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5 Tips for Visiting Vatican City

When in Rome, Italy, an exploration of the Vatican is an absolute must. Despite being the smallest country in the world, Vatican City boasts world-renowned artworks, sculptural masterpieces, sacred relics and awe-inspiring architecture. In this guide, we’ll share our top five tips for visiting Vatican City and the famed Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Read on to find out how you can make your next trip to the Vatican truly unforgettable!

1. You Can Visit St. Peter’s Basilica for Free—but Beware of the Lines!

The line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City often wraps around the square

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is not only the epicenter of the Catholic Faith, it is an architectural marvel adorned with breathtaking art and revered religious artifacts. From Bernini’s imposing Baldachin to Michelangelo’s influential La Pietà, the basilica transports travelers on a journey through centuries of creativity. St. Peter’s is completely free to visit, but there are a few important things to know before you go.

First off, the line to enter the basilica starts just to the right of St. Peter’s Square. To avoid the notoriously long line that tends to wrap around the piazza, we highly recommend you arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds. The basilica typically opens at 7 AM and the queues usually increase gradually throughout the day. Note that on Wednesdays, the basilica is closed until 12:30 PM due to the papal audience that takes place there. Though it may only take a few minutes to go through the security check, the line doesn’t always move quickly. During peak hours of the busy season, it can easily take a couple of hours to reach the entrance.

To avoid the queue altogether, you can opt for a guided tour of the Vatican Museums that includes direct access to St. Peter’s Basilica via an exclusive passageway. Having an expert guide who provides valuable insights along the way also allows you to become fully immersed in the beauty and history that surrounds you. Best of all, you save valuable vacation time and avoid waiting in line exposed to the heat, cold, or rain!

2. Dress Appropriately or Risk Being Turned Away

To enter inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered

In order to embark on your tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, you must abide by a strict dress code. Since the basilica is considered a sacred space, your shoulders, chest and knees must be covered. Men are not permitted to wear hats inside either. In the summer, it’s a good idea to bring a lightweight scarf to cover up. You will also have to go through a security checkpoint before visiting the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, so avoid bringing any large bags or suitcases. Before you head through the doors, make sure you meet these requirements or risk being turned away by the staff!

3. It’s Possible to Climb the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica for Unbeatable Views Over Vatican City

The view from the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

While millions of tourists visit St. Peter’s Basilica each year, few know that it’s possible to climb to the top of its famous dome! To do so, you must purchase a ticket at a small kiosk located inside of the basilica. If you’re having trouble finding it, look for signs pointing you in the right direction or ask a staff member for directions. Note that it is only possible to buy tickets directly at the basilica.

Tickets to climb the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica cost 8 to 10 euro depending on if you take the elevator or stairs. Even with the elevator, however, you’ll have to climb 300+ steps in a steep and narrow stairway. If you don’t mind tight spaces and are up for a workout, the views are totally worth it! From the top of the dome, you can observe unparalleled vistas over St. Peter’s Square, Vatican Railway Station, the Vatican Gardens and the surrounding city of Rome. Along the way, you’ll also be able to get an up-close view of Michelangelo’s dome and the dazzling mosaics adorning its interior!

4. You Can Visit the Tombs of Former Popes Underneath St. Peter’s Basilica Free of Charge

A staircase leading to the papal crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica

While exploring the grand interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, be on the lookout for a stairway leading down to the Vatican Grottoes. You can find the discreet entrance beneath one of the larger-than-life-size sculptures bordering the central altar. As you descend within the underground chambers, you’ll find the tombs of more than ninety popes. Visiting this subterranean area that contains over a thousand years of papal history is a truly powerful experience. Entry to the crypt is permitted free of charge but no photos or videos are allowed inside the holy space.

5. Book Vatican Museums Tickets and Tours in Advance!

The gorgeous Gallery of Maps within the Vatican Museums

Out of all of our Vatican tips, this is the one to remember! Reserve skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican Museums in advance. Tickets and tours tend to sell out quickly, especially during the busy season, and trust us, you don’t want to be stuck in a never-ending queue and miss out on all the Vatican Museums have to offer. The gorgeous Gallery of Maps, the ancient sculptures of the Octagonal Courtyard and the iconic frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are just a few of the many masterpieces awaiting your admiration!

To avoid crowds at the Vatican Museums, try opting for a Vatican Early Access Tour at Opening. Though the museums won’t be completely empty, you’ll be among the first guests to enter, granting you a sense of serenity and more freedom to explore. If you prefer a later start to the day, however, a Skip-the-line Vatican Small Group Tour or Small Group Afternoon Tour are fantastic options.

For a more personalized experience, a Private Vatican VIP Early Entry Tour or Private Vatican VIP Tour may be the best option for you. With a professional tour guide all to yourself, you’ll be able to customize your itinerary and have all of your curiosities answered!

Discover the Wonders of Vatican City and Rome on Tour with us!

Looking down at the New Bramante Staircase within the Vatican Museums

Thanks for reading, we hope you found the tips in this Vatican guide useful! If you’re planning a trip to Vatican City, we’d love to welcome you on a top-rated tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica!

Looking to discover more iconic landmarks and hidden treasures in Rome with a passionate, local guide? Join us for a tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill or secure your spot on one of our beloved guided tours of Rome!

If you have any questions or require assistance with booking a tour, kindly reach out to our team via email at info@whatalifetours.com or by phone at +39 06 89 111 009 and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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