Vatican City (Città del Vaticano) may be the smallest sovereign nation-state in the world, but it is a religious and cultural superpower, home to some of the world’s greatest artistic and architectural marvels—namely St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. It is located wholly within the confines of Rome, covers 110 acres (44 hectares), and has an official population of about 800. Having gained recognition of full independence in 1929 and today governed by the pope, Vatican City has its own post office that issues official stamps and a banking system that mints coins (though the euro is used for commerce).
Some of Rome’s most visited attractions are set in Vatican City. The Vatican Museums often have long entry lines stretching for blocks along the city walls; to avoid the crowds, consider reserving a small-group Vatican tour with skip-the-line access or a private tour with VIP priority access in the morning or evening. Vatican City private and group tours generally include visits to the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pinacoteca, other sights in the Vatican Museums complex, and the Vatican Gardens.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The pope’s weekly address in St. Peter’s Square is wildly popular, so be sure to book official Papal Audience tickets in advance.
- Vatican City houses some of Italy’s most important artistic masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s “Pietà” in St. Peter’s Basilica and ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, plus the museum complex’s Raphael Rooms.
- To enter St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, appropriate attire and behavior are required. Wear modest clothing and keep your voice low.
- Security for entering the museum complex and the basilica includes a metal detector, so don’t bring any banned items—pocketknives, corkscrews, umbrellas, etc.
How to Get There
The most scenic way to enter Vatican City is by foot from the center of Rome, across Ponte Sant'Angelo to Piazza San Pietro. Alternatively, the Ottaviano station, on metro Line A, is about a five-minute walk away.
When to Get There
Vatican City heaves with tourists year-round. Summer is the busiest time of year, when skip-the-line tickets or a private tour guide are essential; the museums are less crowded during the winter months. At any time of year, Vatican City’s sights are busiest at midday, so plan your Rome tour around a visit in the early morning or late afternoon.
The Swiss Guards
One of the most photographed sights in Vatican City are the brightly costumed Swiss Guards, who stand at attention around St. Peter’s Square. This small force of Swiss soldiers is maintained by the Holy See and provides security for the papal residence and the pope, as it has since 1506.