Cultural classics in the world’s smallest state
Crammed with ancient architecture, vast museums and manicured gardens, Vatican City definitely merits a full-day visit – or three! If you’re anything like us, you’ll want to explore everything from iconic Saint Peter’s Square to the mesmerising Sistine Chapel. With a handy combination pass, an expert guide can escort you round all the most famous sights, happily skipping the queues as you go.
Have a look at our top 10 attractions to see where your Vatican City visit might lead.
1. Admire the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica
Step inside the biggest building in the centre of Rome. As one of Catholicism’s holiest sites, this intricately designed church is crowned by a stately dome and has interiors so grand they’ll likely leave you speechless. Wind your way past huge frescoes and gaze up at St Peter’s Baldachin, an ornate pavilion-style canopy that looms over the high altar, crafted entirely from bronze by the Baroque sculptor Bernini.
Pro-tip: Make a note not to wear sleeveless tops, shorts or miniskirts here, as the guards won’t let you in!
2. Pop to the pope’s pad at the Apostolic Palace
Officially where the pontiff gets his beauty sleep, the Apostolic Palace is made up of various sites, including the Papal Apartments. Some sections are closed to visitors, but you can still access plenty of top attractions such as the Vatican Library and the Vatican Museums. Look out for the Swiss Guard, the pope’s personal army, who still wear their full medieval uniform: striped tunics, white ruffs and plumed helmets.
3. Marvel at Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel
Located within the Apostolic Palace, this 15th-century chapel is a must-see monument. As the sacred site of the papal conclave, it’s where cardinals congregate and vote to elect a new pope. Painstakingly painted over a total of four years by Renaissance genius Michelangelo, the ceiling (an enormous fresco called The Last Judgement) is covered with awe-inspiring scenes of the Christian story, featuring over 300 finely detailed figures.
4. Experience culture and creativity at the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are gigantic: there are 54 galleries, housing more than 70,000 artworks. Just over a quarter of these are on display to the public – that’s over 20,000 individual pieces – so there’s plenty to see.
An OMNIA Vatican and Rome Card gives you entry to this 16th-century complex, as well as over 30 more museums across Rome. The pass lasts for 72 hours, so if you don’t get round everything on the first visit, you can return the next day.
5. Get snapped in St Peter’s Square
St Peter’s Square is an iconic piazza that’s right in front of St Peter’s Basilica. This is the place to come for some seriously Instagrammable photos: as well as the many historic buildings surrounding it, there are imposing colonnades and a giant granite Egyptian obelisk that dates back to 37 AD.
With an I Love Rome bus pass, a double-decker hop-on, hop-off bus will drop you just moments from this renowned landmark.
6. View the hidden treasures of the Vatican Necropolis
Venture underground to discover a hidden city of the dead. Right beneath St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Necropolis is a labyrinthine burial ground and carefully preserved museum, decked out with paintings, woodwork, sculptures and artefacts. It’s even believed to contain the bones of Saint Peter the Apostle himself!
You’ll need an advanced reservation to visit, so while you’re waiting for your slot to arrive you can spend a few hours exploring Rome. Zip around the sights on a fun segway tour, returning just in time for your Necropolis adventure.
7. Discover an ancient culture in the Etruscan Museum
Never heard of the Etruscans? You’re definitely not alone. Dating back to 900 BC, this civilisation is still pretty mysterious, but the National Etruscan Museum is dedicated to changing that. You’ll have your eyes opened by the collection of ivory, bronze and glass artefacts that sit proudly on display.
The museum’s manageable size makes it a good place to squeeze in at the end of your Italy trip, so drop your bags at a nearby luggage storage and enjoy an educational wander.
8. Peruse the picture-perfect paintings at the Pinacoteca
The Pinacoteca is part of the Vatican Museums, but worthy of its own shout-out for the incredible artwork it houses. If you love Leonardo da Vinci as much as we do, then this is the place for you. Gaze at his unfinished masterpiece Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, then take in world-renowned works by the likes of Caravaggio and Giotto.
The fascinating Angels and Demons Tour, inspired by the book and the film, will set the scene for your visit here – and finishes conveniently close to the gallery.
9. Be transported to Cairo at the Egyptian Museum
There are nine thrilling rooms at the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, each with artefacts you might not expect to find in the heart of Italy. Cast your eyes over hieroglyphic-inscribed stones, wooden sarcophagi and even mummified heads! Learn about Rome’s ancient ties with Cairo as you soak up the thoroughly Egyptian flavour of this 19th-century museum.
For a jam-packed day of discovering historical gems, go on a Vatican and Rome Combo Tour – just to be sure you don’t miss anything.
10. Unwind among the greenery of Vatican Gardens
Once you’ve taken in the striking architecture of Vatican City, there’s still more to discover at the meticulously laid-out Vatican Gardens. You’ll need to plan ahead with this one, as the gardens are only open to those with a reservation. Arrive especially early to catch the fountains, flowers and landscaped spaces bathed in the morning light.
Spent too long in the heat? Cool down afterwards with a refreshing gelato tasting tour, or a food and wine tour!.