As if Rome wasn’t amazing enough, it also has a fascinating claim to fame: housing an entire state within the city centre. Yes, right in the heart of the action you’ll find Vatican City. Despite being surrounded by high stone walls, it’s impossible to miss the beautiful domes of the basilica peeking over, especially in the evening as the golden glow from its lights illuminate the whole area.
Home to about 800 people including—yes, you guessed it—the Pope himself, Vatican City holds St. Peter’s Square, the famed Sistine Chapel, perfectly manicured gardens and the Vatican Museums. The site is a must-see for visitors, and the main highlights can be explored in about half a day. Here are some tips to help make the most of your time.
Patience pays off
If you show up to the Vatican first thing in the morning, you’ll likely arrive to find a long, winding queue. We arrived about 20 minutes before opening time, and there were about 100 people ahead of us including tour groups. As we waited, we were constantly approached by people offering the chance to skip the line for about €20 extra. We decided to save our euros, and were rather pleased with that decision when we got up to the ticket office. It turns out that those who paid to ‘jump the line’ were only a few people ahead of us when it was actually time to head in!
However, if you want to avoid the ticket line altogether it is possible to purchase passes ahead of time online. Keep in mind there is a €4 reservation fee.
Being a religious site, dress code is important. Men should avoid wearing hats, shorts or sleeveless tops, while women are asked not to wear short skirts and shorts or tank tops.
Enlist the help of locals
One of the highlights of our trip to Italy was getting up close to the Pope—so cool! To ensure a glimpse of the Pontiff, visit on a Wednesday morning when he has his weekly Papal Audience (dependent on him actually being in Rome at the time, of course) and try to grab a spot near the front.
The audience starts off with the Pope parading through the large crowd of worshipers, waving and smiling for pictures, before leading a number of readings, teachings and prayers in multiple languages. The whole thing lasts about two hours, and as a bonus you’ll get to check out the court jesters—er, I mean, Swiss Guards!
Tickets are free, but here’s the problem: you need to pick them up the day before at the ‘Bronze Doors’ in St. Peter’s Basilica, and it can take hours to get through the line. Is that really how you want to spend your vacation?!
Instead, enlist the help of a local. We were shocked when the owner of the B&B we were staying at came down to breakfast one morning and presented us with tickets. When we asked how he managed to get his hands on them, he winked and said “secret door.” So there you have it—locals always know the good tricks!
Alternatively, time your trip for Sunday at noon, when the Pope gives a short speech and blessing from the window of his apartment. While it only lasts about 20 minutes, you do not need tickets for this event.
Timing is everything
It’s important to plan ahead for a trip to Vatican City, due to things like long lines and particular admission times. I got burned on this by attempting to squeeze in a visit at the end of a day of sightseeing. While the museum is open until 6 p.m., the ticket office closes at 4 p.m. We arrived at 4:15 p.m. and weren’t allowed in. Le sigh.
Also, ensure it will be open on the days you plan to visit, as closing dates can be sporadic (most Sundays, some holidays, etc.).
Don’t skip the stairs
Once you get through the ticket line, don’t rush into the museum: instead, veer off to the side and you’ll find yourself looking down on a fabulous winding staircase. Photographers will definitely appreciate this one!
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