For kids, the best things to do at the Vatican

Families with limited time (e.g. We offer the Sistine Express Tour as well as the Vatican Highlights Tour for families with short attention spans. These will allow you to get in and out of the crowds, while still showing you all that the Vatican has.

The Vatican is famously large and crowded. It can be either the highlight of your trip or the most difficult day of sightseeing, depending on how much you love art and your tolerance for the hordes.

The Vatican Museums were a popular choice for children, especially during high season when the queues can be over two hours and the galleries are packed shoulder to shoulder. Even if you visit in low season, if your children are interested in art, the size and scope of the Vatican Museums can overwhelm them.

Even critics and artists with years of experience can find this true. For children, the Vatican can feel like a guarantee of boredom. It doesn’t have be this way. The Vatican has many things for children. The trick is to prepare them and engage them once they get there.

We sought out the tips and tricks of our guides to help us make a successful trip to the Vatican with young people. These guides have many years of experience in leading tours through Vatican City and have mastered the art of helping children appreciate and enjoy art. These are their top tips on the best places to visit and activities in the Vatican for children.


Teach them about the history of the art

One of the most beautiful collections of storytelling is made up of the Greek myths. These myths are the foundation for all Roman mythology. Although the original versions contain a lot of violence and sex, there are many kid-friendly anthologies like the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths which introduces children to the vibrant characters and dramatic stories of the world and softens the more serious themes.

Children will experience the joy of recognising a statue of Hermes/Mercury, the pain of Laocoon’s contorted limbs and the wonder at the Belvedere Torso’s physique (which likely belonged to Hercules). They will not see old paintings and statues, but stories. If you share your myths with them, you will too.

Learning the myths isn’t just for the Vatican. Moving through Rome with your kids is a great way to learn the Myths. There are many references. The city will come alive if you have a good grasp of Greek Mythology, from the Vesta temple in the Roman Forum to Oceanus’ depiction in the Trevi fountain.


Start early


If you are looking to visit the Vatican with children, it is best to get started as soon as possible. Photo by Bruno via Flickr

Although it may be difficult to get children out of bed, the best time is in the morning to teach them. There are many distractions at the Vatican for children on any given day. It is important to get in as soon as possible and get out as soon as they start to rush. It is important that they have a restful night the night before to avoid becoming tired or drowsy.

Even if they don’t see the finer points, the beauty of fine art is there for them – it happens to all of us. The colors of the Raphael Rooms, the Sistine chapel, and the mythic stories about derring-do, will be a hit with their attention. It is important to make sure they feel excited and fresh for these experiences. This will give you the best chance of getting up in the morning.


Give them an assignment


Who is taking notes? Yes, there will be a test.

While we all know that homework is not something young people enjoy doing while on vacation, this old trick works for both adults and children.

Your children should create a “favorite” list before you go to the Vatican Museums. You can make it very general or you can base it around a particular theme. You can use sculptures, paintings or animals to represent gods, monsters and heroes. You may also be familiar with the Vatican Museums and could play “I Spy” to give your guests specific sights to see during their visit.

You can give them a pen and paper so that they can make notes and sketch when the mood strikes. You don’t need to be an artist to have fun being one for a day. For children, a visit at the Vatican is a great way to inspire their creativity.

Tip: List-making isn’t only for children in the Vatican. You’ll be amazed at how much your experience will improve if you lead by example.


They’re just children

It can take years to appreciate great art. You can’t expect your children to be as fascinated by the Vatican Collections than you are. Your first visit to the Vatican Collections is a great introduction to art, and an opportunity to show them some things about masterworks. You can’t go wrong if you put your focus on the stories, colors and what they enjoy, rather than what art critics tell you they should like.

Our Guide to Vatican Museums, Guide to Pope Francis’ Jubilee year, and List of Most Interesting Papal Property that You (probably not) Didn’t Know About will provide more detailed information on how to get the most from your Vatican visit.