Visiting the Vatican for the first time ? The best way to see the Vatican City
Visiting the Vatican? You’re not alone! 6 million visitors descend on the city-state every year, so you are right in guessing it can get a bit crowded. On top of that, there are a plethora of tour companies offering a wide range of types of tours.
How is one to choose? Read on for our guide on how to do the Vatican – how tips will guarantee you don’t miss out on the best things to do in the Vatican and ensure you’ll maximise your time in the best way possible.
- 1 Tip 1 / Choose the best period for visiting the Vatican
- 2 Tip 2 / Enjoy the benefits of a Vatican Pass
- 3 Tip 3 / How to visit the Vatican City
- 4 Tip 4 / Make a beeline for the attractions on your “must-see” list
- 5 Tip 5 / The Papal Audience when visiting the Vatican
- 6 Tip 6 / Consider a guided tour
- 7 Tip 7 / How to get around when visiting the Vatican
- 8 Conclusion on how visiting the Vatican
Tip 1 / Choose the best period for visiting the Vatican
There’s no avoiding it – the Vatican (in particular the Basilica of Saint Peter) is consistently featured on the top ten most visited attractions in Europe, up there with Disneyland and the Louvre in Paris. As a result it’s always busy, but if you plan strategically you can minimise the impact of the crowds when you are visiting the Vatican.
Avoid visiting the Vatican on Wednesday
So how do you visit the Vatican without spending all day in a queue?
Well, our first tip may not please everyone – but it’s a good one. If you don’t need to see the Pope address the crowds then stay clear of Wednesdays – because the place will be stuffed with those wishing to get a glimpse of the pontiff.
There is one exception though – the museums are extremely light on footfall when the Pope is speaking so if you head there at around 9.30am you may get a few hours of relative peace.
Sunday is not a good idea
Another handy tip that will help you when planning how to do the Vatican – avoid Sundays at all costs if possible! On these days, the Vatican museums are opened free of charge to those who wish to attend. As a result, the museums and surrounding attractions are too busy to navigate comfortably.
Note also that the museums are also closed every other Sunday, so a Sunday visit is best avoided in general!
Enjoy your Vatican visits in the afternoon
So when should I visit we hear you say! Well, an afternoon is a better bet than a morning visit, as the majority of tour buses head to the Vatican in the early hours. By mid afternoon they are packing up and heading on to other sights.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are slightly less busy than Mondays and Fridays too, as you can avoid the long weekenders, so consider these days as the best time to Visit the Vatican.
Choose the low season
Seasons too can make a difference – the summer in Rome is hot and crowded, and is full of families on holiday. Christmas too is a favourite as those celebrating the birth of Christ floc to the epicentre of the Catholic faith.
Your best bet? November and February are perhaps the lightest on crowds, although avoid Valentine’s Day as those on a romantic visit to Rome may pop over to enjoy the delights of the Vatican.
Tip 2 / Enjoy the benefits of a Vatican Pass
Rome and Vatican Pass – Omnia Card
The Rome and Vatican Pass (check prices here) is a great option for those who want to manage their budget and not miss out on the key attractions. You’ll perhaps take a look at some sights that you would never have bothered paying for before, and you have the added advantage of a city travel card that will help you navigate your way to the Vatican.
Access to some of the major museums and sights in the Vatican are included within the pass, and you can save a further 10% by booking online to avoid the crowds when you arrive in Rome.
A Vatican city pass is the best way in our opinion to contain your budget, which can easily get eaten up in entrance fees, metro and bus tickets. Some passes even include access to Rome’s extensive Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours which drop you right at the main sights – including the Vatican – so you don’t need to think about how to get around.
Rome Tourist Card
Why not opt for the Rome Tourist Card instead? In our opinion, this is the best Rome pass (depending on what you've planned to do of course). If you want to get the most of visiting the Vatican, the €77,50 Card is very interesting.
It includes skip the line tickets to St Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel + audio guides for each. You'll also enjoy a one way airport transfer and a full day of sightseeing bus.
Tip 3 / How to visit the Vatican City
Our main tip here involves the three P’s – Planning, Preparation and more Planning!
Whilst it is super fun to just discover a city with no time restrictions or concrete plans, the Vatican City is a little different. For example, most people only have one day to explore behind the walls of the Holy See, so it is important you know what you are doing, how much it will cost and where you are going beforehand.
Without any planning you risk falling prey to ticket touts and pushy sales people outside the major attractions – and this can really put a whole in your budget that we would rather see you spending on a pizza and fine wine!
Our tips? Book your tickets (check this website for prices)– your city passes, hop-on-hop-off bus passes, transport to the airport, tickets for special Vatican attractions such as the gardens etc – beforehand.
You’ll save as much as 10% off the walk-up fares on some tickets, and not waste time on arrival in Rome messing around trying to purchase metro cards or entry into the most popular attractions in the Vatican.
Tip 4 / Make a beeline for the attractions on your “must-see” list
We recommend you see at least these attractions when visiting the Vatican:
- Saint Peter’s Square and the Basilica
A must-see attraction which is also a budget friendly option – free entry to the square and the ground floor of the basilica mean even those strapped for cash can catch the Vatican’s vibes.
- The Vatican Museums
An art and culture lover’s paradise, this extensive network of museums has art, sculptures, maps and tapestries galore, with many pieces literally dripping with history
- The Sistine Chapel
It goes without saying that this is the most stunning place in the Vatican – be prepared to have a creak in your neck when you exit, as you will spend most of your time at the Sistine Chapel gaping at the ceiling!
Check out our reasons to visit the Vatican page for more detail on the key attractions!
Tip 5 / The Papal Audience when visiting the Vatican
If you are able to face the crowds and really want to attend an Audience with the Pope, then follow these simple tips for a smooth visit :
- Get your tickets beforehand online or at the Santa Susanna Church
- Get there early! We’re talking 7.00 am early, for a 7.30 opening of the gates. You’ll have the best chances to get a place near the barriers (closest to the Pope’s vehicle) if you make a dash for it as soon as the gates open
- Don’t panic if you can’t make it that early – whilst this is the best time to get there to guarantee a sight of the Pontiff making the rounds of the barriers, it is still possible to access St Peter’s Square just before he appears at 10.30am to address the crowds – but you’ll be watching from afar.
Tip 6 / Consider a guided tour
If you’re here to tick off the Vatican on your must see country list and aren’t too bothered about the detail you will be happy enough walking through the museums and St Peter’s Basilica.
But to truly appreciate the beauty of the Vatican Museums, the architecture and the history of the artefacts on display we recommend booking a guided tour to really do the Vatican properly.
One benefit of the guided tour? Skip-the-line access to the major attractions in the Vatican – we’ve done the Vatican in summer and trust us, you don’t want to be stuck in a 90 minute queue under the Roman sun!
A guided tour will help you get the best out of your time in the Vatican Museums– ask the guide all the questions you can and enjoy the experience as they unfurl the detail of not only the artwork on display in the museums but also the exquisite architecture and interesting facts.
Don’t fancy following a guide around all day but want a bit more detail ? Audiobook guides (only 4€ on this website) are a good compromise when visiting the Vatican – go at your own pace without missing any of the titbits of information.
Tip 7 / How to get around when visiting the Vatican
We’ve created a great travel guide to help you get around during your visit to the Vatican City, so make sure to check it out for the full scoop as to how to navigate Rome and the Vatican easily.
Our top tip however?
Opt for a Vatican City Pass that gives you a free travel card for the Rome transport network – buses, trains and metro – or book a hop-on-hop-off bus tour which will drop you right at the door of the Vatican with no worries about missing any of Rome’s major sights too!
Conclusion on how visiting the Vatican
We hope these tips help you plan your trip to the Vatican with ease. Now the fun part begins – planning your journey and pre-booking any tickets to ensure you have it all organised before you set off. That leaves you plenty of time to enjoy the sights…….and relax!