“The Vatican takes your breath away.” - Joe Elliott
Vatican City is the world’s smallest nation and is located completely within Rome, making it an unmissable sight when you visit the Italian capital. The city-state is home to only 799 inhabitants, 0.439km2, and earns its money from tourism and the Vatican Museums in particular.
It’s the least populated country in the world. However, with 2,000 inhabitants per km2, it’s also one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Make sure you plan as the many historic monuments in the Vatican draw in at least 5 million tourists a year. In this article, we're looking at the Vatican, how to get there, the best time of year to visit, and some of the passes you can get to visit there.
The Vatican at a Glance
The Vatican is both the territory of the Holy See and the capital of the city-state and is home to all the Roman Catholic Church’s political institutions.
The pope is both the religious and political head of state. The Vatican is technically an absolute monarchy through divine right and the head of state, the pope, has absolute power over the legislative, executive, and judiciary bodies of government. Vatican Hill has been the seat of the papacy since the Antiquity. The Vatican has been the epicentre of Catholicism since Emperor Constantine (4th century) and during the age of the Papal States (752-1870).
Founded on 11th February 1929, through the Lateran Treaty, the Vatican City is not only a religious capital but also an open-air museum. It’s a unique place where the popes, since the Middle Ages, have kept vast collections of art dating back to the Antiquity. The buildings at the Vatican City are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Vatican Museums, which is the 4th most popular museum in the world.
The Vatican City, as the capital of Catholicism, has had a considerable influence on the world’s culture. It’s home to a dozen museums that house sacred and profane art, Etruscan and Egyptian antiquities, and canvases from many famous painters including Michaelangelo.
It draws in between 5 and 6 million visitors a year.
Find out more about visiting the Vatican.
How Can You Get to the Vatican?
To get the most out of your trip to the Vatican (and Rome, subsequently), you’ll need to start by looking for flights from the UK.
To find the best flights, you can go on flight comparison sites such as Skyscanner. This tool can help you find cheap flights according to the dates you want to go from airports that fly to Rome Fiumicino airport. You can compare flights across an entire month, which is ideal if you’re flexible. For example, you can find return flights to Rome from London from £35, Edinburgh from £40, and Manchester from £42.
Vatican City is on the west bank of the Tiber, not far from the centre of Rome. You can easily get there on foot from the historic centre of Rome. Several buses go to the Vatican: The 23, 32, 40, 49, 81, 492, 590, and 982 go to “Risorgimento” or the 34, 46, 62, 64, 98, 882, and 916 stop at “Largo di Porta Cavallegeri”. On foot, you can enter the city via the Porta Sant’Anna. If you take the metro, take line A to Ottavino or Cipro to get to Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums.
Find out more about the history of the Vatican.
Which is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Vatican?
If you’re going to visit Rome and the Vatican, you need to think about the best time of the year to visit it.
When’s the high season, what’s the weather like, and how much will it cost to get there?
The best time to visit the Vatican is between May and June and September and October. Summer isn’t ideal as it’s very busy and warm. The Mediterranean climate is characterized by mild, rainy winters, and hot, dry summers.
In winter, it’s mild (temperatures between 10-13°C in January) and between November and February, it’s rainy. During January and February, for example, temperatures are around 12°C but there’s up to 115-120mm of rain during the month.
As spring arrives, it starts to dry and the temperatures rise, making the ideal time to visit the Vatican from the end of April to the end of June. Towards the end of this period, the weather’s nicer but there are also more tourists.
In any case, the Vatican is visited by 6 million people a year and an average of 17,000 people per day in the museums. Expect long queues to get into Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel.
Passes and Queue-jumps for the Vatican
Given that there are tonnes of tourists throughout the year, it’s a good idea to get queue-jump tickets to visit the monuments in the Vatican city.
It’s much nicer to feel like a VIP in the Sistine Chapel! Similarly, you can also visit the Colosseum or the Borghese Gallery and Museum with a queue-jump. You can get a pass for all the essential sites at the Vatican:
- The Vatican Museums
- The Sistine Chapel
- Saint Peter's Basilica
- The Vatican Gardens
- The Apostolic Palace
- The museums’ statues and sculptures (Laocoon and His Sons, in particular)
- The Cortile del Belvedere
To visit Rome, there are four main passes: the Rome City Pass, the Rome Sightseeing Pass, the Roma Pass, and the Omnia Card. Each has its advantages.
The Rome City Pass includes queue-jumps for the Vatican Museums, free use of Rome’s public transport, the hop-on-hop-off bus, and is available for 2, 3, or 6 days.
The Rome Sightseeing Pass is valid for 2, 3, or 6 days and includes your transfers from Rome Fiumicino or Ciampino Airports.
The Roma Pass is valid for 48 or 72 hours and gives you:
- One free entry to an attraction and discounts for the others (48 hours)
- Two free entries to attractions and discounts for the others (72 hours)
Note: This pass doesn’t include the Vatican Museums!
A good option is the “Omnia Card”. Available for 3 days, the pass allows you the same as the Roma Pass as well as the Vatican Museums and access to the hop-on-hop-off bus. There are two free visits included and free access to public transport. This is the best option if you’re wanting to visit the Vatican. It costs €113.
So what can you do in the Vatican Museums?
They include 12 museums, 5 galleries, 1,400 rooms, and 4 miles of rooms and corridors. This is one of the most important collections in the art world. The Vatican Museums include:
- The Pinacotheca
- The collection of modern religious art
- The Pio Clementino Museum
- The Ethnological Museum
- The Gregorian Egyptian Museum
- The Gregorian Etruscan Museum
- The Gregorian Profane Museum
- The Christian Museum
- The Vatican Apostolic Library
- The Carriage Pavilion
- The Chiaramonti Museum
- The Philatelic and Numismatic Office
When you visit the Vatican, you can also see:
- The Vatican Palace, chapels and galleries:
- The Sistine Chapel
- The Pauline Chapel
- The Niccoline Chapel
- The Galleries:
- The Lapidary Gallery
- The Bracio Nuovo
- The Gallery of the Candelabra
- The Gallery of Tapestries
- The Vatican Gallery of Maps
With so much to see and do, you have to get the Omnia Card.
Find out more about things to do in the Vatican.
Where Can You Get Your Tickets for the Vatican
So where can you buy these passes or queue-jumps?
In recent years, there are tonnes of websites where you can get these passes and tickets. This makes it hard to see the woods for the trees.
Here are some sites where tickets are available:
- Get Your Guide
The site Get Your Guide is great for finding queue-jumps and passes.
For the Vatican, you can find great offers such as Saint Peter’s Basilica for €19.50, a queue-jump for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel for €28, and a combined ticket for the museums, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica for €55.90. On other sites, you can find tickets and queue-jumps with guided tours from €39.
Still not found what you’re looking for?
Check out Doyoogo! Doyoogo is a comparison website for tourist attractions and includes the Vatican. You can get queue-jumps for the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica from €59. You can also visit the dome or the crypt in Saint Peter’s Basilica from €49, or the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel from €35.
Afterwards, continue your visit in Rome and see the many wonders of the Roman Empire.
Before you go to the Vatican, consider learning some Italian. While Latin is also the official language of the Vatican, you'll get much farther with Italian. There are plenty of talented Italian tutors on Superprof who can help you with this.