While the Vatican City is its own fully sovereign nation, many people only allot one day to visit it during their trip to Rome. One day is hardly enough time to see everything that the Vatican City has to offer, in my opinion, but you can still knock out some of the most important things! Here is a list of the 5 best things to do in the Vatican City, in order. If you’re looking for more things to do in Rome, be sure to check out my Rome Travel Guide.
1. Visit St. Peter’s Basilica and Climb to the Cupola
The Vatican City is the center of the Roman Catholic Church, and St. Peter’s Basilica is probably the most important church in the entire Catholic world. As the largest church in the world, there is so much to explore within its walls.
Literally, if you’ve never seen St. Peter’s Basilica, you will be blown away by its sheer size. It is absolutely massive, and there are so many paintings, relics, decorations, and other art to see inside.
One of my favorite parts about St. Peter’s Basilica, and something that I think is a must-do, is climbing its cupola. The cupola is the dome on the top of the church, and St. Peter’s Basilica’s cupola provides stunning 360-degree views of Rome from an outdoor balcony.
It is quite the hike to get to the top, but the views are so worth it. They may even be the best views in all of Rome. Entering the Basilica is free, but ascending to the cupola costs a fee.
2. Admire the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam
While St. Peter’s Basilica is the biggest church in the world, The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous artworks in the world. This work by Michelangelo is instantly recognizable, and it is located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel itself is a beautiful church, and visiting it is easily the second-best thing to do in the Vatican City. In fact, it is even one of the best things to see in Rome as a whole!
You MUST by your tickets in advance.
While St. Peter’s Basilica rarely has long lines because of its massive capacity for visitors, the Sistine Chapel is an entirely different story. This chapel is rather small, and the line to visit it can wrap the entire way around St. Peter’s Square.
To avoid this, it is recommended that you buy tickets in advance to enter the chapel at a certain time on a designated day. In my opinion, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are the two things that you absolutely must do while visiting the Vatican City. Everything else on this list is also worth visiting, but can be skipped if you don’t have the time.
3. Descend into the Vatican Grottoes
Located directly under St. Peter’s Basilica are the Vatican Grottoes, which is where you can find the tombs and sarcophagi of many of the Catholic Church’s former popes. Many of these men are regarded as some of the holiest men to have ever lived, and wandering around below the biggest church in the world is a cool way to spend an hour or so.
While I think that the next two things on this list are more worth visiting, the Vatican Grottoes are very convenient to access, as they are located directly below the Basilica. There is no extra walking necessary to reach them, and you don’t really need to wait in line. Also, just like the Basilica, the Vatican Grottoes are free to visit!
4. Explore Castel Sant’Angelo
While technically in Rome and not the Vatican City proper, Castel Sant’Angelo is located right outside of the border of the Vatican City. This stunning castle is none other than the mausoleum of the famous emperor Hadrian, who is known as one of the five good emperors of the Roman Empire.
While the building was intended to be his mausoleum, it has assumed many other roles throughout history, including being a residence, a museum, and a fortress.
This building is honestly fascinating. There is so much history within its walls, and the beauties and treasures that fill it are mesmerizing. Further, the legends that surround the castle and the history that it has witnessed are best learned within its walls. If you have the time, I highly recommend checking out Castel Sant’Angelo.
5. Wander the Vatican Museums
It is really hard to put the Vatican Museums all the way at the bottom of this list, simply because they are incredible. The only reason they fall this far is because of how long it takes to really admire them in their entirety.
Honestly, it’s pretty impossible to admire them in their entirety, as there are 54 collections that span over 9 miles of hallways. These museums feature artworks from the greatest artists of all time, including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raffaello, and the estimated value of everything in total is above fifteen billion dollars. BILLION.
The Vatican Museums Span over 9 miles of hallway.
There is so much to see, so much gold, and so many artworks of all types – sculpture, paintings, mosaics, etc. – that you can literally spend several days exploring new exhibits and never run out of things to see. Some of the most popular exhibits are the Gallery of the Maps, the Gallery of the Statues, and the Raphael Rooms.
Thanks for reading my post on the best things to do in the Vatican City. Hopefully this list helps you plan out your Vatican City itinerary on your next trip to Rome. If you have any questions about visiting the Vatican City at all, don’t hesitate to reach out – we’ve got you covered.