The Vatican City is the world’s smallest country at just over 100 acres. It is so small that it is the size of one eighth of New York’s Central Park. It mints its own coins, prints its own stamps, issues passports and license plates, operates media outlets and has its own flag and anthem.
The border is at the Vatican Walls and is 2 miles long.
It is a great place to see if you are in Rome, but remember you must be properly dressed: no sleeveless tops, no short skirts, no shorts etc. Your knees and shoulders must be covered. They will turn people away.
Most people just go to St Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican Museums; missing a lot of really interesting and special areas of the world’s tiniest nation.
You will have to plan your time and book in advance, but I’ve removed some of the need for the copious amounts of research that I did to find these by putting them all in one place.
It is really worth exploring the Vatican a little more.
The lines for these are just ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a longer line in my life. If you get there at the 9am opening then it will be manageable. Maybe you will only wait half an hour. If you have a ticket and manage to slip in just before they merge the ticket line and the general line like I did then you can get straight in.
After that? I walked all the way past this line after I had been on the 9:30 Vatican Garden Tour and seen the Museums. I think those people were wasting their lives. I could almost see them aging as they stood in line with no end in sight.
Go really early or prebook a Museum tour. Even if you don’t go on the tour, the extra cost will be worth it to skip the line.
I’ve heard that sometimes it is quiet after 2pm and that you can avoid the crowds then, but when I finally left well after 2, the line seemed as long as ever. Don’t count on that.
I normally avoid tours if I can, but next time I go I might go on the Pristine Sistine tour. On this tour you enter the Vatican Museums an hour before it opens to the general public. You can escape the crowds completely as the group will have 12 people at most, and I think this would be especially good for the Sistine chapel. It was especially crowded.
If you don’t want to take a tour because of the cost, or because you hate tours then try to go on a Tuesday or a Thursday. They are the slowest days at the Vatican. Mondays and Saturdays are the busiest as it is closed on Sunday and on Wednesday the Pope makes an appearance.
The entrance to the museums is not in the main plaza, or in St Peter’s Cathedral, don’t let people try to send you there. They are to the right of the plaza and then a 10min walk.
St Peter’s Cathedral
This opens earlier than the Museums at 8am. I also recommend going as early as possible. I was there at about 10 past 8 and it was almost deserted.
I wondered what all the maze like wooden barriers were for. I ended up climbing over them, they seemed to have no purpose.
Later when I walked past this area to go on the Scavi Tour I realised that they were there to contain the huge massive queues.
Entrance is free, so there are no skip the line tickets. Your only real option is to go early.
You can climb to the top of the Basilica for about 5 euros if you take the stairs and 7 euros if you take the elevator to go part of the way up.
This is a really interesting tour of the Vatican grounds. It is good to see something more of the world’s smallest country than the Museums. The guide gives you really interesting information, but as the tours have about 30 people, you can wander and explore a little as well.
The tour takes about 2 hours and is about 37 euros per person and takes about 2 hours. You can book tickets at ROME MUSEUM
The ticket includes entrance into the Vatican Museums.
This is probably the hardest part to see of the Vatican, partly because only a small amount of people are allowed in per day, and partly because it’s not well known. It is fascinating and well worth the extra trouble to book it.
Tickets are not guaranteed and you cannot book a time outright.
It is a very interesting tour, I was surprised that it was cheaper than the Garden Tour.
It takes you down through the necropolis where the early Christians were buried in what was then just outside Rome.
One beautiful shrine you see has a small patched up hole in one part of the ceiling. They have actually found records from the Middle Ages that record when the worker fell through, saw that it was a place of worship and then repaired it.
The floor is a little uneven, wear good walking shoes.
At the end of the tour you see what is believed to be St Peter’s tomb.
You can send an email to the Excavations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, or a fax to +39-06-698-73017. They will send you back an auto response email to confirm that they have received your email. Then you wait.
Tickets are about 13 euros per person and they sometimes say that only allow people 15 years or over are allowed to enter. Other times they say that children aged from 11 to 15 are allowed in with an adult supervising them.
When you send your email off, make sure you include:
1. The number of people in your group.
2. The name of each person (name and address are good to include).
3. The language you need the tour to be in
4. The range of days you could visit on. Make sure none of these days are on Sundays and church holidays as tours are not conducted on these days. Make sure to write the full name of the month.
5. Where you are staying in Rome (name and phone number).
I ‘booked’ about four months in advance and gave 3 possible days. After a few weeks the emailed back picking one of those days and giving me the time of the tour, which was about 2:45. I then quickly booked the earliest possible Tour of the Gardens at 9:30.
In between the two tours I planned to see the Vatican Museums as they are included in the Garden Tour ticket. This was a mistake because I did not know how long it would take me to see the Museums and was rushed the whole way through them. I should have gone the Garden Tour and seen the Museums on an other day.
In fact I’ve heard stories since then about the time of the Scavi tour being pushed back without prior notice, so it is probably better to have no definite plans for the rest of the day.
The entrance to the Excavations Office (Ufficio Scavi) is to the left of the main plaza. There will be Swiss guards in front of the walk way.
If you are worried, check out this map. The Excavations Office is number 24.
You must be in the Excavations Office at least 10min before the start of your tour, so try for 20.
You cannot take bags or cameras into the excavations. You can however deposit these free of charge before you go in.
Special Museum Tours
These are special tours that take you to areas of the museums that are normally off limits to the public. I didn’t go here as I didn’t know they existed, but I plan to when I next get to Rome. Tickets can be bought here.
Meet the Pope
I didn’t do this either, but on most Wednesdays at 10:30am you can be part of the general audience with the Pope. The details are here.
There are all sorts of tours on this page, both for the Vatican and for the Pope’s summer residence.