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A Complete Visitor’s Guide To The Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo | Visiting The Villa Barberini & Papal Palace

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While most of us visit Rome and flock to the Colosseum or run behind getting the perfect Vatican Tickets, there's a hidden gem a short 12 miles away; a true treasure trove of art and history. Perched atop the sapphire blue waters of Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo is a quaint village that mushroomed around the Pope’s Summer Palace (Yes, that’s what the Pontificial Villas of Castel Gandalfo are!). Hop on a train from Rome Termini station and skirt along the dreamy Italian countryside, far far away from the tourist hordes of Rome.

Before you go, here's all you need to know about visiting the Pontificial Villas of Castel Gandalfo - the highlights, ways to travel from from Rome to Castel Gandalfo and a few quick insider tips and hacks to make your visit memorable!

A Brief History Of Castel Gandolfo

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Situated at an altitude of 436 meters, Castel Gandolfo is one of the most picturesque historical villages of Castelli Romani. Tucked away in this quaint town is the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo that has given a long line of Popes respite from the hordes and heat of Rome; a summer getaway in essence. As a matter of fact, this Papal Summer Retreat enjoys all the same privileges as the Vatican, except that it is much bigger and debatably more beautiful. Whether you call it the Pontificial Villas, the Papal Palace or the Pope's Summer Retreat; this treasure trove in the outskirts of Rome is worth your while.

Castel Gandolfo - Journey Through The Years

Castel Gandolfo boasts ancient origins and attributes its name to the Gandolfi family who owned most of the land here during the early 12th century. Legend says that Castel Gandolfo lies on the ancient site of Alba Longa, the oldest Latin city in Italy, even predating Rome!

From 510 BC, Castel Gandolfo underwent a strong urbanization process, during which the splendid Villa di Domiziano was built. A few years down the line, the village evolved into an area of agricultural importance and from the first half of 1600, the town became the official summer residence of the Pope, which put the village on the map.

As of 2016, the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo does not host the Pope anymore, allowing the public to swarm in for a glimpse of this impressive cultural heritage.

Highlights Of The Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo

The Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo comprise about 55 hectares (11 more than Vatican City) of which 30 hectares make up the Barberini Garden while the rest 25 hectares comprise the Pope's Farm. One of the most striking discoveries here are the ruins of what is perhaps the most famous villa of ancient Rome, the “Albanum Domitiani”, the magnificent summer residence of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), which once covered roughly 14 kilometres along the Appian Way towards Lake Albano. This apart, here's what you should keep your eyes peeled for.

Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo

papal palace of castel gandolfo

The Vatican has owned the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo, also known as the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo since 1596 when they seized it from the Savelli family who were unable to pay their debts to the church.

Until October 2016, it served as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the pope for centuries together. Thanks to Pope Francis, the once-private vacation retreat opened its doors to the general public in Spring 2014 for garden visits and in October 2016 for the Apostolic Palace. You can now visit the Papal apartments, richly ornate in its furnishing and decor, and peruse the papal portrait gallery, as well as view various pontifical artefacts. The Apostolic Palace is a treasure trove of curiosities, including a papal throne, liturgical antiques and vestments and the world famous pope-mobile.

Walk the footsteps of the Popes around the 7 rooms and summer offices inside the Palace and even gain access to the Pope's spartan bedroom, supposedly the place where several Jewish women gave birth during the Nazi Occupation of World War II.

Barberini Gardens

papal palace of castel gandolfo

The masterfully manicured Papal Gardens, also known as the Barberini Gardens are the green heart of the Pontifical Villas and boast a rich array of plants that are in bloom year round. With parterres and terraces, pine tree avenues and carefully sculpted fountains around every corner, this picture perfect blend of natural beauty, landscape design and archaeological ruins are a sight behold.

A tour of the Barberini Gardens happens on board a comfortable ecological vehicle during which you'll be handed a multilingual audioguide and a map that illustrates the itinerary. This 60 minute tour is an absolute must for nature lovers and green panthers!

Belvedere Gardens

papal palace of castel gandolfo

For most tourists, a tour of the Belvedere Gardens, also known as Giardini del Belvedere ranks high among the highlights of the Pontifical Villas. Belvedere which translates to ‘beautiful view’ in Italian stands true to its name and is undoubtedly one of the most panoramic points in Rome. At the three-tiered Giardini del Belvedere, the second level hosts sunken koi ponds and a fountain where classical aquatic deities fill a trio of niches.

Running along the right-hand side of the Belvedere Gardens is the ancient cryptoporticus of the emperor Domitian with fragile vines creeping up it, quietly masking its 2,000-year-old antiquity. History says that Domitian built this 300-metre long covered walkway to shade him from the elements whenever he wanted to go for walks. They say, this very cryptoporticus was used to shelter dozens of families who fled to Castel Gandolfo escaping persecution from the Nazis.

Pope’s Farm

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The Pope's Farm inside the Pontifical Villas produces and ships a basket of fresh produce to the Vatican; brimming with handmade cheeses, yogurts, eggs and milk, not to mention cauliflower and broccoli which are said to Pope Francis’ favourite. This family-run farm houses cows, sheep, donkeys, and chickens, providing the fresh pecorino, mozzarella, milk, and ricotta that are lovingly incorporated into the papal estate’s recipes. Expect to see beautifully maintained orchards and vineyards and more than 1,000 olive-trees around the farm.

Castel Gandolfo Tickets - Apostolic Palace + Villa Barberini Tour

If you're interested in buying tickets to see the Apostolic Papal Palace and Villa Barberini ; here are your best options. Depending on your budget and the places you'd like to visit at Castel Gandolfo, buy tickets to the Papal Villas of Castel Gandalfo. For a steal deal, get tickets to the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and Castel Gandalfo, along with train transport from Vatican to Castel Gandalfo here.

  • Apostolic Palace Ticket with Audio Guide -
  • Apostolic Palace & Barberini Gardens Ticket with Audio Guide -
  • Papal Villas & Vatican Museums by Train -

More Things To Do In Castel Gandolfo

Walk by the Bernini Fountains

Before crossing into the Papal territory, stop a second to consume the striking beauty of the Bernini Fountains. Designed by the Renaissance master Gian Lorenzo Bernini, this fountain fondles beautiful in every curve and crevice.

See the world's first Postbox at Piazza della Libertà

papal palace of castel gandolfo

Exuding the typical Italizan piazza vibes, the Piazza della Libertà is the perfect place to watch the world go by. You can catch sight of the 17th-century facade of the Apostolic Palace and maybe even post a letter home from the world’s first postbox! Yet like all central Italian squares, Piazza della Libertà exudes a unique, relaxing atmosphere making it the perfect place to grab a coffee or gelato and watch the world go by.

Explore the lesser known Church of San Tommaso da Villanova

Enhancing the beauty of Piazza della Libertà, this Bernini designed charming church was constructed between 1658-1661. Detailed with intricate stucco work and paintings by Pietro da Crotona, the Church of San Tommaso da Villanova is a work of art.

Grab lunch overlooking Lake Albano

The locals getaway to Castel Gandolfo for three reasons : crisp air, sweeping views of azure Lake Albano and scrumptious meals with freshly sourced ingredients. Dig into a plate of perfect pasta from Ristorante Pagnanelli and enjoy postcard perfect views as you consume your meal.

Get sporty at Lake Albano

papal palace of castel gandolfo

Wander downhill and take a stroll along the paved promenade of Lake Albano. You will find hiking trails and boats or kayaks to rent here. Indulge in a sporty affair if you'd like and catch sight of the town from sparkling blue waters. Know that the volcanic crater lake is extremely cold (even dangerous for a swim) but surrounded as you are by the Albano hills, you quickly warm up while paddling.

Going From Rome To Castel Gandolfo

The sleepy town of Castel Gandalfo lies 37 Km from Rome, a 45 minute drive or a 40 minute train journey if you prefer a public mode of transport.

Going From Rome To Castel Gandalfo By Train

From the Termini station in Rome, you can hop on a 40 minute train journey to Castel Gandolfo for just €2.10 each way! You can check the train schedule for the day on the Trenitalia website and we'd suggest going early in the day to spend a good few hours ambling about Castel Gandolfo. A couple of things to remember:

  • Make sure to buy a return ticket from Romes's Termini station as there is no place to buy a ticket at the Castel Gandolfo station- just a box to validate a ticket that you already have
  • The frequency of train is significantly lesser on Saturday. If you're planning your visit on a Saturday, we'd recommend buying combo tickets that give you access to the Vatican Museums, Papal Villas along with train tickets to and fro included!
  • If you're booking your tickets online, type “Roma Termini” as the system does not recognize “Rome Termini”
Directions from Castel Gandolfo Station to The Papal Villas

Once you disembark the train, walk down the platform towards the front of the train and cross over to the main street. Follow the mud path which eventually winds right and takes you towards Piazza della Liberta in 10 minutes. From here you'll find the entrance to the Papal Villas behind the church.

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Going From Rome To Castel Gandalfo By Bus

The rural Cotral bus from Rome to Castel Gandolfo leaves from the bus terminus at Anagnina. Anagnina can be easily reached on Metro Line A and this journey should take you about 30 minutes. Check the frequency of the buses from Rome to Castel Gandalfo here.
You may not find English-speaking bus drivers or staff at the ticket office, but you should be able to find someone who will be able to point you towards the right bus.

Going From Rome To Castel Gandalfo By Car

You can take reach Castel Gandalfo via A90/E80, Appia Nuova/SS7 or via A24 and A90/E80 from Rome. After Ciampino Airport, turn left on the third traffic light. The roads are in fairly good condition and should take you anything between 35 to 45 minutes to hit the town.

You can find parking next to the Apostolic Palace here.

Good To Know Before Visiting The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo

Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo Opening Hours

Monday to Friday 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM, Saturday 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Rules & Restrictions

  • The use of Selfie sticks are prohibited inside the Papal Palace.
  • Sleeveless and/or low cut garments, shorts and mini-skirts are not allowed inside the Palace
  • Packages and suitcases are not allowed inside the Palace. Only rucksacks and small bags will be permitted inside.
  • You are not allowed to bring full-sized or large umbrellas inside.
  • Photography is permitted only without flash and tripods are strictly prohibited.
  • Smoking is not permitted within the premises.
  • No food is allowed inside the premises. If you do have food in your bags, you will be required to retain them at security check.
  • A tour of the Pontifical Villas takes in some serious flights of steps hence, wheelchair users or anyone with mobility problems cannot be accommodated.

Insider Tips For Visiting The Pontificial Villas Of Castel Gandalfo

  • While you can buy tickets to visit the Pontificial Villas of Castel Gandalfo on-site, they are likely to sell out months in advance, hence we suggest buying your tickets online in advance. You can check out online tickets at the best price on the internet here.
  • Make sure you carry a set of earphones as the tour of the Villa Bernini Gardens involves going on an audio-guided tour in a shuttle bus. If you're looking to click pictures, it's best to have your earphones so that your hands are free.
  • Comfortable shoes are recommended since there's a LOT of walking involved. From the station to the Pontificial Villas, it's a 10 minute up-hill walk on a cobbled street, hence flip flops or heels are likely to be highly uncomfortable.
  • The audio guide is available in Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Russian; so choose the language of your choice on-site.
  • Entry is free for children aged 5 and below. Reduced price tickets are available for children between the ages of 6 - 18 and for students up to the age of 25. Families with a minimum of two children can get a family ticket.
papal palace of castel gandolfo

Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo Reviews

Brilliant trip out with a tour of the pontifical gardens by electric vehicle which was really pleasant.
Then a walk around the stunning villas which are beautiful.

If you go on the cheap like we did and get the standard train to the Castel Gandolfo stop then be aware that it is a very step climb up into the town. You will not get a pushchair or wheelchair up there and if you struggle with walking you won’t manage.

Lovely little town and great little bistros overlooking the lake, and nice cafe in the town square, be sure to take the time to pay a visit.
The Pope's summer residence is at the entrance to a lovely town square that over looks a volcanic lake. Pope Benedict is the last Pope to use the summer residence (usually in August). The 1st floor is a museum of previous Pope's & then there is the Pope's apartments & chapel. Everything is so beautiful & welcoming.

Read what others have to say about the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo on TripAdvisor.

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