Destination Bucketlist: Vatican City
Vatican City may be the world’s smallest state but the magnitude of artworks and cultural experiences it offers belies its size. Even if you are not a Catholic, the Vatican City makes for a trip of a lifetime particularly for those who appreciate history, art and culture.
There are plenty of reasons why you must visit the Vatican City in Italy. Filled with its enormous amount of cultural artifacts and historical structures, the Vatican City has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Vatican Museums are filled with a long list of masterpieces from several centuries. One of the world’s biggest Christian churches, St. Peter’s Basilica can provide a humbling experience due to its vast size.
You’re also likely to encounter the Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms. Also, if you plan your trip well, you might even see the Pope during the weekly Papal Audience where he meets with the public!
Must-See Places in the Vatican City
A day spent in Vatican City is well worth it. Just under a mile long and less than a mile wide, it is an ideal side trip for travelers visiting Rome. The compact city offers attractions with great architectural, historical and religious significance. Thus, it’s not surprising that most visitors find themselves going back the next day, and the next, to cover everything they want to see.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The views of St. Peter’s Basilica never fails to take anyone’s breath away. Due to its colossal size, the great church can accommodate up to 60,000 people. St. Peter’s Basilica is not merely a place of worship, but it is also a repository of hallowed artworks of Renaissance masters. Bernini, Bramante and Maderno and Michelangelo have all left their marks on one of the world’s largest churches. Right below the basilica is the section containing the papal tombs, another noteworthy aspect of the church. Don’t miss visiting the dome for an awe-inspiring view of St. Peter’s Square and some of Rome’s rooftops.
Another major attraction in the city are the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museums consist of several collections, each of which can stand on its own. More Renaissance masterpieces are on show, including the museum’s highlight that is Michelangelo’s fresco inside the Sistine Chapel. Expect to spend at least four hours inside the museums to enjoy the full experience.
St. Peter’s Square
Vatican’s magnificent city square becomes the assembly point for thousands of people who want to attend masses and other special events. The fountains, colonnades and the mighty obelisk dominate St. Peter’s Square, which is shaped like a keyhole.
Take a leisurely walk around the Vatican Gardens and marvel at the landscape, historical monuments, grottoes and relaxing fountains. Covering more than half of the Vatican, the well-maintained gardens were established way back in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Once a fortress for the popes during tumultuous times, the Castel Sant’Angelo now houses medieval firearms and military memorabilia. You can also find eclectic collections of sculptures and paintings inside. The castle’s famous secret passageway built in the 13th century provided a secure link to the Vatican when the city was under siege.
What to Remember
Keep in mind that Vatican City requires a strict dress code as a sign of respect to the Roman Catholic Church. Avoid wearing short skirts, sleeveless tops and shorts when you’re visiting the city, especially upon entering St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.
When to Visit
Vatican City receives tons of visitors at any time of the year, but the crowds do tend to spill over during special events or seasons in the Catholic calendar. Visiting the tiny city-state is actually a matter of what time of day you decide to drop by. To beat the long queues going to the Vatican Museums, you can visit in the afternoon for fewer crowds.
Visiting during the hot summer months will not be uncomfortable as most of the sightseeing is spent indoors. But for a more pleasant pace, the winter months are the best. Schedule your trip after the Christmas season when there are fewer festivities in the city.
Where to Eat
Seeing the sights in the Vatican City can leave you tired and hungry by noon. Recharge with a snack or meal nearby so you can continue with your itinerary for the rest of the day. While dining places near the Vatican are generally pricey, there are still some establishments that serve good value for the money.
A short walk from St. Peter’s Square is Papa Rex that offers Italian and Roman cuisines. If you come at dinnertime, there is bound to be a musical show to entertain you while you enjoy their food. Those craving for seafood may head to Il Bar sotto Il Mare, a popular trattoria-style restaurant near the Vatican.
If you’re looking for a quick snack, Pizzarium is the best choice for pizza on the go. Look forward to seasonal ingredients and creatively designed pizza toppings on your visit. Lastly, after coming from St. Peter’s Basilica, make a gelato stop at Gelateria dei Gracchi for a refreshing treat.
Where to Stay
Staying near Vatican City is not a problem as there are plenty of choices in nearby neighborhoods of Prati and Borgo. For young travelers, the vibrant Colors is a modern hostel that can provide for your basic needs. Budget-conscious folks will appreciate the decent accommodations in Hotel Florida, found in Prati’s shopping hub.
Villa Laetitia is a beautifully restored art-nouveau building offering boutique lodgings that are designed by one of the Fendi sisters. It’s within easy access to the Vatican City with its proximity to Tiber River. Relais Vatican View is a short hop from St. Peter’s Square and the shopping street of Via Colo di Rienzo. The hotel boasts a rooftop terrace from where you can enjoy views of the basilica’s dome.