Explore Vatican City and its surroundings
If you’re planning a trip to Rome, make sure to explore Vatican City and its surroundings. As the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church, it offers a unique glimpse into the history, art, and culture of the Church. You can explore world-known attractions such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums, which house some of the most famous works of art in the world. Whether you’re a religious pilgrim or a curious traveler, a visit to Vatican City is a must.
Beyond the walls of Vatican City, a world of wonder awaits. Let’s discover the breathtaking beauty of exploring Vatican City’s surroundings!
So why visit Vatican City?
A visit to Vatican City is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed. Not only because it is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the world, but also because it offers beautiful gardens and stunning views of Rome.
- Vatican City is the smallest country in the world.
- It is governed as an absolute monarchy with the Pope as its head of state
- Vatican City has its own currency, coins, and stamps
- It has a tax-free status
- The official documents are written in Latin
- It is also called Holy See with the word see coming from the Latin sedes, meaning “seat”
- There’s an ATM with Instructions in Latin
- There is no Permanent Citizenship at the Vatican City
- It has the highest crime rate of any country in the world.
How to get from Rome to Vatican City?
There are several ways to get from Rome to Vatican City and what we strongly recommend is walking since it is about 20-30 minute walk depending on your starting point. However, if for some reason you cannot choose this option there are also the following ones:
Termini to Cipro
Time: approx. 11 min
How often: every 10 minutes
Roma Termini to Roma S. Pietro
Time: approx. 19 min
Prices: €1 or 1st Class: €3–4
How often: every 30 minutes
Line 64 (Plebiscito to Lgt Sassia/S. Spirito)
Time: approx. 10 min
Prices: 100-minute intergrated ticket: €2 or 24-hour ticket: €7
How often: every 5 minutes
Best Things to Do in Vatican City
1. Visit the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums boast the largest collection of art in the world, comprising 9 miles of artwork that would be able to wrap around the Vatican walls four and a half times. The museums are made up of 1400 rooms, chapels, and galleries that were once part of the Vatican Palace. There are a total of 54 museums within the Vatican Museums, with popular highlights including the Vatican Historical Museum, Museo Gregoriano Egiziano, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Museo Chiaramonti, and Museo Pio-Clementino. The Sistine Chapel, featuring Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling frescoes, and the Stanze della Segnatura decorated by Raphael, are the last museums in the series.
For more information see the extended guide for Vatican Museums.
2. St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world and holds significant religious importance for the Christian faith. The basilica serves as a location for many liturgies presided over by the Pope throughout the year.
The basilica is named after Saint Peter, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, who was executed in Rome and buried on the site where the basilica now stands. Saint Peter is recognized as one of the founders of the Catholic Church.
St Peter’s Basilica can accommodate 20,000 people. The dome of the Basilica is among its most striking features. The dome was initially designed by Michelangelo, with the project later taken over by Giacomo Della Porta. The final touches to the dome were completed by Carlo Maderno in 1614.
The entrance to the Basilica is free. Climbing to the top of the Dome: Lift to the terrace plus 320 steps is € 8 or climbing 551 steps by foot is € 6
3. Vatican Gardens
The Vatican Gardens cover an area of 23 hectares and are a stunning combination of natural beauty, architecture, and art. They include medieval fortifications, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, gardens, and orchards. The gardens are currently a complex landscape that features forests, sculptures, and floral extensions. To explore the gardens, visitors must book the Vatican Gardens group. However, there are two options here, visit carried out by a guide, or an open bus tour
During the tour, visitors can see iconic locations such as the Giardino Quadrato, the Casio Pius IV, the Fontana dell’Aquilone, the Grotta di Lourdes, the monument to the assassination attempt of John Paul II, the building of the Vatican Radio, and many others.
4. Explore the Necropolis
The Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis is a subterranean cemetery situated beneath the Vatican Gardens that dates back to ancient times. After undergoing extensive excavation and renovation, the area has been converted into a museum with multimedia exhibits that provide insights into its history and former inhabitants. Visitors can also view the burial chambers, mosaics, and frescoes that have been preserved from the ancient era. To access the Necropolis, a tour must be booked in advance.
5. Saint Peter’s Square
Saint Peter’s Square is the main entrance to the basilica and Vatican City.
The square was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who divided the space into two parts. The balustrade is adorned with 140 statues of saints. On each side of St. Peter’s Square, there are two fountains, which are well-known worldwide. The first fountain on the right-hand side was constructed by Carlo Maderno in 1612, who also designed the facade of the building. The second fountain was built by Bernini in 1677.
In the center of the square stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk often called the Vatican Obelisk and sometimes Caligula’s Obelisk.
6. Vatican Palace
The Vatican Palace, also known as the Apostolic Palace, is the papal residence located north of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It is a major tourist attraction and houses several public chapels, including the famous Sistine Chapel and the Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael’s Rooms), as well as the Vatican Museums and Galleries and the Vatican Apostolic Library. The palace also contains offices of the Holy See, private chapels and rooms, and the papal apartments. The palace has been the official residence of popes since the 17th century.
Rare things to do in Vatican City
1. Send a postcard
When tourists visit Rome, they often ask about sending a postcard from Vatican City with a Vatican stamp, either as a keepsake or as a unique gesture to loved ones back home. The Vatican postal system has been operating since 1929 and is known for being highly efficient.
2. Meet the Pope
When you plan your next trip to Rome, make sure to schedule a visit to the Vatican during a time when you can have an opportunity to see the Pope. When the Pope is in town, he usually appears for a 90-minute audience every week, typically on Wednesdays, where he delivers blessings, prayers, and a spiritual discourse.
3. Attend a mass
St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church, holds daily masses that are free for the public to attend. No tickets are required, but visitors must wait in line and pass through a security checkpoint before the start of the service. It is recommended to arrive 1-3 hours before the scheduled start time to secure a good spot. Mass is conducted at least five times on weekdays and more on weekends, with at least one Latin Mass held each day. However, Masses are mostly conducted in Italian as the Basilica is also an active parish for local Romans.
You must obtain a ticket to attend a mass with the Pope, and they are always free. You should collect the tickets at least 1 to 3 days before the Mass. For popular masses, like Christmas or Easter Mass, reserve tickets 2 to 6 months ahead of time. Additionally, you can attend the General Audience in St. Peter's Square, which also requires a ticket that can be obtained through the same methods as Papal Masses.
staying in the Vatican area Rome
If you want to stay near the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s, you should consider accommodation in the Prati neighborhood of Rome.
The Prati district is situated on the north bank of the Tiber River, opposite ancient Rome. The district is conveniently located to visit other popular tourist attractions like the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon, with a walking time of approximately 15 minutes from most hotels. However, the Roman Forum and Colosseum are located on the opposite side of the city center from the Vatican.
Best Time to Visit Vatican
Visiting the Vatican Museums between April and October, especially on Friday nights, is a great time to avoid the crowds. While most tourists arrive in the morning to beat the crowds, it can be counterproductive. Instead, you may find fewer crowds during the afternoon.
Tuesdays and Thursdays usually see fewer tourists around most of the attractions in the Vatican.
Better not plan your visit to the St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums on a Saturday because Rome gets its maximum number of visitors from different parts of Italy and Europe during the weekends.
Every Wednesday of the month (except for July), the Pope holds an audience at St. Peter’s Basilica. Since thousands of people attend the Papal Audience, the area can get quite crowded. Many visitors who attend the gathering also visit the Vatican Museums after the mass.
In general, the winter months see smaller crowds in the Vatican (take care to avoid going around Christmas and New Year’s).