If you like plenty of sightseeing, Rome’s Vatican City really is a feast for the eyes. The world’s smallest sovereign state packs a spectacular array of domes, museums, sculptures, fountains and churches into just 0.44 square kilometres.
To get the most out of your visit, start your day early as you’re likely to need at least half a day to devote to the Vatican Museum alone!
You might start with a stroll through the medieval Vatican Gardens. The only way to see these exclusive gardens is to join a guided tour (do book in advance as these gardens are hugely popular) as they are not open to the general public. Marvel at the sheer abundance of beautiful flowers, fountains and sculptures gracing the pathways and, of course, the stunning views of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Next, head for the Piazza Navona to see its Baroque fountains – Fontana del Moro, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and Fontana del Nettuno to name but a few. Have a spot of lunch here too at any of the charming cafes and restaurants dotted around the square and watch the world go by. Try some delicious Roman specialties like Bruschetta antipastos (typical toasts with garlic, olive oil and tomato sauce), Supplì (rice croquettes stuffed with beef ragout and mozzarella) or Bucatini all’Amatriciana (pasta with tomato sauce, cured meat and grated Italian cheese).
After lunch, you’ll be ready to hit the Vatican Museum, bursting at the seams with some 70,000 artworks, many of which are part of rare collections of sculptures, paintings and historical documents. But the main attraction is the Pope’s official residence, the Apostolic Palace, with its famous Sistine Chapel showcasing an elaborate ceiling painted by the Renaissance master, Michelangelo.
As evening approaches, head for St. Peter’s Square with its sparkling lights to admire St. Peter’s Basilica and the iconic Obelisk in the middle of the square. If you’ve got a head for heights, climb the 551 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Dome, the tallest in the world, for panoramic evening vistas of the city and beyond, admiring Michelangelo’s and Bernini’s artwork as you climb.
You might postpone your tour of the Vatican Museum for a guided one by night. Visiting after official closing time enables you to roam the corridors and admire the Sistine Chapel frescos without the daytime crowds. You could also attend one of the concerts that take place in the Vatican’s churches regularly – what better way to take in such a stunning setting? Alternatively, take a romantic walk around the flood lit city before treating your taste buds yet again at one of the up-market Vatican restaurants.
24-hour trip tips
- The most popular attractions get booked up all year round so reserve tickets online well in advance. This avoids waiting for hours in queues or, worse still, missing out completely.
- Start early to beat the worst of the crowds and see as much as possible.
- There are no hotels in Vatican City itself so book your accommodation as close as possible to the top attractions – this saves you the time and money of commuting in.
- Vatican City is small but if you are tired of walking, save your feet and avoid pricey taxis by hopping on a local city bus or the metro.