Vatican City (Information & Glimpse in San Pietro)

Vatican City, whether you are religious or not, should be on the top of your list when you come to Rome: the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and San Pietro.

This is part of the Things to Do in Rome series. Rome is full of winding streets – get lost on them and you discover place after place of beautiful finds. But sometimes you don’t want to leave it all to luck – sometimes you just want to know the best of the best in Rome.
It’s difficult to explain, but even though the Vatican is an independent city state it is, and has always been, at the center of Rome. Without taking religion in to consideration, you cannot, and will not, understand the people of Rome. Or, the city herself.

I have no other words to describe the Vatican but – enormous. Speaking solely on a physical level, if you try to walk the entire outside perimeter of Vatican City, you will be walking for at least an hour. And weathering permitting, I suggest you do walk the perimeter – it will give you an idea of just how large Vatican City is – and of the tiny (and often beautiful) borgo’s that surround it.

If you are looking for pictures of San Pietro, just skip to the bottom – and I totally won’t be hurt…

Basilica San Pietro

I have a little secret. Even though I’ve lived in Rome for years, and toured the Vatican Museum the very first year I was here – I never went inside San Pietro!

Many evenings, we have spent the last moments of light inside the calm Piazza San Pietro. Every Christmas, I make sure to stop by the Piazza to check out the Vatican City Christmas Tree (which to be honest is underwhelming). And, nearly every day this winter, I passed through the gates of Vatican City to take Florence on play dates. And yet I never went inside San Pietro…

Last week (literally), after sharing a cone of fries  (I promise to introduce you to this heavenly treat soon!) I noticed there was not one person in line to enter San Pietro. And so we walked, without stopping, to the very entrance. Cleared security and we were inside.

Enormous. Magnificent. I wasn’t prepared for San Pietro to be so huge – it’s nearly cavernous. The sheer size of it blew me away.

The basilica was closing in ten minutes so I had to run around a bit, but I did make sure to see Michangelo’s Pieta, and the altar.

I really want to go back and take an audio tour when I have the time to really enjoy the church – the audio guides offered by churches throughout Italy are not only really affordable but they are really informative.

Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter!)


Where is the Vatican?

Located within the confines of Rome you will find Vatican City. From the historical center (Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc.) walk towards the river ‘Tevere’ and cross Ponte Sant’Angelo (Bridge Sant’Angelo) which is pedestrian traffic only (and in front of you Castel Sant’Angelo will loom). To your left, you will see the magnificent and sparkling white (it was recently cleaned!) Vatican rising up.

When to Visit Vatican City?

The best day to visit Vatican City is a bit of  guess and chance. The best time, however, is early in the morning, or, in the early evening just before the Vatican closes. Personally, I suggest visiting the Vatican on a Thursday. Most tourists will have seen the Vatican early in the week, during the first days of their week-long vacations. Wednesday is the day the Pope offers a weekly mass – the piazza is swarming with thousands. The museum, however, I’ve heard can have light traffic due to everyone wanting to be apart of the papal audience.

Vatican Tickets & Tours:

It’s actually free to enter the Basilica San Pietro but you will need tickets to enter the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel. My suggestion:

A) Purchase your Vatican Museum tickets in advance to avoid standing in line.  Then do San Pietro first (because lines will be shortest in the early (7am early) morning to avoid standing in the baking sun after the museum.) After seeing San Pietro, proceed to the museum.
B) Go to San Pietro first, and without having purchased advanced tickets, take a tour of the Vatican Museums. The tour guides that mill outside of the Vatican may not seem legit, but they are all licensed tour guides and most are really good (there are really intense and intricate tests to pass for tour guides)

Basilica San Pietro
Winter October 1 – March 31       7-18:30
Summer April 1 – September 31  7- 19

Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel)
Monday – Saturday 9-16

Watch Out For
Gypsy’s! The police actually do a really good job keeping the gypsy’s out of the piazza, however, step one foot out of the piazza and you’re swarmed. Please, please do not pull out your wallet. I realize seeing sick (drugged) children in their mothers arms is difficult and you’ve just been to a Holy place – but please don’t give them money. You are really only opening yourself up to have your belongings taken or, worse, being followed and harassed until you give them money (it’s not the women who rob you, it’s the men that are hovering just out of eyesight)

No strollers allowed!
You will have to clear security, don’t bring anything you wouldn’t take on an airplane with you!


I’m a writer, new mom and foodie. I love sharing what I know while making others feel beautiful. On this blog, I share my healthy lifestyle, simple meals, fitness tips and experiences.

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Kara Bout It