In terms of breathtaking sightseeing and historical significance, the world’s smallest country packs the biggest punch imaginable. Vatican City, a tiny enclave near Rome’s city center, is the home of the Roman Catholic church, its leader, the Pope, and a number of world-famous historical landmarks.
With so many Catholics in nearly every corner of the globe, it’s safe to say that The Vatican is a popular travel destination. This can make visiting The Vatican a challenge because navigating the crowds (and inevitable lines) can be intimidating to the point that some tourists shy away. But with a bit of planning, your visit can be stress-free and enjoyable. Things like knowing where to store your bag in Vatican City or whether or not to take a tour will allow you to make the most of your time here.
Here are a few tips for surviving your visit to Vatican City and The Vatican:
The Vatican is located just west of Rome’s city center. While it’s not walkable from The Spanish Steps or Trevi Fountain, it’s easy to get to from most of Rome’s travel districts. The RED Metro Line runs to Cipro – Musei Vaticani Station from Roma Termini, which will be steps to the gates of The Vatican.
When to Go
In terms of the time of day, it’s hard to say if lining up super early in the morning will really make a difference. The type of tourists visiting The Vatican tends to be older (i.e., morning people), so “beating the crowd” is quite difficult, especially considering how important these tours are to these visitors. So don’t wake up at 4:30 in the morning and ruin part of your trip by trying to queue up early.
There’s also no ideal day of the week to visit the Vatican. It’s crowded every day of the week. Just know it’s closed to visitors and tours on Sundays, which shouldn’t come as a shock.
The “low season” runs from October to April. This is the best time to visit the area if you want to avoid crowds. You’ll find there are fewer families with children or rowdy college students in your way.
Vatican Opening Hours
The Vatican and its museums are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 pm, with the last entries being cut off after 4:00 pm.
Visitors are welcomed Monday to Saturday, with the exception of the last Sunday of every month when admission is free. The largest crowds of the year gather during these days, so unless you don’t need to sleep and really want to save money, your time is better spent visiting a different day.
The Vatican has multiple buildings and landmarks to see while you’re visiting. There’s a lot to cram in, but here are the highlights you won’t want to miss:
This building is, first and foremost, a “can’t-miss” experience for anyone visiting The Vatican. This is one of the Catholic Church’s most important places. It’s where the conclave meets to elect a new pope.
It’s also a place of real beauty, with iconic wall and ceiling paintings from Michelangelo Buonarroti (yeah, that Michelangelo). Tours will tell the famous story of how he worked tirelessly through days and nights over eight years to complete it. Seeing the work in person is essential.
This is the largest Catholic church in the world and potentially the most architecturally important. Renaissance and Baroque era aesthetics are on full display here, with vivid imagery and elegant paintings making it breathtaking to behold.
Saint Peter’s Square
You’ll walk through Saint Peter’s Square regardless but definitely spend some time appreciating the grandiosity of the Egyptian obelisk and treasures of Renaissance architecture.
If you want to let mom and dad know you’re not spending all your time at the nightclubs and wine bars of Rome, send them a postcard from the Vatican Post Office. Stop by to see the Swiss Guards, equipped with their iconic (motley) uniforms and halberds.
Also Known as “scavi,” The Vatican Necropolis is the resting place for many important Catholic figures, including (supposedly) St. Peter. It’s located beneath Saint Peter’s Basilica and the “grotto” area. Only tour groups have access to this area.
The Vatican Gardens
If you’re looking to stretch your legs after standing in line for so long, take a stroll through the Vatican Gardens. Most tours will head through the elegant greenery regardless.
To Tour Or Not To Tour…
Booking a tour of The Vatican has a few advantages. Booking specific tours allows you to skip the lines, which depending on your budget, could be well worth it. The expert tour guides also provide excellent information for learning the history of The Vatican, which will provide value and a more thorough experience.
The one thing you have to consider is group size. A private tour will navigate The Vatican swifter and allow for more personalized experiences. Smaller tour groups can still fit in everything at a reasonable pace. Huge tour groups are less expensive, but the experience is much less informative or convenient.
So make sure you’re booking a tour that’s right for your budget and comfort level!
Visiting The Vatican is one of those “must-do” travel experiences. We prefer not to subscribe to statements like that because everyone is different, and everybody certainly isn’t Catholic. But that doesn’t mean this amazing place isn’t worth a full morning and part of an afternoon to explore. If you put in a little effort, you can make the most of your time while you’re there, and you’ll be able to brag to your grandparents that “you went to the Pope’s house.” It may take a bit of waiting in line, but it’s worth it. And don’t worry, the plates of pasta and Aperol spritzes aren’t going anywhere.