When I moved to Rome, visiting the Vatican city was among one of my must-do things on my bucket list. There’s no way you can visit the beautiful Roma, and not go to see the beautiful Vatican museum that’s full of history, mystery and beauty all in one setting.
So, as someone who has lived in Rome before, I feel somehow obligated to let you in on some real tips that will make your visit to the Vatican easier and less stressful. There’s a lot to see and take in, but there are also some rules that the Romans stand by that you might want to know early on. This includes dressing, opening hours etc.
What is the Vatican?
If you haven’t read up on the Vatican and the history behind it, you might want to do that before visiting only because you’ll value and appreciate everything a lot more. I remember when I first visited the Vatican, I had very little knowledge about what exactly the Vatican is (besides the fact that there’s where the Pope is).
Did you actually know that the Vatican is a country with its own independent government? You might not see a physical border between Rome and the Vatican, but it’s good to know that the Pope is the leader of the city.
The Vatican is also where you find all the beautiful art done by popular artists such as Michelangelo, Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael) and many other painters. I must warn you though, you might want to visit the Vatican museum a couple of times while in Rome because it’s really that breath-taking. The first time you visit, it might be quite overwhelming – and that’s why coming a couple more times can be great to take everything in.
I was able to also find out from my Italian friends why there was such a need for beautiful architecture and painting at the Vatican. They actually let me in on the fact that the paintings and architecture was a way of showing power – and boy, were they good.
That’s a little bit of the story, but if you’d like to know more, go ahead and read up on the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s rooms at the Vatican museum.
The best time to visit the Vatican
If you don’t know this already, there’s never a silent street when it comes to the number of tourists visiting Rome. So you have to be prepared to see a lot of people roaming the streets as well.
The Vatican museum is closed to the public on Sundays and Mondays. You have Tuesdays until Saturdays to take advantage of your time in Rome – so planning out your stay based on this will help. Just keep in mind that the opening hours of the museum is between 9am to 6pm. If you’d like to visit the museum from 4pm, there’s a high chance that you won’t be allowed to enter (due to the long queue).
It’s also worth mentioning that the Pope has a meeting with the cardinals on Wednesday’s, so if you’d like to visit the museum then, it would have to be later in the afternoon. Visiting on a Saturday is probably the worst time only because that’s when everybody also plans a trip. A Friday (between 12-6pm) is usually a good time to visit the museum because it’s not as packed as on a Saturday for instance.
If you’re worried about missing out on information, you may want to book a tour guide. They’ll explain everything from the history to even small details that you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
The rules when visiting the Vatican
As with any tourist attraction, there are some rules to follow to ensure safety and respect for the locals and their history. The Vatican is considered a Holy city, and it’s important to take these key rules into consideration before visiting.
- For women, you’re not allowed to enter most museums and holy sites with revealing clothing i.e shorts, short dresses and skirts. You also won’t be allowed in if you’re wearing tops that are too revealing (for example, a low cut top that shows a lot of cleavage). Rather than been sent back, you might want to dress modestly when you’re to visit the Vatican
It’s original name is called “Cappella Magna”. The chapel was painted by the famous Michaelangelo. He is also the one who decorated the chapel’s ceiling with the illustration of the “judgment day”.
It is located on the underground floor and you are expected to walk silently. Once you are inside, the workers control the crowd to make sure that rules are followed. It is the only place where you are not allowed to take pictures.Around the chapel, there are seats where you can sit and take time to relax. When I entered there, I was so happy to find somewhere I could
take a few minutes to relax after a long walk in the museum (and yes, the museum is really that big).
If you are visiting the Vatican in the summer time, the dress code to entering (especially the holy ground like Sistine chapel) must be appropriate and modest i.e long dresses. For ladies, wear something that won’t show your knees and shoulders a lot. A tip I always do is carry a small shawl to cover the shoulder areas.
For men, make sure that your shorts cover the knees. Also, it’s recommended not to wear a hat while inside there.
St. Peter’s Basilica
This is another beautiful temple to visit. You will follow the same rules I have mentioned earlier. The only difference is that entrance is free. And you know what that means, the queue gets very long (especially during the summer months). The good thing is that lines move very fast and before you know it, you’ll already be inside the Basilica. It’s good to know that there is a security checkpoint before entering.
St. Peter is open every day from 7am to 6pm. If you will be in Rome on a
Sunday, try and wake up early to meet the Pope conducting a service to a
massive crowd at St. Peter square threw a window. Trust me, it’s amazing to see him in person – for free!
Note: Like I have said before, St. Peter is closed on Wednesdays until
midday and opens in the afternoon.
Raphael rooms in the Vatican museums
This place is not only interesting because of its beautiful art work but the
history behind it. The four rooms known to be created by Raphael were used as accommodation for the Pope. It’s simply beautiful!
Map of the Vatican
You can book the Vatican museum tickets online which reduces a lot of queueing during the hot summer months. To book online, you do pay a few Euros but it really is worth it. Click HERE to head over to the Vatican City site.
Once you choose the time you want to visit, you’ll be able to easily enter at the allocated time without standing in a line.
Also, to save time on having to read about each informational piece that is in the museum, get a book about the Vatican city and go through it in advance. You will appreciate everything more.
Take a coffee break
There’s a lot of walking when it comes to visiting different museums, and the uneven roads in Rome doesn’t ease the fatigue either. So, it’s important to take coffee or cold drink breaks between your walking. I remember one time feeling super dehydrated when I was on my tourist adventure in Rome, partly due to the sun but also not taking breaks.
Other things to see in the Vatican city
The Vatican gardens
Here are 5 interesting things you can see in the Vatican gardens;
Sphere within a sphere – by Arnaldo Pomodoro
This beautiful site is a sphere inside another sphere. You will find yourself gazing at this
beautiful sculpture without getting tired. It’s seen at the Vatican museums as well as by palazzo della Farnesina near the stadium.
Visit the house of Pius IV
Why is this place important? It’s where the meeting among the catholic leaders happens. He was the pope who backed the council of Trent which had one purpose of reforming the catholic church, by rejecting and refuting the way the protestants were doing things. It was basically against the ideas of Martin Luther king Jr and John Calvin.
Courtyard of the pinecone
The pine cone which is known as Fontana della Pigna is found in the Vatican city. It’s one of the must see decorations that surround the walls of the Vatican. It’s made out of bronze with around 4 meters in height. The pine cone is a symbol of human enlightenment.
The eagle fountain
It is found in the Vatican gardens as a symbol of celebration. The main purpose of its creation was to celebrate the coming back of acqua Paola (the spring) from lake Bracciano.
The Vatican has its own radio station and it’s found near the Vatican museums. It would be interesting to see where all the news and other broadcasting of the Vatican take place while visiting Rome.
How to get to the Vatican by public transport
The best way to get to the Vatican is through St. Peter’s Basilica and from there you can
walk to the Vatican museums. There’s bus 40 or 64 from Termini or piazza Venezia which stops really close to the Basilica. Just be warned that buses and metro’s can get super packed and hot during travel season. So be sure to remain vigilant of your surroundings.
You can also Metro A and stop at Ottaviano. It’s the closest to St. Peter, Piazza di Spagna (Spanish square) and the Vatican museums. The direction will be Battistini or Anagnina for Piazza di Spagna. Once you are at Piazza di Spagna, you can also see Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) and the Pantheon.