Are you looking for an easy, under-the-radar day trip from Rome by train?
Rising on a rock face above the glassy waters of a volcanic lake that shares its name, Bracciano is a magnet for Romans escaping the city’s summer heat. However, this medieval town is not on the tourist trail.
And it is all the better for this.
Discover the best things to do in Bracciano and how to visit it as a day trip from Rome.
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Where is Bracciano in Italy?
Located 18 miles northwest of Rome, Bracciano is the largest of three towns along the shores of the lake that shares its name. The other two towns are Anguillara Sabazia and Trevignano Romano.
Brief History of Bracciano and its Castle
Bracciano is thought to have been established in the 10th Century as a settlement around a military tower built as a defence against the Saracens’ raids. This tower was turned into a castle in the 11th Century when the territory was purchased by the Prefetti di Vico family.
The Orsini family took ownership in 1234. Under this powerful family, Bracciano flourished and became famous for its castle.
The town started to fall into decline in the 1600s, culminating in the sale of the castle to Livio Odescalchi, nephew of Pope Innocent XI in 1696. To this day, the Odescalchi family own the castle.
Best Things to Do in Bracciano
1. Visit Castello Orsini-Odescalchi
This interesting and imposing 1470’s castle is Bracciano’s main attraction.
Inside its hulking exterior lies the lavish apartments of two of the most powerful families of the Renaissance, the Orsini and the Borgia. It’s a treasure trove of over 600 years of artefacts from the Middle Ages onwards, including ancient weapons, original furniture, paintings, frescos, sculptures and books.
One of Michelangelo‘s apprentices did a stint at the castle.
It’s hard to pick a favourite piece but I loved the monumental fresco, painted by Antoniazzo Romano. It depicts two important events in the life of Gentil Virginio: a meeting with Piero de’Medici in 1487 and a triumphal cavalcade in Bracciano in 1489.
Castello Orsini-Odescalchi is also famously where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes tied the knot in 2006.
From the castle, there are wonderful views across Lake Bracciano.
2. Sample local produce
As you will work up quite an appetite walking around Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, now could be a good time to stop for a bite to eat. There is no shortage of places to try Bracciano’s local fare, which includes porchetta, lake fish, porcini mushrooms and truffles.
3. Lose yourself in Bracciano’s Centro Storico
Fed and watered, it’s now time to check out Bracciano’s small but charming historic centre.
Make your way to Via Collegiata and then to the diminutive but charming Piazza Saminiati. Step inside the cathedral dedicated to St. Stephen (the former chapel of the Orsini) and the Baroque church of Santa Maria Novella if they are open
If you are feeling energetic, hike to Belvedere La Sentinella for panoramic views across Lake Bracciano.
4. Go for a dip in Lake Bracciano
Lake Bracciano is the eighth-largest lake in Italy, created from the collapse of a magma chamber more than 40,000 years ago.
Thanks to strict regulations on pollutants, including a motorboat ban, the waters of this indigo-blue lake are crystal clear. It’s a superb swimming spot so pack your bathing suit if you are visiting Lake Bracciano in the summer months.
As Bracciano is perched upon a cliff, you will either have to make your way down a steep path or hop on a minibus. A better bet is to access the lake from either Anguillara Sabazia or Trevignano Romano, both of which hug its shoreline.
For example; Spiaggia Vigna di Valle between Bracciano and Anguillara has beach clubs where you can rent an umbrella and lounger. If like us, you are travelling with a four-legged friend, Spiaggia Dei Gabbiani is a dog-friendly beach on the same stretch of the lakeshore.
5. Take a boat trip on Lake Bracciano
There are worse things to do in Bracciano than to take a leisurely boat trip on the lake.
Boats travel between Bracciano and Trevignano Romano via Anguillara Sabazia four or five times daily, except for Mondays. You can choose between a point-to-point journey or a complete tour of the lake which lasts 1 hour 40 minutes.
In 2023, a complete tour of the lake costs €7.50
5. Stroll around Anguillara Sabazia
From Bracciano, we drove to the charming old town of Anguillara Sabazia.
Whilst it is lacking in landmarks, it’s a lovely spot to relax and there are fabulous lake views. If you are feeling more energetic, you can climb to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta for even better views.
6. Learn more about Bracciano’s history at the Civic Museum
Housed in the former convent of Santa Maria Novella, the Civic Museum of Bracciano (Museo Civico di Bracciano) traces the history of the town. Its star exhibit is a Roman statue of Apollo discovered in a temple to the south of the town.
7. Visit the Italian Air Force Museum (Museo Storico Aeronautica Militare)
Visiting this museum devoted to military aircraft is a must-do in Bracciano if you are an aviation nerd. Its vast collection numbers more than 80 airplanes, from those used in the First World War to more contemporary flying machines.
Museo Storico Aeronautica Militare is located at Vigna di Valle on the south shore of Lake Bracciano, between Anguillara Sabazia and Bracciano. Admission is free.
How to get to Bracciano from Rome
Train from Rome to Bracciano
Getting from Rome to Bracciano by train is super easy.
Your best bet is to hop on a train at Roma Ostiense from where two services per hour head towards Viterbo, stopping in Bracciano (this frequency drops to one per hour on Sundays). The journey time is a little over an hour and a one-way ticket is less than €4.
To reach Ostiense train station by Rome’s Metro system, alight at Piramide. From Bracciano train station, it’s an easy 5-minute walk to the historic centre.
This same train line also serves Anguillara Sabazia. You can check train times here.
If you are driving, head north out of Rome on the Via Cassia. The journey will take around an hour.
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