Within City Walls: The Top Ten Things to Do in Vatican City

Every human on the planet should plan a trip to Vatican City at some point in their lives. Even though Vatican City is the home the Catholic Church, people of all backgrounds have something to gain from seeing the sights in this iconic locale.

Vatican City is known best for its religious sights and sounds, but another reason to visit is the sheer numbers of famous artworks from generations and centuries past. Check it out and you will not be disappointed.

St. Peter’s Square

One of the most recognizable sights in the world is St. Peter’s Square, which is the plaza in front of the Basilica. It can hold nearly half-a-million people. The square is best known for the Egyptian obelisk that dates from 37 AD. The obelisk was brought to Rome by Caligula, but it wasn’t placed in St. Peter’s Square until the 16th century. Take pictures in front of the fountains or show up on a Sunday at noon and you can listen to the blessing from the Pope. The colonnades are massive and were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini to make the space feel like it was in the arms of the Church. The Pope gets to see this space every single day as his apartment overlooks it.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The Basilica is the church that has been in the Vatican since Constantine was the Emperor of Rome. This church is now one of the largest in the world and was built in the 16th century. The original was built in the fourth century. The history of the location is epic, as it was the place where Peter – the disciple of Jesus Christ – and other leaders were martyred at the Circus of Nero in the first century. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was also involved in the interior decoration of the Basilica including the 10-story tall alter. When you arrive at the Basilica, be sure to schedule time to climb to the top of the dome, which was designed by Michelangelo. The view is divine. Then, find the statute of St. Peter and be sure to rub his shiny feet.

Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are filled with art from the famous artists in the history of the world. They include pieces by Michelangelo and Raphael. There are more pieces from Bernini, too. The Catholic Church has built quite a collection of classical paintings, sculptures, and other masterpieces. While the Vatican might not be known as the place to see art, surprisingly it is one of the top five art museums in the world. If you choose to tour the museums, know that you cannot see all of the rooms and all of the art. The best way to see the art is to pay for a tour, especially the hidden tour as you will be taken into rooms you could not see otherwise. There are fast-pass tickets that lets you get through long lines quickly. Since the lines fill up, the tickets are worth the price.

The Sistine Chapel

Do not miss seeing the most famous ceiling in the world. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures of the ceiling as cameras are not allowed inside. While the ceiling holds the image of Adam and God, the rest of the chapel is also filled with paintings and frescoes by the great Michelangelo. You can buy photos from the gift shop. The Sistine Chapel is actually a part of the museum collection, like two other items on this list.

Scavi Necropolis

This is the place where the Christians who were killed in the first century were originally buried. The Necropolis is best known as the resting place of St. Peter himself – although the claim has never been fully settled. Tickets to the Scavi are not easy to get, and only 250 people are allowed into the ruins each day.

The Swiss Guard

The guardsmen have been protecting the Pope and the Palace since the 16th century. They carry medieval weapons and are highly skilled in using them. Their uniforms are based on Renaissance designs. They take their jobs very seriously, much like the Queen’s Guards at Buckingham Palace in England.

Pinacoteca Vaticana

This is the art gallery of the Vatican and is home to pieces that date back 3,000 years. This gallery in the museum complex is filled with pieces from the Renaissance. The gallery has gone through many stages, including a moving exhibition that began in Vienna after the fall of Napoleon. The gallery has over 400 paintings in 18 rooms. They include pieces that range from the 12th century to the 19th century with pieces by Fra Angelico, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Crespi to name a few of the artists.

Vatican Gardens

The Vatican Gardens might not be the top sight to see, but you will not be disappointed in what you see. The Gardens are between Rome and Vatican City on the north and west. The gardens are contained within 23 hectares and include a villa and some awe-inspiring medieval structures. There are guided tours available, but you can also walk through them on your own. The gardens are known for being a meditative space where Popes gone since the 13th century.

The Pope

Visiting Vatican City must include seeing the Pope. It is free to see the Pope on Wednesdays during his General Audiences with the Holy Father, but you must have a ticket. If you are unable to get a ticket, you should be able to see the Pope every Sunday at noon as he blesses the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. If you are in Vatican City during holy events, you might even be able to get a ticket to mass or another holy service.

Museo Pio Clementino

One of the must-see museums is the home to ancient sculptures from Rome and elsewhere around the world. During the 18th century, these sculptures were collected by two Popes who also organized them systematically. The pieces include works from the Hellenic time period, notably a bust of Laocoon – the Trojan priest who coined the phrase “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” There are frescoes, sarcophagi, mosaics, and other pieces that are awe-inspiring. Some pieces are notable for inspiring Michelangelo.

1 Comment
  1. on the end wall are stunning. Before you leave, make sure you check out the side walls containing frescoes by Botticelli, Perugino, Rosselli, and others. The lower side walls contain numerous tapestries by Raphael. Be forewarned that if you try to take pictures inside the chapel you will most certainly be scolded by the museum authorities if you get caught.

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