Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting Vatican City
If you’re planning a trip to Rome, there’s one destination that you simply can’t miss: Vatican City. As the smallest country in the world and the seat of the Holy See, the Vatican attracts millions of visitors from across the globe every year.
At the heart of the Vatican is St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the world’s largest church and a true architectural wonder. But there’s so much more to see and experience within the walls of this tiny country, from the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel to the treasures of the Vatican Museums.
In this guide you’ll find out everything you need to know about visiting the Vatican, including what to see, opening hours and ticket prices, what to wear, and how to get there. So, whether you’re a devout Catholic or simply a lover of art and history, join us as we explore the wonders of the Vatican!
- History of Vatican City
- What to see at Vatican City
- Vatican Opening Hours, Tickets & Tours
- Vatican Dress Code
- How to get to Vatican City
History of Vatican City
Understanding the rich history of the Vatican is key to appreciating its significance and the role it continues to play in shaping the world today.
While the modern independent state of Vatican City was only born in 1929, its beginnings as the seat of the Roman Catholic Church date back to the 4th century A.D, with the construction of a basilica over what was believed to be St. Peter’s grave.
Over time, the Vatican became a popular pilgrimage site and an important center of power in Europe, ruling over a large portion of the Italian peninsula known as the Papal States. Still, popes did not live in the Vatican itself but instead resided at the Lateran Palace and, later, the Quirinal Palace. During the Renaissance period, the Vatican became one of the most significant artistic hubs in Europe, with artists commissioned to create what still stand as some of the greatest masterpieces in history.
After the unification of Italy in 1870, the Papal States were dissolved, and the Italian government seized the church’s properties, including the Quirinal Palace. The pope refused to recognize the Italian king’s right to rule in Rome–Pope Pius IX, the last ruler of the Papal States, was referred to as a “prisoner in the Vatican”.
The Lateran Pacts of 1929, signed between the Holy See and the Italian government, established Vatican City as a sovereign nation-state, granting it 44 hectares of land that would now be fully independent and governed by the pope. Today, the Vatican remains the home of the pope andthe spiritual center for the followers of the Catholic Church. With its rich history, iconic landmarks, and art collections, the Vatican draws millions of visitors every year.
What to see at Vatican City
The Vatican might be the smallest state in the world, but there’s lots to see! When you’re visiting Vatican City, there are a few things you can’t miss.
The Vatican Museums are a true treasure trove of art and culture. Established in 1506 by Pope Julius II, the museums have been expanded and enriched over the centuries, resulting in a collection that spans ancient to contemporary times. One of the most renowned attractions of the Vatican Museums is the Pinacoteca Vaticana, home to celebrated works of art by Italian Renaissance masters such as Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello… The Palazzi Vaticani house many exclusive sites, including the Galleria degli Arazzi, known for its stunning tapestries, the Stanze di Raffaello, and the Borgia apartment. Here’s what not to miss at the Vatican Museums.
The most iconic attraction in the Vatican Museums is undoubtedly the Sistine Chapel. Visitors can marvel at the magnificent ceiling painted by Michelangelo, which depicts scenes from the Book of Genesis. Discover the secrets of the Sistine Chapel.
St. Peter’s Square
St. Peter’s Square is an awe-inspiring sight to behold–measuring an impressive 320 meters long and 240 meters wide, it is one of the largest and most beautiful squares in the world. Designed by the legendary architect Bernini, the square is encircled by a magnificent colonnade of four rows. Above the columns are 140 statues of saints crafted by the pupils of Bernini. The square is also home to the Vatican Obelisk, which was brought to Rome from Egypt by emperor Caligula, and two stunning fountains. Every Sunday at noon, the pope appears at the window of his apartment to recite the Angelus prayer and bless the crowd.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is a marvel of Renaissance architecture, and its grandeur continues to inspire visitors from all over the world. The church is the largest in the world by interior measure and was designed by some of the most famous architects in history. When visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, you can marvel at Michelangelo’s Pietà, Bernini’s Baldachin, Marchionni’s famous bronze statue of St. Peter, and the massive Porta Santa (Holy Door). Read about the best things to see at St Peter’s Basilica.
St Peter’s Dome
One of the most breathtaking parts of St. Peter’s Basilica is its famous dome, which offers visitors a stunning view of Saint Peter’s Square below. The climb to the top of the dome is divided into two parts. The first part involves either climbing 231 stairs or taking an elevator to reach the inside of Michelangelo’s dome, where you can look down into the basilica itself. For those feeling extra adventurous, you can tackle the second part of the climb–ascending another 320 stairs to the very top of the dome. Be prepared for a narrow staircase that spirals upwards!
Beneath the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica lies an underground world waiting to be explored–the Vatican Grottoes. Throughout history, many Popes and European royals have expressed a desire to be buried in the vicinity of St. Peter. Today, over 90 tombs of popes and other notable figures can be found in the Grottoes. Taking a stroll through this sacred space and learning about the fascinating lives of popes like Pius VI, Benedict XV, and John Paul I is an unforgettable experience.
If you’re looking for a hidden gem in Rome, look no further than the Vatican Gardens. Stretching out behind St. Peter’s Basilica and up the slopes of Vatican Hill, the gardens are a paradise of lush forests, monuments, and colorful floral extensions. As you explore the tranquil paths of the gardens, you’ll be treated to a trio of garden styles–Italian, English, and French, each with its own unique character. Just remember, to access this slice of heaven, you’ll need an official, accredited guide by your side.
Vatican Opening Hours, Tickets & Tours
There’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere only to find out that you can’t get in! Here’s all the information you need to plan your visit to the Vatican, including opening times and ticket options.
Vatican Museums Opening Hours, Tickets & Tours
The Vatican Museums are open from Monday to Saturday, from 9 AM to 6 PM, with the last entry at 4 PM. They’re closed on Sundays, except for the last Sunday of every month, when entry is free, and the museums are open from 9 AM to 2 PM. Keep in mind that this is the busiest day, so expect large crowds!
Want to visit the Vatican Museums at night? As of 2023, from late April to October you can visit Vatican Museums after the usual closing hours on both Friday and Saturday nights. The museum’s closing time shifts to 10:30 PM on Fridays, with the last entry at 8:30 PM, and to 8 PM on Saturdays, with the last entry at 6 PM.
Admission tickets cost €17 for adults, and €8 for children aged 6 to 18, students, and members of the clergy. We recommended you book your tickets in advance, as lines can be very long.
And once you’re done visiting the Museums, you can get something to eat at these restaurants near the Vatican.
St.Peter’s Basilica Opening Hours, Tickets & Tours
St. Peter’s Basilica is completely free to visit! However, note that a security line is in place for everyone’s safety. The line curves tends to grow longer as the day goes on, so plan accordingly. Once you reach the front, you’ll go through a metal detector and have your bags checked.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Vatican Grottoes once you’re inside the basilica, but keep in mind that a ticket is required to visit the Dome.
St. Peter’s Basilica is open every day from 7 AM, except Wednesdays mornings, when it’s closed for the papal audience. Closing time varies depending on the season: 7 PM from April to September and 6:30 PM from October to March.
St. Peter’s Dome Opening Hours, Tickets & Tours
You can buy tickets to the Dome inside St. Peter’s Basilica. There are two ticket options available: a 10€ ticket that includes a partial elevator ride, or an 8€ ticket for those who are up for the challenge of climbing all 551 steps. If you’re unable to climb stairs or just prefer a more relaxed journey, the elevator is your best bet.
St. Peter’s Dome is open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM, with the exception of Wednesday mornings when the Basilica is closed for the papal audience. From April to September, the Dome stays open an extra hour until 6 PM.
Vatican Gardens Opening Hours, Tickets & Tours
The Vatican Gardens are open on the same days and hours as the Vatican Museums, however, it is not possible to wander around the gardens on your own– you must be either on the bus tour or on a walking tour.
The Vatican offers several tours to its gardens, with most conducted in English and scheduled in the morning or early afternoon. So, we recommend booking your tour ahead of time and picking the one that works best for you. Keep in mind, walking tours aren’t available on Wednesdays because of the Papal audience, but bus tours are still running.
While the Vatican Gardens are part of the Vatican Museums, not all tickets to the Museums include access to the Gardens. If you want to explore the Gardens, you’ll need to book a ticket that specifically includes entry. Once you’re done with your tour, you’ll get to skip the line and head straight into the Vatican Museums.
Vatican Dress Code
If you’ve decided to visit the Vatican on your trip to Rome, remember that appropriate clothing is required to enter this sacred place (and any other church!). If you don’t follow the dress code, you might be denied access to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing shorts, short dresses, or skirts. Meanwhile, men should avoid sleeveless shirts and shorts. We know that Rome gets hot in the summer, so bring along a light scarf that you can drape over your shoulders when necessary.
Hats, food, and metal tools like knives and scissors are also not allowed. If you’re planning on bringing a bag, make sure it’s small enough to carry on your shoulder or by hand. Backpacks and large bags are not allowed inside the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica.
Read more on what to wear at the Vatican.
How to get to Vatican City
Getting to Vatican City is a breeze, with multiple transportation options to choose from. Whether you prefer taking the metro, a bus, a taxi or just walking, it’s easy to reach this iconic destination.
There are two metro stops close to the Vatican Museums entrance: Ottaviano and Cipro. These stops are located on the A-line (orange line), and the entrance to the Vatican Museums is just a 5-minute walk from either of them.
Alternatively, you can hop on one of Rome’s city buses that pass by or terminate next to the Vatican. Bus 49 stops right in front of the Vatican Museums. You can also take buses 40 and 64, both departing from Roma Termini—bus 40 stops at Piazza Pia, while bus 64 stops at Terminal Gianicolo, each about 10 minutes away from St. Peter’s Square.
You can also board buses 32, 81, and 982, which stop at Piazza del Risorgimento, a five-minute walk to the Vatican.
If you’d rather be comfortable and take a taxi, the ride should cost no more than €20 if you’re staying in the center of Rome. Make sure you specify to the driver whether you want to be dropped off at St. Peter’s Square or at the Vatican Museums.
And if you’re up for a leisurely stroll, the Vatican Museums are only a pleasant 20-minute walk from Piazza Navona.
With these transportation options, you can easily get to Vatican City and explore all it has to offer!