountains ran dry, and the ancient statues collapsed.
This decline lasted until the middle of the 19th century. Then, Gustav-Adolf Prinz zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst received the villa from the Dukes of Modena. The Prince initiated a series of restorations in 1851.
In 1869, Franz Liszt, who had visited the Prince a couple of times, moved to the Villa d’Este. Here he composed three piano pieces that he later included in the album Années de pélerinage.
At the end of WWI, the villa became the property of the Italian state. In the 1920s, after extensive renovation, it was finally opened to the public.
While the mansion’s walls and ceilings are superb, the part that will just blow you away is the gardens. They are an exquisite masterpiece of gardening art’n’architecture. From the villa’s terrace, they extend down a slope.
On 4.5 hectares are more than 500 fountains, water features, grottos, and basins as well as a water organ. The natural gradient could have been an obstacle. But if anything, it improved the artful designs of the enormous facility.
The garden consists of two parts with quite different characters. On the upper part, the famous Avenue of the Hundred Fountains connects the Fontana dell’Ovato with the Fontana della Rometta.
The Ovato forms the most important water reservoir on the premises. A branch of the Aniene river emerges through an underground waterway. Then, it is distributed to other canals feeding into the system. On top of an artificial mountain above the fountain is a Pegasus statue.
At the western end of the Fountain Avenue is the Fontana di Rometta. Sadly, a backdrop that depicted ancient Rome was largely demolished around 1855. This fountain represents Rome’s cultural heyday.
As you continue down the stairs to the garden’s lower part, you pass more beautiful sculptures and fountains.
On the lower garden level, you’ll find three large fish ponds in a row. The last basin cuts into the north-eastern slope and is closed off by a double terrace. Here are the imposing Neptune Fountain and the amazing water organ. It used to be water-powered until the end of the 18th century.
Only recently, it has been repaired and can be heard again since 2003. The organ has 144 pipes controlled by a water-powered pin roller. It can play four Renaissance pieces lasting for four minutes in total. Beginning at 10.30 a. m., the organ plays every two hours.
On the opposite side, Ligorio built an exedra that protrudes from the garden’s boundary. From here you have a truly overwhelming panoramic view of the valley.
One of the most impressive fountains is the Fontana di Diana Efesia. It is a copy of the famous statue of Diana of Ephesus. Flemish sculptor Gillis Van den Vliete made it in the late 16th century.
Diana of Ephesus is the lady of the woods and wildlife, guardian of springs and streams, protector of women, and, therefore, invoked by women at childbirth.
As I looked up on google maps how to get to Hadrian’s Villa walking, it seemed absolutely doable. About five kilometers that I could easily walk in one hour.
However, once I was there, it got really hot. Also, I had already visited the other sites. Hence, I was not that keen on hiking along a road with kids waving at me from the backseat of their parents’ cars. So with the help of my cellphone and a friendly young Italian, I checked for a convenient bus connection. The coach dropped me off right at the Villa’s main entrance. And you should do that, too.
The Emperor’s Retirement Home
The Hadrian’s Villa was built from 118 to 134 AD. It was the Emperor’s summer residence and retirement home.
It consists of 125 hectares of built-up area and green spaces. They are making it the largest and most elaborate palace complex that a Roman emperor had ever commissioned. The gigantic complex was also a form of imperial power staging, obviously.
Hadrian’s villa was part of the country estates of the Roman aristocracy. Roman nobles often commissioned mansions on the cities’ outskirts. It made them suitable for varied leisure activities.
Supposedly, amidst the large area later used by Hadrian, there had already been a villa during the Republican era. It is assumed that the Gens Vibia, the family of Hadrian’s wife Sabina, owned that predecessor villa. Later, it was replaced by Hadrian’s extensive estate.
After Hadrian’s death, the villa passed into the possession of the subsequent emperors, but was much less used. Eventually, in the 3rd century with the founding of Constantinople, bad decay and looting began. Statues, high-quality marble, and other parts were removed.
Despite all the removals and robberies, about 300 works of art were found in the Villa Adriana. Today, they are mostly presented in various museums, for example in the Vatican Museums in Rome.
Particularly precious are the mosaics found in the triclinium of the Small Palace in 1779. The world-famous Centaur mosaic has been in the Altes Museum in Berlin since 1848.
Picking Up the Pieces
In the 15th century, the Villa Adriana gained importance as an extraordinary ancient ensemble of remnants. It gained new fame and was a fine model for many baroque gardens.
Rather an estate than a mansion, it is the best-preserved complex of this type from Roman times.
But the multifaceted architecture of the Villa Adriana reflected also the impressions from Hadrian’s travels. He had extensively ventured to the provinces of the Roman Empire, especially to Greece and Egypt.
By the Waters
Author and natural philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about Tivoli’s waters in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia. “The greatest of all aqueducts in the whole world, the highest in freshness and cleanliness for the glory of the city is that Aqua Marcia. Among all the gifts that the gods have given the city. ”
The water requirements of Hadrian’s villa were met by an underground hydraulic system. There weren’t only thermal baths, but also basins, ponds, and ornamental fountains. A separate supply aqueduct provided the villa with water.
To this date, the basins such as the Poecile, the Canopus, and the Teatro Maritimo are the villa’s most picturesque features.
How to Get to Tivoli on a Day Trip
For a day trip, Tivoli is the perfect location. Only 30 kilometers east of Rome, it can be reached in about one hour.
Obviously, you can drive there. However, taking the train will possibly be less stressful. Most trains are leaving from the station Roma Tiburtina, however, there are also connections from Roma Termini. You can check convenient connections on google maps as well as on the website of trenitalia, the national train company. It’s very clear and well-functioning. Also, you can buy your ticket online.
Once you get to Tivoli, you can reach the Villa Gregoriana and Villa d’Este walking. To get to the Villa Adriana, however, you should take the bus. Even though it’s only six kilometers from the town center, it’s simply not a nice route.
The buses from Tivoli to the Villa Adriana are not going very often. Hence, I recommend that you first check the schedule at the bus station on Piazza Massimo. Then you can plan your visit accordingly. If the bus is coming soon, you wait for it. If not, you first visit the other two villas and take a later bus.
The local C.A.T. bus offers many connections departing from the center of Tivoli to the Villa Adriana. You can check the schedules on this website. Look for bus #4 towards Campolimpido.
Note that you cannot buy your ticket from the driver! You have to obtain it for instance at a bar or a newspaper stand. Then, you have to devaluate it at the machine on the bus.
On the way back, you can purchase bus tickets at Villa Adriana’s ticket booth.
Planning Your Visit
To visit the villas, you need tickets, obviously.
The general admission to the Villa Gregoriana are 6 €uros. The other two villas cost you 12 €uros each. Unfortunately, there is no collective ticket.
During high season from April to October, the villa is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6.30 p. m.
In March, November, and December, opening times are between 10 a. m. and 3 p. m.
In January and February as well as Mondays, the Villa Gregoriana is closed to the public.
The villa opens at 8.30 a. m. from Tuesday to Sunday.
The closing times differ from 4.45 p. m. during the Winter months to 7.30 p. m. from May to August.
Therefore, please check their website before you’re going.
That’s something you should always do, anyway.
The villa opens at 8.30 a. m. The closing times differ from 5 p. m. in January to 7.30 p. m. during the summer months.
Therefore, please check their website before you’re going.
That’s something you should always do, anyway.
Getting There Organized
Especially if you don’t have much time or don’t feel like planning your trip yourself, joining an organized tour will be a great alternative. Although I’m a devoted solo traveller, on day trips, I do enjoy the company of strangers.
Where to Stay
Of course, you can also spend the night in Tivoli. Here are some ideas of where to stay*:
Where to Eat
Where to Eat? Tivoli is catering to tourists, hence there are many restaurants in town. In general, they are a bit cheaper than in Rome.
So you certainly won’t be starving and you don’t need to burn a hole in your wallet.
There is a good choice of small restaurants around the square Largo Cesare Battisti. A particular scenic place to enjoy lunch or dinner is around the Piazza Trento. This is also the square from where you enter the Villa d’Este.
Cash And Cards
Until now, 20 European countries replaced their former local currency with the €uro starting in 2002. Obviously, Italy is one of them. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0.94 EUR as of January 2023. However, you can check today’s conversion rate on this page.
At Tivoli, you can pay by credit card at all major businesses and also at the three villas. There are also banks and ATMs.
Although Tivoli is quite touristy, people don’t necessarily speak English fluently. At least not voluntary. So while they halfheartedly make an effort to understand what you’d like, they’ll probably snort and roll their eyes. Don’t take it personally.
Anyway, you might want to learn some basic Italian vocabulary on babbel.
This map will make finding the sites that I’m introducing in this post easy for you.
Clicking on the slider symbol at the top left or the full-screen icon at the top right will display the whole map including the legend.
If you choose to pin this post for later, please use one of these pictures:
Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in January 2023.
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103 Replies to “TIVOLI – Villas, Waters, and Wealth. A Day Trip from Rome”
Forget the old adage “all roads lead to Rome.” Sometimes, you just wanna get out of the Eternal City, with its blistering summers and maddening traffic jams. Luckily, Lazio and the surrounding region of Umbria contain a wealth of artistic and culinary treasures worthy of a day trip or long weekend. From exploring the Renaissance villas and gardens of Tivoli—an essential stop on the Grand Tour—to visiting the wineries of Umbria s picturesque Orvieto, and living la dolce vita in the countryside of the Castelli Romani, you’ll find plenty of inspiration in this guide to the best day trips from Rome.
Correct – unfortunately, I didn’t have too much time for day trips when in Rome – but this one was totally worth the trip 😀
I truly appreciate this guide. Many thanks again – it’s just great.
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you are going to a famous blogger if you are
not already 😉 Cheers!
Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Thanks for providing these details.
Thank you, glad you like it 🙂
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Thank you, I’m so glad you like it 🙂
I wanted to thank you for this wonderful read!! I certainly loved every bit of it.
Thank you, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it so much 😀
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Thank you, glad you like it – and thanx for your support 😉
I really like your writing style, wonderful information, thanks for putting this together!
Im grateful for the post. Really looking forward to read more.
I really liked your blog article. Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing. Charyl Maurice Geiss
I really liked your blog post. Many thanks again. Much obliged, Aurilia Rickard from Naples
This is the first time I read about Tivoli, and i had absolutely no idea that such a gem is just 30 miles from Rome. It sure makes for one amazing Day Trip.
Fun Fact – Had I not read this, I wouldn’t have realised that Villa is not just a big mansion but rather an estate in Italy.
Even when i visited Italy 2 years back, It never crossed my mind that Villa might mean something different, even though i strolled in the expansive photogenic gardens, which were part of some Villa.
I truly appreciate this blog post. Really thank you! Keep writing.
What an incredible post! I considered doing Tivoli as a day trip from Rome when I visited in 2018 but opted for Ostia Antica instead. However, I’m fortunate enough to be living in Italy now, so as soon as COVID is no longer a problem (or less of a problem) – I’m visiting Tivoli ASAP! Pinned this for future reference. Incredible photos!!
It’s absolutely worth it – and really not that far 🙂
Thank you for the article. The only Tivoli I knew was the soccer stadium in Aachen.
Your article is fascinating and so are the photos – especially the photos from the monastery. What a beautiful place.
Oh, I didn’t know about the soccer stadium – I only knew the one in Copenhagen 😀
“The luxurious holiday resort of Emperors and Popes” – Reading this, while sitting thousands of miles away from Tivoli, I already feel tempted to visit this pretty place. I can imagine why you chose this over a beach when you had the chance to make only one day trip from Rome. Also, thank you for providing the additional context around ‘Villa’ in Italian. 🙂
For me, it’s like this when I read blogposts on weekend trips in…India 😀 Einstein was right: Everything is relative 🙂
Loving all of your photos and the architecture!!
We took a day trip to Tivoli from Rome and absolutely loved it. The ingenuity used to create all of the fountains is so amazing!
Yes, the fountains were my favorite part, too 🙂
The towns in Italy so entwined with Roman history. I have never heard of Tivoli before. It is interesting to hear that this region is also home to olive cultivation and olive oil. This does look like an authentic Italian town. Someday, perhaps, I will visit.
Yes, it’s very ‘Italian’, indeed 🙂
Major thankies for the post. Want more. Lauryn Vittorio
Major thanks for the blog.Really Cool.Tiffany
It would be great to see Villas with lovely nature in Tivoli and good to know that it is a day trip from Rome. I missed Tivoli due to lack of time, but next time, I would put Tivoli in my itinerary for sure. Villa Gregoriana looks very beautiful with lots of greenery. I loved the church and cobbled stoned alleys of this city.
I’ve been to Rome many times and only this time I finally made it to Tivoli; there is simply too much to see ?♀️
This is such a good excuse to go back to Rome. Thanks for sharing!
Going to Rome is always excusable 😀
I was examining some of your blog posts on this internet site and I believe this internet site is real instructive! Keep posting .
Oh, Tivoli seems absolutely amazing! I’ve only really visited Rome and Milan (and it’s been a while since I’ve been to either). I soooo want to be able to travel again soon! <3
You and me both, sister!
Thanks again for the blog. Really thank you! Want more. Margaret Massimiliano
We will have to plan to visit Tivoli on our next visit to Rome. We would definitely want to visit all three landmarks. And take some time to enjoy Villa Gregoriana. The beautiful design of the former Benefictine monastery would be something to see. The art seems to be still vibrant with colour. And those gardens and fountains deserve some time. All of this and Hadrian’s Villa too! We would definitely need more than one day to see it all.
Yes, all three sites are grand – but Villa d’Este’s gardens and waters are the highlights 🙂
I’d heard of Tivoli but never considered visiting. What a beautiful place! These villas are beautiful but it looks like the gardens are even more spectacular. Great to have tips on how to visit using the buses too. Having driven in Italy, I would probably avoid it if I could 😉
It’s great for a day trip and going by public transport is definitely the least stressful way 🙂
I would probably eat my weight in Olive in Tivoli! What a fun place to explore on a day trip from Rome but I may have to check it out for a bit longer than one day as the art alone would keep me occupied. Such amazing murals throughout places like Stanza della Nobiltá and other areas. But even the street art looks beautiful. For my second day, I may spend my time exploring all the water features and gardens.
I loved your review as it is one of the best places I have visited.
Thanx – I’m doing my…best 🙂
Looks like the perfect day trip from Rome I would love to do! Your pictures are beautiful especially the first one Poecile with the Roman Campagna. There is so much history and ancient architecture to take in. Bookmarking this for my future reference. 🙂
Yes, the views are truly mesmerizing 🙂
georgous locations,,,wish i could be there someday,,for us who lives in asia it will not come cheap….but who knows i might be able to tour around this places
I totally get that. Being based in Europe, I’m always all envious when people go on a weekend trip….in India.
What a wonderful detailed guide to Tivoli. I also love the photos, especially the frescoes. During the lockdown in spring I spent a lot of time learning Italian and have already made lists of places to visit, when it is possible again. Tivoli was quite high on my list anyway – but your post pushed it even higher up. Thanks!
I can only encourage you to visit there – enjoy it!
Tivoli looks and sounds simply stunning. Wow, lovely. Thanks for sharing this.
There are so many great day trips from Rome and also from Milan. Italy is magnificent!
It sure is 🙂
I love learning about Roman art and architecture. This post checks off all that I am looking for in a perfect day trip in Italy. Thank you for putting this post together – your photos transported me to Tivoli instantly!
Tivoli is pretty amazing – especially Villa d’Este 🙂
So interesting and beautiful, I love seeing the history in the architect, so fasinating
The pictures you took are absolutely breathtaking. Neptune Fountain looks beautiful from across the water.
I love Italy, such an amazing country! I love the architecture.
Tivoli looks beautiful and full of interesting history. Thanks for the pictures and descriptions of what someone can expect when visiting.
I had no idea Tivoli was a city in Italy and not just an amusement park in Denmark! But now that I know, I’m fascinated by this place. I love all your photos of the Villas. The gardens are lovely. Thanks for sharing all the great tips for visiting as well.
Yes, although the Italian one is much, much older, somehow the Danish version is in the lead 😉
really enjoyed my read of this travel story while am staying at home due to the pandemic, love the beautiful captures shared. Am adding this to my to travel list. cheers, sienny
Well, I was there between the pandemic and the….pandemic 🙂 🙁
Yes, Tivoli is one of my favorite places to see in the outskirts of Rome and Villa d’Este is a must-see, the garden is simply too beautiful to pass and you will have a wonderful view on the terrace! – Knycx journeying
Totally agree – it’s truly special!
Wow this place is so lovely it looks beautiful and incredible I would love to visit this place someday. Love your photos.
Thank you, I’m very happy you like them 🙂
Wow! Tivoli, such a beautiful, historical, interesting place to visit.
I read about Rome history but never heard about Tivoli before.
That was such an educational and interesting read!
I’m very glad you like it. Yes, Tivoli is fascinating.
You really captured this beautiful city in your photography. I would love to visit some day.
Thank you – so glad you appreciate it 🙂
Wow! Love this article , handy when travelled to Rome , this detailed information makes me think of visiting this lovely place.
Do it if you have the chance!
When I read Tivoli I did automatically think of Copenhagen actually! I didn’t know that it was a location in Italy too – such an interesting place!
I don’t blame you – before I visited Rome for the first time, I also thought it was an amusement park 😀
I visited Tivoli only once time when I was young and I don’t remeber a lot. There is so much to visit and I like these kind of places. Thanks for the guide, I’ll follow it. – Paolo
It’s a place worth visiting for a second time 😉
This place looks beautiful wish I could travel there soon.
I’ve been to Rome but never to Tivoli and after reading this I am so mad I didn’t visit it. This looks amazing!
Well, there is actually enough to see in Rome, so….maybe next time?! 🙂
I’ve always wanted to visit Italy so badly. It looks so incredible. Your photos are beautiful. The buildings and landscapes there are stunning! Thank you so much for sharing!
Yap, Italy is my favorite country in Europe 🙂
Tivoli looks a really stunning place to visit. I love the photos and the details, which makes me really want to visit.
Amazing place. I wish I can someday visit it and experience everything in real life. The Ippolito II d’Este looks cool.
I love your travel articles especially you make it so convenient for anyone planning to visit the places. I love to visit Tivoli and refer your post for the planning.