Things To Know Before Visiting The Vatican
Vatican City is the world’s smallest country, but there’s no noticeable border, it is to all intents and purposes just a district of Rome. There are nearby rail (S. Pietro) and Metro (Ottaviano-S. Pietro) stations and bus stops, you can also easily walk from the centre of Rome, or catch an open-top tourist bus – in terms of travel there’s no best way to visit the Vatican, it’s down to your preference!
Whilst there are fewer than a thousand residents Vatican City attracts millions of visitors each year with St Peter’s Basilica and Square and Vatican Museums – home of the Sistine Chapel – top destinations on people’s lists of what to visit in Vatican City. The best way to visit the Vatican, is to plan before you travel.
The museum can get very busy during the day, with long lines to get in. You’re advised to buy tickets in advance from an official agent or directly from the Vatican Museums website before your holiday as you decide what to visit in Vatican City.
The museum and famous chapel, with its even more famous ceiling décor painted by Michaelangelo, is normally closed on a Sunday, so Saturday and Monday are especially busy. You can avoid the crowds by getting up early, or heading to the museum later on in the afternoon, though be sure to leave yourself several hours to do it justice. Private tours are available too, but these can be a little costly.
There are some rules you need to know about before visiting the Museum and Sistine Chapel, similar to other places to visit in the Vatican: no bare shoulders, no short skirts or short trousers and no hats. No food or drink is allowed and no flash photography in the museum, with no photography at all in the chapel. The use of cell phones is also not allowed.
Advice about an early start also applies to visits to one of the other most popular places to visit in the Vatican: St Peter’s Basilica. The long queues in the square move rapidly, but an hour long wait is common, unless you purchase one of the fast-track tickets and skip the line. You will pass through airport style security on entering St Peter’s Square.
Again there’s a strict dress code: no short trousers or skirts and shoulders must be fully covered. Entry to the Basilica itself is free of charge, however you will need to buy a ticket to climb the cupola dome which offers a fantastic view of the Vatican city and Rome. For this you have two options, slightly cheaper is walking all 551 steps or pay a little more to take an elevator part of the way (still leaving you with 300 plus steps).
Another paid part of the visit to the basilica is St Peter’s Treasury: filled with artworks and historical religious items, it’s one of the most impressive places to visit in the Vatican. When deciding what to visit in Vatican City you should definitely include the Vatican grottoes which contain the underground tombs of past Popes and historical royalty, you’ll also find monuments to Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II there. They’re free to enter.
If you want to see a blessing from the Pope he does that from a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square at noon on Sundays, except in winter when he appears at the nearby Aula Paola VI Auditorium. The Pontiff arrives in the Popemobile around 10.30am to bless the crowds. During the summer he makes the blessing at his residence Castel Gandolfo 25 miles outside Rome.
The best way to visit the Vatican gardens, in fact the only way, is on the official tour for which tickets are best bought at least a day in advance.