A structure that dominates the banks of the Tiber in Rome is Castel Sant’Angelo, which is in a prominent place right outside the Vatican City and it’s a must see attraction when travelling with children to Rome. There is so much Castel Sant’Angelo history, it was initially commissioned by a Roman Emperor Hadrian and there has been a structure of sorts on the site since 134 AD. It has been evolving ever since and was even used by the Pope as a castle and a fortress. There are secret tunnels that directly connect The Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo. It was used by the Papal state as a prison and executions were often carried out in the courtyard. Dave and I visited years ago, before children, and were keen to see if it had changed and what the children would think of it on our recent trip to Rome.
We visited Castel Sant Angelo during an afternoon of walking around Rome after we had seen some of the smaller attractions around the city. Our trip took us to the Mouth Of Truth, Piazza Navona and the Victor Emmanuel II Monument so a trip to the castle fitted perfectly into our route and was somewhere the kids had asked to see after reading about it in one of our guide books.
We arrived just after lunch and it wasn’t too busy. There’s a magnificent view of the Castle from the eastern side of the Tiber River from Ponte Sant, one of Rome’s many bridges. Castel Sant’Angelo tickets were very reasonable and, as with most iconic sites in Rome, children go completely free. The ticket queue was quick with friendly English speaking staff in the office. Guided tours and audio trails are available, but we just wanted to see the highlights and relied on the boards dotted around that gave us information on particular areas.
Castel Sant’Angelo is steeped in history and houses exhibitions from many different collections. The first outside levels were great fun, with lots of information about castle defence and sieges. The children loved pretending to fire arrows through slits in the walls at attackers below!
Inside, we saw ancient busts of Roman emperors, swords and shields, army uniforms and the tomb of Emperor Hadrian is right in the depths of the building. You are also able to climb to the top of the castle for amazing panoramic views of Rome and spend as much time as you like there. A reasonably priced restaurant serves delicious food with table service should you want a substantial meal, or just a cup of authentic Roman coffee and slice of cake.
With many areas to see we could have spent all day there but it was getting busy so we decided to leave and carry on exploring Rome. The way out had changed quite dramatically from our visit 10 years ago. We found ourselves following the signs for the exit and before we knew it we were in a dimly lit, atmospheric corridor with some of the tallest ceilings we had ever seen.
The helical ramp used to serve as the route for funeral processions of Emperors on their last journey and no longer has any natural light inside. As we walked down, we were drawn to patches of mosaic tiles that have survived from the times of Hadrian. Some of the more delicate mosaics were roped off but amazingly preserved and at the end of the ramp we found Hadrian’s tomb.
After emerging into the courtyard, there was a little left to explore, with scale models of the castle throughout the ages so you can see the changes made as the castle evolved. It was a great way to spend a few hours in the afternoon and, reasonably priced and broke up a day walking around one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s so close to the Vatican Museums that it could be incorporated into a trip there – seeing the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel on the same day as the castle.
On the way out of the castle you can walk through gardens behind Castel St Angelo. This is a lovely green space that is a welcome oasis in the bustling city of Rome and there’s even a nice size play area for children. We stopped here for half an hour before continuing our day – it’s definitely worth stopping at if you visit the castle with children.