LivingTravelThe Vatican City Gardens: The Complete Guide

The Vatican City Gardens: The Complete Guide

One of the most exclusive attractions of the small Papal State of Rome is the Gardens of the Vatican City ( Giardini Vaticani ). The 57 acres of urban tranquility invite visitors to stroll among sacred monuments, sculpture fountains, and curious botanicals. Because entry is limited (only a certain number of reservations are accepted each day), it is rarely crowded, allowing you to enjoy the manicured gardens in relative peace and quiet. Commonly known as “the Pope’s playground,” the gardens adjoining the Vatican Museums have their own railway station, helipad, and even a bank.

They also have some of the best views of St. Peter’s dome in all of Rome.

History of the gardens

First conceived in 1279 by Pope Nicholas III, the area was surrounded by walls and planted with an orchard, a lawn, and a garden. It was not until the 16th century, under Pope Julius II, that significant landscaping was carried out. The distinguished architect Donato Bramante (one of San Pedro’s designers) drew up plans for the garden, which was eventually divided into the three Renaissance styles (English, French, and Italian). A rectangular maze (garden maze) was added to further enhance its formal grandeur.

Today, the gardens remain a place where pontiffs can find quiet solitude, despite the hustle and bustle of Rome and Vatican City beyond the garden wall.

What to see and do in the Vatican City gardens

As you stroll through the gardens, here are some highlights to explore:

Grotto of Lourdes ( Grotta di Lourdes ) – This is a replica of the pilgrimage cave in Massabielle, France, where a young woman, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a vision of the Virgin.

Eagle Fountain – This 17th century fountain celebrates the return of water ( Acqua Paolina ) to the Vatican from Trajan’s repaired aqueduct.

Papal Coat of Arms – You can’t miss this wonderful example of figurative topiary art in the form of the papal coat of arms. A permanent section features a crown and the keys of St. Peter planted in colorful perennials, while the other area is adorned with annuals honoring the current Pope.

Casina del Giardiniere (Gardener’s Lodge): This small 12th-century building is the residence of the head gardener, who oversees a team of more than two dozen garden staff.

Torre de San Juan: built in the 16th century by Pope Nicholas III, it was rebuilt in the 1960s by Pope John XXIII. Inside are papal apartments, but it is most famous for being the place where Pope Benedict XVI met President George W. Bush in 2008.

The Little Flower, Saint Teresa of Lisieux: named the patron saint of the Gardens in 1927, the official title of Saint Teresa is “Sacred Guardian of the Gardens.” A shrine dedicated to her sits along the walls of Leonine.

Our Lady of Fatima: In 1981, on the day of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square. Their miraculous survival is attributed to the divine intervention of Our Lady.

Gregorian Tower or Tower of the Winds: Built in the late 16th century, the square tower once served as an astrological observatory. It is said that it was where the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian was made.

Palazzina di Leone XIII: One of the “Instagrammable” places in the gardens, this small building was erected in honor of Pope Leo XIII. It has two lovely fountains, hedges, climbing rose arches, and the last exotic tree planted by Leo before his death. When the coral tree blooms, its flowers are bright red.

A Piece of the Berlin Wall: A gift to Marco Piccinini’s Vatican Marco, the Italian acquired a portion of the famous wall at auction in 1990. The segment, originally located in Waldemarbridge, reveals a hidden painting of St. Michael’s Church in Berlin

Vatican Radio Station – Added to the gardens in 1931 by famous inventor Guglielmo Marconi, the Marconi Broadcast Center is where he broadcast his first message around the world. Pope Pius XI understood the importance of emerging technology and encouraged Marconi’s research.

Vatican Train Station – This short rail line primarily carries supplies to Vatican City. Nearby there is a bank, a pharmacy and a grocery store. Even dads need to run errands! Since 2015, and only on Saturdays, the Vatican offers rail service from the Vatican train station to the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. The full-day tour includes entry to the Vatican Museums and Gardens, round-trip train travel, and access to parts of the papal complex at Castel Gandolfo.

Visitor information:

Location: Vatican City, 00120 Italy

Hours: The Vatican Museums and Gardens are open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm (final entry at 4 pm) Closed on Sundays (except the last Sunday of each month, when it is open from 9 am to 2 pm, provided it doesn’t coincide with major religious holidays.) Accurate as of September 2018. Check website for updates.

Admission: Guided tours last 2 hours and must be booked through the Vatican Museum website or with a private tour company. Your ticket includes a visit (without a guide) to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, just the same day.

Prices: € 33. Reduced: € 24 (children from 6 to 18 years old and religious people with valid documentation).

Visiting tips: The tour is on foot. For those with mobility problems, an open eco bus tour is available for € 37 / reduced: € 23 (includes audio guide and illustrated map). For safety reasons, children under the age of 7 are not allowed on this tour.

If you need wheelchair assistance, you can book a tour of the barrier-free Vatican Gardens.

How to get there:

Metro: Line A towards Battistini, Ottaviano or Cipro stations.

The buses: 49, 32, 81 and 982 stop in Piazza del Risorgimento; 492 and 990 stop at Via Leone IV / Via degli Scipioni.

Tram: stop 19 at Piazza del Risorgimento

Nearby sights and attractions

Castel Sant’Angelo – Built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, this imposing castle along the Tiber River is now a museum.

The Swiss Guard: Since 1506, these recruits in traditional, colorful costumes have been guarding Vatican City.

Leonardo Da Vinci Experience – The new museum displays Da Vinci’s inventions and reproductions of his most famous paintings, including the Last Supper.

Villas de Castel Gandolfo: located 45 minutes from the center of Rome, it has been the summer residence of the Popes since the 17th century. For information on how to get there by train from the Vatican train station, visit this page on the Vatican Museums website.

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