Vatican City, or the Holy City as it’s often known, is situated in central Rome and is the ancient centre of the Catholic religion. Here you’ll get to see a plethora of historic landmarks and buildings, like the awe-inspiring Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. You might also catch a glimpse of the Pope himself at one of his Papal Audiences (more on that later).
In this handy guide, we draw upon our own experiences of the Holy City. Read on to discover things to see and do within the walls of the Vatican, places to eat and drink within the vicinity, and some practical info like prices and opening hours.
How to get from Rome to Vatican City by train
St Peter’s Square has its own train station, Roma San Pietro. These trains are geared up for commuters and run in a loop around Rome from the Termini Station. From St Pietro, it’s about a 10-minute walk to St Peter’s. The Rome to Vatican city train time is around 11 minutes.
Another efficient way to get to the Vatican is by using the Rome Metro. Metro line A has a stop called Ottaviano-S, which is located just outside of the Vatican walls. Alight at this stop, and you’ll be just a five-minute walk to the Vatican.
Packing in a few of Rome’s landmarks during your stay? To get from the Colosseum to the Vatican Museums using the metro, you want to take Line B to Termini (going towards Jonio or Rebbibia). Then, at Termini, jump on Line A towards Battistini and alight at Cipro. This journey should take around 17 minutes.
The Barberini tram stop is close by to iconic sights like the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. If you’re visiting these landmarks and want to include the Vatican, walk around 7-minutes to the metro stop, choose Line A towards Battistini. Alight at Ottaviano-S. The whole journey should take around 13 minutes.
Exploring the Vatican City
As one of the most famous and celebrated places in the world, it will come as no surprise that the Vatican City boasts a wealth of iconic landmarks and hidden treasures to explore. One day should be enough time to see the highlights of the Holy City, but many people choose to spend longer here.
St Peter’s Basilica
First up on our list of things to see in Vatican City is St Peter’s Basilica. Legend has it that this magnificent Renaissance church was built upon the remains of Saint Peter himself – one of Jesus’ 12 apostles and the very first Pope. The building itself was completed in 1626 under Pope Urban VIII and is one of the largest churches in the world. Did you know that St Peter’s Basilica can accommodate up to 60,000 people? And sometimes it’s still overpacked!
If you’re visiting the basilica and want to get a spectacular view of the square below, you can climb the 551 stairs to the top!
Fun Fact: St Peter’s Basilica’s famous dome (the tallest in the world), was designed by Michaelangelo, who also painted the Sistine Chapel’s renowned ceiling artwork.
Remember, St Peter’s Basilica is a place of worship. This means that visitors need to be appropriately dressed – no bare shoulders or legs.
The Papal Audience
If you’re visiting the Vatican on a Wednesday, we strongly recommend starting your day with the Papal Audience. Pope Francis holds this each week at 10:30. However, if you want a chance at getting a seat, you’ll need to get there by 8:00 at the latest. Otherwise, you’ll be standing for the duration.
Not sure what to expect during the Papal Audience? It tends to follow the same premise each week – the Pope will firstly greet any pilgrims in the audience, before offering some teachings and readings (all in Italian). Towards the end of the event, the Pope will pray with the audience and give the Papal Blessing.
Delve deeper into the history and culture of the Vatican City by visiting the world-renowned Vatican Museums. Here you’ll get to see first-hand some of the most acclaimed Renaissance masterpieces in the world, as well as classical sculptures and ancient artefacts.
The Vatican Museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 1500s, and feature more than 70,000 pieces spanning over thousands of years. Don’t miss the magnificent rooms of Raphael, the School of Athens, the Hall of Maps, and the final place of the museums: the superb Sistine Chapel in all its glory.
The Vatican City History and Facts
The area now known as the Vatican City was once a marshy wasteland – referred to as Ager Vaticanus – just off the banks of the River Tiber. As the Roman Empire grew, the region was developed into a rich administrative area full of lavish villas and wealthy folk. However, things changed in AD 64 when a fire ripped through Rome, and Emperor Nero executed Saint Peter at the base of Vatican Hill.
Peter’s tomb lay undisturbed for almost three centuries until Emperor Constantine I began the construction of the basilica in 324. But it wasn’t until a pirate attack in 846 that the famous walls were constructed around the Vatican, overseen by Pope Leo IV.
Painting the ceiling
Fast forward to the 1500s and Michaelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Julius died in 1513. A decades-long deadlock followed, between the artist and officials unable to agree on how to continue the project. Michelangelo eventually completed the painting, following the original design, in 1547.
In 1590, the magnificent dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica was finally completed by Giacomo Della Porta, and the basilica remained the world’s largest church for four centuries, until 1989.
Want to know more about this fascinating place? Here are some things you might not know about Vatican City:
Is the Vatican a country?
Yes, it’s a country in its own right. Since 1929, Vatican City has been an independent city-state, making it the smallest country in the world. It’s surrounded by a 2-mile border with Rome. However, you don’t need to bring your passport with you if you’re travelling in from Italy
Saint Peter’s Basilica fell into disarray in the 1300s
During this time, the papal court moved to France after King Philip IV arranged it. When it finally returned to Rome, the Vatican was in such disarray that wolves were found digging up bodies from the cemetery. There were even rumours of cows wandering through the basilica!
There is a secret passageway that links the Vatican to Castel Saint-Angelo
Several popes have secretly fled to the Castel Saint-Angelo, on the banks of the River Tiber, when their safety has been compromised.
The Swiss Guard has been protecting the Vatican since 1506
They were hired as personal bodyguards for Pope Julian II. Its soldiers are all Swiss citizens and are highly-skilled marksmen.
The Vatican has a population of around 800 people
Around 450 of these are actual citizens. The remaining population of this small country have been granted special permission by officials to reside there, but aren’t classed as citizens. Over half of the citizens of the Vatican City work as diplomatic personnel, so live in different countries across the globe.
The Vatican has its own mail system
This system is popular among residents as it’s usually much faster than the typical Italian mail system.
The Vatican owns a state-of-the-art telescope in the USA
As Rome grew into a modern city, light pollution made it difficult for Vatican astronomers to see the stars. So in 1981, a second observatory was opened in Tuscan, Arizona.
Restaurants, Bars, and Shops at The Vatican
Fancy a bite to eat or something to drink during your Vatican trip? You’re in luck – close to the Holy City there are a wealth of bars and eateries where you can stop and refresh.
The best places to eat near the Vatican City
Whether you’re in the mood for a delicious pasta feast, hankering for something sweet to nibble on, or you just want a cold drink, you’ll find something to suit your tastes here.
As you approach the entrance to the Vatican Museums, you’ll see a few quaint cafes. Le Carrozze is a great place to kick back with a drink and a pastry after an afternoon of exploring the museums. Ristorante dei Musei is a great place to grab a slice of freshly-baked pizza or a hearty pasta dish. Or for something a little bit different, head over to Maybu for a burrito to go.
Dreaming of a deli counter? Head to Enofficina for a delicious selection of cured meats, fresh toasties, and coffees to tempt your tastebuds. Or to enjoy a refreshing mix of high-end cuisine and a casual ambience, book a table at Sorpasso. You won’t be disappointed.
If you fancy trying something unique during your trip, Senzafiamma Raw Food Restaurant could be right up your street! The menu is, you guessed it, completely raw, which opens up new flavours and textures – perfect for anyone looking to try something new. There’s no a la carte here, but the 7-course tasting menu is €40, excluding drinks.
The best places for a drink near the Vatican City
Drinks-wise, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the vicinity of the Vatican. Les Etoiles is situated in the Atlante Garden Hotel and, while pricey, is worth it for the magnificent view of Saint Peter’s basilica. We recommend going at sunset for a truly unforgettable experience. There’s a lot to be said for the roof terraces near the Holy City – try the Bramante Bar for a quaint place to eat, drink, and be merry during your trip.
If you’re a fan of craft beer, you’re in luck! Just outside the Vatican’s walls, there’s a little bar called BeRe, which boasts an eclectic menu of beers sourced from all over the world. Or kick back and enjoy some live music as you sip on a lager over at Saxophone, a chilled-out setting to end your day at the Vatican.
Opening Times and Ticket Prices
You can enter Vatican City to marvel at its beautiful landmarks anytime day or night. Still, some of its most famous attractions do have opening hours:
Saint Peter’s Basilica
1st October – 31st March: Open every day from 07:00 – 18:30
1st April – 30th September: Open every day from 07:00 – 19:00
Cupola: until 17:00 in the winter and 18:00 in the summer
You can prebook tickets for the Papal Audience online, or they can be picked up from the Swiss Guards at Saint Peter’s Basilica the day before. There are usually no Papal Audiences during August, as this is when the Pope retreats to his summer residence in Piazza San Pietro.
The Vatican Museums
Mondays to Saturdays: 09:00 – 18:00 (last entry 16:00)
Closed on Sundays
Full price ticket: €16
Children under 18/students: €8
Travelling to Rome by train
Italy is blessed with a fantastic high-speed railway network, making it easy to travel to Rome by train. Roma Termini is the main railway station in the capital and it's served by several speedy services, including Trenitalia's Frecciarossa ("Red Arrow") services and Italo trains. Thanks to high-speed trains, you can get from Florence or Naples to Rome in under 1h 20m, Milan to Rome in 3h 10m and Venice to Rome in 3h 26m.
And if you're travelling onwards from Rome, why not continue by train? The capital has links to Venice, Florence, Milan, Verona and Genoa - to name but a few places you can reach by rail! So why not hop on a train and say arrivederci to Rome!