Top 5 tips for visiting the Vatican in Rome, Italy

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Visiting the Vatican in Rome, Italy

Vatican City

This article was originally published in September 2014 and updated in March 2020

A visit to the Vatican is a must-do during a visit to Rome, even for those who don’t consider themselves religious types. Vatican City is in the heart of the action, an entire state within the city centre, and the beautiful domes of the basilica peek over the surrounding stone walls, the lights illuminating the whole area in the evening with a golden glow.

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, which can all be explored in about half a day during a Vatican tour. Here are five tips and tricks to help make the most of your time visiting the Vatican in Rome.

Visiting the Vatican in Rome, Italy

Patience pays off

If you arrive at the Vatican entrance 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!

Visiting the Vatican in Rome, Italy

The Sistine Chapel

However, if you want to avoid the ticket line altogether it is possible to buy tickets for Vatican City tours ahead of time online. Click here to book

Adult admission fees for the Vatican Museum are 14 euros, and includes Sistine Chapel tickets. Separate Sistine Chapel reservations are not required, but it’s a bit of a walk to get there since you have to pass through many of the museums to get to the famous painted ceiling at the other end.

Tips for visiting the Vatican in Italy

The Vatican

vatican sphere within a sphere

The ‘Sphere within a sphere’ sculpture

Dress appropriately: What to wear to the Vatican

Being a religious site, the Vatican City dress code is important to adhere to. Men should avoid wearing hats, shorts or sleeveless tops, while women are asked not to wear short skirts, shorts or tank tops.

Best way to see the Vatican: Enlist the help of locals

One of the highlights of my trip to Italy was getting up close to the Pope—so cool! To ensure a glimpse of the Pontiff, trying visiting Vatican City on a Wednesday morning when he has his weekly Papal Audience. It usually happens around 10 or 10:30 AM (dependent on him actually being in Rome at the time, of course), and you’ll want to try and get a spot near the front.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Visiting the Vatican in Rome, Italy

Crowds during the Papal audience

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!

A Swiss guard at the Vatican

A Swiss Guard at the Vatican

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 to get tickets to visit the Vatican. 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! You can also book here to secure them ahead of time.

Besides Wednesday, the best day to visit the Vatican is Sunday. If he’s in Rome, the Pope gives a short speech and blessing from the window of his apartment around noon. While it only lasts about 20 minutes, you do not need tickets for this event.

Vatican hours: Timing is everything

It’s important to plan ahead for tours of the Vatican, due to things like long lines and specific admission times. I got burned on this by attempting to squeeze in a visit at the end of a day of sightseeing, because while the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 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.).

What to see at the Vatican in Rome, Italy

What to see at the Vatican in Rome, Italy

Vatican City attractions: Don’t skip the stairs!

Here’s a hot tip: 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!

Visiting the Vatican in Rome, Italy

The double spiral staircase at the Vatican

Where to stay near the Vatican

Vatican Charme– This B&B is just a 5 minute walk from the Vatican and provides air-conditioned rooms which are a welcome respite after a day of sightseeing. This family-owned property underwent renovations to update it yet, still retains its traditional charm. Click here to book

Caesers Place– It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but as soon as you enter this B&B you’re sure to be impressed by the large (for Europe) rooms and breakfast spread. With only a few available, this spot books up fast so try to reserve well in advance. Click here to book

Vatican Garden Rooms– This cozy hotel boasts comfy beds and pillows, and guests can choose to have breakfast delivered to their room or enjoy it in the kitchen. The location is fantastic and there are lots of great restaurants nearby. Click here to book

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

Venice, Italy: Top 3 things to do

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9 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!

  3. Mac grant says:

    They take away your umbrella at the main entrance and dump you off at the Cistine chapel, so retrieving your backpacks..yes they take those too, it’s almost a mile back to where you began, a walk outside Vatican wall. Best to use a poncho for rain forecast.
    We were in a group that included a baby stroller. We spent time waiting for route around steps…lots of steps. Cost us over an hour of just playing catch up.

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