If you’re visiting Rome, you’ll want to visit Rome’s biggest tourist attraction, the Vatican City. The Vatican lies within the Vatican state, a country of its own. It is the world’s smallest country with a 2-mile border. This tiny country consists of a mere 100 acres of land. The Pope is the absolute monarch here. Vatican state does not have a tax system. Instead, the revenue to support the country is generated from tourism. Some 6 million visitors per year visit the Vatican.
A Guide to Visiting the Vatican
I cannot overemphasise just how busy the Vatican is. We visited in late January (the quietest time of year) and yet the place was filled with tourists. You can book your tickets online and so jump the queue. I cannot recommend this enough, we walked past a queue filled with hundreds of people and headed to a separate entrance with our tickets already in hand (there was absolutely no queue). You can purchase queue jumps tickets on the Vatican website. A basic ticket will admit you into the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel for 17 Euros.
I had read from reviews that the food in the Vatican cafe was ridiculously priced. We discovered that the food was actually extremely reasonably priced. We bought 3 sandwiches, 3 drinks, 3 croissants and a few chocolate bars to sustain us for the day, and this came in at under 30 Euros (much cheaper than most of the cafes outside Vatican City).
The Vatican comprises of a series of museums and galleries. Each of these contains priceless artefacts and masterpieces. Once you clear security and head up the staircase to the museums, there are a variety of different routes you can take. We turned right to the Pinacoteca museum. I had read that most tour guides take their groups to the left. Indeed many tour guides omit the Pinacoteca from their tour altogether!
There are so many museums within the Vatican. Indeed we didn’t have time to visit them all! So here are our favourite museums and galleries:
I was totally unprepared for the sheer amount of masterpieces the Vatican houses. The Pinacoteca contained the largest collection of medieval artwork I have ever seen. This museum alone contains an astounding 460 paintings.
The collection includes paintings, altarpieces, tapestries and statues.
The pieces range in age from medieval to the 19th century.
Gregoriano Profano Museum
The Gregoriano Profano houses a vast collection of statues and funerary votives. The pieces belong to the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds. It is astounding that so much has survived from over 2000 years ago. Many of the pieces were found during 19th-century excavations of Rome and the surrounding areas.
The marble statues feel incredibly lifelike. I kept Aurelia entertained by asking her to pose as the statues. (A great tip if you’re visiting with young children).
This museum contains an impressive 12 rooms of artwork. The Pio-Clemention museum is simply huge and holds a number of exhibitions. At the time of our visit, we ran into a number of tours and so couldn’t appreciate the fully these rooms. Nevertheless, we managed to capture some of its beautiful pieces.
Gallery of Geografic Maps
No, it’s not a typo, this gallery is named ‘Geografic Maps’. Dating back to the 16th century, this magnificent hall is decorated with intricate and colourful maps of Italy. The sheer scale of the work involved in creating this spectacle is breathtaking!
If you need to take a breath of fresh air, there are plenty of courtyards where you can catch your breath. Walking around these spaces allows you to appreciate the beauty of the Vatican architecture.
Aurelia was amazed by this artist staircase. The Helical staircase was installed in 1932 and designed by Giuseppe Momo. It is referred to as a double helix, meaning it consists of two staircases, one to allow people to ascend and the other to descend. Those travelling in opposite directions won’t meet. So it’s a great way to cater for large groups of people moving up and down a building!
There are some areas in the Vatican where photography is strictly prohibited. We were unable to take photographs of the Sistine Chapel. We did spend approximately half an hour in this beautiful church, it was absolutely packed with tourists. But since the main attraction is the ceiling, this wasn’t really a problem!
Another area in which photography is forbidden is the Post Office. Since the Vatican State is a country of its own, it has its own stamps and postal system. We purchased a number of postcards and sent them to relatives back home from this adorable little post office inside the Vatican.
St Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s Basilica lies within Vatican city and next to the Vatican. The Basilica is free to enter but this means you cannot purchase queue jump tickets.
We left our visit until the end of the day, once we had been in the Vatican museums. The queue at 4 pm was approximately half an hour wait. (The purpose of the queue is to go through security). We wandered around St Peter’s Square for a while and by 4.30 pm the queue was only a few people deep. Most of the tourists had left and the Basilica was incredibly quiet.
I wasn’t really expecting much here. I assumed I was entering another church, albeit an incredibly important one. How wrong I was! Bigger and grander than any English cathedral, the Basilica is utterly jawdropping.
Every corner contains a spectacular religious piece of art.
There are many different altars dedicated to various saints. Including the recently canonised Pope John Paul II. It was incomprehensible just how huge the Basilica is!
I have visited many holy places, majestic buildings, castles and churches but I have never seen anything quite like St Peter’s Basilica. And I don’t think I ever will.
Some Travel Tips
Rome has excellent public transport! We arrived by rail. The station was approximately a 5-minute walk from the Vatican. The underground rail system is incredibly easy to use. I would, however, recommend familiarizing yourself with the system before arriving in Rome so you know which stops lie close to which attractions. You can also arrive by taxi and bus.
When purchasing souvenirs, don’t buy them from inside the Vatican. if you head onto the streets outside, the prices are much cheaper for the same items. I spotted rosary beads inside the Vatican for 10 Euros. In one of the shops in the street, we bought 12 rosary beads for 6 Euros! They were exactly the same product.
When visiting tourist attractions, allow time to go through security. This can sometimes be a rather time-consuming process but necessary for our safety!
Hopefully, our snaps have given you an idea of what to expect on a visit to Vatican City. Have you ever visited Vatican City? Do you have any tips for potential travellers to the state?
For a guide to planning a trip to Rome, see my recent post.