Vatican Visitor Guide
Visiting Vatican from Rome is easy. Take a Metro to Ottaviano station and walk right into St Peter’s Square. At only 0.17 square miles and a population of only about 800 people, Vatican city is the smallest country in the world. Vatican city is the seat of the Catholic Church ever since basilica was constructed over St. Peter’s grave in Rome in the 4th century A.D. Prior to the construction of the Basilica, the area was a marshy region known as Ager Vaticanus. But with construction St. Peter’s basilica and subsequently, Apostolic Palace and the Sistine Chapel, Vatican city vecame the centre of Catholic Christian faith. In 1929, the Holy See and Italy signed the Lateran Pacts, and Vatican City as a sovereign nation was established.
The Vatican City is the temporal centre of the Catholic Church, and has been for centuries. As a result of this the city is home to some of the world’s most resplendent and ancient artefacts, buildings and institutions.
What to see and do in the Vatican City
Spend enough time at St Peter's Basilica and the Square
St Peter's Square and the Basilica are the focal point of Vatican City. St Peter's Basilica is the largest church in the world and it is full of art and breath-taking architecture. Entrance to both is free, and they will not disappoint. Many visitors just breeze through these attractions and miss so many layers of the place. So you should keep enough time, my advice would be to spend an equal amount of time at St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, as you would at the Vatican Museums.
Attend mass in the Basilica
You can attend mass almost every day of the year, and they are usually held in chapels in the Basilica. From Monday to Saturday, you can go to Mass at 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm and 5pm. On Sundays there are more times (9.30am, 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:10pm, 1pm, 4pm, 5:30pm), but the Vatican is considerably more crowded on this day. It should also be noted that these masses are not attended by the Pope.
Go to one of the Papal audiences
The General Audience is held (almost) every Wednesday at 10/10:30 in St Peter's Square. This is a time where the Pope will give a themed speech, pray, and bless the crowd. This is not a mass, but you will still experience attending an event where the Pope is present. If you want to make sure you get a place, you will have to arrive 1-3 hours beforehand. You will need tickets for this, and even though they are free, you will still need to pick them up and arrive early so that you don't get turned away when the square reaches capacity. Make sure you have water, hats and sunscreen as Rome can be notoriously hot and it is a long wait in the sun.
Visit the Vatican Museums
The Vatican holds some of the most impressive art collections in the world, and you should allocate several hours to wandering through the expanse of sculptures, frescoes, works and tapestries. You can reduce waiting times by booking a ticket online in advance but it will cost extra and you will still be sharing the space with the 25,000 people that visit this impressive displays every day.
See the Sistine Chapel
The museums culminate in the stunning Sistine Chapel, which houses Michelangelo's famous ceiling and his Last Judgement painting. Access to this is included in your museum ticket, but you should note that you cannot take photos in this area. It is important to note that silence is maintained in this area, so if you are wanting a tour you will need to figure out information before or after you have been through this part of the museum.
Walk through the Vatican Gardens
If you want somewhere significantly less crowded but just as beautiful, consider booking a tour through the Vatican Gardens. These are only accessible by booking a private tour in advance (although they can be seen if you go up the dome in the Basilica). You should note that they are considered a Holy place so you should apply the same dress code as visiting the Basilica itself.
Go to the top of St Peter's Basilica
Entrance to the Basilica is free, but if you pay a small fee you can take the elevator to the top to the dome and have panoramic views of the surrounding area. You can also climb the many steps to the top but you might want to save your energy for the rest of the day.
Visit the Vatican Necropolis
Underneath the Vatican is a cemetery that is hundreds of years old, and if you can secure a ticket then this will one of the most exceptional parts of your visit to the Vatican. Tickets for this MUST be booked in advance (and these tickets can run out months in advance as they only allow 250 people through per day). If you are travelling with people under the age of 15 then they will not be allowed through.