The Vatican gardens are a sumptuous oasis away from the hustle and bustle, enjoyed by popes over many centuries.
Visitors can stroll the beautifully curated and maintained gardens, usually with a guide. Here’s how.
What are the Vatican Gardens?
The first thing to understand is that there are two sets of gardens connected to the Vatican. The first is within the walls of Vatican City itself, while the second is outside Rome at a town called Castel Gandolfo.
How to visit the Vatican Gardens in Rome
To visit the gardens you can only go with a guide, and therefore it is vital to book in advance. This will give you a one-hour guided tour through gardens that date back to the 13th century, very rarely seen.
Important knowledge: the booking will also include a ticket to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel that will allow you to skip the notorious lines – so when you’ve finished your tour, you can enjoy strolling around the rest of the Vatican, which includes the Sistine Chapel.
How to take the guided tour of the Vatican Gardens
15 minutes before the time on your ticket, go to the Vatican front door, walk right past the line and show your booking to the guard at the right-hand side of the entrance. Once inside and past security, go to the “Guided tour” desk and they will give you your tickets, and hook you up with your guide.
How to visit the Pope’s Gardens at Castel Gandolfo
Castel Gandolfo is a charming town in the Castelli Romani (“Roman castles” area) in the Alban Hills just 45 minutes outside Rome. It is the location of the Pope’s summer palace, which has a large garden attached that is open to the public on an irregular basis.
The town itself sits on the edge of an extinct volcanic caldera, high above the volcanogenic lake of Lago Albano and is worth a visit in its own right – either for the charming restaurants that look across the lake (our tip is a table on the beautiful terrace of Bucci restaurant) – or down on the lakeside where there are water activities, restaurants, lawns, and bars lining the lakeside.
How to get to Castel Gandolfo
To get to Castel Gandolfo, there is a regular train service from Termini. Just book your train ticket here – currently only €2.10 per adult! – and enjoy a leisurely journey from Rome up the side of the Alban hills and over the ridge of the caldera to Castel Gandolfo station. Once there it is a short-but-steep uphill walk to the town, where the Pope’s palace is on the edge of the quaint piazza. Alternatively you can stroll down to the lakeside but be warned that the town is very high above the lake and the walk may be something of a challenge.
The final train from Castel Gandolfo to Rome leaves at 10.50 pm so don’t be late – otherwise you’ll have an expensive taxi ride back to the city!
Train fact! There is a special direct train to Castel Gandolfo that leaves from a seldom-used custom-built station from within Vatican City itself, about once a month, designed to carry the Pope himself. In the past visitors were able to get a ticket for this train, but unfortunately it has not been running for the past year due to the pandemic.
How to visit the Papal Gardens at Castel Gandolfo
Buy an entry ticket to the Papal Gardens in advance, take the train, and arrive for your charming and leisurely stroll through the immaculately maintained and curated gardens that even today the Popes enjoy during their downtime. You will also receive a complimentary snack of the local porchetta (roast pork) or a vegetarian alternative, and a glass of wine or a non-alcoholic alternative.
If you’re a more active visitor, you can get activity bundles that allow you to visit the gardens and explore the lake and surrounding forest:
Our top dining tip for Lake Albano: I Quadri restaurant. Delicious seafood and lake-fish with a lush lawn right down to the lakeside, where visitors can sunbathe or swim, or arrive by kayak and tie up while they eat. It’s the perfect day out from Rome and something few visitors spend time doing.