Vatican City

TIPS AND ADVICE TO HELP YOU PREPARE YOUR VISIT TO THE VATICAN

Vatican: the smallest country in the world 

Vatican City

The Vatican City, home to the Holy See, is a landlocked state in the middle of the Italian capital of Rome. Not only is it the world’s smallest country it is also its least populated.

Small yes, but also independent since the Vatican has its own government that makes its own laws, enforced by its own police force with their own jail for serious breaches of those laws. It also has its own bank, prints its own stamps and issues its own license plates. Only citizens of this diminutive state are allowed however, to drive within its borders!

 To better understand the Vatican, let’s have a look at its component parts:

– The (very famous) Pope

– The “Holy See”

– The “Vatican City” State

– And finally, although a little-known fact, the Vatican actually has a King!

Let’s start with the Pope who is Bishop to all of Rome’s Catholics. In reality, every Bishop in the Catholic Church has his own diocese, but as the Bishop of Rome is the Pope himself, his diocese is special and has its own name and is called the “Holy See”.

Every time a pope dies or retires, there is an election process, reminiscent of something out of “Game of Thrones”, to decide which bishop will be the next to occupy the “Holy See”. While Popes come and go, the Holy See itself remains eternal. This is why the Holy See refers not only to the throne, but also to all the rules that make the Catholic Church what it is!

The King of the Vatican City has absolute and unchecked power within the tiny state’s confines. And his presence makes the Vatican City one of world’s six remaining absolute monarchies; the others being Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Swaziland in southern Africa.

The absolute power of the King prevents the diminutive State from ever being able to join the EU as the union only accepts democracies into its fold. Even though the Vatican City, strictly speaking, has its own legislature (composed of cardinals appointed by the Pope), the King of the Vatican City may cancel their decisions at any time and for any reason whatsoever!

Even if the roles of King and Pope are different, they are nonetheless carried out by one and the same person and in parallel! The result is quite interesting as whoever is elected Pope also becomes the all-powerful King! This makes the Vatican City the only Absolute Monarchy in the world where the king doesn’t actually inherit the throne but is elected!

This dual role sometimes leads to confusion as the Pope is sometimes acting in this capacity as King of the Vatican City and sometimes as spiritual leader of the Holy See.

Did you know?

The only way to become a citizen of the Vatican City is to be so designated by the King. In order for this to happen, a person needs to be working in the service of the Pope either as a Cardinal, diplomat, bodyguard or other relevant position at the service of the Holy Catholic Church. On resignation, the King and Pope cancels his citizenship. In total, the Vatican City has just under a thousand citizens.

What is there to see and do at the Vatican?

Although the Vatican City occupies a very small area (0.44 km2), it nevertheless contains many treasures! When visiting Rome, make sure this tiny State with its magnificent monuments and many  wonders is on your list of places to visit!  Here is an overview of what you can see and do during your visit to the Vatican, seat of the Holy Catholic Church and Pope’s residence.

Saint Peter’s Square: It is at this enormous and magnificent square that the Papal Masses are said by the Pope. Two splendid colonnades with the statues of 140 the Church’s saints and martyrs, who are said to watch over the faithful, surround the square. In the centre of the Square we find a magnificent Egyptian obelisk and fountains. Make sure to check it out while on your way to Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Accessible at any time of day, all year round.

Consecrated in 1626, Saint Peter’s Basilica is without doubt one of the most impressive churches in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it remains one of the world’s most visited monuments. The Basilica is so big, it can accommodate up to 60,000 pilgrims at any one time. On the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen various statues, including those of Jesus, John the Baptist and eleven of the disciples. You can also see the balcony from which the Pope gives the papal addresses and apostolic blessings known as Urbi et Orbi. Inside, make sure you don’t miss Michelangelo’s magnificent “Pietà”.

Winter opening hours (October to March): daily from 7am to 6pm

Summer opening hours (April to September): daily from 7am to 7pm.

Please note: On days with papal audiences, it is not possible to visit the Basilica in the morning. After mass however, it is possible to visit the Basilica.

If you want to enjoy a breath-taking panoramic view of Rome and Saint Peter’s Square, a visit to the Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica is highly recommended! You will have to climb no less than 551 steps, although this number reduces to just 320 if you take the lift. This lift, for which you’ll need to buy a ticket, will take you as far as the first level.

Allow yourself about 1 hour for the visit.

Winter opening hours (October to March): daily from 8am to 5pm

The ticket counter closes at 4pm.

Summer opening hours (April to September): daily from 8am to 6pm

The ticket counter closes at 5pm.

Special closing times: During Papal Masses and other scheduled events, visits are unfortunately not possible.

The Vatican Museums which are composed of 14 different museums, house works of art and historical collections dating from ancient Egypt right up to the twentieth century. The most famous rooms are the Raphael Rooms, the Raphael Loggia and the Room of the Immaculate Conception. The Vatican Museums are also known for the Vatican Library with its monumental double spiral staircase. Fortunately, this is impossible to miss as we take it on leaving the museums.

You’ll need at least half a day to explore its seven kilometres of galleries!

Spiral staircase
Spiral staircase

Open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Please note that last entry is at 4pm and guests are invited to leave 30 minutes before the official closing time. Think about getting yourself a skip-the-line ticket (with optional audio guide).

In summer, guided tours are scheduled until 11pm. Make full use of your time by booking a combo ticket: Skip-the-line ticket for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

Closed on religious holidays and Sundays.

The Sistine Chapel is on top of the list of Vatican must-sees. Located in the heart of the Vatican Museums, it is impossible to miss as it marks the end of the museum tour route. With its impressive 40-meter long and 13-meter wide vaulted ceiling, the Sistine Chapel is home to numerous and diverse icons including the famous Book of Genesis, the Last Judgement and works by Raphael, Botticelli, Rosselli and Perugino.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

Please note: Photography of any kind is forbidden within the Sistine Chapel.

Open from Monday to Saturday: 9am to 6pm

The Sistine Chapel starts closing at 5.30pm and is closed on Sundays.

The Vatican Grottos located under the Basilica are where the monuments, chapels, and tombs of past Popes and Italian dignitaries lie in eternal rest.

The Vatican Necropolis or Scavi, not to be confused with the Grottos, is down even further and is where Saint Peter’s burial tomb is located.

The Scavi Tour of the Necropolis needs some planning ahead. You will have to book well in advance as only 200 people are allowed to enter every day.

Daily visits from 9am to 5pm.

The museum is closed on Sundays and bank holidays.

The Vatican Gardens, often overlooked, account for half of the area of the State and are absolutely gorgeous! They are to be found behind Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Please note: In order to access the gardens you will need to have a  ticket to or have booked a guided tour of the Vatican Museums.

Tips and practical advice: plan head and book your skip-the-line tickets in advance.

Planning ahead is the secret to any good trip! Make a list of the places and monuments that you want to focus on. Allow enough time between sites to go for a bite to eat without rushing. Take the time to relax while taking in your amazing surroundings.

Visit our website to find the deals that suit you best and book your entrance tickets on-line directly; skip-the-line tickets are not necessary if you’re visiting the Basilica and/or its dome. The Vatican Museums however, are a different story altogether and we highly recommend skip-the-line tickets to avoid endless hours of waiting, especially if your schedule is tight!

When is the best time to visit the Vatican?

If you do not opt for a skip-the-line ticket:

Try avoiding high season from May to October.

If you really must go during high season, June is probably the least busy month.

Avoid visiting on Catholic feast days:

January 6 (the Epiphany), the Easter weekend in May (the Ascension and Pentecost), August 15 (the Assumption), November 1 (All Saints Day) and the end of December (Christmas).

Avoid the first and last Sunday of each month and the Mondays following these dates. As it happens, entry to Rome’s museums and monuments is free on these days. The Vatican is an exception however, but that doesn’t stop the eager tourists from visiting. If you want to visit the Vatican for free, you’ll need to go on the last Sunday of each month between 9am and 1.45pm. Mondays following these dates are also very popular with the crowds and should be avoided.

Another good way to avoid the crowds is to visit during lunch break!

If you don’t mind visiting during the Pontifical Masses on Wednesday morning and again at 1.30pm, then these are also good times to visit.

Book a visit before official opening hours: Buy your skip-the-line tickets on-line and you will have the opportunity to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel before they open their doors to the general public!

You will be visiting holy sites so please dress accordingly.

If you are only planning on strolling through St. Peter’s Square however, then there is no specific dress code.

You will need to dress respectfully however, if you plan on entering the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Gardens.

Low-cut clothing and / or necklines, shorts above the knees, mini-skirts and headgear are not allowed.

Practical tips for visiting the Vatican Museums

Bags and backpacks: All luggage, suitcases, backpacks, packages and anything else deemed not suitable for inside the museums, either because of its size or characteristics, must be left at the locker room which is free of charge.

Weapons and other dangerous items are of course prohibited and may not be left in the locker room. 

It is forbidden to drink and / or consume food inside the museums.

With the exception of the Sistine Chapel where photography is completely forbidden, non-flash, non-commercial photography is permitted in the Vatican Museums. The use of Selfie sticks is forbidden however.

Mobile phones should be set to silent mode while visiting the museums and their use is completely forbidden while in the Sistine Chapel.

How to get to the Vatican City when in Rome?

Several options are available to you, here listed in order of practicality:

Bus: Numbers 64/62/40/81

Metro: Line A

Get off at Cipro to visit the Vatican Museums.

Get off at Ottaviano to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica.

From Piazza Venezia, the Vatican is about half an hour by foot.

The same distance by taxi will cost about €20.