Why Visit Vatican City
Located within the boundaries of Rome, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and the seat of Roman Catholicism. The Vatican sits not just at the center of Roman Catholicism, but is also home to one of the most impressive collection of art in the world. Be it Caravaggio’s paintings, the frescoes of Michelangelo or sculptures by Bernini, some of the greatest works of Renaissance art can be found in the the Vatican.
Apart from a pilgrimage center, the Vatican is also one of the most important tourist destinations in Europe. The main attractions in Vatican City are St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.
St. Peter’s Basilica, along with St. Peter’s Square, sits in the heart of the Vatican. It is a renowned work of Renaissance architecture and was designed by the likes of Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta, Maderno and Bernini. On the other hand, the Vatican Museums and its collections are considered to be of the highest historical, scientific and cultural importance. The greatest of all though are the frescoes which adorn the Sistine Chapel, a chapel in the Apostolic Palace and a part of the Vatican Museums.
Questions on your Mind
1. Vatican Museums - Tickets, Must-sees, Tours and more ›
2. Sistine Chapel - Things to see ›
3. Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica ›
4. How to Beat the Vatican Queue ›
5. Logistics - When and How to Visit The Vatican ›
6. Things To Keep In Mind Before You Go ›
The Vatican Museums are a group of art and Christian museums situated within the walls of Vatican City. The Vatican Museums collections consist of over 70,000 paintings and sculptures, displayed prominently in over 54 galleries, making it one of the most impressive collections of Renaissance art anywhere in the world. The museums are home to a number of classical sculptures, tapestries, and paintings by Renaissance greats such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bernini and Leonardo da Vinci. The Vatican Museums also have a collection of Modern Religious Art with paintings and sculptures from artists like Carlo Carrà, Vincent van Gogh, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
Tickets to the Vatican Museum
Access to the Vatican Museums requires one to purchase tickets. These tickets will allow you to skip the queue at the entrance and head straight to the security. Another feature of the Vatican Museums ticket is that it includes access to the famed Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is situated within the Vatican Museums and you are not required to purchase a separate ticket to access it.
With an individual access ticket, you also get the option of going for an audio tour. These headsets are available in multiple languages and provide all the important information you need to learn more about the paintings and sculptures that adorn the Vatican Museums. Apart from individual access tickets, you can also go for guided tours of the Vatican Museums.
Guided tour of Vatican Museums - Pros and Cons
Taking a guided tour of the Vatican Museums can be really helpful if you want to experience more than just gazing at works of art. In the company of an expert guide, you will receive priority access to the Vatican Museums and head inside the museum without having to wait in the queue. Once inside, your guide will take you through the Vatican Museums galleries and show you some of the most important and iconic works of art from the Renaissance and even a collection of modern art paintings.
Guided tours of a historical monument are an extremely fruitful way to go about discovering them. The guide will be an expert in the subject and tell you not just the who and why behind each painting, but also the historical and cultural context that gave birth to these works of art. However, the downside of guided tours is the fixed routine and route that you will have to follow - usually at the discretion of the guide. However, at the end of the day, a guided tour is the best way to go about discovering a historical attraction, especially museums.
The Galleries of the Vatican Museums
Your Vatican Museum tickets will provide you access to all the 54 galleries, including the Sistine Chapel. Some of the most popular ones include Greek Cross Gallery, Sala Rotonda (a miniature Pantheon, with impressive ancient mosaics and statues lining the perimeter), the Gallery of the Statues, the Gallery of the Busts, Museo Chiaramonti, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco and Museo Gregoriano Egiziano.
Must see at the Vatican Museums
The Raphael Rooms
The Raphael Rooms are a group of rooms in the public portion of the Vatican Palace (part of the Vatican Museums) and are famous for their frescoes which were painted by Raphael, marking the High Renaissance in Rome. The rooms that make up Raphael Rooms are Sala di Costantino ("Hall of Constantine"), the Stanza di Eliodoro ("Room of Heliodorus"), the Stanza della Segnatura ("Room of the Signatura") and the Stanza dell'Incendio del Borgo ("The Room of the Fire in the Borgo").
Gallery of Maps
The Gallery of maps is a 120 metre long gallery in the Vatican Museums that is covered with painted maps of Italy based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti. It took Danti 3 years to complete the 40 panels that make up the Gallery of Maps. The Gallery of Maps remain as the world's largest pictorial geographical study.
The Sala Rotonda is shaped like a miniature Pantheon and is covered with impressive mosaics on the floor while the perimeter is lined with statues and busts. The mosaics of the Sala Rotonda originally belonged to the 3rd century A.D. and were found at Otricoli and at Sacrofano. They were later assembled here in the 18th century. Of the sculptures, the most famous is the gilded bronze statue of Hercules. A red porphyry basin with a circumference of 13 metres lies at the center of the room.
Gregorian Egyptian Museum
The Gregorian Egyptian Museum, or the Museo Gregoriano Egiziano, houses a brilliant collection of artifacts that date back to ancient Egypt. The highlights of the Egyptian Museum include ancient papyruses, animal mummies, the Grassi Collection and a reproduction of the famous Book of the Dead.
Gallery of Statues and the Hall of Busts
As the name suggests, the gallery is home to a collection of ancient statues and busts and is extremely popular amongst visitors. The most popular exhibitions in the Gallery of Statues include Sleeping Ariadne, the bust of Menander, Barberini Candelabra and the Chiaramonti Caesar.
The Sistine Chapel is situated in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, and is located within the Vatican Museums. Access to the Sistine Chapel is included with your Vatican Museum tickets. When you visit the Vatican Museums and its 54 galleries, the Sistine Chapel will notably be the last room you visit and also the most brilliant. The Sistine Chapel was built between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV and is named after him as well. Painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are considered to be a cornerstone of Renaissance art.
The Sistine Chapel is undoubtedly the highlight of every Vatican Museum visit. You will instantly know when you’re in the Sistine Chapel as the room gets extremely quiet and everyone inside can be found looking up, staring at the magnificent ceiling. Michelangelo’s frescoes adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, with paintings depicting stories from the life Jesus and Moses painted on the eastern, northern and southern walls.
What to see in the Sistine Chapel
The walls and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are covered by magnificent frescoes and are dedicated to the lives of Jesus and Moses as well. Spread over three walls and a massive ceiling, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are one of the most important works of art in the world.
The southern wall of the Sistine Chapel is decorated with the Stories of Moses. Painted in 1481-1482, some of the famous frescoes on the southern wall are:
• Moses Leaving to Egypt
• The Trials of Moses
• The Crossing of the Red Sea
• Descent from Mount Sinai
• Punishment of the Rebels
• Testament and Death of Moses
The northern wall of the Sistine Chapel is decorated with the Stories of Jesus. Painted in 1481-1482, some of the famous frescoes on the southern wall are:
• Baptism of Christ
• Temptation of Christ
• Vocation of the Apostles
• The Sermon on the Mount
• The Delivery of the Keys
• The Last Supper
Frescoes on the eastern wall include:
• Resurrection of Christ
• Disputation over Moses' Body
The Sistine Chapel Ceiling
The frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 under the commission of Pope Julius II. Originally painted as golden stars on a blue sky, Michelangelo worked on the ceiling to convert it into one of the most famous works of art in the world. Michelangelo commenced the enormous undertaking after he built himself a scaffold to reach the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Over 40 scenes were painted onto the ceiling in the span of 4 years depicting the stories of Creation, the creation and downfall of Adam and Eve, three stories of Noah, ancestors of Jesus, the twelve Prophets and Sibyls.
The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement is probably the most famous single work of art in the Sistine Chapel. Covering the entire wall behind the altar, The Last Judgement was painted by Michelangelo from 1535 to 1541. The Last Judgement depicts the second coming of Christ on the Day of Judgment and is based on the 20th chapter of the Revelation of John. A heroic image of Jesus occupies the center of the wall with saints and prophets surrounding him while the common folk are painted at the bottom of the wall. The painting is one of a kind in terms of its symbolism and size and has to be seen in person for to truly feel its glory.
Sistine Chapel tickets
Since the Sistine Chapel is accessed via the Vatican Museums, one is not required to purchase separate tickets in order to visit the Sistine Chapel. Individual access tickets and guided tours of the Vatican Museums will allow you to visit the Sistine Chapel as well.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The Basilica of St. Peter is an Italian Renaissance church that was designed primarily by Donato Bramante, Gian Lorenzo Bernini,Michelangelo and Carlo Maderno. Today, St. Peter's is not only the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture but also the largest church in the world. Construction of the basilica began in 1506 and was completed in 1626. The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel are a ten-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica.
Adjacent to the basilica is St. Peter’s Square, a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. An ancient Egyptian obelisk stands at the center of the basilica, erected at the current site in 1586. Some of the most popular aspects of the basilica are Michelangelo’s La Pietà sculpture, Bernini’s Baldachin, the statue of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II’s tomb as well as the cupolone - St Peter’s famous dome. One is not required to purchase a ticket in order to access the main basilica, though certain sections such as the cupola require a ticket.
St. Peter’s Basilica Cupola
Climbing to the top of the cupola is a fascinating experience. Immediately after entering the basilica, if you look to your right, you will be able to see a signage indicating the direction of the ticket booth and staircase that leads to the top. You can either take the stairs entirely to the top (551 steps) or take the elevator and then climb the remaining on steps (320). There is a minor difference in the fee for stairs only and lift + stairs. On your way to the top, you will be able to stop at a terrace facing the interiors of the dome and enjoy the beautiful mosaics that line it. Once you reach the top, you will be greeted by stunning 360-degree panoramic views of Vatican City and Rome. The dome is open from 8:00 AM to 6:0 PM in the months of April to September and from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM in the months of October to March.
St. Peter’s Treasury
St. Peter’s Treasury is another section of the basilica that has an admission charge. Its exhibition contains church ornaments, statues, papal mitres and various other objects that were usually royal gifts.
Many people visiting the basilica visit the Vatican Grottoes. What it is is an underground graveyard that contains the tombs of many Vatican popes as well as members of the royal family from the 10th century. The Vatican Grottoes are free to enter and are open everyday from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the months of April to September and from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM from October to March. Make sure this is the last place you visit in St. Peter’s Basilica since you will be outside the basilica upon exiting the grottoes.
Guided Tour of St. Peter’s Basilica
There are many guided tours of the basilica that will take you show you all the major highlights of the church, including access to paid parts such as the cupola and St. Peter’s Treasury. Guided tours also bring the added advantage of giving you priority access to the basilica, allowing you to skip the long entrance line and head straight inside the church.
Beat the Vatican Queue
The Vatican is a must-see for everyone visiting Rome and it’s popularity manifests itself in the form of the queues that line up outside the Vatican. Every day, thousands upon thousands people flock to the holy city to marvel at its architecture and massive collection of Renaissance artworks and paintings from other periods as well. The queue of people waiting to get inside the Vatican is known to stretch for hours on end. If you end up at the Vatican without your tickets, then be prepared to stand in the ticket line for up to 2 hours before you’re able to even purchase your tickets.
Let us take a look at how you can make the most of your time at the Vatican, spending it in the galleries rather than the queues.
Purchase Tickets Online
Not purchasing your tickets online in advance is a cardinal mistake. The massive queue of people lining up outside the Vatican Museums is for those who are yet to purchase their tickets. If you purchase your tickets online in advance, then you will be able to bypass the queue and head straight to the security. There may be a small line at the security but it moves fast and cannot be avoided. Purchasing tickets online will cut your waiting time from a few hours (ticket queue + security) to a few minutes (security).
Time Your Visit
The best time to visit the Vatican is either early morning when the gates open or late afternoon. Mid-morning to early afternoon is usually the busiest period as the Vatican is thronged by tourists. Waves of people get down off their tourist buses where the queue ends, adding to its length and waiting time. Once the early wave of tourists lessen, the queue shortens down, but is still pretty formidable. If you have purchased your tickets online, then this won’t affect you anyway and you should be able to enter the Vatican Museums comfortably.
As mentioned before, guided tours are one of the best ways to discover the Vatican City and its monuments. Apart from providing you with abundant knowledge, these tours also give you priority access to the central attractions of the Vatican City - St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If you go on a guided tour, you will not have to wait in the long entrance lines or queue up to buy a ticket. Your guide will lead you past these hurdles and allow you to enter the sites with ease. If you are looking to save time as well as getting an in-depth knowledge of the Vatican City, then you should definitely go for a guided tour.
Logistics - When and How to Visit The Vatican
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
From Monday to Saturday - 9.00 AM to 6.00 PM (final entry 4.00 PM)
Every last Sunday of the month - 9.00 AM to 2.00 PM (final entry 12.30 PM)
St. Peter’s Basilica
April to September - 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM
October to March - 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
How To Get There
The closest station to the Vatican is the Ottaviano-S. Pietro station. Line A of the Rome Metro stops at this station every few minutes. Both the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are a 5-minute walk from this metro station.
The Vatican also has a train station, St Pietro. Commuter style trains stop here as well. However, both the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are a 10-minute walk from this train station. This train stop is perfect for those coming from Civitavecchia, the cruise port for Rome.
Buses 40 and 64 frequently stop at the Vatican. Buses 62 and 81 also stop at the Vatican, albeit a little less frequently.
Things To Keep In Mind Before You Go
- Make your plans ahead in time. If you don’t and find yourself at the waiting lines of the Vatican, then you very well may end up queuing for 3-4 hours. Make your plans ahead and purchase your tickets online in advance. On the day of your visit, you will be able to bypass the long ticket line and head inside without having to wait.
- Go for a guided tour of the Vatican. The Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica have a lot of history and art stored within their walls. On a guided tour, you will be able to to learn much more than you would if you went alone. A guided tour is definitely a fulfilling way of experiencing the Vatican.
- Give it enough time. The Vatican may be the smallest country in the world but it holds some of the largest collections of historical, cultural and artistic exhibitions in the world. There is so much to see that a couple of hours may not be enough. During the course of the day, remember to fuel yourself as well as all that walking can be tiring.
- Follow the rules. The Vatican is the holiest of all Christian sites in the world. Given its stature, there are rules that every visitor to the Vatican must follow. Many sections of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are no-photography zones. Certain sections like the Vatican Grottoes require one to maintain silence in order to maintain the sanctity of the place. Do keep these in mind so that you don’t face any issues at the Vatican.
- Follow the dress code. It is extremely important to be dressed appropriately before you enter the Vatican. Sleeveless blouses, miniskirts, shorts and hats are not permitted. Large bags or backpacks cannot be carried inside. There are however cloak rooms that allow you to store your bags if you’re carrying any.
- To get a free visit, go on the last Sunday of the month when the Vatican Museum does not charge an entrance fee.