Top 3 Things to do in Vatican City
View of the Vatican from St. Peter's Square
The Vatican Guard
If you're planning on visiting Rome you have the perfect opportunity to pop across the Tiber River to see the majesty of Vatican City.
A quick disclaimer-I support everyone visiting Vatican City during your next trip to Rome whether you’re a Catholic, not religious, or follow a different practice. This is a site of so much history that offers so much knowledge. It is hands down one of the most beautiful historic sites in all of Europe and worth an hour, or day of your time.
When you visit I would recommend looking for a hotel, apartment, or hotel in greater Rome. Not too close to the Vatican. The prices tend to rise the closer you get to the historic sites. Similarly you won’t find the best food within the grounds. The prices are likely to be double what you can get in the neighboring streets of Trastevere. So plan ahead for your visit and bring your food and drinks, or eat in advance.
Tips for Visiting the Vatican
1. The Vatican will be crowded all year, so there are few ways to avoid crowds. They're going to be significantly worse during Papal Mass on Wednesday and Sundays, and when there are events.
2. If you're going to the museum there will most definitely be a significantly long long. If you don't bring a backpack you won't be stopped on your way in the museum. Visiting the chapel with a backpack isn't a problem.
3. Wear good walking shoes, your feel will thank you
4. Eat before you get there
Here is my top 3 list of what to do in Vatican city.
Price: 6 or 8 euros
St. Peter's Basilica tickets can be purchased outside the Basilica
Climbing the Dome at St. Peter's BasilicaClick thumbnail to view full-size
#1 Cupola di San Pietro (Climb the Dome)
This is one of my top rated Vatican attractions.
It sounds suspiciously like exercise to climb all those stairs to the top of the dome above St. Peter’s Basilica, but it is well worth the climb. This view is unbelievable, words cannot describe it. The top of the basilica offers sweeping views of those milling in St. Peter’s square below and gives you a true appreciation of the size and magnificence of the architecture in the city. It will completely change your perspective. As you walk around the basilica you can also see much of Rome’s neighborhoods from above. This experience is stunning and if you can, I would recommend taking your time and wandering the roof on your way up. There is an adorable little gift shop run by nuns on the roof that is worth visiting.
A word of warning - if you get claustrophobic this may not be the adventure for you. For two extra euros (8 euros total) you can take the elevator but it will only transport you about a third of the way to the top. The staircase past that point can be dizzyingly tight and the walls are often angled as you walk through them (imagine you are walking through the walls of a dome, which is basically what’s happening). It is unfortunately an attraction that is only available to the able-bodied.
Located below the Basilica, entry is from inside
#2 Visiting the Vatican Grottoes
Often people miss the grottoes in the masses of tourists inside, and surrounding, the basilica.Look for the entrance near the center of the basilica. There is usually a line snaking around a large column. You will walk down a fairly tight winding staircase and end up in a low-ceiling underground room, which is the final resting place of Catholic Popes.
This crypt houses the tombs of many past Popes, though not all rest there, and offers short descriptions of the [positive] impact they left on the church. This is also the resting place of some historic European royals. The styles of the tombs depend on the era the Pope lived in, their history, and I assume (possibly incorrectly) their personal wishes. Some are quite ornate while others are smooth and simple marble.
Many Catholics have found this place to be very spiritual and grounding. Those who aren’t religious can often still feel how historic and monumental this place is. Many of these popes have laid there for hundreds of years. Some tombs date back as far as the 1300s.
While visiting this place is free you are not permitted to take pictures and they request you stay relatively quiet, out of respect. At the end of the long hallway you will exit outside the basilica near the entrance to the dome’s staircase.
Visiting the Pope
Price: Free, but be sure to get your tickets in advance
- Papal audiences start at 10:30 am
- To avoid being in the back of the crowd I would advise arriving early, security opens between 8-8:30 am
- The audience is entirely free
- They are only held when the Pope is in Rome – it is worth checking in advance
- Tickets are available at the Vatican Offices
- Often held in the Basilica but, in the case of large crowds, is sometimes led in St. Peter’s Square
#3 Papal Mass at the Vatican
Religious or not it’s worth visiting the Vatican on a Wednesday morning to attend a Papal Audience. These audiences give you the chance to see the Pope and receive his blessing.
During this time the Pope will give small teachings and readings in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish, and sometimes other languages on special occasions. He greets the crowd in each language and ends the audience with a prayer in Latin.
While interacting with the Pope in person is incredibly rare it is important to mention that this is still a very personal experience for many people. Often pilgrims will seek out this experience to pray for themselves or family members. It is important to be respectful of the different experiences that bring people to that particular mass. Many people who visit the Vatican travel here for this mass.
Bonus Tips for Tourists in Vatican City
The square is a wonderful place to people watch. If you have a few extra minutes I would recommend finding a column to sit against and watch the people as they wander through the city. The mix of priests, nuns, tourists, and locals is truly an interesting sight. Vatican tourism is a booming business, you're sure to see something interesting.
For some tips on visiting Rome check out: 6 Places to Visit or Eat in Rome
Check out where Vatican city is on this Vatican City Map