Vatican Travel Guide: What to see in Vatican City blog post was first published on February 28th 2017, and updated on July 23rd 2021.
Vatican City is home to some of the most impressive art pieces in the world. From Michelangelo’s Pieta to Rafael’s frescoes, they are all there. It’s impossible to see all those artworks in a day, so when visiting Vatican City, proper planning is crucial! To help you decide what to see in Vatican City, we created this Vatican Travel Guide with some of our best tips.
What to see in Vatican City
The Vatican may be one of the world’s smallest countries, but there is just so much to see there. From the well-known sites such as Sistine Chapel to some exciting things outside the most popular places. However, to really enjoy in your visit to the Vatican, it’s good to make a list of things to see in Vatican City before your visit.
To help you decide on what to see in Vatican City, here is the Vatican Travel Guide itinerary with some of the places you shouldn’t miss while in the Vatican.
How to get to Vatican City
When spending some time in Rome, a visit to Vatican City is a must. It’s an independent state located within the city. Placed in the heart of Rome, you can easily access it on foot or by using the RED metro line and exit at Cipro – Musei Vaticani station.
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums is one of the top museums in the world and a place any art lover and culture tourist should visit at least once. It was founded in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II. Since then, it’s displaying art collections gathered by popes.
Today, the Vatican Museums is home to one of the world’s largest and best art collections. The most remarkable exhibits are in selection of the old Roman art, which consists of primarily sculptures and mosaics. Some of the most famous exhibits are Apollo Belvedere, Laocoön and his sons and Belvedere Torso.
Ancient mosaics, now incorporated into the museum floor, are also something worth seeing. Besides them, ceiling decoration and its optical illusions are amazing.
Other fantastic artworks at the Vatican Museums are the Renaissance wall paintings in the private pope’s chambers, known as Rafael’s Rooms.
During the Renaissance, some of the most famous masters created wall paintings in the popes’ chambers. One of the first-night scenes ever was painted in one of them. It’s Raphael’s ‘Deliverance by Saint Peter’, made in 1514. However, with all of its symbolism and portraits of contemporary artists, my personal favourite was ‘The School of Athens’.
TIP: The biggest advice when visiting the Vatican Museums is to buy your entrance tickets in advance. Even with them, you are still going to queue for some time at the security check. I wouldn’t advise you to bring large bags or umbrellas because you will need to pick them up at the museum entrance. And it’s pretty far away from the place where you’ll finish your visit.
We visited the Vatican Museums on a small group tour in the Vatican, and our guide took care of the tickets for us. Many travel companies are organising the tours around the Vatican. We went with Angel Tours and were really happy with the tour and our guide. So, I would highly recommend them.
When wandering about what to see in Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel should definitely take place on your list. Sistine Chapel is where the pope election is taking place.
However, today it’s best known for the unique wall paintings Michelangelo Buonarroti made there in the early 16th century. It’s fascinating to see the place a famous Rennaissance painter was so passionate about. He worked there day and night, all alone for eight years. It was a massive project during which he painted the whole ceiling and one of the walls.
It is even more impressive when you know he worked in a fresco technique. That means he was painting on the wet mortar and had to paint very quickly.
It’s not allowed to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel. That’s quite nice because you won’t be distracted by your camera, so you can genuinely enjoy the beauty of this place.
Saint Peter’s Basilica
Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest and probably the most important church in the world. Some of the most significant architects of the Renaissance and Baroque time worked on it, making it one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
Every single detail in it was well planned. It’s filled with so many famous art pieces, like Michelangelo’s Pieta or Bernini’s Baldacchino. All of the large images inside it are not paintings but rather mosaics, making colours appear brighter and more beautiful.
Saint Peter’s Square
Saint Peter’s Square, as it looks today, was designed in the late 17th century. It’s famous for its beautiful colonnades and a huge Egyptian obelisk in the middle of it. It’s also a place with a great view of Saint Peter’s Basilica and a central part of Vatican City.
You can see some of its famous Swiss guards there dressed in their recognisable uniforms, as well.
On the left-hand side of the Basilica’s entrance is the Vatican Post Office. Here you can send your postcards with a Vatican stamp on them or buy some of the official Vatican postcards, stamps and coins.
The Vatican is a place with a fascinating history. From the good and bad popes, fighting for the throne between the wealthy Roman families, commissioning the art from the best artists of their time, and thus securing the popes’ social statues.
A visit to Vatican City could be overwhelming. But, if you prepare thoroughly, decide what to see in Vatican City in advance and book a guide, it should be a wonderful experience!
This post contains affiliate links.
Cover photo by Alejandro Esposito on Unsplash