Though as many as 30,000 visitors make their way into the Vatican Museums on any given day of the year (mostly in summer), few of them are even aware of the extraordinarily special “upgraded” experiences they can have if they just do a little research to get off the beaten path. If you don’t want to miss out on making the most of your time in the world’s smallest and arguably most historic country, read on for our list of the top 5 most unique things to do here!
1. Descend into the Vatican Necropolis
Take your Vatican experience underground on the Scavi Tour. https://vatican.com/Vatican-Necropolis/
The Vatican Scavi Tour is a 1.5-hour guided excursion through the underground necropolis below St. Peter’s Basilica. This largely unknown point of interest is the actual ancient cemetery that houses St. Peter’s original tomb. It is a truly exclusive experience as visits are reserved for a maximum of 250 people per day to preserve the site’s archaeological integrity. Only pre-booked guided groups are allowed to visit, and no photos are permitted at all – so you have to go to know what it’s all about! Booking a Vatican Necropolis Tour requires a couple of months of pre-planning, but it’s absolutely worth it for this often-missed opportunity.
2. See the Pope in Person
The Pope often cruises through the crowd during the Papal Audience
What could enlighten your visit to Rome more than rubbing shoulders with the Pope himself? Okay, so everyone may not actually get the chance to shake his hand, but participating in the “Papal Audience” will give you the chance to see him live and in the flesh. Papal Audiences give attendees the opportunity to see the Pope, hear his prayer, and receive the Papal Blessing. These gatherings are held in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesdays (when the Pope is in Rome) and tickets to attend are absolutely free, just make sure to get there early for the best seats!
3. Visit the Vatican Museums After Hours
The Vatican at night has a magic all of its own
When sightseeing in the Eternal City, it’s not unusual to find yourself wishing the day wouldn’t end and, luckily, it doesn’t have to. The Vatican After Hours Tour offers the unique chance to see world-famous art and architecture in a special ambiance that few visitors ever get to experience. Taking advantage of exclusive evening opening hours to avoid the massive day-time crowds, making this starlit adventure one of the most appealing ways to ponder timeless masterpieces by Michelangelo, Raphael and more, however you won’t be able to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
4. An Amazing Look at St. Peter’s Mosaics
A totally unique way to appreciate the artistic legacy of St. Peter’s
Step behind the scenes where few tourists ever go on the Vatican Mosaic Studio Exclusive Access Tour. You’ll be given special badges to pass the Swiss Guards and make your way to observe the best artisans in the mosaic world in action, as well as explore the 16th century workshop together with a Vatican representative. After, you’ll have a chance to put your new knowledge to good use as you admire the most masterful of the mosaics in St. Peter’s Basilica. Skip the lines and head straight to some of the most prized art masterpieces in the world. With 110,000 square feet to examine, you’ll be amazed at the sheer mass and quality of it all. What’s more, you’ll get the best insight on all of the essential highlights, including Bernini’s bronze Baldachin and Michelangelo’s Pietá with one of the Vatican’s own expert guides.
5. Take the Climb to the Top of St. Peter’s Dome
You cannot leave Rome without taking a postcard-perfect image from up here!
While climbing up a bunch of stairs may not feel like living out “La Dolce Vita”, you’d be making the very same trek that Anita Ekberg did in the 1960 Fellini film! Visitors can scale the 551 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Dome or decrease their climb to a mere 320 steps if they opt to take the elevator. Reaching the top guarantees a stunning 360° panoramic view of the Eternal City and St. Peter’s Square, as well as an indoor view of the cupola on the way up, which is lined with stunning mosaics and provides an exquisite bird’s eye perspective of Bernini’s bronze baldachin altar below!
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