Top 5 tips for making your visit to the Vatican easier

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.

the vatican sunset

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.

The famous roof of the Sistine Chapel.

The famous roof of the Sistine Chapel.

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.

vatican sphere within a sphere

The ‘Sphere within a sphere’ sculpture

Dress appropriately

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.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

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!

vatican swiss guard

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!

vatican stairs

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

When in Rome: How to make the most of your visit

Venice, Italy: Top 3 things to do

Florence in a day

A guide to Pisa—including that leaning tower

vatican gardens

The Vatican Gardens

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7 Responses

  1. Yes, these tips are golden! I had a very similar experience when I visited the Vatican and wished I would have done my research first! Very smart. I hope many future Vatican visitors find your advice.

  2. The Guy says:

    Fabulous tips which bring back memories from when I was in Rome 21 years ago! Can’t believe it is that long.

    It would have helped if we knew about the shorts/dress code issue as we had walked over an hour from our accommodation to get there so returned the next day.

    I completely agree about the winding staircase, it is fabulous. Although I’m really impressed you got a picture with it empty, it was jam packed when we were there. Also JPII was away, out of the country during our visit so I’m glad I’d already seen him on his visit to the UK, even if I was very young at the time.

    • It sounds like we definitely lucked out with timing, especially as we were only in Rome for a few days as it was. That’s interesting what you say about the staircase- we were some of the first people in the Vatican that day and went straight there, so maybe that helped!

  1. September 9, 2014

    […] Top 5 tips for making your visit to the Vatican easier […]

  2. September 9, 2014

    […] Top 5 tips for making your visit to the Vatican easier […]

  3. September 9, 2014

    […] Steps, Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona will only command about 20 minutes of your time, but landmarks like the Vatican and Colosseum need at least half a day each, if not […]

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