Castel Sant'Angelo is a vestige of the imperial era: built as a mausoleum for Hadrian, throughout its history it has been a prison, a fortress, and even a papal residence.
1. How to visit the Castle of Sant'Angelo
Buy tickets online
My recommendation: buy your ticket online whenever you can, a piece of advice that applies to any admission ticket you have to buy for a visit during your trip. The upside of not waiting in line and making sure that you'll access a landmark before tickets are sold out are two very considerable advantages.
Buy tickets at the box office
If you like to travel without a set itinerary, you can also buy your tickets for the Castel Sant'Angelo at the ticket office. I'm sure you'll know the downside of this: you will have to wait in line, which depending on the time of year can take a lot of time out of your day, and the price will not always be cheaper.
General admission is € 10, reduced to € 5 if you are a European citizen between 18 and 25 years old. Children under 18 are free and the first Sunday of every month the entrance to the castle is free for all visitors.
2. Buy online your tickets to Castel Sant'Angelo with audioguide
One of the two options you have for this visit is to buy online tickets to Castel Sant'Angelo. These include an audio guide, which you can download to your cell phone and will help you in a self-guided tour. But the great benefit of these tickets is allowing you to skip the entrance queue, for a price of $ 34.
Although you will not have the professional narration of a guide, it is possible to make this visit entirely on your own: the main itinerary is easily identifiable and if you use the audio guide it is difficult to miss the most important places of the fortress.
I recommend it if...
You prefer to do this tour on your own and at your own pace, without depending on a group and a fixed schedule.
3. Tour of Castel Sant'Angelo
The tour starts at the Ponte Sant'Angelo, which you will cross in the company of your guide to reach the castle that rises in front of you, stopping to admire the statues of angels resting on both sides of the bridge. Before entering the fortress, you will see the secret tunnel that connects the Sant'Angelo Castle with the Vatican, and the wall that guards it.
Once inside the castle, the tour of Castel Sant'Angelo will take you on a tour in which you will discover the evolution of the building from its construction to the present day, passing through different historical stages during which Castel Sant'Angelo served as tomb, prison, and papal refuge.
I recommend it if...
You are especially interested in learning about the history of Castel Sant'Angelo. In my experience, a guided tour is always more interesting than a tour on your own, and understanding the importance of a place is the first step to learn how to admire it.
Alex's Traveller Tip
The views of the Tiber River, Ponte Sant'Angelo, and St. Peter's Basilica from the terrace of Castel Sant'Angelo are beautiful at sunset, so I recommend you make the visit in the late afternoon.
4. What you will see at Castel Sant'Angelo
In case you buy the ticket for this historic building and do a self-guided tour, here is the itinerary of Castel Sant'Angelo, marked with informative panels and led by the audio guide. On the organized tour, you will follow a similar route.
During the siege of Rome in 1527 by the troops of Charles I, Pope Clement VII used Castel Sant'Angelo as a refuge. In the bastions, you will still find the cannons that defended the fortress from what is known as the 'sack of Rome' (actually, one of the many that the city has suffered throughout its history). As you stroll around the defensive bastions, you can soak in the magnificent views of the Vatican.
The so-called 'Il passetto di Borgo' is the wall that connects the Vatican with Castel Sant'Angelo. Inside, it hides a passage through which the Pope could move to the fortress from the Vatican in case of an assault.
The entrance to the passage is open to the public on some occasions, mainly in summer, but you will most likely have to settle for viewing it from the outside.
Little remains of the former splendor of this room, which used to be lined with huge marble slabs, and where the ashes of the family of Emperor Hadrian were kept. Later in its history, it became a prison cell where today reigns a somewhat eerie atmosphere.
The marble sculpture of Michael the Archangel that now stands in this courtyard is the one that originally crowned Castel Sant'Angelo and gave the fortress its name. It was sculpted to commemorate the vision that Pope Gregory had at the top of the castle, in which he saw the Archangel appear to announce the end of the plague that was ravaging Rome at the end of the 6th century.
Here you will find the most interesting rooms of the Castle, decorated with Renaissance-era frescoes by artists of the school of Raphael and where it is possible to imagine the luxury dedicated to the Pope's residences to which they would retreat in case of danger.
Some of the most impressive rooms are the Hall of Apollo, the Paolina Hall, the Hall of the Festoni, the Library, and the Hall of Perseus, each with beautiful frescoes and decorations and with their respective courtyards and terraces, which offer a view of the exterior framed by colonnades and arches and from which you can take some magnificent photos.
The upper terrace
One of the highlights of the visit to Castel Sant'Angelo. From here, you will have views of the most emblematic sites of the city and you will be able to appreciate details of the basilica and the dome of St. Peter's that cannot be seen from elsewhere. Here you will also find the statue dedicated to the Archangel Michael, which crowns the castle and is visible from afar.
5. Opening hours and days
You can visit the Castel Sant'Angelo every day of the week from 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Much of the interest of this building lies in its panoramic views of Rome from the terrace, so it may be a good idea to end your visit right at sunset.
Make sure you get the confirmation email
Whatever option you choose to visit Castel Sant'Angelo, you will receive a confirmation email at the email address you provide when booking. There is no need to print anything, simply present the confirmation email at the ticket office or to your guide at the meeting point.
6. How to get to Castel Sant'Angelo
This historic building is within walking distance of the Vatican. To go by metro, the nearest stations are Lepanto and Ottaviano, and you have plenty of buses that stop within walking distance: 62, 23, 271, 271, 982, 280, 40, and 34, to name a few of the main lines.
7. Tips for visiting the Castel Sant'Angelo
If you want to visit more attractions, buy the Roma Pass
If you were thinking about purchasing the Roma Pass, you will be interested to know that the skip-the-line entrance with audio guide is included in this tourist pass. I recommend you to take advantage of the pass and visit the Castle, as in my opinion, it is one of the most interesting places you can access with the pass.
Use the online audio guide
Remember to take your cell phone with you if you buy your ticket online, as in addition to being easier to present the ticket at the ticket office, you will need it for the audioguide, which you can listen to through an app.
What to bring
The castle is not a place of religious worship, so unlike the vast majority of major buildings in Rome, you will not have a dress code to respect. However, I recommend you wear comfy sneakers and be careful with the steps and some of the corridors as they can be a bit slippery.
Visiting Castel Sant'Angelo, a peaceful experience
Of all the tourist sites in Rome, Castel Sant'Angelo is not one of the most visited due to the sheer number of interesting sights in the city. This means that, with a bit of luck, your tour of the building will be fairly quiet and uncrowded, making it the perfect experience for a slightly more relaxed day on your trip to Rome.
8. Other experiences you may also be interested in
If you have not yet booked a general tour of Rome, let me tell you that it is one of the best experiences to get to know the city in the first days of your trip, and then explore it on your own. I recommend you to check this out: Best Rome Tours.
And before you book your Vatican tickets anywhere, here is a complete guide on how to buy them online at the best price and with a few tips that will enhance your visit: Vatican Museum Tickets.
Finally, keep in mind that Castel Sant'Angelo is in the area of St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum, so if you are thinking about what else to do after a visit to any of these places I recommend you to take the tour of this imperial mausoleum.