How to Visit Vatican City: Tours and Things to See

This country within Rome has a lot to offer travelers.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Visit Vatican City

Best Vatican City Tours

Experience art, architecture and more when you visit Vatican City.(Getty Images)

While Vatican City is home to both the Roman Catholic Church's governing body and its leader, the pope, this small nation within Rome offers a wealth of attractions open to visitors of any faith. Vatican City welcomes tourists year-round for exploration, but be warned: The Vatican's attractions draw around 6 million people each year, so expect lots of crowds. To help you decide which of the Vatican's attractions are worth seeing, consider these tips from travel experts and your fellow visitors.

What is the Vatican? The Vatican is a sovereign city-state recognized under international law. Its government includes the pope and the departments of the Roman Curia that help him exercise his responsibilities.

Where is the Vatican? The Vatican is located in Rome to the west of the Tiber River, between the Prati and Aurelio districts.

Is Vatican City a country? In short, yes. Vatican City is considered an independent nation-state and is the world's smallest such entity.

Know Before You Go

  • What: Vatican City tours
  • When: St. Peter's Basilica is open daily year-round from 7 a.m. to 6:30 or 7 p.m., depending on the season. The museums are open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and are closed on Sundays (except the last Sunday of the month) and certain holy days during the year. Final entry to the museum is approximately two hours before closing.
  • Cost: St. Peter's Basilica is free to visit. Tickets for the museums start at 17 euros (around $19) and tickets for the gardens start at 12 euros (around $13). Entry to the museums is free the last Sunday of each month.
  • Must-know tip: Vatican City, its museums and the basilica have a dress code. All visitors must dress appropriately for a place of worship. Shorts, hats, miniskirts, sleeveless tops, low-cut tops and garments that show the knees are not permitted. Guests dressed inappropriately will not be allowed inside.
  • Website: http://www.museivaticani.va/

Lines to see the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica can be long, especially during Christmas, Easter and in the spring, so book online ahead of time. In addition, it can take more than one day to see everything in the museums, so plan accordingly.

You will need to go through a security check to enter the museums, and there are a variety of items that you may not take inside, including luggage, food and drink, weapons, as well as large umbrellas. Should you need to bring these items (like umbrellas), they can be stored in the museums' coatroom free of charge. Photography is allowed inside the museums for personal use and flash photography is prohibited. Mobile phones must be placed on silent throughout your visit. Restrooms are located throughout the museums and there are several around the basilica.

If the Sistine Chapel, famous for its beautiful ceiling painted by Michelangelo, is at the top of your list, there are some additional rules to keep in mind. No photography of any kind is permitted inside. Mobile phone use is also not allowed inside the chapel. Visitors must also maintain complete silence while inside (tourists say you'll even hear a voice over the loud speaker reminding everyone to be silent).

There are several different attractions in Vatican City that visitors should experience. The Vatican Museums maintain artwork and items collected by the Catholic Church and popes over the centuries. Collections include classical sculpture, contemporary art, paintings by artists like Raphael and others. There are also two archeological sites: an ancient Roman burial site and the ruins of ancient Roman buildings.

Since the 1200s, the magnificently manicured Vatican Gardens have been an area where many popes have spent time in rest and meditation. Inside the gardens, visitors will find beautiful trees, fountains, pools, sculptures and lots of greenery.

St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica, both open to the public, are also a top attraction in Vatican City. Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the mid-1600s, St. Peter's Square features an ancient Egyptian obelisk, a fountain and rows of marble columns. It is also the site of the pope's Wednesday audiences. The basilica features Michelangelo's Pieta, the famous sculpture of Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus, and the tomb of St. John Paul II. On the level below the main church, visitors can see what are believed to be the remains of St. Peter, one of Jesus' apostles and the first pope. You can also climb to the top of St. Peter's dome for an additional fee.

Tour Options

Travelers can combine a visit to the Vatican Museums with combination tickets that include trips to the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Gardens, archeological sites or St. Peter's Basilica. There is not an option to see the Sistine Chapel or Vatican Gardens separately from the museums. Typically, when booking a combination ticket to see more than one section of the Vatican, all or part of your tour will be a guided excursion. Tickets start at 17 euros (about $19) for a basic, unguided tour of the museums. Tickets that include an audio guide for the museums, museum tours conducted by a live guide or combination tickets vary in cost, but typically cost 35 to 40 euros (around $38 to $44) per person. Tours typically run daily, except for Sundays and major religious holidays. Additionally, tickets are available no more than 60 days ahead of the scheduled visit.

While St. Peter's Basilica is free to enter, you can opt for a guided tour ticket that includes both the Vatican Museums and the basilica. If you enter on your own, you will be required to go through security, and lines can be long. Visitors suggest going in the afternoon when lines are shorter compared to the morning.

Papal general audiences occur each Wednesday at 10 a.m., provided the pope is in Rome. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See outlines three ways to secure free tickets. Though tickets will grant you a closer view, visitors advise you can also walk into the square during the audience to participate and view the pope on large screens.

You can also avoid lines by purchasing an Omnia Rome and Vatican Pass, which grants you skip-the-line entrance to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. You can also book a tour through local companies, which offer skip-the-line access to the Vatican or combine trips to the Vatican with Rome's other attractions.

There are many other Catholic sites throughout Rome that you may want to add to your list of things to see, including the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, the papal vacation home since the 1600s. You can purchase tickets through the Vatican Museum website. There are also three other major papal basilicas in Rome: St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. John Lateran.

Getting There

The Vatican is easily accessible from different sections of Rome. You can take the metro to either the Cipro or Ottaviano stop on Line A (orange line) to be dropped near the Vatican Museums. Multiple bus routes drop off near St. Peter's Basilica. You can also opt for a taxi or walk into St. Peter's Square. Additionally, there are parking garages outside of Vatican City if you want to drive there, though driving in Rome is generally not recommended, as there are many areas where driving is restricted and you could be fined.

Additional tour options:

Looking for more information on Rome? Check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Lyn Mettler, Contributor

Lyn Mettler has written for U.S. News since 2014 covering a range of travel topics, including ...  Read more

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.