Castel Gandolfo is a lovely small lake town about half hour outside Rome. It's most famously home of the Papal summer residence and gardens.
Castel Gandolfo makes for an easy day trip from Rome and there is plenty to see and do.
On this page, we'll go over:
Castel Gandolfo is famed for being the Pope's summer home in Italy. The town is located on Lake Albano, southeast of Rome.
The town of Castel Gandolfo has a long papal history. The first pope to reside here was Urban VIII who had the pontifical residence of Castel Gandolfo constructed in 1628.
In more recent times, Popes Pius XII and John Paul II also called Castel Gandolfo home. Benedict XVI was the last Pope to live here before he retired in 2013 (he now lives in one of the other papal residences in Vatican City).
While no longer used as a summer residence, the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo and the gardens of the pontifical villas are open to visitors.
Pope Francis has not used the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo as his summer residence.
No, the town of Castel Gandolfo is not part of Vatican City.
It is an independent municipality located within the region of Lazio.
However, the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo does have extraterritorial status, which means that certain Vatican City laws apply. It is not under Italian jurisdiction.
Absolutely! Castel Gandolfo makes a wonderful day trip from Rome.
Besides visiting the Papal Palace and gardens, Castel Gandolfo's town itself is charming and the views of Lake Albano are lovely.
I think the gardens are very much worth a visit when you take a guided tour.
You get to see the Papal palace and also most of the gardens.
For me, one of the best parts was seeing the fairly well-preserved ruins of the Villa of Domitian, built by the Roman Emperor in the late 1st century.
You can watch my video here about touring the palace of Castel Gandolfo and its beautiful gardens.
If you're interested in Italian history or art, then a visit to the Museo Diocesano should also be on your list.
A visit to Castel Gandolfo can entail several things.
You could come to the town just to enjoy the lake and have lunch as a refreshing day trip from Rome.
Or, you could come to Castel Gandolfo to visit the Apostolic Palace.
Or you could do both!
If you visit the Apostolic Palace, you can just visit it on your own, or you can take a guided tour.
You can visit the Papal palace without visiting the gardens if you like.
You can visit the Gardens of the Pontifical Villas, also known as the Barberini Gardens, as a separate visit from the Apostolic Palace. Or you can combine the two.
The visit to the gardens is either on foot or with a minibus. You cannot wander the gardens on your own.
If you want to see the gardens on foot, you will be accompanied by a member of the Vatican staff.
A walking tour of the gardens lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes.
By taking the bus tour, you can cover a lot more ground, and of course it's an easier tour than walking.
The bus goes pretty slowly and it stops often so you can take some time to see things. On occasion, you will also get off the bus so allow you to take photos.
The bus tour takes about an hour without stops.
You can easily take a local train to Castel Gandolfo from Rome and make your way on your own into the town. (See below.)
From there, you can simply pay the entry fee to the Apostolic Palace and the gardens (either or both, as you prefer.)
Another way to visit Apostolic Palace and gardens of Castel Gandolfo is to take a tour from Rome. You can either book a day tour or combine it with a visit to another nearby town such as Albano Laziale or Frascati.
One thing I really enjoyed about a tour I took from Rome was the lunch we had at the end. It was very simple but scenic as we ate right in the garden. This tour option includes lunch served to you in the impressive surroundings!
In addition to visiting the Apostolic Palace and its gardens, there is plenty more to do in Castel Gandolfo.
The town is lovely to walk around and very picturesque. There are also lots of places to eat, drink, and shop.
If you're looking for something more active, you can go hiking or biking in the nearby Alban Hills, or kayaking on the lake.
There are lots of Castel Gandolfo restaurants to choose from, but probably the most famous restaurant in the area is the lovely Antico Ristorante Pagnanelli, which boasts stunning views of the lake, and a high-level rating from the Michelin Guide. Romans and tourists alike will come to Castel Gandolfo simply to eat here.
The town has a few charming spots to eat as well.
My favorite places to eat are all down on the lake itself. They are simple and offer plain, homey food with a nice lake view. We come here often for hiking so I've tried many of the places around the lake and they are all fine.
Castel Gandolfo is located about 30 minutes outside of Rome. The best way to get there is by car or bus.
If you're coming from Rome, you can take the train from Termini station. The journey takes about 40 minutes.
Once you arrive in Castel Gandolfo, it's a short walk to the town center.
If you're driving from Rome, take the A90 motorway and exit at Castel Gandolfo. Parking is available near the Papal Palace.
The Papal Palace is open Monday - Friday from 8:30AM - 2PM.
From early November - early April, and also between Christmas and New Year, they are open on Saturdays from 8:30AM - 5:30PM.
From mid-April - end of October, they are open on Saturdays from 8:30AM - 6:30PM, and on Sundays from 10AM - 6:30PM.
For just the Apostolic Palace, without the gardens, the entry fees are:
There is no strict dress code, but visitors are asked to dress respectfully. This means avoiding shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops.
The palace is named after a castle in the 12th century belonging to the noble Gandolfi families.
The first fortified structure on the site was most likely built in the 9th century. In the 13th century, Pope Boniface VIII took ownership of the property and turned it into a summer residence for the popes.
In 1626, Pope Urban VIII (Barberini) had the existing castle demolished and rebuilt in Baroque style. The new palace included a loggia, or an open-air porch, where the pope could greet crowds of people.
The Vatican Observatory is an astronomical research institute located in Castel Gandolfo. It was founded in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII.
The Observatory carries out research into a wide range of astronomical topics, including cosmology, planetary science, and stellar evolution.
There are around 30 astronomers who work at the Observatory, both priests and lay people.
Currently, the Vatican Observatory is not open to visitors. However, the Vatican Museums are developing a visitors' center at Castel Gandolfo and hope to have it open sometime in 2022 or 2023.
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