Visiting Castel Gandolfo
Why Visit Castel Gandolfo
A Roman holiday is a magical affair but sometimes, pushing your way through the throngs to get to the Colosseum or the Vatican Museums can be a mood dampener. But there’s more to Rome and Vatican than the crowded monuments in the city center. Your saving grace here is a quaint little village by the name of Castel Gandolfo, 12 miles from Rome.
Seated on a rocky perch above the sparkling, turquoise waters of the volcanic Lake Albano, this historic village is home to the Pope’s summer palace or Papal Villas and the famous Barberini Gardens. As soon as your train leaves from Rome’s Termini Station and heads past the city’s outskirts, a panoramic view of the lake and the lush green countryside will fill you with the peace you deserve. This 9000-person village is a haven with very few tourists strolling its quiet, cobbled streets.
History of Castel Gandolfo
Castel Gandolfo is situated on the ancient site of Alba Longa. It was in 1200 that this picturesque village was put on the map by the Genoese family of the Gandolfo when they built their castle on top of the Alban Hills overlooking the Albano lake. Following the construction of the Apostolic or Papal Palace, the summer residence of the Pope, in 1608, this village became the domain of the Holy See. Pius XI later added the adjoining Villa Barberini. Since 1936, Villa Barberini has housed the famous Vatican Observatory, founded by Pope Gregory XIII. However, from 1870 to 1929, the Papal Palace had no pontiffs, attributed to the signing of the Lateran Treaty.
What to See in Castel Gandolfo
Here are the top highlights to see in Castel Gandolfo.
This papal summer retreat designed by Carlo Maderno for Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century is a welcome break from the crowded Rome. The Apostolic Palace opened its doors to the public in 2016 when the humble Pope Francis decided to forego it as his residence. Instead, he chose a Vatican City guesthouse. The Apostolic Palace has now been turned into a museum that has Vatican-related artifacts, such as the costumes and cars of former popes. Tourists have access to the papal apartments with marble flooring, the papal portrait gallery, the summer office and even the private bedroom. The Palace is closed on Sundays and the ticket must be booked in advance via the Vatican Museum website.
Renaissance master Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s fountains earned Rome the title of ‘open air museum’ and all his works, ranging from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona to the Fontana del Tritone and Fontana delle Api in Piazza Barberini are truly masterpieces. Fontana delle Api, whose construction was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, was mainly created to regulate the water flow of the Fontana del Tritone. What’s striking is how this fountain, although built out of necessity, maintains a harmonic and consistent layout of the square and the main fountain, thereby showcasing the brilliance of Bernini.
Piazza della Liberta, Castel Gandolfo’s main square is a 15-minute walk from the station. It’s going to be a steep walk as the square is situated on a hill, but once you reach, the vibe of the village will invigorate your senses. Piazza della Liberta’s main attraction is the facade of the Papal Palace which overlooks the square. It is also home to the world’s first postbox (yes, how iconic is that!), so uphold the tradition that most tourists follow and post a letter. You can also visit the Church of San Tommaso, the central church of the village.
Head down to the shores of Lake Albano after your coffee at Piazza della Liberta. The road that runs along the lake is lined with restaurants and bars on one side and beach clubs on the other. You can either rent a bike to scout the surrounding area or rent a boat or a kayak and enjoy the fresh air and lake view. A word of caution: Do not dive into the lake as the volcanic waters are extremely chilly and the depth (Lake Albano is the deepest lake in the region of Lazio, reaching 560 ft) could be fatal for swimmers.
Getting to Castel Gandolfo
It will take you about 45 minutes to get from Roma Termini Station to Castel Gandolfo Station. The journey costs €2.10 one-way.
Tickets can be booked online or at one of the many ticket machines at Termini Station. However, there are no ticket machines at Castel Gandolfo, so we suggest you buy your return ticket at Termini Station. From Castel Gandolfo Station, it’s a 15-minute walk up to Piazza della Liberta.
Cotral runs a daily service from the terminus at Roma Anagnina to Castel Gandolfo. The journey takes less than an hour and costs the same as the train. Since Rome’s rural bus services comprise only Italian speakers, you might face difficulty communicating your concerns to the driver. Hence, it is better you board the train.
Castel Gandolfo Timings
The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo is open every Saturday from 09:00 AM to 05:30 PM with final entry at 04:30 PM.
Opening hours of shops and restaurants in Castel Gandolfo vary throughout the year. But generally, shops remain open from 09:00 AM to 01:00 PM and 03:30 PM to 07:30 PM (or 04:00 PM to 08:00 PM) Monday through Saturday. Some shops are open on Sunday mornings. Restaurants are open on all days from noon until 03:00 PM and then from 07:30 PM to 11:00 PM.
Best Time to Visit Castel Gandolfo
Springtime, that is March through May is the best time to visit Castel Gandolfo, as the weather is warm and pleasant. It does get colder at night, but since you will mostly be taking a day trip from Rome to Castel Gandolfo.
Tourism also peaks in January and February. As expected, hotel and flight prices will be quite expensive, so make sure you make your reservations in advance.
However, December experiences lesser tourists and hence, is a good time to visit if you are on a budget. You will get ample rain and snow, so pack your essentially accordingly.