Visiting Vatican City in Rome – An Easy and Complete Guide

One of the most popular landmarks in Rome, visiting the Vatican City is a priority for most first-time travelers. The world’s smallest state, it’s located in the heart of the Italian capital and has been shrouded in mystery since its very inception. Small but boasting an overwhelming wealth of artwork, undertaking a complete tour of Vatican City can be intimidating.

Here is an extensive and complete guide to the Holy See, what to visit, opening hours, how to get there, how and where to buy the tickets and how to skip the lines. All are peppered with tales and anecdotes about what has been going on in the Vatican for centuries.

INSIDER’S TIP: Do you want to dig deeper into Christianity’s most important place? Check out the current prices for Take Walks’ private tour to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Crypt, and the Dome, and that will also make you skip the line.

What to see and do in the Vatican in Rome

Visit Saint Peter’s Basilica and Crypt

The main and most famous landmark in the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica is also one of the first places you will probably visit and one of the most famous churches in Rome.

Packed with artwork and boasting a fascinating history, here you can also visit several popes’ tombs. It’s roughly 190 meters long and can accommodate approximately 20,000 people.

Entrance is free of charge and very likely you will need to queue to enter. More so in the high seasons, mainly summer and close to Christmas. You will need to go through the metal detector and a police check but it goes pretty quickly. In summer, make sure you have a bottle of water, a hat and some sunscreen.

Admission: Free, audio guides can be rented at the entrance
Cameras: Allowed, no flash
Dress code: Modest, shoulders covered, no mini-skirts, no shorts that are too short, both men and women
Visiting hours: The Basilica is open every day 7 am-7 pm from April to September, 7 am-6 pm from October to March
Location: Piazza San Pietro, inside the Vatican City
How to get to St. Peter’s Basilica: The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, line A (red). Buses that get close are 64 and 40 from Termini Station which goes through the main places in the city center. The nearest train station is Stazione Roma San Pietro in Piazza della Stazione di San Pietro, some 15 minutes walking from the Vatican or two stops with the 64 bus.

READ MORE: To know more, check out our article on the most interesting facts about St. Peter’s Basilica and what you need to know to visit.

Visiting the Vatican City, Michelangelo's La Pietà
Visiting the Vatican City, Michelangelo’s La Pietà

Go down to Saint Peter’s Tomb and ancient Roman Cemetery

When visiting Vatican City, trust me, you don’t want to miss this. Located underneath the main basilica, some 11 meters beneath today’s street level, there is Nero’s Circus where Saint Peter Apostle was martyred and next to it an ancient Roman cemetery.

To visit this ancient graveyard, you need to book in advance by getting in touch with the Ufficio Scavi (Excavations Office). This is hands-down one of the most beguiling places you can visit in the Vatican and one of Rome’s top archaeological sites but you can only book via the official website. Otherwise, you can also book a tour with a certified professional guide to visit the grottoes below the Renaissance basilica.

Admission: 13€ per person includes a guide from the Vatican
Cameras: Not allowed to take pictures in the ancient necropolis.
Dress code: Modest, it’s still a graveyard and where is Saint Peter’s tomb. Men should wear long trousers, women long skirts or trousers, all covering the shoulders.
Visiting hours: The Ufficio Scavi is open every day except Sunday and holidays 9 am-5 pm. The last entry is at 3.30 pm (4.15 pm from April through September).
How to book: By fax (+39 06 69873017) or directly at the ticket booth on the left side of Bernini’s Colonnade. You can also try to book before you arrive by email writing to or
The booking must be made directly by the person who is actually taking part in the tour, if someone else books for you, they need to provide your details. In order to book, these are the required info:
– Exact number of participants;
– Names of the participants;
– Language required during the visit;
– Range of available days (month to be written in letters), the ticket office can arrange your visit, timings decided by the office;
– The way you would like to be reached (email, fax, phone, house address).
Location: Piazza San Pietro, entrance on the left of the Colonnade, access from Via Paolo VI.
How to access the visit: Visitors need to arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the arranged visit time. Show the Swiss Guards the confirmation of your booking or the email received from the Ufficio Scavi with the time of your visit. Items not allowed items: large bags, backpacks, and cameras. A deposit area free of charge for these objects is available to the right of the façade of the Basilica on the ground floor level of the Basilica’s premises.
How to get there: The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, line A (red). Buses that get close are 64 and 40 from Termini Station which goes through the main places in the city center. The nearest train station is Stazione Roma San Pietro in Piazza della Stazione di San Pietro, some 15 minutes walking from the Vatican or two stops with the 64 bus.

Visiting the Vatican City, Saint Peter's Dome
Visiting the Vatican City, Saint Peter’s Dome (Cupola)

Climb Saint Peter’s Dome (Cupola di San Pietro)

The dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica stands 136 meters tall and can be spotted from afar, making it always an iconic photography subject.

Once you visit the basilica, you have the option to climb up to its Cupola (Dome) and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city center. You can go either with the lift from the ground level to the terrace or climb all the way up (551 steps).

Even if you take the lift, you still need to walk 320 narrow steps to the top of the Dome because the lift gets only to the terrace. Here, you will find toilets and a cafeteria to freshen up and refuel before enjoying a view of the interior of the basilica. If you feel like it, climb the extra 320 steps and go to the top to admire the astonishing view of the city and St. Peter’s Piazza.

Admission fee: 8€ with the lift and then you climb 320 steps or 6€ all the way up to 551 steps.
Camera: allowed without extra charge.
Opening hours: Every day from 7.30 am to 6 pm April through September; from 7.30 am to 5 pm October through March. The last admission for climbing on foot is an hour before closing time.
Note: I recommend you not to do the 331 narrow stairs if you are not in good shape, scared of heights, or have heart issues because once you start the stairs, you will have to go all the way to the top of the dome.
Location: Piazza San Pietro, inside Vatican City. The entrance is at the portico of the Basilica
How to get to St. Peter’s Basilica: The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, line A (red). Buses that get close are 64 and 40 from Termini Station which goes through the main places in the city center. The nearest train station is Stazione Roma San Pietro in Piazza della Stazione di San Pietro, some 15 minutes walking from the Vatican or two stops with the 64 bus.

READ MORE: To delve deeper into the Holy See’s history and art, check out our guide to the best tours to the Vatican.

Image: Visiting the Vatican City, the basilica facade
Visiting the Vatican City, the Basilica’s facade

Visit Saint Peter’s Square

Saint Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) is an astonishing 17th-century piazza designed by Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1656 and 1667 under the rule of Pope Alexander VII.

One of the most famous squares in Italy, the piazza is huge: 320 meters deep, 240 meters in diameter and surrounded by four rows of 284 columns and 88 pillars. The impressive balustrade garnishing the columns is crowned all along by 140 3.20-meter-tall statues representing the saints, completed around 1670 by Bernini’s pupils.

Right in the middle of the elliptic part of the piazza stands tall an ancient Roman obelisk dating back to the first century BC. Originally, the obelisk was in the Circus of Caligula where the martyrdom of Peter took place and where the basilica was built, and it was moved by Domenico Fontana in 1585 at the behest of Pope Sixtus V.

Located on the sides of the central obelisk are two fountains, one by Bernini (1675) and one by Maderno (1614), while at the bottom of the wide staircase, there are the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul as if to welcome pilgrims and worshippers.

Image: St peter square fountain in the Vatican
Fountain in Saint Peter’s Square

From the piazza, you can better admire the beautiful facade of the basilica, a masterpiece of Italian architect Carlo Maderno who built it in 1614.

114.69 meters wide and 48 meters tall, the facade displays a series of columns and Corinthian lesenes on which a massive frame is crowned by thirteen 6-meter-tall sculptures with the Redeemer in the middle and an inscription to acknowledge that the work had been made under the rule of Pope Paul V Borghese.

The lower part counts five entrances on top of which are nine windows, three complete with balconies. The window in the middle is the so-called “Loggia of the Blessings”, from where the pope grants the Urbi et Orbi blessing right after his nomination and for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.

Admission: Free.
Address: Piazza San Pietro.
How to get there: Bus 64 from Termini (stop in front of Borgo Santo Spirito Hospital then walk down Via della Conciliazione), Stazione San Pietro train station then bus 64 for two stops, Ottaviano metro station, tram 19 (stop at Piazza Risorgimento).

Image: Vatican Museums in Rome

Visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

Visiting the Vatican City is by no means complete without a tour of the Vatican Museums. On display are some five centuries of artwork commissioned by the popes or received as gifts from kings, presidents, and leaders from all over the world.

Within the Vatican Museums, there are many important monuments such as the Chapel of Beato Angelico, sometimes spelled Fra Angelico, Raphael’s Loggia, the Borgia Apartments, and the world-famous Sistine Chapel, ordered by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. Here you will admire Michelangelo’s fresco all over the ceiling realized between 1508 and 1512, and his stunning Universal Judgement painting on the main wall completed between 1536 and 1541.

The Vatican Museums get super crowded. If you want to fully enjoy the artworks and the Sistine Chapel in silence and take your time, you should book a private tour. For early birds, Take Walks organizes a great tour early morning with access to the museums before opening hours, while if you don’t feel like waking up too early, you can take part in their tour to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel where you can skip the line or their fascinating night tour to the museums and the Sistine Chapel after closing time.

Admission fee: 20€ for adults, 8€ for children (6 to 18 years old), 8€ for students (19 to 26 years old). If you book online to skip the link, there is an extra 5€. Audio guides can be rented at the entrance.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9 am-6 pm (last entrance 4 pm). From January 1st, 2024, visiting time will be from 8 am to 7 pm, adding two extra hours. From the beginning of March, on Fridays and Saturdays, the museums will be open until 8 pm. On Sundays, the Vatican Museums are closed except the last Sunday of the month, when they can be visited free of charge from 9 am to 2 pm (last entrance 12.30 pm).
Photos: Allowed in the Museums but not in the Sistine Chapel.
Address: Viale Vaticano.
How to get there: Metro stations Cipro-Musei Vaticani or Ottaviano (line A). Bus 49 (stop in front of the museum’s square), 32/81/982 (stop in Piazza Risorgimento), 492/990 (stop in Via Leone IV and Via degli Scipioni). Tram 19 stops in Piazza Risorgimento.
Contacts: Phone numbers +39 06 6988 4676; +39 06 6988 3145. Email; help desk for online booking

See the Vatican Gardens

If you are thinking about visiting Vatican City, do reserve some time for the beautiful gardens. Vatican Gardens have been a place of peace and meditation for the popes since 1279 when Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back here from the Lateran Palace. Larger and more recent gardens have been planted, covering, together with the original garden, about half of the 44 hectares of Vatican City State.

The Vatican Gardens can be visited only through guided tours organized by the Guided Tours of Vatican Museums. Tours depart from the Vatican Museums.

Admission fee: From 32€ depending on the tour.
Opening hours: Daily except for Wednesdays and Sundays.
How to book: Tours of the Vatican Gardens are available in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and German. You can request another language when booking. Bookings can be made by fax (+39 06 6988 5100), by email ( or, through the online form on the Vatican website at least two days in advance, or by phone (+39 06 6988 3145 or +39 06 6988 4676). Please note: show up on time, not too early nor late.
Cameras: Allowed.
Vatican Garden dress code: Modest like in all other areas.

READ MORE: See our post to discover more beautiful and least-visited churches in Rome.

Image: Visiting the Vatican City, Saint Peter's Basilica
Visiting the Vatican City, Saint Peter’s Basilica

Appointments with the Pope

When visiting the Vatican City, you might get the chance to see the pope: he comes out in public twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday.

The Papal Audience takes place every Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square in the summer and in the Audience Hall during winter. The audience starts at 10.30 am, but to secure a good seat you need to arrive early, the security check for the square starts at 8 am. The audience normally lasts between 1 to 2 hours.

A ticket is required, even if always free of charge, and you can request it by phone (+39.06.69883114 or +39.06.69884631), or by fax (+39.06.69885863). Tickets are issued by the Papal Prefecture at the Bronze Door on Monday 9 am-1 pm or Tuesday 9 am-6 pm.

You can also see the Pope on Sunday at noon. He appears from the window of his apartment, greets the crowds in various languages, and gives a short speech and blessings to the people. It normally lasts around 20-30 minutes. No charge.

Gift shopping in the Vatican

When visiting Vatican City, you might want to do some shopping. Close to the basilica, you will find a couple of shops selling souvenirs such as rosaries, postcards, calendars, photos, t-shirts, crucifixes, medals, posters and obviously, photos of the popes.

Inside the Vatican Museums, you will also find some shops selling books and religious souvenirs.

All around the Vatican, Borgo Pio quarter, Via della Conciliazione and the streets towards Piazza Risorgimento, you will find plenty of shops with religious souvenirs, themed jewelry, calendars, books, posters, etc.

Visiting the Vatican – FAQ

When is the best time to visit the Vatican?

Weather-wise, it’s always a great time to visit the Vatican. Rome boasts a pretty mild climate, and even if you happen on a rainy day, most places to visit in the Vatican are indoors.

Date-wise, the best time to visit the Vatican really depends on your preferences and religious needs. For example, if you are a fervent believer and practicing Catholic, you might want to go to the Vatican during important days in the Catholic calendar such as Christmas, Easter, or even the spectacular Via Crucis performed by the Pope usually at the Colosseum.

Clock-wise, the best time to visit the Vatican is probably early morning or late afternoon, even though you always need to check the closing time and in the afternoon you might only have the time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica.

For sure, visiting the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel before opening hours or after closing time to enjoy them without being surrounded by the crowds is an absolutely unforgettable experience. You can do this with Walks of Italy’s Early-Entry Sistine Chapel Tour where you can access the Sistine Chapel 30 minutes before they open to everyone, and Vatican Museums Night Tour, where you access the Vatican Museums at 7.30 pm.

Can you visit the Vatican without a tour?

Absolutely yes. You don’t need a tour to visit any of the Vatican highlights, except for the ancient necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Gardens. Both these sights can be visited only accompanied by guides working in the Vatican and needs booking.

All other highlights can be visited on your own, including the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and the Basilica of Saint Peter. I recommend taking a tour if you are short on time and need to speed things up. Private tours, in fact, include skip-the-line entrance and a tour leader who takes you to the most important sights saving you the time to look for them.

What are the rules for visiting the Vatican?

  • Dress code. The Vatican dress code applies to both men and women. Covering knees and shoulders is a must for men and women. Men need to take off their hats while women can enter with their heads covered.
  • Prior booking. Vatican Gardens and the ancient Roman cemetery below the Vatican Basilica need prior booking. Also if you want to attend an official celebration in the Vatican, you need to book your spot except for the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square every Sunday.
  • Check Mass times. When there are official functions and holy mass, the Vatican Basilica is closed to cultural visitors and tours.
  • Photography rules. Inside the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Necropolis, it’s not allowed to take pictures.

Can you walk into Vatican City for free?

Located in the heart of Rome, you can always cross the Vatican City for free. For example, if you are coming from either San Pietro train station towards the river or Via della Conciliazione towards the station or Via di Porta Cavalleggeri, you are likely going to cross Saint Peter’s Square and that’s obviously free of charge.

In fact, two of the major landmarks in the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Square and Saint Peter’s Basilica, are free to enter, while the others are ticketed monuments.

Does the Vatican take a whole day?

It’s really up to you how long you want to spend visiting Vatican City.

If you are thinking about visiting the Vatican and want a full-immersion experience, I suggest you carve out a whole day of your Roman trip. This is going to be difficult if you are in Rome for only a day or two, but if you are staying longer, planning a full day to visit Vatican City is definitely worth it.

Consider that only in the Vatican Museums you are going to spend two to three hours if you are hitting only the main masterpieces or up to five hours for a more complete experience. Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica will also take a couple of hours, and if in the middle you want to have lunch, a day will easily pass. You are likely to finish your Vatican visit early in the afternoon so for the rest of the evening, you can hit the city center or the quaint Trastevere neighborhood.

Where to stay near the Vatican

Staying immediately close to the Vatican might be a little more expensive but it’s obviously handier as you don’t need to take public transport to get to Saint Peter’s Basilica.

  • Hotel Emmaus. This is a no-frill 3-star accommodation in Via delle Fornaci 25. Very close to the Vatican and Stazione San Pietro, it offers basic facilities such as free WIFI, 24h room service, reception, and a bar.
  • San Peter’s Corner. This is a lovely bed and breakfast near Vatican City in Via delle Fornaci 1. Rooms have free WiFi, a private bathroom with a hairdryer and complimentary courtesy set, and an Italian-style breakfast every morning.
  • Le Scalette al Vaticano B&B. Another favorite B&B near the Vatican Museums and Cipro metro station on line A. This B&B offers free WiFi, Smart TV, air conditioning, and in some rooms also a terrace.

READ MORE: If you want to stay in the area, check out our guide to the best hotels near the Vatican.

Where to eat near the Vatican

If you are looking for a place where to eat near the Vatican, my best tip is to go a little far from the Vatican itself to quarters like Trionfale and Prati.

Visiting the Vatican takes some time because there are several sights so you are likely to stay around for the main part of your day. This is especially true if you are staying in Rome for 4 days or a week and want to explore Vatican City in depth.

This is why we are giving you some suggestions of great restaurants in the area where locals go so where you won’t find tourist menus and quality.

  • Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43). Bonci is the king of pizza in Rome, truly one of my favorite places for pizza by the slice street food style. Unfortunately, it seems like everybody knows that and the queue is a constant there. Unsurprisingly so, given the light and easy-to-digest dough and the high-quality, seasonal ingredients used for the frequently-changing toppings.
  • Romanè (Via Cipro 106). This is a delicious restaurant to hit for traditional Roman dishes. One of the best carbonaras in Rome, here you can enjoy other known fares like amatriciana, pollo alla cacciatora, and tripes Roman style.
  • I Quattro Mori Hostaria (Via Santa Maria delle Fornaci 8). Good fish and seafood dishes and affordable prices, plus a stone’s throw away from the Holy See. If you go on Wednesday or weekends, you might need to book to find a table: phone +39 06 639 0195.
  • Porto Fish & Chips (Via Crescenzio 56). Fish restaurant decorated as if on a ship serving traditional dishes with a contemporary twist and new recipes. On weekdays, you can choose between menu à la carte or buffet all-you-can-eat, while on weekends, only menu à la carte.

READ MORE: Learn more about some fascinating and interesting facts about the Vatican!


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About The Author: Angela Corrias

Hi, my name is Angela Corrias! I am an Italian journalist, photographer, and blogger living in Rome. After over ten years of living abroad, I finally came to the conclusion that in order to better organize my future adventures, I needed a base. Since I know and love Rome so much, I moved back to the Eternal City. This is how Rome Actually was born. Here, I cover everything about Rome, from the local food to the culture to Roman history.

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