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Vatican City:

The Smallest Country in the World

by Katie McCabe  |  @awelltraveledpair  |  Dec 7th, 2021

Surrounded by Rome, Italy, and encompassing a mere 100 acres, Vatican City may be the smallest country in the world, but it is also one of the most interesting. Home to Pope Francis, St Peter's Basilica, and Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel, a trip here will surely be one for the books.

 

If you're planning a visit, or if you're currently in the area and looking for some information, this guide should definitely help you out.

How to Get There

Vatican City is located inside of Rome, so you must travel there first. Public transportation in Rome is fantastic, and I recommend taking the train to the St Pietro (St Peter's) stop. From there it is an easy 10 minute walk to Vatican City. 

 

Another way to arrive is by taxi, bus, or car. I don't recommend arriving by car, because parking is very tough in that area.

 

If you choose a hotel in the area, then it will be best to walk to Vatican City.

What to Do

St Peter's Basilica

No visit is complete without a stop at St Peter's Basilica. Serving as one of the largest churches in the world, this is one of the most popular attractions in all of Europe. Entrance is free, and I advise you to arrive as early as possible. Lines get very long throughout the day, and you'll want at least two hours to enjoy this gem. While inside, be sure to see 

the Vatican Grottoes, St Peter's Dome, and the basilica's treasury. 

Note: The dome and treasury charge a small entrance fee, and the dome requires some stair climbing. The basilica is open daily from 7:00 until 18:00. 

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St. Peter's Square​​

Located directly in front of St Peter's Basilica is St Peter's Square. This is a big meeting place for locals, friends, and tour groups. This is also where you will line up to enter the basilica. The best way to arrive at the square is by walking up Via Della Conciliazone. The view is spectacular! 

Note: St Peter's Square is free to visit and open 24/7 unless it's closed for a special ceremony.

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Vatican Museums

You are going to want to spend a lot of time here, possibly even all day. The Vatican Museums contain nine miles of masterpieces, including works from Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and many more. From sculptures and mosaics to paintings and drawings, the entire collection is estimated to be worth around $20 billion. Basic tickets that are purchased at the ticket counter are $19 USD. If you want to buy them online ahead of time, there is a $4.50 fee. I recommend buying tickets online ahead of time, as they sell out fast, and you won't want to wait in the long lines at the museums' ticket counter. Also, the ticket price includes admission to the Sistine Chapel, which is something you'll definitely want to see. If you think nine miles of art seems overwhelming, purchasing a tour is also a great idea. The guides will take you to the best areas of the museums, and they end each tour with a visit to the Sistine Chapel. No matter how you decide to visit the museums, you won't be disappointed. 

Note: The museums are open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 until 18:00. The last entry is at 16:00. It is also open the last Sunday of each month from 9:00 until 14:00.

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Sistine Chapel

This was my favorite sight in all of Vatican City. The chapel is absolutely stunning, and seeing the ceiling that Micehlangelo painted from 1508 until 1512 was a dream come true. You can enter the chapel with a Vatican Museums ticket, and there are even tours that will take you there before the crowds pile in. Just remember, photography is not allowed. Well, except if you're Pope Francis, of course. 

Note: The Sistine Chapel is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 until 18:00. It is also open the last Sunday of each month from 9:00 until 14:00.

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Vatican Gardens

Made up of three different styles - Italian, French, and English - the Vatican Gardens consists of flora and trees from around the world, as well as unique sculptures and fountains. The gardens are so large that they take up nearly half of Vatican City's land, yet only a small percentage of people visit each year. This is mainly due to the fact that only tour groups led by Vatican staff members are allowed inside. If you enjoy seeing beautiful gardens in a one of a kind settling, then a tour here is a must.

Note: The garden tours are available Monday through Saturday, and the last Sunday of each month. Check the official website for availability and pricing. 

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See (and possibly meet) the Pope

If you and the Pope happen to both be in Vatican City on a Wednesday, then you may get a chance to see, or even meet him. Nearly every Wednesday at noon, the Pope gives his Papal address and Papal Blessing inside St Peter's Basilica, outdoors in St Peter's Square, or inside an auditorium-type hall next to the basilica. He also blesses items for people, such as rosaries or medallions, so if you have one, bring it along with you. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and admission is free. You can check the Pope's schedule on the official website to see if he will be giving a Papal address during your visit.

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When to Go

Vatican City is a year-round destination, but I find April to June and September to November to be the best times to visit, due to optimal weather and lower crowds. 

 

The summer months of June, July, and August are not only hot, but they are very crowded as well. Prepare to stand in long lines and deal with heavy crowds and high temperatures during this time of year. 

 

The winter months of December through March are cool and occasionally rainy, but the crowds are at their lowest. If you don't mind cooler weather, this is a great time to visit. 

Where to Stay

If you want to stay as close as possible to Vatican City, then I recommend the Palazzo Cardinal Cesi or the Villa Agrippina Gran Melia. These two hotels are just a short walk from St Peter's Square and they have lovely accommodations. 

 

I also recommend staying anywhere in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood. This is the most authentic and well-preserved area of Rome, and it is a quick train, or a short walk to Vatican City, depending on where you are staying. It is also close to other sights, such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps.

Additional Tips & Facts

There are so many tours to choose from - Skip the Line, Private Guided Tours, Express Sistine Chapel, etc. Check and see what tours are being offered when you are in town, and choose the one that best fits your needs. 

 

If you don't book a tour, at least purchase your tickets ahead of time online. They sell out fast during peak months and ticket counter lines are very long. 

 

Be sure to cover your knees and shoulders when inside the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, and St Peter's Basilica.

 

Photography is not allowed inside the Sistine Chapel.

 

Large bags are not allowed past security checkpoints, so pack lightly. 

 

Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, measuring in at a mere 0.17 square miles. 

It has a population of around 800 people.