Rome's public villas are strategically located throughout the city and are labeled on most maps. Most are a bus or cab ride from major attractions. Since they are open from dawn to dusk, the villas are perfect to visit during the early afternoon when museums and stores are closed.

Of course, the best way to see the villas -- and all of Rome for that matter -- is with a rented limousine. The cost for a stretch Mercedes with driver is about $25 an hour. One big notch down, but quite adequate for reaching the villas, are the taxis. The buses work well, too, but they require more time -- sometimes hours in the average Roman traffic jam. Bus tickets can be purchased at any newsstand, stationery or tobacco shop for about 50 cents.

Villa Torlonia is probably the easiest to reach because so many buses travel up and down Via Nomentana (Via XX Settembre inside the city walls). Take the 36b, 36c, 37, 60, 62 or 63 bus from the train station. It should take less than 30 minutes in good traffic.

Villa Ada, also northeast from the center, is located off Via Salaria, a major traffic artery out of town. The most direct bus lines are 56 from downtown or 57 and 319 from the train station. All three run down Via Po, which parallels Via Salaria and becomes Via Tagliamento. If you get off at Piazza Verbano, it is an easy walk up the hill on Via Ada to the big wall surrounding the villa. Go to your right and you should see an entrance 100 yards down the road.

Villa Sciarra and Villa Doria Pamphili lie on the opposite side of town, north of Trastevere and south of St. Peter's. They are within walking distance of one another and fairly easy to get to by bus. There are two ways to go: from Trastevere or from St. Peter's.

Coming from Trastevere: Take bus 710, 75 or 44 from Piazza G.S. Belli (located just off the Lungotevere). You will climb the Gianicolo Hill, passing several big turns and finally reaching the top where the road intersects the Roman wall at Viale delle Mura. Villa Sciarra is on your left; there are entrances on Via Calandrelli or through the wall at a few places. To walk to Villa doria Pamphili, follow the wall uphill until you see the S. Pancrazio arch and Via Aurelia Antica. Take a left and, not more than five minutes down the road, through another arch at the intersection where Via Vitellia di S. Pancrazio veers to the left, you will find an entrance to the villa.

Coming from St. Peter's: Take bus 41 on Via Borgo to the left of the main piazza. It will climb the Gianicolo and then level off at Piazza Garibaldi. You can get off here and enjoy spectacular views of the city or continue on another few minutes until the bus exits the park and takes a right on the Via Aurelia Antica and goes through the Porta S. Pancrazio arch. You should get off here.

While the entrances to the villas are not well marked, most Romans know exactly where they are and will be happy to give good directions.

INFORMATION: Available in Rome at ENIT Provinciale Per il Turismo, Via Parigi 5, phone 463748. There are also tourism offices in the train station and airport, and at the municipal government, commune di Roma, Via Milano 15, phone 464205.