Rome is undoubtedly a fascinating destination, but sometimes the hustle and bustle of its streets and the chaos of traffic make many tourists look for a quieter and more relaxing afternoon or day in nearby towns. It is in this very scenario that Castel Gandolfo, a small town located just 18 kilometers southeast of Rome and on the shores of Lake Albano, comes into play.
The town is known worldwide for being the Vatican's chosen vacation residence- if the Pope chose it as his summer home, then Castel Gandolfo has to be pretty nice, right? In fact, the main excursion to do in the town is to pay a visit to the papal residence and its extensive gardens with all kinds of flowers and trees.
Here are the best things to do in Castel Gandolfo from Rome. Also, I invite you to read the following post about what to do and see in Rome, for a complete experience on your trip.
Visit the Pontifical Palace and the Gardens of the residence.
Castel Gandolfo has been a papal summer retreat since Pope Urban VIII built a beautiful residence in the 17th century. Today, no matter what religion tourists profess, the site has become a place of worship and pure history.
Pope Francis has opened the Papal Palace and the striking gardens to visitors from all over the world. On the other hand, I recommend the following article if you are interested in learning more about guided tours of the Vatican.
You can get tickets on the official website of the Vatican Museums, even several months in advance.
What you can do inside the papal residence
- Admire Bernini's fountain. It was designed by the Renaissance master Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
- Visit the museum located on the lower floor of the residence with all the information about the popes of the last 5 centuries.
- On the top floor is the exclusive accommodation of the Popes and you can walk through it to feel how the pontiffs live their vacation retreats.
- Walk through the beautiful Barberini gardens and stop to breathe the pure air that emanates from nature free of smog and noise.
- Have lunch with local products produced on the Pope's farm.
The Papal Residence has specific and changing opening hours from day to day, with closures at 14:00, 17:30 or 18:30. While the opening is generally at 8:30 am, although on some dates it opens at 10:00 am.
Kayak on the waters of Lake Albano
The small town of Castel Gandolfo is located on the shore of a beautiful lake with calm waters, ideal for water activities.
You can go kayaking while discovering the history of the place, the remains of an ancient prehistoric civilization and the old Roman port of Villa Domitian.
This excursion is ideal to contemplate the beauty of nature on the crystal clear waters of Lake Albano, but in the summer and spring months you can swim in the waters that have served as a respite for many Popes in antiquity.
Don't forget to bring your best swimsuit!
Cycle through the countryside to Castel Gandolfo
Cycling along the Appian Way, one of the most attractive streets of ancient Rome on an electric or normal bicycle, while learning about the history of the Roman ruins and mausoleums is a rewarding and very interesting experience that combines physical activity and culture.
This route has a distance of 12.8 km, and you can do it in about an hour. I suggest you check the best route on Google Maps at the time of making the journey, as for example in the initial section, from Via Appia Antica to Via del Casale della Sergetta, may have some sections closed on certain days or times.
You will reach the town of Castel Gandolfo where you can walk through the streets of the old town, enter the small stores and taste the local cuisine accompanied by an exceptional red wine.
If you are passionate about this means of transport, I recommend you to read this article about the best bike tours in Rome.
Visit the Church of San Tommaso da Villanova
The famous building is located in the main square of Castel Gandolfo, just outside the Papal Palace. This charming church was designed by Bernini and built between 1658 and 1661.
You can see intricate stucco work, and delight in the paintings by Pietro da Cortonainside. Admission is free, and tourists usually stay from a few minutes to an hour.
Undoubtedly, Italy breathes history wherever you go, and Castel Gandolfo will not leave you wanting for interesting facts, culture and ancient buildings!
Lunch overlooking Lake Albano
The Romans came to Castel Gandolfo, escaping from the routine of Rome, in search of some fresh air and the views of the lake.
Along the lakeshore line you can find restaurants serving authentic Italian pastas with amazing panoramic views.
Dare with good food
Italy is a perfect destination for food lovers, and Castel Gandolfo will not disappoint in this regard. Here you can savor traditional Roman dishes in pleasant restaurants overlooking the lake.
The Ristorante Pagnanelli is undoubtedly the best known restaurant in town, a place loved by the locals and with a breathtaking view.
The restaurant has been run by the Pagnanelli family since 1882, where you can enjoy delicious fresh fish dishes, classic meat and vegetable dishes, all accompanied by an incredible selection of wines.
After enjoying a delicious lunch and recharge your batteries, you can choose to go on one of the hiking trails in the town.
Explore the city center
Castel Gandolfo is small but beautiful, and you should not miss the opportunity to stroll through the streets of the town center.
From small squares to sweeping views over the lake, this is a great place to get away from the chaos of Rome, but also to get to know the essence of the local people, their customs and culture.
Among the main places of interest is Piazza della Libertà, where you will find a variety of small cafes and souvenir stores, as well as restaurants where you can eat outdoors overlooking the lake.
In Piazza della Libertà you will also find the beautiful Bernini Fountain and the world's first post box or so say the locals.
Take the opportunity for an exquisite wine tasting
The Castelli Romani area, where Castel Gandolfo is located, is famous for its celebrated wines, and while you are there you should definitely take the opportunity to do a little wine tasting.
There are numerous wineries and stores that offer the service, such as Casale Marchese, with a family history that goes all the way back to the 14th century.
It is also possible to hire an excursion to take a tour of the vineyards in the area and learn about the harvesting of the vine, the time of parking and all the secrets of Italian winemaking.
If you have little time in the village you can go directly to "Art e Vino", a small and charming wine bar where you can also taste some local dishes.
Walk along the entire length of Lake Albano
The village of Castel Gandolfo is located in the middle of zigzagging hills, and to reach Lake Albano it is necessary to cross a steep path from the upper part of the village where the main square is located on the shores of the lake.
The path along the lake is lined with restaurants and bars on one side and beach clubs on the other.
The entire walk will take you no more than 2 hours, but you can stop along the way for a coffee, a refreshing ice cream or a souvenir.
In the warmer months, on the black volcanic sand you can find sun loungers and umbrellas to enjoy a sunny day and dive into the invigorating waters of the lake - the Italian dolce vita!
If you are a restless spirit and love adventure you can rent boats, pedal boats and kayaks to travel the length and breadth of the lake. There are also bicycles to explore the woods and surroundings with total freedom and fun.
Enjoy an amazing self-guided walk through the Barberini Gardens and the summer villas of Castel Gandolfo.
If you enjoyed visiting the Vatican and delving into its history and impressive works of art, you will surely want to enhance your experience with this tour that will take you to the origins of the first Roman settlements and you can visit the vineyards, orchards and olive groves that every pontiff will enjoy during the hot summer afternoons.
Visit and discover Ariccia and Nemi two Roman castles very close to Castel Gandolfo.
Located in the ancient region of Lazio Vetus, this area bordering Rome is full of beautiful little villages bordered by green hills and majestic lakes where you can walk, take great pictures and soak up the history of the place.
Castel Gandolfo is the center of attention for being the summer residence of the popes but you can not miss the villages of Ariccia and Nemi whose castles date back to the time of the ancient feudal Rome in the fourteenth century.
As if the postcards of the nature of lakes and mountains and the rich Roman history were not enough reason to visit the area you can also taste exquisite wines.
A little history of Castel Gandolfo and the surrounding area
The small and charming village of Castel Gandolfo is part of the so-called Castelli Romana region and was built on the ruins of Alba Longa. It is located at an altitude of 436 meters above sea level.
The village takes its name from the Gandolfo family, who owned most of the local land in the 12th century and built the castle with the best views of the lake.
As early as 510 BC, the area saw the construction of many residences, including the magnificent Villa di Domiziano, which was used between 81 and 96.
It was in July 1596 that Castel Gandolfo and Rocca Priora became the property of the Vatican, once Pope Clemens VIII seized it from the Savelli family, who did not want to pay their debts.
What is the Castelli Romana region?
The ancient district where Castel Gandolfo is located is called Castelli Romani, which means in its original language "Castles of Rome". This area is characterized by a group of villages located on the Albanian hills.
The entire territory of Castelli Romana is very close to the southeast of the eternal city and is a beautiful route to admire the natural beauty, tinged with the history of the ancient vacation villas of the popes, the Roman emperors and the wealthiest families of the time.
What will you see in the Castelli Romana area?
Here is a summary of the best activities in this area:
- Breathtaking views of the volcanic lakes and hills.
- Archaeological sites with great history.
- Excellent food and wine of the Italian countryside.
Whether you go on a guided tour from Rome or you decide to go on your own to Castel Gandolfo, you will cross part of the Castelli Romana region and you will have a perfect opportunity to make stops of a few minutes to complete the passage, and take the best pictures of the nature of the place.
How to get to Castel Gandolfo from Rome
There are several options to reach the town from the eternal city.
You can go by train, which is the most popular alternative, by rented or shared car, or by guided tour.
Getting to Castel Gandolfo from Rome by train
A one-way train ticket from Roma Termini station to Castel Gandolfo is relatively inexpensive and the journey takes about 40 minutes.
You can check the train schedule for the day on the Trenitalia website. The train will drop you off at the station, from where you will have to cross to the main street and then walk up the path uphill to reach the village.
How to get to Castel Gandolfo from Rome by car
If you have a rental car, you can reach Castel Gandolfo by following the A90/E80 or Appia Nuova/SS7 freeway.
The trip should take about 40 minutes, depending on traffic and weather. Once there you can park your car near the Apostolic Palace and stroll around the old town or go straight to the shores of Lake Albano.
Getting to Castel Gandolfo from Rome by organized excursion
If you are in Rome staying at your hotel and want to take a day trip to Castel Gandolfo you can book online at a travel agency a tour that suits your tastes.
I recommend this excursion which is very complete and dynamic. In addition, having local guides you can ask them for recommendations on where to eat or what to do in the city in your free time.
As the distance to be covered is short, you can spend the whole day getting to know the town, the papal residence and Lake Albano and then return to your hotel in Rome in the afternoon.
Weather in Castel Gandolfo
The climate in Italy is usually warm and temperate with cooler temperatures in January and February (average between 5 and 15 degrees Celsius).
Winter in southern Italy is not as harsh as in the north but it is always advisable to bring a good coat and a sweatshirt that you can take off and put in your backpack when you warm up.
Summers are hot, especially during the months of July and August -the forecast can be up to 37 degrees!
If you are touring Castel Gandolfo in the middle of summer, nothing better than to go down to the lake shore in your bathing suit and soak up some sun and cool off in the calm waters.
Being lake waters you can swim and dive as many times as you want without the risk that the waves will take you away from the shore.
Spring and autumn usually present perfect temperatures for walking outdoors, playing sports and walking around the whole town from Piazza Libertà on the top of the hill to Lake Albano.
With all that said I imagine you will be eager to discover the charms and landscapes of this not so well known but equally beautiful area of the Roman surroundings!