Turn back time to two months ago. I am on the four-week countdown to turning thirty, and whilst I had considered a boozy British bash in Benidorm, I felt like I wanted to enter my thirties in a more… cultured way than I had perhaps started my twenties (Malia).
And what better place than Rome? And more specifically for this article, Vatican City. So I began my usual ritual of research; blogs, guides, books, articles and let me tell you… it was a nightmare.
Whilst I gained many hints and tips for my trip, I went definitely not knowing the full picture, and I hope now I can provide you with the information I was lacking.
Is anything free?
Okay, first things first. If you would like to enter Saint Peter’s Square and see the Basilica and fountains you do not need a ticket or your passports. You can step inside the archway to the city, without ID and walk around the square taking photos.
The only exception to this is if there is a scheduled audience with the Pope, which you can check these dates here: http://www.papalaudience.org/schedule
I didn’t see the Pope during my visit so if that’s something you’re interested in doing, I recommend that you check the website above for further information.
If you want to enter the Basilica you will need to pay for tickets.
This is the one thing that I cannot stress enough, if you want to see the statues, art, Sistine Chapel, gardens or enter St Peter’s Basilica, get a ticket before you arrive!
You can purchase all the tickets directly from the Vatican Website they charge a 4€ booking fee per ticket, but that 4€ is well worth it when you get to the Vatican and the board says the queue is four hours long…
I purchased two standard tickets, without a guide for 12pm, which included entrance to the Museums and the Sistine Chapel and it set me back 42€ for both; which in my opinion isn’t the cheapest museum I have been to, but it was a lot less than I had thought it was going to be.
I was staying in a hotel in Pietralata which meant I needed to take the tram, which was a straight forward process. The cost is 1.50€ and the Vatican is on the Blue Line, meaning I had to change in Termini and exit at Cipro:
The metro system is simple and easy to follow, my only advice would be to have change, because the note machine is temperamental and be wary of your surroundings. I didn’t notice any pickpockets but I have no doubt it happens.
Exiting the metro station, take a minute to take in your surroundings. Check you are heading in the right direction (follow the crowds) and take a deep breath because the onslaught is coming…
On my tickets for the Vatican I had one very simple instruction:
So I was pleasantly surprised, after taking only 10 steps from the metro station, to find a very friendly man in a uniform with a Customer Care Staff badge on, telling me that he was going to help me. He asked me a few details about the tickets I had purchased, the entrance time, he told me everything was great and I was heading in the right direction and casually said ‘Did you book a tour guide, Madam?’
I replied that I hadn’t and started to explain that I prefer to visit museums without, but before I could finish my sentence he had whipped out a binder, poster, headphones, map, photos and proceeded to tell me how he could provide me with the perfect guide for as little as 10€.
I am a polite person and I listened to his sales pitch but after insisting on numerous occasions that I would not be buying a tour package, he began to lose his patience with me and moved on to the next tram full of startled tourists.
I went around the next corner and found another very kind gentleman who also had a Customer Care Staff badge on, who started to ask me all the same questions again. This time I was very firm in pointing out that I already had tickets, and a Tour Guide and if he was wanting to sell me something I wasn’t interested. This guy laughed and assured me he was an official employee, he had nothing to sell me and could he check my tickets.
So I smiled handed them over and it took him 0.3 seconds to see that I did in fact not have a tour guide, but he could rectify my error straight away if I would like to purchase a comprehensive tour package from him.
Needless to say, at that point, I snatched my tickets off him and stomped off towards the Museums, where en-route approximately 25 different ‘Customer Care Staff’ tried to sell me tour packages.
When we finally reached the entrance, bypassing the four-hour queue, the actual Customer Care Staff were there, in a light grey uniform and they never smiled once.
To summarise, when you exit the metro, walk straight to the entrance, look no one in the eye, and when you find the most serious, unfriendly looking Customer Care Staff, only then should you open your mouth. And in return, they will literally glance at your ticket, point you to your entry gate and never look at you again.
You made it!
Once you pass security you need to head up the first set of steps and print your tickets. It’s super simple, just scan your e-ticket at the machine and small card tickets will appear.
If you booked a tour then you need to head to the tour section, and if you booked an audio guide you can collect these at this point. Otherwise, you are free to explore.
You are provided with a map with your booking but I never looked at it. You have a few different options and you can take the ‘short route’ if you prefer but we did the entire museum.
The Sistine Chapel
It is easy to fall into the trap of heading straight to the Sistine Chapel, but I wouldn’t recommend it because every room is filled with something unmissable. The signs helpfully let you know how many stops away you are from entering and we only had to wait around 5 minutes on the stairs before we could enter.
There are two rules in the Chapel, be quiet and do not take photos. There is Vatican security in the Chapel to stop people taking photos and I was surprised at how many people did not follow the rules.
For me just being in the Chapel was a humbling experience and a thousand photos could not have captured its magnificence nor beauty; so why try? And I understand that you want to keep a piece of it with you when you leave, but the gift shop has perfect picture postcards for 80 cents. And if you are caught taking photos you will be asked to delete them and you could have your camera confiscated and be removed from the museum completely so I would not recommend it.
I do like art but I do not have much knowledge about the history of art and I certainly don’t posses a natural talent for it. However, it was not difficult to appreciate why the Sistine Chapel is named by many as the greatest piece of art of all time. The size, detail and beauty of the entire piece from the creation of Adam to the Final Judgement is mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, it is very busy and it is a little difficult to appreciate all the art when surrounded by thousands of people. But even so it was definitely worth it and as it is a Chapel you can pray there also.
The end of the Museums
My personal tour concluded at the Sistine Chapel but you can go outside at this point and get some free water from the drinking fountain and see another view:
From here you can go to the food court, which was reasonably priced! You can get some souvenirs in the gift shop and a personal highlight for me was the post office.
Here you can post a letter with a Vatican postage stamp and buy coins or stamps to take home.
And that was the end of my day in Vatican City well-ish. I headed back to St Peter’s square to watch the sunset and then took a nice stroll back to Termini.
Are you still with me?
I apologise for the length, but for the smallest country in the world, it certainly has some special sights and I wouldn’t want you to miss anything!
FYI: I didn’t buy tickets for the Basilica or the Gardens but if you are thinking about doing it you might need to spend a day and a half or two days in Vatican City because I was pretty exhausted (I clocked up 33000 steps) from the square and museums alone.
Vatican City was an amazing experience and I could not have asked for a better way to start my next decade. But here are my tips:
- Book tickets in advance
- Plan your route to the Vatican before you leave the hotel
- Be aware that many people will pretend to be officials to entice you to buy tour packages
- If you decide not to have a guide, research a few pieces of art that interest you to keep an eye out for
- Take a bottle of water (you can refill it for free)
- Don’t take photos in the Sistine Chapel
- Check your dates in case of a Papel service
- You may need ID to enter the museums but not St Peter’s Square
- And please drop a comment when you go, I can’t promise I won’t have FOMO but I want to know your thoughts!