The Pope’s Train

by Danilo Brunetti

For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, hop aboard a train from inside Vatican City for a full-day excursion themed all-things pope. Tiffany Parks has your itinerary.

Once the summer residence of the popes, the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo is now a public museum, offering visitors a peek into the daily life of the pontiff over the centuries, as well as a wealth of artistic treasures to explore. A charming idyll on the shores of Lake Albano, just 15 miles southeast of Rome, the villa was designed by Carlo Maderno in the 17th century, built upon the ruins of an ancient Roman villa. It wasn’t until Pope Francis took over in 2013 that the villa became a public museum. Rooms that for centuries have been closed, locked, and jealously defended by Swiss Guards are now open to curious visitors.

The Vatican has responded to overwhelming interest in the site by offering a full-day excursion that includes a train ride from inside Vatican City, departing from the official train station of the tiniest country in the world. Your day begins with a visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, with priority entrance at 8am and an audio guide. The tour continues with a walk through the Vatican Gardens, another area once strictly reserved for the reigning pontiff. Next, visitors board a train from the Vatican’s minuscule station directly to Castel Gandolfo. Sweeping panoramas of the blue lake and forest-covered hills are visible from almost every window, and each room is teeming with art and history. Marvel at the Hall of the Swiss Guards, the Throne Room, the Hall of the Consistory, and even the pope’s own bedroom, where Pius XII famously hid women in labor during World War II. The wonders continue with a visit to the Barberini Gardens aboard a miniature electric train. Hop aboard the return train and you’ll be back in Rome in time for dinner.

Saturdays only. To book, visit the Vatican’s official website, and search for Vatican Full Day Plus by Train. €53 (€42 reduced). Children five and under, free.