The world’s smallest country is also home to the Pope. However, not only Catholics make their pilgrimage to the Vatican, but people from around the world come in droves. Vatican City is a city-state politically separate from, but geographically surrounded by the city of Rome.

The Vatican’s 3 main attractions

Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica

FREE: St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica, Papal Audience Wednesdays and Sunday Mass; normally, last Sunday monthly at Vatican Museum (currently suspended); Popes’ Tombs

Know Before You Go

A morning in the Vatican City complements an afternoon at Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome’s Borgo neighborhood followed by an evening stroll through Prati. Although the Vatican Museum has a nice food court serving a variety of options, outside the Vatican walls are many authentic, quality restaurants. And since Romans know their city best, my list is a compilation from pre-trip research.

BASICS:

Language: Italian
Currency: Euro €
When to go: Ideal March-May or September-early November (porcini mushrooms and truffles); 
Summer – hot, humid, crowded; 
Winter – frosty, cozy, Christmasy
Airport: Leonardo da Vinci International, aka Fiumicino (airport transfer guide)
Train station: Roma Termini (local rail & Italy high-speed rail guides) + Ostiense
Metro: Line A to Ottaviano or Cipro stations (metro line guide & map)
Bus: Route 81 or 23 to Musei Vaticani; Route 40, 46, 62, or 64 to Piazza San Pietro (bus route guide & map) Note: buses are notoriously untimely and packed

SEE + DO:

St. Peter’s Square: Maderno Fountain (on right), Bernini Fountain (on left), Obelisk, Papal Audience
St. Peter’s Basilica: Michelangelo’s Pietà, Bernini’s Baldachin, Papal Altar, Dome Climb
Vatican Museums: Sistine Chapel, Pinecone Courtyard, Giardino Quadrato
Vatican Gardens
Nearby in Rome: Castel Sant’Angelo in Borgo, Prati Neighborhood

EAT + DRINK:

: Old Bridge Gelateria, Bonci Pizzarium, Mozart Cafe, La Soffitta Renovatio, L’Isola della Pizza, Angrypig Birretta e Porchetta, 200 Gradi (due cento gradi), Cafè Centrale (inside Vatican Museum)
€€: Hostaria Dino e Tony, Ristorante Arlù, La Zanzara, Papa Rex Ristorante, Osteria dei Pontefici
€€€: Ristorante la Veranda, Da Benito e Gilberto
€€€€Il Pagliaccio

STAY:

Prati neighborhood: near Vatican City
San Saba or Testaccio neighborhoods: local flavor near Pyramide metro & Ostiense train stations

From our pre-pandemic trip

Begin your tour at the Vatican Museums (ours was self-guided, first thing in the morning), which ends with the Sistine Chapel before continuing into the courtyards. Then walk around the perimeter of the city wall to St. Peter’s Square for entry into the Basilica, to save (what was for us) the best for last.

Option: For an earlier morning start, reverse the order to begin at Saint Peter’s Basilica, which opens at 7:30am.

Vatican City – Appartamento di San Pio V cupola
Appartamento di San Pio V (Mannerist cupola painting)
“Fall of Lucifer and Rebel Angels” Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari

How to Visit the Vatican

On June 1, the Vatican re-opened its doors to the public after a long health-crisis closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the Pope is allowing a limited number of visitors each day with new health safety rules in place prevailing over ordinary conditions.

Along with preserving well-being, the new guidelines require reservations giving the added benefit of no notoriously long lines and far fewer people within the museum. Safety measures include limited visitation with 15-person maximum group sizes, mandatory temperature checks, required masks, and 1-meter distancing.

If you are able, right now would be a special time to experience the Vatican without crowds.

Tickets Must Be Purchased in Advance

Access is limited, so make your reservations early to ensure entry.

Buy tickets through the official Vatican website LINK HERE with restricted access at 15-minute intervals. This eliminates pre-pandemic congestion with 3-hour-long ticket lines on the busiest days while helping stop the spread of coronavirus.

Pro Traveler Tip: Vatican Museum tickets include the Sistine Chapel, but not St. Peter’s Basilica. General entry into the Basilica is free, but access is limited, so ensure entry through this Reserved Entrance: Saint Peter Basilica Self-Guided Tour.

Book a Tour with “Skip-the-Line” Access

There are several visitor’s options available. Vatican & Sistine Chapel Tour with Priority Basilica Access combines a small-group (up to 7) guided tour of the museum and chapel. Or if you prefer, book this Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel Skip-The-Ticket-Line Entry to wander through the museum on your own (to pair with the Basilica tour in the “Pro Tip” above).

More unique Papal experiences: Vatican Gardens, St. Peter’s Dome Climb and Crypt Tour (Papal Tomb), Early Morning Tour, Papal Audience with Pope Francis Experience, Tour Castel Gandolfo (Pope’s Summer Home)


Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Normally the best times to visit are first thing in the morning or last time-slot in the evening to avoid crowds. But with currently required reservations relieve typical congestion throughout the day. This sounds like the dream-version experience void of normally-packed halls and Sistine Chapel.

Take Metro Line A: get off at the Ottaviano or Cipro stations
Museum Entry: €17 or €8 for youth
Modified Hours: Monday through Thursday 10am-8pm (last entry at 6pm); Friday and Saturday 10am-10pm; last entry at 8pm — Closed Sundays (“Last Sunday-of-Month Free” day suspended)
Dress Code: No shorts; No bare shoulders; No skirts shorter than knee length
Procedures and Rules: Coronavirus modifications must be adhered to with “extreme precision” — strictly enforced 15-minute phasing, health check, and dress code
Mandatory temperature check and facemasks worn

Vatican Courtyards and Gardens

Manicured courtyard and garden feature Romanesque and Baroque fountains and sculptures. The museum provides direct access to several courtyards including the Octagonal Court, the Pinecone Courtyard, and Giardino Quadrato. Beyond this, you can take a bus tour of the Giardini Vaticani, green space dating from the 13th century.

Take Bus: get on at Cancello Petriano, arriving 15 minutes before departure (15-minute walk from museums)
Tour Cost: €20 or €15 reduced rate, 12-person maximum
Modified Hours: Monday through Saturday 9am-6pm — Closed Sundays
Dress Code: No shorts; No bare shoulders; No skirts shorter than knee length
Procedures and Rules: Coronavirus modifications must be adhered to with “extreme precision” — strictly health check and dress code
Mandatory temperature check and facemasks worn

St. Peter’s Square

With safety measures in place due to the health crisis, the Square and Basilica were re-opened May 18. However, the sea of people typically seen during the Pope’s Sunday mass has now been greatly limited.

Walk 1 mile from the Vatican Museums: you must exit the museum and walk around the perimeter city wall
Cost: FREE
Hours: Daily 7am-9pm
Dress Code: No shorts; No bare shoulders; No skirts shorter than knee length

St. Peter’s Basilica

Basilica Papale San Pietro is open once again to visitors, but with more limited access, creating a special experience of the largest Catholic church for those who can get there. Here’s a floor plan to refer to on a self-guided tour with links to more information about each feature.

Walk 1 mile from the Vatican Museums: you must exit the museum and walk around the perimeter city wall
Cost for Basilica Entry: FREE
Cost to Climb the Dome: €8 to climb 551 steps to the top; or €10 for the terrace elevator then 320 steps to top; €5 youth
Basilica Hours: Daily 7am-7pm (April-September); 7am-6:30pm (October-March)
Dome Hours: Daily 7:30am-6pm (April-September); 7:30am-5pm (October-March)
Dress Code: No shorts; No bare shoulders; No skirts shorter than knee length

Pro Traveler Tip: Get an early start to your day going to St. Peter’s Basilica first. You would have time to climb the dome, then stop for a cappuccino before going to the Vatican Museums. Then have lunch and gelato afterward.

Safety Measures due to the current pandemic enforced by the Vatican:

  • All visitors’ temperature will be assessed by a thermal scanner before entry.
  • All visitors must wear masks that completely cover the nose and mouth throughout the duration of their visit.
  • Visitors can enter St. Peter’s Basilica directly through its entrance. (Group tour access through the Sistine Chapel is closed until further notice.)
  • Social distancing is mandatory. Visitors must maintain a minimum of 2 meters (6.5 feet) distance from others, marked on the path before the entrance.
  • Hand sanitizers are located around St. Peter’s Square for public use.

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All Photos by Ali Giaudrone
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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. Very informative guide. I just read “The Pope and Mussolini” by David Kertzer and it really made me want to book a flight to Rome when this whole Covid thing is over (if it ever is.)

    Like

    1. Thanks for the book tip. One day you’ll get to Rome and it will be amazing. I hope, in the meantime, you’re able to use my posts as inspiration. (I’ll be adding more info on Rome soon.) As we continue to dream of our future travels, stay healthy and sane.

      Like

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