10 Best Things To Do In The Vatican City, Italy - Updated 2021

things to do in Vatican City

Considered one of the most sacred places on the planet, Vatican City is widely known as the world’s smallest country and the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. This 44-hectare (108.7 acre) country within Italy’s capital city, aside from being a place of pilgrimage, has a vital part in the preservation of art and history. Every year, around five million tourists come to the Vatican to see its Renaissance treasures, such as the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Even before the arrival of Catholicism, this originally uninhabited marshy area on a low hill was considered a sacred place. It held a shrine dedicated to pagan deities, which remained active even after the old St. Peter’s Basilica was built. The Vatican was established as an independent state in 1929 under the Lateran Treaty, which resolved the struggles it faced during the tumultuous period of Italian unification. Today, it operates as an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state, ruled by the Pope. As of 2015, it has around 451 residents, including the clergy, Swiss Guard, and diplomatic staff.

You may have thought about visiting the Vatican because of its air of spirituality, its art, or even its depiction in popular books and movies. When visiting the country, tourists are strongly advised to preserve this sacred quality by adhering to proper etiquette including the dress code. Whether you’re a Catholic, a culture lover or simply a traveler looking for wonder, the Vatican is a place worth visiting for a one-of-a-kind spiritual experience. Here is a list of the best things to do in Vatican City, so you can be sure you don’t miss a thing!

1. Marvel at the beauty of St. Peter's Basilica

The centerpiece of Vatican City, this Italian Renaissance church is a place of pilgrimage and venue for the Pope’s liturgies. It also contains an incredible dome designed by Michelangelo, that provides stunning views at the top. The basilica is located in St. Peter’s Square and can accommodate around 20,000 people.

Constructed west of its predecessor, the new St. Peter’s Basilica was completed in 1615. Famous artists of the era, such as Raphael and Bernini, were responsible for its intricate and grandiose design. Michelangelo was its chief architect and his creation Pietà can be found in the basilica, along with various pieces of Renaissance and Baroque art.

St. Peter's Basilica

Address: Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: 7 AM to 6:30 PM (October to March), 7 AM to 7 PM (April to September). The dome opens at 8 AM and closes an hour before the basilica.

Entrance fee: None. Charges may apply for climbs to the top of the dome.

Contact: +39 06-6988-3731, +39 06-6988-3462, +39 06-6988-5518 (fax), [email protected]

Website: Saint Peter’s Basilica

2. Scour the Vatican Museums

An immense collection that took centuries to complete, this vast complex was established during the 16th century and contains around 70,000 pieces of art - 20,000 of which can be viewed by the public. One of the largest art collections in any country, it houses vital Renaissance masterpieces from Bernini, Raphael, and Michelangelo.

The museums have a total of 54 galleries, including the Etruscan and Egyptian Museums. It also houses an ornate double spiral staircase, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932.

Vatican Museums

Address: Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: 9 AM to 6 PM (Monday to Saturday), 9 AM to 2 PM (every last Sunday of the month)

Entrance fee: 19.10 USD (16 EUR). Discounts are available.

Website: Vatican Museums

3. Walk around St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Piazza at night
Source: Photo by user Clayton Tang used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, this large plaza was designed in the 17th century by Bernini. The plaza contains around 140 statues of saints, two 17th century fountains, and an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected at the center of the plaza in 1586.

It can accommodate more than 300,000 people, not a shocking sight during one of the Pope’s liturgies or other important religious events. The Pope, if he is in Rome, addresses a public audience every Wednesday morning. The plaza is connected to the Via Della Conciliazione, a long street that leads to Castel Sant'Angelo.

St. Peter's Square

Address: Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: 7 AM to 11 PM

Entrance fee: None

Contact: + 39 0669882350, + 39 0669881694, [email protected]

4. Visit the Apostolic Palace and Sistine Chapel

Apostolic palace in Vatican City Plus.google.com

Posted by Barbara Saba on Saturday, 15 July 2017

Sistine Chapel.Apostolic Palace,Vatican City.

Posted by Places and moments on Saturday, 6 May 2017

Also known as the Pope’s official residence, the Papal Palace is located northeast of St. Peter’s Basilica and next to the Palace of Gregory XIII and the Bastion of Nicholas V. Constructed during the 16th century, this vast complex contains the Papal Apartments, the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Library, the Vatican Observatory, the Sistine Chapel, the Catholic Church’s government offices, and some public and private chapels. It also contains gardens and fishponds.

The Sistine Chapel, also known as the Pope’s domestic chapel, was built in 1473 and showcases Renaissance art at its best. The chapel is decked in magnificent frescoes and is most famous for its ceiling, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.

Apostolic Palace

Address: Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: 9 AM to 6 PM (Monday to Saturday), 9 AM to 2 PM (Sunday)

Entrance fee: 16.74 USD (14 EUR). Admission is free on the last Sunday of each month.

Contact: + 39 0669882350, + 39 0669881694, [email protected]

5. Check out the Vatican Library

Hall of the Vatican Library, Vatican City

Posted by Michelangelo on Thursday, 9 June 2016

Vatican library

Posted by Joe Joseph Antony on Sunday, 13 August 2017

One of the oldest libraries in the world, the Vatican Library was formally established 1475. It is located next to the Vatican Secret Archives, which was originally part of the library until the 17th century. Housing around 1.1 million books and printed materials, the Vatican Library operates mostly for research purposes.

Because it contains vital pieces of history, the library isn’t open to just anyone. If you want to visit it, you must have the documents to prove that you are visiting for academic purposes. However, you can still get a taste of the historical wealth the library possesses. Just recently, around 4,000 of the library’s ancient manuscripts have been digitally archived on its website.

Vatican Library

Address: Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: 8:45 AM to 12 PM (Monday to Friday), 3 PM to 4 PM (Tuesday and Thursday)

Entrance fee: None, but a reader’s pass must be obtained.

Contact: +39 0669879403

Website: Vatican Library

6. Venture down into the Vatican Necropolis

Vatican Necropolis 01
Source: Photo by user Blue 439 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Excavated during the 1940’s, this ancient necropolis is located 5 to 12 meters (16.4 to 39.37 feet) under St. Peter’s Basilica. Also known as the Scavi, the necropolis was originally a burial ground that ran along the slope of the hill where Vatican City sits. It’s also said to be where St. Peter was buried, with a plaque currently placed at the original location.

Because of tight spaces and a possible increase in temperature and humidity, only around 250 visitors are allowed. Those below 15 years old are also not allowed. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to prepare yourself for the trip. Visitors are also urged to wear proper attire and not bring large bags.

Vatican Necropolis

Address: Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: 9 AM to 6 PM (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday), 1 PM to 6 PM (Wednesday), 9 AM to 5 PM (Saturday)

Entrance fee: 15.57 USD (13 EUR)

Contact: + 39 0669885318, + 39 0669873017 (fax), [email protected]

Website: Vatican Scavi

7. Savor the sights at Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant'Angelo <3

Posted by Roma Fanpage.it on Sunday, 9 July 2017

Tramonto dalla terrazza di Castel Sant'Angelo

Posted by Alberto Siesto Photographer on Friday, 11 August 2017

Originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in the second century, the Castel Sant'Angelo was converted into a papal fortress during the sixth century. According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the mausoleum, signaling the end of the plague of 590.

Via Della Conciliazione, a long pedestrian area, leads up to its entrance connecting it to St. Peter’s Square. During summer, events such as concerts are held at the mausoleum. It’s also the location of the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, which houses a variety of medieval art and various ancient artifacts.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Address: Lungotevere Castello 50, Roma, Italy

Opening hours: 9 AM to 7:30 PM

Entrance fee: 16.77 USD (14 EUR). Discounts are available.

Website: Castel Sant'Angelo

8. Stroll through the Vatican Gardens

Vatican Gardens, Rome #rome #vaticangardens #panoramitalia

Posted by Panoram Italia Magazine on Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Vatican Garden in Rome, Italy !

Posted by Beautiful Italy on Saturday, 27 May 2017

A patch of greenery amidst a flurry of historic architecture, these picturesque gardens cover an area of 23 hectares (57 acres). It contains a wide array of sights, including fountains, grottoes, monuments, and even a heliport. The gardens date back to the medieval era, with major landscaping efforts commencing during the 16th century. Although the gardens are not completely open to the public, visitors can book a tour two weeks in advance.

Vatican Gardens

Address: 00120 Vatican City

Opening hours: Depends on the guided tour.

Price: From 38.34 USD (32 EUR). Discounts are available.

Contact: + 39 0669883145, + 39 0669884676, [email protected]

Website: Vatican Gardens

9. Take a look at the Vatican's oldest surviving church

Santo Stefano degli Abissini
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user @@@@@ used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Built circa 400-461 and reconstructed until 1928, St. Stephen of the Abyssinians (Santo Stefano degli Abissini) is the Vatican’s oldest surviving church. Also known as the national church of Ethiopia, the church once had a monastery for monks coming from the African country.

Aside from its 18th-century facade, other well-preserved relics that can be found here include a 12th-century doorway and a 15th-century fresco of the Madonna with Child. Although liturgical events are no longer held here, the church can sometimes accommodate weddings, usually for those who work in the Vatican.

St. Stephen of the Abyssinians

Address: Via Del Governatorato, Centro Grande, Vatican City, Italy

Opening hours: All day

Entrance fee: None

Contact: + 39 0669882350, + 39 0669881694, [email protected]

10. Explore the Vatican Grottoes

Vatican Grottoes 1
Source: Photo by user Abir Anwar used under CC BY 2.0

Located below St. Peter’s Basilica and above Constantine’s fourth-century basilica, this vast underground burial place is often confused with the Vatican Necropolis. Known as the final resting place of popes, the sacred complex also contains chapels dedicated to various saints. One of the chapels houses the Madonna Della Bocciata, a 14th-century fresco depicting the Madonna with a swollen face. According to legend, her face bled after a drunken soldier threw a bowl into the image after losing a game.

Sacred Grottoes

Opening hours: 8 AM to 5 PM (April to September), 7 AM to 5 PM (October to March)

Entrance fee: None

Contact: + 39 0669882350, + 39 0669881694, [email protected]

Uncover secrets of the past

Vatican City is already known to many as one of the best places for learning about Renaissance art and European history. With millions of people coming to visit every year, it doesn’t really take much convincing for people to visit this country-within-a-country. The Vatican should be on the bucket list of not only spiritual travelers but also those who want to discover the ornate beauty of a grand era in world history.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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