As a former Catholic school girl, visiting the Vatican wasn’t exactly high on my Roman bucket list.

In fact, the main reason I went was to see The Sistine Chapel.

I think, if we’re being honest, that’s probably the reason many people end up at The Vatican Museum.

Truthfully, seeing The Sistine Chapel was really impressive, but a lot of the other things that I experienced while visiting the Vatican also blew me away.

The amount of artwork on display in this place is truly astounding. I bet I spent the whole day wandering around the museum and its courtyards, and halls, just gazing at all the history.

I even woke up early one morning and braved the heat and the crowds to cross, seeing the Pope off my list of things to see in Rome. 

When you’re in Rome, take the time to go explore Vatican City, and when you do, follow these tips for visiting the Vatican.

A Bit of Vatican History

What is the Vatican?

What is the Vatican

Vatican City is a city-state surrounded by Rome. As the headquarters of the Catholic Church, it’s home to the Pope, as well as a museum housing lots of ancient art.

When was the Vatican Built?

When was the Vatican Built

Starting in the 4th century A.D. with the construction of a basilica over St. Peter’s grave, the Vatican began as the seat of the Catholic Church. 

The city didn’t become its own country until the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929.

What is the Vatican City Famous for?

Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. It’s about one eighth the size of Central Park and even mints its own Euros. A monarchy governs the Vatican City, with the Pope at its head.

Tips For Visiting the Vatican

The Best Time to Go to the Vatican

The Best Time to Go to the Vatican

The best time of year to go to the Vatican is the spring or fall, when the weather is pleasant and tourism isn’t as intense as it gets during the summer.

Since the Vatican is such a famous spot, it’s always going to be fairly busy with tourists buzzing around, but if you plan on visiting the Vatican during the early morning, right as things are opening, you’ll have a great experience.

The best time of day to go to the Vatican Museum is to plan on arriving right as they open.

You’ll experience fewer crowds, and won’t be stressed trying to see everything because you’ll have plenty of space and time until the building gets crowded with tourists.

If you want to see the Pope do one of his speeches, I’d encourage you to arrive at least an hour ahead of time to get through security and find a pleasant spot in the square. 

You’ll also want to only do this if the weather is pleasant, since it’s all outside. 

Some people specifically travel to Rome to visit the Vatican over special Catholic holidays, which is totally nice, but also one of the main reasons I’d suggest avoiding the area on major Catholic holidays. It’ll probably be nuts!

How to Get Tickets/Skip the Line to the Vatican Museums

How to Get Tickets Skip the Line to the Vatican Museums

The best way to secure tickets, especially ones to skip the line, is to buy early online.

I was last minute with my trip last year and found out that the museum was already pretty sold out most days. 

Thankfully, I could score a ticket for a few days from when I was originally hoping to visit.

Guarantee your visit to the Vatican by getting your tickets early!

Rules for Visiting the Vatican

Rules for Visiting the Vatican

The Vatican has a lot of rules, especially its dress code rules. 

I felt like I was back in Catholic school getting in trouble for shorts that were too revealing. 

And fair enough, it’s considered a holy place. 

All I have to say is thank god, in the middle of summer, I had a maxi dress and a shawl with me, or I would’ve been buying an outfit just to visit The Sistine Chapel.

Here’s what you need to know to dress for success when it comes to the Vatican dress code.

Vatican Dress Code

Vatican Dress Code

Basically, the safest thought process for planning your Vatican outfit is to go conservative with your look.

These are the major things to look out for when dressing for the Vatican:

  • Avoid mini skirts and mini dresses
  • Wear shorts, dresses, or skirts that hit knee length
  • Cover up your shoulders 
  • Avoid low cut garments
  • Take off the hat
  • Cover any tattoos or jewelry that make “offend Catholic morality”
  • Avoid any torn clothing
  • Avoid clothes with offensive slogans or imagery
  • No vests

How to Get to the Vatican

How to Get to the Vatican

I got really lucky commuting to the Vatican, because my Airbnb in Prati ended up only being about a ten-minute walk from the area.

Even though I didn’t take public transport to the Vatican, I took it to a bunch of other places, and will say it’s super easy to do.

Don’t let yourself be intimidated by using it.

Getting to the Vatican by Metro

Getting to the Vatican by Metro

As a New Yorker, the metro is always my favorite way to get around a new city.

Just outside the Vatican walls, you’ll find the metro stop Ottaviano-S. Pietro. Line A runs through this station roughly every five to ten minutes. 

From here, it’s about a five-minute walk to Vatican City.

Getting to the Vatican by Bus

Getting to the Vatican by Bus

If you prefer to hop on the bus, you’ll want to get on bus 49 and ride it to the stop directly in the square in front of the Vatican. 

You can also grab either bus 40 or 64 from Roma Termini. 

If you take bus 40, get off at Piazza Pia. After that, it’s about a ten-minute walk to St. Peter’s Square.

For bus 64, ride it until Terminal Gianicolo or Holy Spirit Hospital. Then you’ll have about a twelve minute walk to the square.

Where to Eat Near the Vatican 

Where to Eat Near the Vatican

After all, there is to explore at the Vatican. You’ll certainly work up an appetite.

Don’t get lost in a sea of touristy spots surrounding the Vatican.

These are some of the most popular spots in the area to grab a bite:

Check out one of these popular tours of the Vatican!

12 Things to Do at the Vatican

Things to Do at the Vatican

1. The Bramante’s Staircase

Chances are you’ve seen the Vatican Museum’s famous spiral staircase while scrolling through Instagram.

They are just as cool in real life, though actually quite hard to take a decent photo on unless you go super early. 

Descending the staircase marks the end of your visit, so fair warning if you’re going specifically for the steps.

2. The Map Gallery

If you’re into cartography, you’re going to go nuts for the Map Gallery inside the Vatican Museum.

Even if you aren’t that into maps, you’re going to be impressed.

The Map Gallery is on the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard and is home to 40 alfresco maps of Italy.

Since they’re over 500 years old, some of them are in better shape than others, but they’re all fascinating to look at. 

Fun Fact: Supposedly, the Gallery of Maps is as long as a football field.

3. The Tapestries Hall

I know some of you are probably thinking, “a hallway of tapestries, really?”

And I get it. I’d have had the same reaction before I went to the Vatican Museum.

It’s actually a really cool hallway to stroll down, especially because they have tapestries by Raphael Sanzio.

If that name sounds familiar, but you can’t place it, let me help you out. 

Raphael Sanzio is more commonly known as just Raphael. 

He’s the Italian Renaissance painter that created masterpieces like the Sistine Madonna, Transfiguration, La Belle Jardiniere, and The School of Athens.

4. Raphael Rooms

Speaking of Raphael, don’t miss the Raphael Rooms, found in the Apostolic Palace. 

They’re basically a suite of four rooms that are absolutely covered in frescos by the artist. 

I found it seriously impressive, and fascinating to take in the amount of art in each room. 

Fun Fact: There’s a legend that says while Raphael was painting the rooms, Michelangelo was painting The Sistine Chapel.

One day, Raphael supposedly got a glimpse of the chapel and was so impressed with Michelangelo’s talent that he added him to The School of Athens.

5. Laocoön and His Sons

I know most people these days aren’t super into sculptures, so here’s what you need to know about Laocoön and His Sons.

It’s been one of the most famous sculptures in existence ever since it was excavated in a Roman vineyard in 1506 and put on display at The Vatican.

Like most Greek sculptures, it’s based on classic Greek mythology, in this case a poem highlighting the Trojan War in a story from the Greek Epic Cycle

6. The Pine Cone Courtyard

Also known as the Cortile della Pigna, the Pine Cone Courtyard is a pleasant spot to chill out and grab a bite to eat.

It’s the first main courtyard you’ll pass through on your way to the Sistine Chapel. 

Wondering why it’s called the Pine Cone Courtyard?

Well, the garden features a huge bronze sculpture of a pinecone dating back to the 2nd century A.D.

You’ll also want to check out the Sphere within a Sphere sculpture at the center of the yard.

It’s a super thought provoking more modern piece from 1926.

Fun Fact: Before it was open to the public, Pope Leo X let his pet elephant, Hanno, live in the yard. In fact, they buried Hanno under the Vatican.

7. Papal Audience

There are a few ways you can see the Pope while you’re visiting the Vatican. Just check the Papal Audience calendar to see what his schedule is.

They hold audiences every Wednesday, assuming the Pope is home. Just arrive early to score a ticket to the seated area. 

No stress though if you don’t, as the Pope has stressed, you can still enter without a ticket. Also, don’t pay anyone for a ticket. They are free for everyone.

You’ll absolutely want to arrive a couple hours earlier than the scheduled audience time to guarantee you’ll get through security and find a suitable spot to see the Pope.

When I went last summer to the shorter Sunday blessing. I arrived about two hours early to be safe, and had maybe thirty minutes of time to kill after getting through all the security, to wait around in St. Peter’s Square for it to start.

Honestly, it was cool saying I went to Rome and saw the Pope, but after seeing him once, I don’t know that I need to do it again. 

8. The Sistine Chapel

Everyone knows at least a bit about Michaelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel.

The Renaissance frescoes here are easily some of the best in the world. 

It took Michaelangelo about five years to paint all 343 figures on the ceiling of the chapel.

The ceiling features biblical scenes, including the Creation of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, and Judith and Holofernes.

Fun Fact: Supposedly, Michaelangelo almost said no to the project, because at the time he was a well-known sculptor and a dabbling painter.

Even commenting in one poem from 1509, “I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.”

9. St. Peter’s Basilica

This Renaissance style church is the Pope’s official residence and a must visit, especially if you’re looking for something free to do in Rome.

Fair warning though, because it’s free, the line is massive. 

I ended up having to skip seeing the basilica because I didn’t have time to wait in line and they already sold out all the paid tours that help you skip the line.

So this is one more activity that’s on my Roman bucket list.

If you make it into St. Peter’s Basilica, stop and check out La Pietá.

It’s one of Michaelangelo’s most famous sculptures. The craziest part is he created it when he was only 24 years old! 

10. St. Peter’s Cupola

Get ready to get in those steps climbing up to reach St. Peter’s Cupola

While you’re in St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll want to take the chance to see Michaelangelo’s famous artwork on the dome, and an incredible view of St. Peter’s Square below.

You can reach the first level by either elevator or staircase (about 230 steps). 

You’ll then have the option to the remaining 320 very narrow stairs to the very top.

The ticket also gets you access to the Crypt, where they laid St. Peter to rest.

Truthfully, this is something that’s still on my to-do list because I ran out of time the day I was visiting the Vatican.

I can’t believe I missed it, but hey, it just gives me one more reason to go back to Rome soon.

11. The Rotunda Room and Porphyry Basin

The tiling in this room is unbelievable! 

I swear I spent like ten minutes alone just walking around staring at the mosaics on the floor.

They built it in 1779 with a hemispheric vault design to The Pantheon with a giant red porphyry basin in the middle. 

The coolest part is that the floor was made in the 18th century with mosaics from the first decades of the 3rd century A.D. which were found at Sacrofano and Otricoli.

12. St. Peter’s Square Obelisk

No visit to the Vatican would be complete without visiting St. Peter’s Square to see the giant obelisk.

It’s the largest non-inscribed obelisk to have ever left Egypt. 

The obelisk was a gift from Egypt, brought by Caligula in 27 A.D., making it over four thousand years old!

Fun Fact: The obelisk is 83.6 feet high and weighs about 326 tons.

FAQ’s About Visiting the Vatican

FAQs About Visiting the Vatican

How much does it cost to visit the Vatican?

It’s free to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, with a 10 euro charge to visit the dome via elevator and 8 euro using the steps.

The Vatican Museum also charges admission. For the most up-to-date pricing and availability, check below. 

What are the Vatican’s opening hours?

The Vatican Museum is typically open from 9am until 6pm (box office closes at 4pm) Monday through Saturday. They’re also open the last Sunday of each month, from 9am until 2pm.

It’s a once in a lifetime chance to see The Sistine Chapel, and multiple works by Raphael, so even if you aren’t super religious, you’ll still find your visit to the Vatican worthwhile.

Can you just visit the Sistine Chapel?

You must go through the Vatican Museum in order to reach the Sistine Chapel. You’ll find the chapel closer to the end of your time in the museum.

How do you visit the Vatican Gardens?

Tickets are available on the Vatican’s website. 

How do you visit St. Peter’s Tomb?

Only about 250 people may visit the tomb per day. You’ll need to email the Scavi Office directly with a request for tickets, including the exact number of visitors, and the language desired for the tour, at

Wrapping It Up

Can you just visit the Sistine Chapel

Overall, the Vatican is a place that I’m glad I took the time to explore. 

The next time I’m in Rome, I’ll definitely be going back to the Vatican to cross the final few things off my Vatican sightseeing list.

Let me know in the comments below what you’re most looking forward to checking out, or if there’s a spot you love I should add to my list!

Guarantee entry to the Vatican by booking one of these popular tours!


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