Nestled in the heart of Rome, The Vatican – a tiny city-state with a population of less than 1000, is one of the most sacred places in the world. The heart of the Catholic world and the home of the Pope made its own country only less than 100 years ago. It is the only place in the world where you will find ATMs in Latin. It is also the only country in the world which is also a UNESCO Heritage site.
FUN FACT: The Vatican does not have GDP because it does not produce items for trade.
As many know, the culture-rich city is ruled by the Pope – who is also the bishop of Rome. Thanks to its ancient past, the Vatican is also a living, open-air museum. It is filled with treasures, just waiting to be explored. The state of Vatican City’s frozen-in-time opulence is undoubtedly a reminder of this tiny nation’s wealth. It may be seen on every corner. The city with its own currency, post office, banks, the judicial system, and also the Vatican guard has a significant influence on the spiritual lives of many people.
Although the Vatican is the smallest country in the world, Vatican City attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. Some of them come for religious reasons. The others uncover the secrets of the Vatican in the footsteps of Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s best-selling novel “Angels and Demons”. The choice is yours.
To help you better plan your time in the Eternal City, check out these unmissable things to do in the Vatican.
UNMISSABLE THINGS TO DO IN THE VATICAN
1. ST PETER’S SQUARE (PIAZZA DI SAN PIETRO)
St Peter’s Square, one of the worlds largest squares, is located directly in front of St Peter’s Basilica. The renowned square was designed by Bernini (one of the greatest Italian sculptors and architects) in the 17th-century. The massive piazza can hold more than 300,000 people.
4 rows of colonnades are surrounding the breath-taking St Peter`s square on both sides.
If you are interested in statistics, St Peter`s Square is 320 metres (1050 ft.) long and 240 metres (787 ft.) wide. The square is surrounded on both sides by 284 Doric columns with 140 statues of saints above them and 88 pilasters. Besides, the largest open space in Rome has a dramatic effect on visitors.
A 4,000-year-old Egyptian Obelisk made of a single piece of red granite stands at the centre of the Vatican’s Piazza di San Pietro together with the two fountains.
The best way to appreciate Piazza di San Pietro’s beauty is when you arrive at the square Via della Concilliazione. It’s a long street that begins in the Castel Sant’Angelo).
2. ST. PETER’S BASILICA IN VATICAN
A trip to the Vatican is incomplete without a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s an absolute must-see for anyone visiting the Eternal City, indeed. St Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world and also the world’s most famous example of Renaissance architecture. Moreover, the ultimate symbol of the Vatican is one of the holiest temples for Christendom. As a result, it draws millions of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.
Every day between 40,000 – 50,000 people visit the sumptuous St. Peter’s Basilica.
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest temples for Christendom. It was designed mainly by Bramante, Bernini, Michelangelo and also Carlo Maderno. The foundations of St Peter’s Basilica were built with a large number of ancient stones from the Rome Colosseum.
Moreover, an architectural marvel of St Peter’s was built on the burial site of St Peter (one of Jesus’ twelve apostles) on Vatican Hill in Vatican City. The construction of the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica took 120 years to complete. The beating heart of Catholicism holds hundreds of impressive pieces of art (some salvaged from the original 4th-century basilica).
INSIDE THE BASILICA
St Peter, the first Pope (Bishop of Rome), was crucified on the Vatican Hill and buried directly under the main altar of the basilica.
THE DOME OF ST. PETER`S BASILICA
The most impressive part of St. Peter’s is undoubtedly the dome, designed by Michelangelo. The crowning piece of the basilica has become an inspiration for other cathedrals (e.g. St Paul’s Cathedral in London and also the Capitol in Washington).
Dome of St Peter’s Basilica: Over 130 metre (426 ft.) high dome, one of the world’s largest, was not completed in Michelangelo`s lifetime, though.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- Open every day, 7 AM – 7 PM (April-September), 7 AM – 6.30 PM (October – March)
- CUPOLA: 8 AM -6PM (April – September), 8 AM – 4.45 PM (October – March)
St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter, though dress code is strictly necessary even on a hot day (no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts). You can also find the restrooms here.
ST. PETER’S BASILICA CUPOLA
Depending on the kind of visitor you are, you might want to admire the beauty of the basilica and the Vatican City from the above. If you don’t fancy to climb the 320 steps to the top of the dome though, you may take the elevator to the roof. The stunning 360-degree view of St Peter`s Square is a thing not to be missed when visiting the Vatican.
If you climb the dome of St Peter`s, make sure you also visit the secret coffee shop on the roof of the basilica. However, the highest located coffee shop in the Vatican is accessible only for those who pay to go up to the dome.
St Peter’s Basilica is opulent, breath-taking and an absolute must-visit when in the Vatican.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Wouldn`t recommend it for claustrophobics and also visitors with limited mobility (not wheelchair friendly).
3. VISIT THE VATICAN NECROPOLIS (SCAVI)
Adventurous souls willing to explore the hidden world of the Vatican may also visit the necropolis. The Vatican Necropolis, hidden beneath the basilica with a network of underground graves, and also mausoleums, is certainly one of the best-kept secrets of the Eternal City. A visit to the necropolis with the remains of St Peter himself is undoubtedly an impressive experience in the Vatican.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Due to the historical and religious importance of this holy place, a visit to the Necropolis is highly restricted. Only about 200 people can visit the site per day. Besides, you need to book a guided tour needs to be booked in advance.
OPENING TIMES: Monday – Friday: 9 AM – 6 PM, Saturday: 9 AM – 5 PM
4. VATICAN MUSEUMS
No trip to the Vatican would be complete without visiting the Vatican Museums. With thousands of paintings, sculptures and other works of art of the supreme masters such as Michelangelo and Raphael, the Vatican Museums are considered among the most important museums in the world.
Founded by Pope Julius II in the 16the century and enlarged by successive pontiffs through the centuries, the Vatican Museums boast one of the world’s most significant art collections.
It is believed that it would take you 4 years to complete the visit of the Vatican Museums if you spend just 1 minute admiring each piece of art.
With 54 galleries (the last one being the Sistine Chapel), the Vatican museums display a vast range from the magnificent Egyptian and Etruscan artefacts. Further, the museum also presents impressive Greek and Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. Overall, highlights include the Rafael Rooms, the Museo Pio-Clementino, Gallery of Maps and the Sistine Chapel.
GREGORIAN EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
The Gregorian Egyptian Museum with the collection of Egyptian artefacts
The Egyptian collection contains ancient artefacts originating from ancient Egypt. The authentic Egyptian works include impressive Egyptian sculptures, a Book of the Dead and also the sarcophagi from the 3rd century BC.
Pio-Clementino Museum, Vatican Museums is home to the most famous Greek and Roman sculptures.
Named after two popes who created the museum (Clement XVI and Pius VI), the Pio-Clementino museum is home to the finest of the Vatican`s classical statues.
THE GALLERY OF MAPS
The Gallery of Maps with the 40 maps of the Church’s territories, frescoed on the gallery’s walls by the 16th-century cartographer Ignazio Danti.
THE RAPHAEL ROOMS (STANZE DI RAFFAELLO)
Pope Julius II’s private apartments, more famous as Raphael’s Rooms, are certainly a masterpiece of the Vatican Museums. The four Raphael rooms, painted by the renowned Renaissance artist Raphael and his pupils, are, without doubt, one of the main reasons why many people visit this famous museum.
The Four Raphael rooms are:
- Hall of Constantine (Sala di Constantino)
- Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro)
- Room of the Segnatura (Stanza della Segnatura)
- and also the Room of the Fire in the Borgo (Stanza dell`Incendio del Borgo)
The rooms of the Pinacoteca contain a collection of the masterpieces of the most celebrated artists belonging to various popes.
A double spiral staircase, inspired by the original Bramante staircase, is also one of the most photographed parts of the Vatican Museum.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- ADMISSION FEE: € 17 (without online booking).
- Free entry is last Sunday of the month.
- The Vatican Museums are not open on religious and also public holidays.
5. SISTINE CHAPEL IN VATICAN
If walking through the spectacular Raphael rooms wasn’t magical enough, a visit to the Sistine Chapel will take your breath away. The Sistine Chapel, one of the main attractions of the Vatican Museums, is surely one of the greatest treasures of the Vatican. Known as a place where new popes are elected, the Sistine Chapel is also notable for the vibrant extensive frescoes. The frescoes decorated by famous artists (Botticelli, Michelangelo, also Raphael) are considered to be the peak of the Renaissance. While you are there, make sure to check out the Last Judgement – Michelangelo`s masterpiece.
Michelangelo frescoed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel even though he wanted nothing to do with the Sistine Chapel. He considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter.
The nine central panels of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling show the Stories of Genesis (three stories of creation, three stories of Adam and also three stories about Noah). The construction of the Sistine Chapel was carried out during the mandate of Pope Sixtus IV, from whom the Chapel takes its name.
GOOD TO KNOW:
It is not possible to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel.
6. CASTEL SANT’ ANGELO (Castle of the Holy Angel)
Castel Sant Angelo is surely one of the most recognisable landmarks in Rome. It’s the perfect place to visit when in the Vatican. A towering cylindrical building located on the right bank of the Tiber River is just a short walk from Vatican City. It was initially built as a mausoleum of the Roman emperor Hadrian.
An escape route for popes in times of danger linking the fortified Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican Palace was used by popes several times during the Vatican’s history.
Castel Sant’Angelo, with the statue of the Archangel Michael, was used by the popes as a fortress and also as a castle. A prison, a medieval citadel, and a place of safety for popes during political instability is now home to a national museum. Besides, it has a collection of paintings, sculptures and old firearms.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- OPENING HOURS: Tuesdays – Sundays from 9 AM to 7.30 PM (Castle of the Holy Angel is, however, not open on Mondays and first Sunday of the month). The last entrance is at 6 PM.
- Not suitable for people with walking difficulties.
- ADMISSION FEE: €20.50 per person, online fee €4. Click here for more information.
7. VATICAN GARDENS
You might think you know everything about the Vatican, but did you know you can visit the Pope’s personal Garden of Eden? The Vatican Gardens covering more than half of Vatican City were designed for the Pope’s meditation and relaxation. Though the gardens are never crowded, visits are by guided tour only.
8. SWISS GUARDS AT THE VATICAN
Apart from the traditional attractions the Vatican offers, visitors can also notice the Pontifical Swiss Guards. The Swiss Guards dressed in the original Renaissance design and colours have guarded the Pope for over 500 years. The world’s smallest army is ensuring the safety of the Pope and protecting all entrance and exit points of the Vatican. Also, together with the Vatican Police, defend the Pope from attack, if needed.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE VATICAN
About 25,000 people visit the Vatican Museums every day. Follow our advice on how to avoid crowds in the Eternal City:
AVOID THE CROWDS
It should be noted that those who want to see one of the most popular city-break destinations without the crowds might be disappointed. Consequently, visiting the Vatican Museums and the St Peter’s Basilica in the low season (November – February, except holiday) is more relaxed and considerably less crowded. Apart from that, consider visiting the museums on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The weekend, Mondays and Wednesdays are also always busy (on Wednesdays is the Papal Audience at the basilica). In addition, the best time to visit the museums is EXACTLY at opening time or late in the afternoon (after 3 PM). The Vatican Museums are not open on Sunday (except the last Sunday of the month).
VISITING THE MUSEUMS ON A “FREE DAY”
Visiting the Vatican Museums on the last Sunday of each month and on the World Tourism Day (27th September) is free, but it might be an overwhelming experience. It is one of the busiest days at the museums, though. Therefore, visit early in the morning or at the end of the day.
Opening time last Sunday of the month: 9 AM -2 PM (the last entry at 1.30 PM).
BOOK YOUR SKIP-THE LINE TICKETS
If you do not fancy waiting outside of the Vatican Museums for hours in a line, pre-book your skip-the-line tickets online at the Vatican Museums website. An extra £4 fee will save you a lot of time and is certainly worth it. Also, remember to print your reservation as you will need to scan your barcode on arrival. After the security check, head to the ticket office to pick up your tickets.
VATICAN`S SECRET CORRIDOR
To avoid the crowds in front of Saint Peter`s Basilica, use a secret corridor that takes you straight into the Basilica.
The passageway supposed to be used only by tour groups- wait for one and walk with them.
When visiting the Vatican bear in mind that the Eternal City is a holy area and they are strict on clothing regulations. To enter the Basilica and the Vatican Museums, you must dress appropriately (both women and men need to cover knees, shoulders and also neckline). If not dressed unacceptably, the visitors may purchase plastic cloak.
EAT BEFORE YOU VISIT
Many of restaurants in the Vatican are overpriced and also disappointing. As a consequence, consider pre-booking your tickets with lunch included.
Have you been to the Vatican? What would you add to the list? If you like our post, please share it!
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