Visiting the Vatican will definitely be a must during your vacation in Rome. Needless to say that, regardless of your religious beliefs, the artistic and architectural load of the place makes it one of the most visited places in the world.
And precisely for this reason, it will come in handy to have some tips at hand when organizing your visit: how to avoid queues for access, how to save on tickets to the Vatican or how to dress to enter a place of worship. Everything you need to know is explained below, so read on!
1. ALWAYS book tickets without queues
One of the things that most attract the attention of first-time visitors to the Vatican are the long lines of tourists at the gates, which stretch around the walls surrounding the Vatican City! This wait can spoil your visit and when it's your turn to enter, you'll be tired and not so motivated to discover the secrets hidden in the Vatican Museums or the Basilica.
Therefore, it is essential that you always book your tickets or guided tour in advance and make sure you select an option that allows you to skip the queues.
2. Cover your shoulders, knees and cleavage
Remember that both St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums (with the Sistine Chapel inside) are considered places of worship, so you will not be allowed entry if you are wearing a strapless dress or a skirt or shorts that show your knees. So how do you dress if you were planning to visit Rome in the middle of summer? Don't worry. Here the best advice I can give you is to always carry a foulard or scarf in your bag to cover yourself.
When high temperatures stalk the city it's hard to imagine covering up, but you'll appreciate having something to cover up in your bag (you'll also need it to access other churches or the Pantheon of Agrippa). What you want to avoid at all costs is that, once there, with your tickets purchased and your visit organized, they won't let you in because you are not properly dressed.
3. A guided tour, better than a visit on your own
When visiting a city with so much history, context and symbolism, it is best to join a guided tour of the Vatican Museums with an expert. In addition to making the tour more enjoyable, you will better understand the meaning of each work, its history and what is behind its creator.
In addition, in places like the Vatican Museums, with millions of works of art inside, it will be useful to be accompanied by a specialized guide who will make sure you do not miss the most important works. The best thing about guided tours is that they are usually adapted for the general public: they are not usually too specialized in art, so you will understand absolutely everything they tell you and you will enjoy it twice as much. In addition, the prices are quite reasonable and there is a wide availability of schedules and languages.
4. The best views of Rome, from the Dome
Climbing St. Peter's Dome will take you (literally) to the gates of heaven. The details of its interior are much better appreciated as you get closer to the top, but the spectacular views of St. Peter's Square, the colonnade, the river, Castel St'Angelo and the rooftops of all the ochre-colored houses of the city are worth the climb.
Of course, to get to the top you must take into account that there is no elevator along the entire stretch. Even if you choose the option of using the elevator, the last part of the climb to the Dome you will have to walk up: and that is not for everyone. The stairs get narrower and the passage is quite narrow. If you are claustrophobic or have a heart condition, it is not recommended.
5. Beware of tourist traps
The area around the Vatican is full of souvenir stores and fast food stands and even Italian restaurants. Don't get hungry and before you sit down anywhere, check their online reputation, reviews from other diners or menu prices. There are some really expensive places whose quality will disappoint you. You can always go a little further away from the touristy area for lunch or dinner or you can consult my guide on where to eat near the Vatican to be on the safe side and not make a mistake in your choice.
Best of all, no matter what time of day you go, you will find a good place to have a snack, lunch, dinner or just buy a sandwich to take away and enjoy it at home.
6. Wear comfortable shoes
It's clear that you're not about to visit a park or a mountain, but a visit to the Vatican always takes longer than expected. The sheer size of the Museum, the majesty of the Sistine Chapel, the hustle and bustle of St. Peter's Basilica and even the climb to the Dome could keep you in the area practically all day.
And you don't want your feet to hurt. Trust me. Wear extra-comfortable footwear to stand for hours on end, especially if it's very hot. Chafing could spoil what will be one of your most interesting visits in Rome.
7. Do not trust ticket touts
As if it were the most crowded concert, all around the Vatican you will be approached by dozens of salesmen trying to convince you to sell you tickets, guided tours, etc. My advice is not to get carried away by their overwhelming arguments and to plan your visit to the Vatican in advance, always booking your tickets or your guided tour on reliable and official sites. On Hellotickets, for example, you will be able to see all the schedules, prices and durations of the tours and all the guides are professional and authorized by the Vatican to do the guided tours.
8. Early in the morning to avoid overcrowding
It may seem a bit strange to be there when the Vatican opens its doors early in the morning as if it were a sale at El Corte Ingles, but the crowds that can be present during the middle hours of the day will make your experience much more overwhelming.
Early in the morning you will not only avoid the heat, but you will have the opportunity to be practically alone in the main galleries of the Museum, visit the Basilica of St. Peter and stop to observe in detail the Sistine Chapel. I could also recommend you to make the visit late in the day, but at that time of the day the fatigue begins to weigh (Rome has a lot of walking) and you do not want to make this visit in a hurry and reluctant. Get up early!
9. If you want to see the Pope live, go on Wednesdays or Sundays
If there is no religious holiday to prevent it, the Pope usually goes out of the window of his residence in the Vatican to give the blessing every Sunday at noon. This blessing lasts less than 30 minutes and is a short prayer given by the Pope before all the pilgrims who congregate in St. Peter's Square to see him and is called "The Angelus".
On Wednesday afternoons he also usually offers a religious celebration in St. Peter's Square, so I recommend you check the schedule of the day you are there and try your luck to see him. There are usually large numbers of pilgrims, tourists and onlookers, so if you want to see the Pope live you will have to arrive early to make room.
In my opinion, these are not the best days to visit either the Vatican or the Basilica: there are too many people in the area and you won't enjoy it as much.
10. Being alone in St. Peter's Square, it is possible
Believe it or not, this busy square is empty as soon as night falls. There is no need to go at ungodly hours. If you wait until the sun goes down and the doors of the Museums and the Basilica are closed, you can take a picture in the middle of St. Peter's Square as if the Earth had swallowed the rest of humanity.
Take the opportunity to walk in silence along the colonnade, approach the facade and walk along the illuminated Via della Conciliazione. You will take away a unique and very authentic souvenir of a place that, believe it or not, also has a moment of respite from so much tourism.