Did you know the Vatican City is the smallest country in the world?
Within the Vatican City, you will find religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the famous Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums featuring some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. The Vatican is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and is the only one to consist of an entire state.
If you are visiting the Vatican City, you are most likely visiting Rome as well. We recommend you dedicate a full day to visit the Vatican, so you don’t feel pressured by time. Read more about this state and top places to visit below.
Vatican City, or as it is officially called the Vatican City State, is an independent city state located within Rome. It became independent from Italy in 1929 and is governed by the Holy See, the principal episcopal see of the Catholic Church.
Don’t worry, you don’t need a passport or visa to enter Vatican City from the surrounding Italian territory.
The Pope is the sovereign of the state and has absolute power in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches over Vatican City. This makes the Pope the only absolute monarch in Europe.
The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world by area and by population! The population is considered to be around 800 people, residents and citizens. What is interesting is that citizenship is granted on the grounds of appointment to work in a certain capacity in the service of the Holy See and is usually ceased upon cessation of the appointment.
Interestingly, this is an economy without trade or taxes as it has a completely non-commercial economy. The money comes from donations and of course from us, the tourists, in terms of museum admission fees and the sale of souvenirs and postage stamps.
Travel to and Around the Vatican City
If you are flying to the Vatican City, you will most likely land at main airport Rome–Fiumicino International Airport “Leonardo da Vinci” (FCO) or Rome’s secondary international airport – Rome—Ciampino International Airport “G. B. Pastine” (CIA). We flew to the latter one, which is conveniently located 12 km (8 miles) from Rome city centre.
If you use the airport bus, it is fairly cheap to get to central Rome – only about €1.50 for a one-way journey. Alternatively you can use the train – Ciampino Airlink, connecting the airport with downtown Rome.
We arrived late at night and unfortunately there were no buses or trains operating at that time. Our only option was to get a taxi for a standard flat rate of €30.
Where to Stay in Vatican City or Rome
In terms of accommodation, we would recommend booking your travel through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. You can also use the widget below to quickly search for a hotel and compare prices.
We chose an interesting hotel – Domus Sessoriana which coincides with a large area of the Benedictine Monastery, so essentially we stood in a hotel within a monastery. From our hotel to the Vatican City it was only 20 minutes by taxi or 40 minutes by public transport.
The hotel is conveniently located close to the Colosseum and has good transport links to get around Rome. On the top floor of the hotel there is a beautiful roof garden, where breakfast is served (outdoor and indoor) and this was definitely a highlight.
Things to do
St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano)
St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano) is a real masterpiece and a must see during your visit. It is one of the holiest temples for Christendom. This is the largest church in the world and the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture, dating back from 4th century AD.
It is believed that this is the burial site of Saint Peter and his tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the basilica.
This place is huge and can accommodate 20,000 people. Inside, you will find impressive pieces of art including St. Peter’s Baldachin, a large bronze baldachin designed by Bernini, The Pietà, a sculpture by Michelangelo and the statue of St Peter on his throne.
One of the most impressive parts of the Basilica is the dome, which was designed by Michelangelo. This dome actually served as inspiration for many other cathedrals and buildings including St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Capitol in Washington. The dome of the basilica dominates the skyline of Rome, so you definitely won’t miss it.
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St. Peter’s Square
Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica is an unforgettable experience when in Rome, you will certainly enjoy it! You will be amazed by the size of the basilica but also by the size of the adjacent St. Peter’s Square.
You are unlikely to see the Pope on your visit to Vatican City but we were told that every Wednesday during summer, the pope holds a public audience on St. Peter’s Square, so you might be just lucky enough to see him.
Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani)
Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) are the public museums of the Vatican City. Be prepared for airport-style security checks and make sure you have your ID on you.
The museums display works from the collection of the Catholic Church and the papacy including some of the most renowned Roman sculptures and important Renaissance masterpieces.
Some of the key places to visit include:
- The Pinacoteca – 18 rooms with paintings ranging from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.
- The Pio Clementino Museum – 12 rooms including important Greek and Roman artworks.
- Gregorian Egyptian Museum – 9 rooms with monuments and artefacts from Ancient Egypt and of course, mummies.
- Raphael’s Rooms – these were the private apartments of Pope Julius II, who commissioned the frescoes to Raphael.
- Gallery of Geographical Maps – probably one of the most fascinating rooms in the Vatican Museums, pay attention to the amazing ceiling.
- The Spiral Staircase – you won’t miss it, it is located at the end of the itinerary and leads you outside of the museum
And of course … Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel but this deserves a separate section 🙂
Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) is the official residence of the Pope. It is also the official site for the Conclave, the room where cardinals gather to choose the new Pope.
The Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museums. It is famous for its frescoes that decorate the interior and most specifically the ceiling and The Last Judgement, also by Michelangelo. The great artist devoted 10 years of his life to complete this work.
Once you are inside, the wonderful frescoes really catch your eye. Perhaps the most famous one is The Creation of Adam (right in the centre of the ceiling) which illustrates the Biblical creation narrative in which God gives life to Adam, the first man.
Another one you won’t miss is the huge Last Judgement that fills the wall of the altar. In the Christian religion, this is the day when God will judge everyone who has died and will decide whether they will go to Hell or to Heaven.
Around the Vatican City, you will see some colourfully dressed men – attention, these are not clowns! These are the famous Swiss Guards. They are the former mercenaries who are now the permanent de facto army of Vatican City.
Soldiers of the Swiss Guard are entitled to hold Vatican City State passports and nationality.
The Vatican City is a unique state and certainly worth visiting for at least a day! It hosts some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. It is an interesting city-state surrounded by Rome and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
By vising the Vatican City, you can claim that you have been to the smallest country in the world and to the largest church in the world. How cool is that?
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