When vacationing in Rome, Vatican City is a must-see on any travelers list.
Vatican City is its own city-state in the middle of Rome. It is the smallest country in the world. Pretty unique.
Don’t let the size fool you though. Visitors can spend a whole day (or days) exploring the museums, cathedral, gardens, etc via self-guided tours or a guided one. There’s so much to see that you are guaranteed sensory and information overload.
Plan your time accordingly and give yourself some buffer time to linger and for lunch. If you are here during late spring and summer (mid-May – Sept), I advise to buy your tickets online before arrival. The lines get lengthy in summer. For the guided tours, there are a set number of spots per time slot so availability may be gone if you wait too long. If only visiting Vatican museums (Sistine), you can buy your ticket at the ticket office or online (during peak times).
Review the Vatican City homepage where you can view different options (tours, guided and self-guided) and buy tickets.
Here are the most popular sightseeing highlights:
Visiting the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel and other art in the building should be a first stop. Once inside the Sistine chapel room, you have to be silent as it is a chapel and there are no pictures allowed. Guards inside will shush the crowd when it gets too noisy and will monitor and make you delete pictures. Inside, the ceiling is of course spectacular but there are also other paintings of recognizable religious scenes (Jesus on the mount, Moses coming down the mountain to find the golden calf, the last supper, etc). Cost: $16 euro for museum only.
The garden tour is 45 minute on an open bus with audio in multiple languages. You enter the Vatican Museum entrance/ticket office and the tour leaves from the rear of that building. Audio (headphones) is in multiple languages so you select your choice before the tour begins. Tour price of $38 euros includes admission to the Vatican Museums (above) including the Sistine Chapel. After completing this tour, you are dropped off at the same place you left and from there you go up the escalators to the Vatican museums. I thought this tour was ok and maybe the extra $22 euros was a bit steep. But you do get to see another part of the Vatican so that was interesting.
St Peter’s Basilica & Square
St Peter’s Basilica can be reached by walking through St. Peter’s square. When I visited, there were numerous chairs set out for a papal address. Inside the cathedral is filled with statues, stained glass and impressive art and architecture. One notable piece is Michaelangelo’s Pieta sculpture which is behind bulletproof glass (picture below). This is the only work of art that Michaelangelo signed (signature on Mary’s chest). As you can imagine, this piece is very famous. Many visitors flock around the glass to take pictures. The basilica is open entrance (no fee) but at peak times there is a queue for entrance to manage the crowds.
Climbing to the dome at the top of St. Peters
To access the entrance, walk around to the side of the basilica for the entrance. If you’re facing St Peter’s square from the basilica, its on the left side. There’s an elevator option to take you up partially but to get to top you’ll have to walk up the stairs. I enjoyed the climb which gets pretty narrow towards the top. If you’re claustrophobic you may feel a little cramped.
But once you get to the top there’s lots of fresh air. During your ascent, there is a viewing area/platform that you can stop off and walk along the inside of the dome. In other words, you are walking inside the circumference of the dome and looking down onto the crowd of St Peter’s. That is very cool.
Ascend further to the top where the view is wonderful. It’s of the whole San Pietra plaza below. It’s $5 euro to climb and a bit more to take the elevator part way.
Getting to/from Vatican City:
To get to St. Peter’s square and basilica, take a bus to a spot close to the entrance and then walk. From my hotel (Crown Plaza Rome), I took the bus running on Via Gregorio VII (south side of entrance). Then, I walked as I got closer.
Via della Conciliazione heads directly towards the St Peters square. This street will have several buses whizzing by. If going to the Vatican museum first, then use the metro or a bus on the northern side.
Ask the bus driver beforehand if the bus is heading towards Vatican. Or use Google Maps (will show the route and bus number).
The museum area is walled so to get from museum to cathedral (and reverse) you’ll have to walk around the wall perimeter. Metro stop: Ottaviano-St. Pietro is closer to the Vatican museum entrance.