Vatican City, at 44 hectares is the world’s smallest sovereign state. Don’t let this fool you. Although it only has 1,000 people within its walls, thousands of people pass through its gates each day. This should give you an idea of the amount of things there is to see and do inside. It is home to some of the greatest works of art and some of the most iconic buildings in the world, so it’s no surprise that a visit to the Vatican is an unforgettable experience.
There are certain must-sees like St Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. But if you have some spare time or are looking for something more unique, there are many lesser-known places such as the Vatican Gardens and Mosaic Studios or underground archeological excavations.
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Grottoes below
It would not be complete a visit to Vatican without seeing St. Peter’s Basilica. The second St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church ever built. The Basilica was originally built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It marked the spot where St. Peter was supposed have been buried. The church fell into disrepair by the 1400s and was torn down under Pope Julius II.
The site is open to the public today. However, it’s best to arrive early to avoid long lines, especially in summer. Both the climb to St Peter’s Dome, and the entry to the basilica’s treasure treasury are free. However, they are both well-worth the cost!
You should also visit the Vatican Grottoes located directly beneath St. Peter’s Basilica during your visit. These are also available for free, but you should not miss the entrance that is located near the Pier of St Andrew and the high altar. You’ll find here the tombs, sarcophagi and graves of many popes. You should be aware that the Grottoes exit will take you outside the Basilica. This will ensure that you don’t have to wait again.
Bernini’s Colonnade is located at Saint Peter’s Square
It is one of the most famous pictures of Vatican City, and it’s a must-see destination for all visitors. The square is directly located in front of the Basilica. The square was designed by Bernini and built between 1656-1667. It is one of the most well-known of its kind. It looks like a huge keyhole from the top with two large colonnades. Bernini wanted it to look like the’motherly arms’ of the church.
Tourists and visitors to Vatican Museums love this spot because it is a popular meeting point. From here, you can see the Papal Apartments. This is also where the Papal Address is held each Wednesday in the summer months. (But more below).
You can visit the square at no cost and it is open 24 hours a days, unless you need to close for a special ceremony.
Visit the Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is not only one of the most well-known chapels in the globe, but it’s also one of the most iconic buildings in the world. The Sistine Chapel is a small section of the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of Pope Sixtus IV. It was built during the 15th century and was named after him. The chapel serves as both an attraction and the location of the Papal conclave to elect the new Pope.
The stunning art that decorates the Chapel’s ceiling was created by Michelangelo between 1508-1512. While electronic devices are prohibited during the conclave you may be able to take a photo with the Pope on a regular day, just like past visitors.
Sistine Chapel can be crowded in summer months. If you prefer a more private visit, you might consider our Pristine Sistine(tm), which allows you to enter the chapel before anyone else, or our VIP VaticanKey Master’s Tour: You’ll have the Museums to yourselves for two hours while you wait with the Key Master.
Continue reading: Do you like the frescoes in the Sistine chapel’s Sistine chapel? These are sure to please!
Traverse Castel Sant’Angelo
This listing is subject to disclaimer. Although it is not officially in Vatican City, Castel Sant’Angelo can be accessed via a historical passageway called the Passetto di Borgo. It measures 800m in length and was used as a refuge by the serving pope twice when his life was in danger.
The original purpose of the building was to be a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian’s family in the Middle Ages. Its favorable location next to the river led to a shift in its function. It became a defensive fortress as the city was under threat. The popes used it to store their treasure during attacks due to its indestructible structure.
You will find a variety of weapons and armour inside, Renaissance frescos, and the Papal residence.
Send a postcard from the Vatican City
Before Instagram, travelers used another medium to record their travels. That’s right, Postcards. You can send a postcard from Vatican City to anyone, whether you are a collector, an old soul, or just want something new while in the city. It’s a cost-effective and fun activity that everyone can enjoy. This is a great opportunity to send mail from an independent country! You can send one to your family, friends or yourself at the Vatican Post Office, located at the exit from St. Peter’s Basilica.
Take plenty of time to visit the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums, which contain a staggering total of fifty-four distinct collections, is undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in the Vatican. The Museums cover nine miles of magnificent works and include works by Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. They also have a variety of sculptures, paintings, and mosaics. The collection is estimated to be worth more than EUR15 billion. It’s definitely worth the effort to visit.
The Gallery of the Maps and Gallery of the Statues are the most visited museums in the complex. If you have the time, all the museums are well worth it – literally in many instances.
Walks of Italy offers a variety of tours to fit any schedule, whether you’re looking for a more in-depth tour through the Vatican, or just to see the highlights of its collections.
Stroll through the Vatican Gardens
The Vatican is the only country that can boast gardens taking up half their land. The Vatican Gardens are a haven in the heart of bustling Vatican City. They include three types of gardens: English, French and Italian. They date back to medieval times. Pope Nicholas III was the first person to build walls around the gardens and include an orchard.
The gardens have seen many improvements over the years, including dedications, sculptures, and fountains dedicated to different saints of Christendom. Although the Vatican Gardens receive many visitors each year, only a small percentage of them actually enter. This is due in part to the fact that only those who have booked a guided tour with official Vatican staff can enter the gardens. This is an even greater reason to visit! The Vatican gardens are less crowded than other Vatican areas, making them a great experience for all, religious or not.
If you are looking for more historical Papal gardens, take our day trip from Castel Gandolfo to see the summer home of Pope Francis.
Participate in an audience with Pope Francis
If the Pope is in Rome, visitors can attend the Papal Address and receive a Papal Blessing. This is usually held in St. Peter’s Square during summer months. The Pope will typically begin by speaking in several languages, including Latin, English and Portuguese, German, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Polish, German, and Spanish. The Pope will also bless and offer blessings to family members, particularly if they are sick or deceased.
The reserved seating area at the front of St. Peter’s Square can only be accessed by those who have tickets. However, this section fills up quickly so even if your ticket is valid, it’s still a good idea.
Continue reading: Behind the scenes of the Vatican’s Two Popes
The Vatican Mosaic Studio is available.
The Vatican Mosaic Studios are hidden in a tiny area of the Vatican. They produce some of the finest works of art, despite not being the most elaborate rooms in the building. These studios are responsible for restoring the mosaic covering ten thousand square metres within Saint Peter’s Basilica. They also produce mosaics for private collectors and the Pope, who sometimes gifts them to heads-of-state.
These mosaics are meticulously crafted with great artistry and care. They can be heated to 800° to create a unique color hue. A bespoke mosaic can cost up to EUR200,000.
Private guided tours are the only way to get into the studios. This is a great price to pay to see the Vatican artists at work.
Visit the Necropolis at the Via Triumphalis
Necropolis is derived from the Greek words necros (dead), and polis (city), meaning “city of dead”. These cemeteries were established in ancient Rome to protect the bodies of the dead from being buried in the city. Many have been discovered under important Italian sites.
The Necropolis at the Via Triumphalis is an Ancient underground cemetery that lies beneath the Vatican Gardens. The site was extensively excavated and refurbished to become a museum that provides information about its past and history. The museum will also feature ancient mosaics, burial chambers, and frescoes.
You can only visit the Necropolis if you book a tour through the Vatican website.
Read more: Italy’s creepy catacombs, crypts and more!