This post will cover what there is to do while visiting Vatican City, including activities that are free, great for families, and available at night.
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO VATICAN CITY
Vatican City is a city-state within the city of Rome. It is famous for being the home city of the Pope, and therefore the Roman Catholic Church headquarters.
As an independent country, they have their own Vatican-issued Euros, security in the form of the Swiss Guard, a post office, and citizens with passports.
Here, you’ll find St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums.
Many Catholics and non-Catholics alike come to the Vatican to try to get a glimpse of the Pope and to see the important holy site.
Vatican City is to the northwest of Rome’s city center, surrounded by its high walls.
Dress Code Note: To enter St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel, all visitors must have knees and shoulders covered. You will be turned away at the entrances if you do not meet the dress code.
Getting to Vatican City
Getting to Vatican City is quite easy. It is within walking distance of Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori. Follow this link to get Google directions.
Of course, Rome’s public transportation can get you there easily.
The closest metro stop is Ottaviano. And if you are on a Hop-On-Hop-Off tour, the bus routes often have a stop at Vatican City.
For a day at Vatican City, you could purchase timed tickets to get into the Vatican Museums during a morning time slot.
Enjoy the art for a few hours and marvel at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Once you exit through the Sistine Chapel, you can either have lunch in the nearby Prati neighborhood or walk around to admire the architecture in St. Peter’s Square.
From St. Peter’s Square, you can enter the Basilica, which also has timed entrance tickets available.
Keep in mind that no tickets are required to enter the church, but you will have to wait in line for up to 2 hours during the busy summer months.
Once inside the Basilica, follow the signs to the cupola for the chance to climb St. Peter’s Dome. This costs around 5 Euro per person, even if you decide to take the elevator up.
How Much Time Should I Spend in Vatican City?
If you tour the Vatican Museums, even with skip-the-line access, you can expect to spend half a day in Vatican City.
There are several special events that happen regularly in Vatican City. Please check the schedule to see when the Pope is in Vatican City.
When the Pope is in Rome, he holds audiences on Wednesdays with small teachings and a blessing.
While they usually start at 10:00 am, many people will arrive up to 3 hours early to get a seat toward the front of St. Peter’s Square.
Getting a free ticket will help you get a seat, but everyone is free to attend the standing room behind the chairs.
Again, whenever the Pope is in Rome he will appear at his apartment window at noon on Sundays.
He will greet the crowds, give a short speech, and give the Angelus prayer with a blessing. This lasts up to 20 minutes.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
What can one do in Vatican City? Here we have a list of tours, nearby dining options, and family-friendly activities.
(1) Sightseeing Tours
Taking part in a tour is a great way to see the Vatican and its museums.
Of course, you can give yourself a tour of the museums and the Sistine Chapel with the help of our guide.
Official guided tours, on the other hand, will make sure you don’t miss the most important pieces of history and artwork that are available to see.
If you aren’t keen on going inside the museums but do want to see St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City is on the route of several bus tours in Rome.
(2) Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
The Museums are on the north end of Vatican City, and one of the more popular collections of art in the city.
Seeing the Museums and the Chapel is a bit of a package deal - you must walk through the museums to get to the Sistine Chapel.
There are plenty of beautiful paintings, frescoes, maps, sculptures, and mosaics to see before you get to the end, so plan to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the art!
We recommend getting skip-the-line tickets if you want to see the Vatican Museums without taking a tour.
And make sure to read our guide on visiting the Vatican Museums first!
(3) See Vatican City by Night
If you have other things to do during the day, or you want to see St. Peter’s Square and Basilica lit up at night, then why not take a night tour?
As a bonus, there will likely be fewer crowds than during the mid-morning and early afternoon.
As a higher-end option, you could also have an exclusive, small-group dinner in Vatican City before your tour of the Vatican Museums.
(4) Add a Family-Friendly Twist
If you’re nervous about visiting the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with little ones in tow, try one of the several tours that are made specifically for young visitors with Rome 4 Kids.
They get the children involved with a scavenger hunt and focus on art that is interesting to everyone in the group.
(5) Vatican Necropolis
The necropolis under the basilica is where the tomb of St. Peter sits, along with graves of others buried there, between 5 and 15 meters below ground.
It was originally an open-air burial ground but is now one of the catacombs of Rome.
This underground cemetery is a bit difficult to get to. You must submit a request to the Scavi and wait to hear back from the office whether or not they can accommodate your request.
Keep in mind that spots on tours fill up months in advance.
Note: Visitors must be over 15 years old.
(6) Castel Sant’Angelo
A short walk from Vatican City sits Castel Sant’Angelo. This cylindrical castle was originally a tomb for Emperor Hadrian, along with his family.
Through the centuries it became a military outpost, a prison, and a place of residence for wealthy occupants.
Because of its constant use, it has been repaired and remodeled many times. That means it is intact enough to now be a museum full of paintings and artwork.
Our self-guided tour of Vatican City starts from here.
(7) Eat in Nearby Prati
The Prati neighborhood is to the North and East of Vatican City and is right at the entrance to the Vatican Museums. It offers great dining options for before or after your visit.
- Pastasciutta is a great low-cost, casual place with vegetarian options.
- Osteria delle Commari is perfect if you’re looking for Roman cuisine and open late.
- Old Bridge Gelateria offers delicious Italian gelato. Why not try the pistachio?
- Alice Pizza is a pizza al taglio (by the slice) restaurant, which is great if you want lunch on the go or are ready to relax and refuel after the Vatican crowds. Simply point to the type of pizza you’d like and indicate how large of a slice for them to cut - then pay by the weight!
Trastevere is located to the South of Vatican City and famous for its Roman dishes like Carbonara and all’Amatriciana. You’ll get a delicious plate of pasta no matter which restaurant you find.
(8) Visit Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is within walking distance of Vatican City and is another major point of interest within Rome.
It is one of the largest piazzas in the city and holds several beautiful fountains, a baroque church, restaurants, and a steady stream of street performers.
We recommend taking a stroll around, admiring the architecture and fountains.
And once you are in Piazza Navona, you’re in the perfect starting location for a walk to the Pantheon and on to the Trevi Fountain.
NOTE: Several Hop-On-Hop-Off tours have stops at or near Piazza Navona, so this is a great spot to resume your tour if you have a pass!
(9) See Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II
The Vittorio Emanuele II bridge was designed in 1886 by Ennio de Rossi and is the fastest way to travel from Rome’s historic center to Vatican City.
It is a beautiful bridge, often depicted at night in photos, and is decorated with beautiful bronze statues on either end.
If you’re going to Piazza Navona before or after your trip to Vatican City, we suggest taking Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II.
Not only is it the most convenient way to get to St. Peter’s Square, but it is a beautiful piece of architecture to see!
(10) Save with a Tourist Attraction Discount Pass
Depending on what else in Rome you want to see, this could be a great way to save a few Euro as you admire the artwork and the Chapel’s ceiling and then get a Hop-On-Hop-Off tour through the rest of the city.
Sites on the Pass Include:
- Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
- Fast-Track Entry to St. Peter’s Basilica
- Roma Christiana Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus
- Travelcard for Rome Public Transportation
- Roman Forum
- Capitoline Museums
- And Discounts!
Honorable Mention: Enjoy an Exploration Game
If you want to have a little extra fun while exploring Vatican City, this mystery game will put you in the role of Robert Langdon from the film/book series Angels & Demons.
As you attempt to solve the puzzle using clues from all around the Vatican, you'll discover some of the most notable landmarks in the city.
This is a self-guided game, so even though it typically takes 2 hours to complete, you can take your time and enjoy it at your own pace.
FREE THINGS TO DO
While the Vatican Museums do usually have an entry fee, there are other things you can see without spending any money, as long as you’re willing to wait in line.
Here are the places to see and events to attend that we suggest!
St. Peter’s Square
The square was designed by Bernini and began construction in 1656. The famous square is awe-inspiring to visitors, whether or not it is their first visit.
Feel free to wander into the Square and around the columns to marvel at the obelisk and the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is famous for its large dome, or cupola, that can be seen from many lookout points in Rome.
It is the basilica at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church and free to enter.
However, without a skip-the-line ticket, you could be waiting up to 2 hours during the busy season.
Note: There is airport-like security to get into the Basilica. Keep large bags and sharp objects at home when you come to Vatican City.
If you need somewhere to store your bags, take a look at our post on luggage storage in Rome.
While getting a (free) ticket makes it easier to get a good view during the audience, the Pope has made it very clear that everyone is welcome during these audiences.
So no tickets are necessary if you cannot get yourself organized before the day of.
Last Sunday of the Month
Are you keeping your eye out for discounts to the Vatican Museums?
On the last Sunday of each month, you can get entry to the museums and the Sistine Chapel for free! No tickets are needed to enter the Vatican Museums.
However, keep in mind that many other visitors will be attempting to view the beautiful artwork as well.
We recommend arriving before the museums open to get a good place in line. It will be very crowded.
PLACES TO EAT
There aren't any restaurants within Vatican City, but there are many delicious places to eat right outside the City's walls.
Here is our list of places to eat before or after your visit to the Vatican.
- Scialla offers delicious and affordable Roman street food. If you can't get enough of pizza by the slice, come here!
- Mama Eat is another affordable lunch, dinner, and late-night food spot. They serve pasta, seafood, and plenty of sweets. If you're looking for gluten-free options, come here.
- Alice Pizza is another pizza by the slice (pizza al taglio in Italian) place that doesn't disappoint! They have a flaky crust and lots of delicious toppings to choose from.
- La Pratolina is a casual sit-down restaurant with excellent fried starters typical of Roman cuisine! They are family friendly, and kids love the mixed-croquette plates.
- Dal Toscano is a restaurant that focuses on Tuscan cuisine. If you love steak, this is the place to go.
- L'Arcangelo is a chic, higher-end restaurant with a tranquil atmosphere that is perfect for pampering yourself to a nice dinner after dealing with the crowds of the Vatican.