How To Explore The Vatican


Ever wondered where the smallest country is in the world and what there is to do there? Then this post will answer your questions and more…

The Vatican is the world’s smallest country at only 0.44 square kilometres, in fact the country fits entirely within the Italian capital city of Rome, and is the centre of the Catholic church, where the Pope lives, and it is home to the biggest church in the world- St Peter’s Basilica.

You can wander straight from Italy into Vatican City and wander back out again, it actually only occupies an old quarter with a few buildings and parks. Marveling at St Peter’s Basilica may be enough for some, but for a true experience of Vatican City you should take a tour.

The queues on the day will be massive, truly massive, the only decent option is to book in advance, and at least 2-4 weeks in advance at that.

Also check online for any special event days which may make the Vatican busier than normal.

There are a few ticket options, one is the early start (7.20am) where you will beat the crowds and the experience will be more pleasant, if a little expensive for the tour at around £70 pp

The best ticket option is the ‘skip the line’ tour called ‘Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Fast Track admission’ from £36 pp

Many sites including Viator, Trip Advisor and Musei Vaticani all offer competitive prices. (We booked with the official Vatican Website Musei Vaticani)

The tours also take you to the Sistine Chapel which holds some of the most significant art works of the Renaissance such as Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ .

You are guided through the Sistine Chapel then end at St Peter’s Basilica. You can then climb the 551 steps to the top of the dome. There is a spiral staircase most of the way getting tighter as you go up. Once at the top you can look down into the inside of the Basilica, then head outside for amazing views over The Vatican and Rome. There is also a lift to the top for only a few Euros.

Once you have climbed back down, stop and marvel at the inside of the Basilica, the building is stunning, and look out for the mummified Pope’s in the crypt (!)

Back outside you will be sure to spot the famous Swiss Guards which guard St Peter’s. Their uniform is eye -popping but it is there reputation for discipline and loyalty and employing revolutionary battle tactics that make them the most powerful troops.

Some questions you may be wondering-

When to go- Spring or Autumn, when it is still warm but not as sweaty as the summer months, it also may be less busy.

What to wear- As it is a religious site, ensure to cover your shoulders and knees. Take note that even when blistering hot in the summer, inside, the buildings will be cool, perhaps a scarf/ shawl is a good idea

Why you should go- Apart from ticking off the worlds smallest country, the Vatican has so much history and culture absorbed in its little walls.

What else is there to do?- Wander around St Peter’s Square after your tour, and of course head back into Rome and soak up all that is to offer there

How long should I spend? - The tour lasts a few hours and you will want 30+ minutes at the top of the Basilica after walking up, and time to explore inside the basilica, so around 3-4 hours.

Can I go if unfit/ scared of heights/ claustrophobic?- There is a lot of walking within the Sistine Chapel, but it is at a slow pace. Take the lift to the top of the Basilica to avoid the stairs. If you are scared of heights you should think twice about the climb, the stairs are steep and at the end you pop out at the top of the dome with a big drop below- even though of course it has a fence around it. Outside is also covered in a fence, so there is no way of falling, the views are expansive, and you are up a considerable height however.

But I am not religious- That is fine, neither are we, there isn’t any gaudy exhibitions (well maybe the mummified Pope’s) but the buildings are fantastic and the paintings and murals in the Sistine Chapel, amazing. Just respect their culture whilst here.

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