Vatican City is the only theocratic state in the world with impressive religious buildings and an amazing amount of art treasures. This center of Catholicism is the home of the Pope, leader of the Catholic Church, and the world’s smallest independent nation. The outstanding religious, historic and cultural sights and popular Christmas and Easter celebrations attract a great number of visitors there.
Roman Catholic center located in downtown Rome, Vatican City, also known as the Holy See, has a small population of less than 1000 inhabitants. Many of the people working in Vatican City live outside the state in Rome. Outside the Vatican City, 13 buildings in Rome and the summer castle of the Pope also belong to this nation. The Popes are elected life-long leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican City. The Pope John Paul II ruled from 1978 until his death in 2005, and the current Pope is the German-born Pope Benedict XVI.
Sights and activities in Vatican City: sightseeing tours & the famous museum
The most popular areas open to visitors in Vatican City are the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican Museum. Saint Peters Basilica is the center of the Catholic world, with a famous dome designed by Michelangelo. It is a huge cathedral with amazingly decorated interior, and you can also visit the top of the dome for great views. You can either climb the 323 stairs or take the elevator that costs 6 euros. The crypt of the basilica includes tombs of the former Popes. The basilica also holds several daily masses, and guided tours are available. The massive Piazza di San Pietro outside the basilica, built in 1660s, is one of the largest public spaces in the world.
The Vatican Museum is one of the greatest art galleries in Europe and includes the Sistine Chapel, decorated by famous Michelangelo’s frescoes, as well as other spectacular halls and rooms. It is closed on Sundays except in the last Sunday of the month. English-speaking tours in the museum are available, and using one allows you to skip the queue.
The Swiss Papal Guards who provide security in the state and protect the Pope are yet another popular sight in Vatican City. They wear colorful clothing that is easy to recognize. Founded in 1506, they are actually the smallest and oldest standing army in the world. The Pope gives a blessing from his apartment on Sundays at noon, except in summer, when he stays outside Rome in his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. Vatican City also has a post office with the state’s own stamps and postcards on sale.
Other attractions in Vatican City, including the beautiful Vatican Gardens, the Saint’s Tomb and the Necropolis can be visited as part of a special guided tour that has to be arranged before the visit. Tours in Vatican City are a good value for money as the guides are very knowledgeable, and if you wish to see the Pope himself, try booking free tickets to Papal audiences in Vatican City. The surrounding city of Rome also has a great deal of attractions to see.
Vatican City travel tips and practical information
As in Rome, Vatican City has a mild Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers and relatively cold winters. Vatican City can be closed during some religious holidays. Otherwise, it can be visited any time of the year. The spring in April and May and autumn in October and November are generally best times to visit the city, as the weather is pleasantly warm, whereas July and August have often very hot weather and big crowds.
How to get there. Travelling to Vatican City is easy. It is located within Rome, the capital city of Italy. You can travel to Vatican City from Rome by bus, by train, by taxi or by foot. Big part of the city is encircled by walls, and the two main entrances are into the big Piazza di San Pietro in front of the St.Peter’s Basilica from the east or into the Vatican Museum from the north. There are subway stations and tram stops close to the Vatican City, and it has a local railway station. There is no passport control, so you can visit Vatican City with the same requirements you need to visit Italy. You cannot enter Vatican City with your own car.
Get around. Vatican City is a small area of just less than 0,5 square kilometers or 100 acres, so it is easy to get around by walking. There are many well-marked directional signs. However, most of the area of Vatican City is closed for visitors. Car rental in Vatican City does not exist, but you can rent cars elsewhere in Rome.
Visitor services. There are no hotels in Vatican City, but nearby Vaticano District of Rome has plenty of places to stay. Restaurants in Vatican City open to public are limited to two restaurants in the Vatican Museum. There is also a bar there, but all these close in the afternoon at the same time the museum closes. English is spoken by many people in Vatican City.
Safety & regulations. Vatican City is a safe destination with no major crime. However, pickpocketing can happen in very crowded places. Vatican City is a Papal state, so it is wise to show respect to the Roman Catholic Church while visiting. Please note that sleeveless shirts and short pants or skirts are not permitted in Vatican City. Do not use a flash while photographing inside the Basilica.
Short History of Vatican City
Vatican City was a part of ancient Rome, and the major obelisk in the main Piazza was brought there from Egypt by the Roman emperor Caligula. Popes have ruled Rome and the surrounding province since the retreat of the Byzantine Empire from Italy. Basilica of St. Peter was built in the first half of the 4th century AD. The Papal States were created in 756 AD, and Popes ruled parts of Italy for more than a thousand years until the 19th century, when most Papal States were annexed into the Kingdom of Italy. Most parts of Rome were also annexed to Italy in 1870, leading to a long dispute with Italy that was resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties. The treaties established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy. A new modified treaty was made in 1984.