Explore Vatican City

Explore Vatican City
“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel could be easily classified as the work of the divine as there is nothing else quite like it. In fact, the whole experience of visiting the Vatican will leave a lasting impression for life. The smallest country in the world with the Pope as its head of state, and the only country in Europe with an absolute monarch, Vatican City sees more than 25,000 tourists a day. Catholic or not, Christian or not, the Vatican Museums house some of the finest works of art the world has seen, such as paintings from Matisse, Dali, and Michelangelo. Plus ancient Egyptian artefacts, volumes of medieval scripts, and the burial sites for the Papal are sure to feed the curiosity of anyone’s understanding of history.
St.Peter's Basilica Square
Interior of St.Peter's Basilica
Pope's address (top row, second window in)

Places to Visit in Vatican City

  • Sistine Chapel
  • St. Peter’s Square
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Vatican Museum
  • Raphael Rooms
  • St. Peter’s Crypt

Unique Things to See and Do in Vatican City

  • Visit the Map Rooms
  • Enjoy the amazing Tapestries
  • View the papal apartments of prior Pope’s
  • See St. Peter’s Tomb
  • Visit the tomb of Popes
  • See the Vatican Postal Office
  • Use the only ATM’s in the world with Latin as an option

The Magnitude and Awe of Vatican City

For most people, a trip to Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica is a lifelong dream come true, but for many travellers, the history of the physical city or the reasons behind its historical importance other than the Pope lives there, is a mystery. This is one of those sites that needs some explanations to fully appreciate what it holds. There is far too much history and too many stories to be told here, but we can highlight a few items for those needing some facts to get their research started, or to realize that a guided tour is the best way to go!

So why was the Vatican situated in this spot of Rome? St. Peter’s Basilica, otherwise known as The Papal Basilica of St. Peter, is the spot where Peter, Jesus’ apostle, was crucified upside down. St. Peter is considered by the Catholic church to be the first Pope ordained by Jesus. Ever since then there has been a church on this spot. Basilica refers to the structure of a long house with a semicircular apse (domed roof) surrounded by tall colonnades.

The history of the Papal is fascinating. Shrouded in secrecy, the journey of the Papal has endured being crucified (Jesus), attacked, imprisoned, then exalted with the highest power and wealth, and in this century came the celebrity status. Again, Christian or not, the aspects that the Papal continues to honour are the traditions of faith and leadership. The museums are examples of the physical artifacts that have been protected over the years. With one hiccup during the time of Napoleon’s reign, where he took all the archives from the Pope and put him in jail for 5 years. Many papers were lost in the transition to France and then back to Italy again.

Within your tour of the Vatican Museums you’ll go through different rooms, such as the tapestry room and the map room, where you will see different influences depending on the Pope of the time. This is also the resting spot for the Papal. You can venture downstairs to see the Papal Tombs. The Vatican Library is one of the oldest libraries in the world, established in 1475. Even the Swiss Guard (the Vatican’s army) has a room dedicated to all the armoury of past. The number of historical pieces within the city is astounding, and then to top it all off is the architecture itself with history’s finest frescoes embedded into the walls. Truly inspiring.

Getting Around Vatican City

Arriving at Vatican City by either bus or metro will place you at the outer wall. For the museum, head to the right and for St. Peter’s Square head to the left. Once you enter the museum gate, expect to take a couple of hours minimum just getting through the museum to the Sistine Chapel, and if you are an art lover expect upwards of 4-6 hours!

Did you know…?

All the Pope’s documents are sealed in the archives for 75 years after his death.

Every surface is touched by art

Did you ALSO know…?

Members of The Swiss Guard, who have guarded the Pope since 1506, must be Swiss citizen’s by birth, speak 4 languages, be trained marksmen in the Swiss Army, and be between the ages of 19 to 30 years old.

Swiss Guard protecting the Papal
Just a little tip; if you’re planning on purchasing a Hop-on Hop-off bus ticket, purchase one for either 48 or 72 hours. The Vatican will chew up a good chunk of that time, and the bus service often stops running in the early evening.

Best Time of Year to Travel to Vatican City

Choosing the right time to visit Vatican City can be complicated, so we are going to tackle this by the time of year, then the time of the week, and then the time of day. Phew. But first, hire a guide and avoid the queues!

The best time of year to visit is anytime. No really. The Vatican and its popular sights are simply breathtaking. The history, the mystery, the opulence, and the magnitude of it all rolled into one is worth travelling for. As for the best time of year to visit Rome and the Vatican - summers are the most popular, but stifling hot with temperatures above 30˚C and really high humidity. Spring months are nice because the temperature is lower, but Easter is a particularly busy time. Winter is the low season which means fewer people, but the week between Christmas and January 6th is just as crowded as it is in the summer.

Finding the best time during the week is difficult, but here are a few pointers. First, on Sundays the Vatican Museums are closed, other than the last Sunday of the month. Don’t go on that day. Entrance is free and the crowds are unbearable. From September to June, the Pope holds an audience on Wednesday mornings if he is in Italy. If the audience is held in St. Peter’s Square, the museums will be closed. If you are attending a mass, get there 2-3 hours early to get through the lines and possibly a view of the Pope. First thing in the mornings, all the tour buses arrive so the crowds are probably the worst. They thin out (relatively speaking) in the afternoons, but there is so much to see that you’ll wish you arrived earlier to get as much time in as possible. Again, another reason to hire a guide and avoid the queues.

Ready to plan your visit to Vatican City? Check out these popular guides and trips.

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