After a whole day (or 2) in Rome, I suggest that you start early the next morning to explore Vatican City. Even though it’s the world’s smallest state, the number of people waiting in countless lines to get inside can outnumber the number of the Vatican City’s 800 citizens by a factor of 10 to 1.
If you’re staying on the east side of Rome, take the metro A line to Ottaviano, from where you can walk a few blocks southwest to the north side of the Vatican City Walls along Viale Vaticano.
If you arrive early enough in the morning on a mid-weekday or on the Wednesdays when the Pope is giving mass, you can head straight to the ticket offices around the corner and purchase your 16 euro entry into the Vatican Museums (they are closed only on obvious religious holidays and Sundays, except the last Sunday of the month). However, most do not get there early and end up waiting over an hour and a half in line along this very street to get inside. The only other way to skip this line is to purchase tickets online for an extra 4 euros, but these “skip-the-line” tickets usually sell out a few days before.
Your Roma Pass will be useless here, unless you want to buy the more expensive 90+ euro Omnia Pass.
FYI, this is also the only way to see the Sistine Chapel. Vatican City’s other main sight, St. Peter’s Basilica, is free to enter and you can see it via a separate entrance along the eastern end of the complex (more on that later)>
Once inside the Vatican Museums, it’s another madhouse figuring out where to go. Just get through security and head upstairs to get your tickets,
The Vatican Museums complex is designed in a linear fashion: you only have one path to follow. And eventually, if you don’t screw it up, you’ll end up through its famous corridors:
Eventually you’ll hit a stairwell that becomes a bottleneck for the mass of people trying to get downstairs to see the interior of the Sistine Chapel:
Head downstairs, look up, and prepare to stare dumbfounded at Michelangelo’s masterpiece that took him over 4 years to complete. If you’re lucky, the guards will be too preoccupied with crowd control to notice if you’re taking a few photos (they usually yell at you every 2 seconds):
But don’t be too obvious with your amateur photographing, because now it’s nearly impossible to get the Sistine Chapel from this angle:
After departing the chapel, you’ll end up back in the main upstairs lobby of the Vatican Museums, where you can either choose stroll amongst the Vatican City Gardens, take the all-day train around the city, eat in the café/cafeteria, send off a postcard, or head out down towards the exit via its famous spiral staircase:
When you’re leaving the Vatican Museums, you end up back out on the streets of Rome as if the Holy See just unceremoniously kicked you out of their country.
Well, not to fear, a 5 minute walk around the corner to its eastern entrance towards Saint Peters Square and Basilica will bring you right back inside:
Once you pass through the open archways, you’re back in Vatican City.
Meander around this gorgeous plaza that’s (no surprise) also designed by Bernini.
To get inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, aka the world’s largest church by area, length, and volume, be prepared to wait in another line:
Eventually, you’ll go through another round of security checks and then are given the option either to roam for free around the ground levels of the Basilica, or pay 6 euros to climb to the top of its Dome to get views over Vatican City and the rest of Rome.
You can pay another extra 2 euros to take an elevator and skip the first 200 steps (or which there are 500 total). The elevator will directly take you to the first rest stop, which is an elevated balcony that looks down the interior of the basilica:
Keep climbing up from here but take extra care if you get claustrophobic:
Eventually after the 504th step, you’ll make it outside:
Squint a bit looking east and you can make out the Colosseum peeking out to the right behind the Altar Of The Fatherland:
Then head back downstairs to explore the interior of the actual basilica itself, which is so large you can fit the Statue of Liberty inside here, sideways or standing up, and still have enough room left over.
Don’t forget to glimpse The Pietá by Michelangelo before you leave:
Afterwards, head back out east to exit Vatican City. If you keep along Via dei Corridori, you’ll reach Castel Sant’Angelo aka the Mausoleum of Hadrian.
Although this structure isn’t technically a part of the Vatican City, it became the Pope’s chosen refuge to which he could escape via an underground tunnel if the Holy See were ever to be under siege (as it was during the Sack of Rome in 1523). Its ramparts are also where the eponymous heroine of Puccini’s Tosca (spoiler alert)…leaps to her death.
But you can also come here for the great views:
Tomorrow: Italy’s other lesser-known microstate — San Marino!
- At time of posting in Vatican City, it was 64.4 °F - Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear