The Vatican is the smallest state-city in the world and the headquarters of the Catholic Church. To catch you up on the history very quickly, the Vatican area was the place where St. Peter was crucified, in the Circus of Nero. He is considered the first of the Popes and his tomb is under the Basilica. All the history, religion, art and architecture attracts a bunch of visitors every day, no matter when you visit the city, you’ll always find a lot of people in there. Regardless of religion, the Vatican is a place to visit.
Check it out my quick list of things to do when in Vatican
1. See the Pope on Sunday
Every Sunday at noon, the Pope appears in one of the windows to give the blessing to all the faithful visitors. The blessing lasts around 15 minutes, and the St. Peter’s Square gets very crowded. If you want to see him, make sure to be there at noon, or before it. The window that he appears will be signed, look for it. Artsy curiosity: The St. Peters Square was designed by Bernini, an important artist from the Papal court and Rome.
2. Enter de Sistine Chapel for free on the last Sunday of the month
The Sistine Chapel is usually closed on Sundays, except on the last one of the month, and the entrance is free from 9 am to 12:30 pm. Great deal if you can make it. Artsy curiosity: Michelangelo was reluctant in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because he considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter.
3. Enter St. Peter’s Basilica in the early hours to avoid the big lines
The St. Peter’s Basilica is a must visit place, and everyone knows that since the line to get in is big. But if you go in the early hours you will avoid the crowds. The place is beautiful, and the visitation is free every day. Artsy curiosity: The Basilica as we know today was designed by Bramante, Raffaello, Michelangelo, just to name a few. A lot of important names were involved because it took several years to be finished.
4. Climb the Basilica’s dome and enjoy the best view of St. Peter’s Square
This is a very worthy thing to do when in Vaticano, the view from the dome is beautiful. It costs €5 to get up there using the stairs, but you can pay €2 more to take the elevator (I advise you to do that). Be aware that even paying for the elevator you’ll still have to climb around 100 steps in a narrow stair to get on the external part of the dome. Artsy curiosity: The dome was designed by Michelangelo, but it was constructed after his death.
5. Visit the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica
To visit the crypt you don’t pay anything, in the entrance. You’ll see a list of all the popes buried in there, including St. Peters (the first in the list). Besides the Popes, there are also tombs of saints, kings, and queens. The place is not dark, like most of the crypts I’ve seen so far. St. Peter’s tomb is located underneath the Basilica, below the high altar, and is the first thing you’ll see when you enter the crypt. The place is busy, and you can’t take pictures.
6. See the Pietà
The famous sculpture Pietà by Michelangelo is inside of the Basilica, protected by bulletproof glass. You can’t get very close to it, but you can see it’s a masterpiece. The sculpture is made of marble and represents a dead Jesus on the lap of Mary. Artsy curiosity: Pietà is an Italian term used to represent Virgin Mary with Jesus dead on her lap. The most famous sculpture of Pietà is Michelangelo’s one.
7. Take a picture of the Swiss Guard
The Swiss Guard is the Pope’s guard, when you see the guys with a funny uniform around Vatican, you found them. Some curious facts: They have to be from Switzerland, under 25 years old and single.
– The earlier you go, the better you enjoy your day, and avoid the crowds.
– Dress properly and avoid problems, you don’t want to risk your visitation, right? I suggest you use pants or long skirts, sleeved blouses and without low necklines. If the day is to warm, just put a scarf on and you are good to enter de Basilica.
– Buy your Rome souvenirs on the way from the subway station to Vaticano (or vice-versa). There is a big stand (sometimes two) full of magnets and keychains costing €1 each; it’s a bargain.