The world’s smallest country holds great power along with a priceless Art heritage that includes sculptures, mosaics as well as art pieces from all over the world, including the biggest collection of Porphyry marble.
It’s history and vast art collection attracts millions of visitors each year, making it one of the most visited museum in the world. We’ve overviewed some of the best ways to experience the Vatican.
Attend a Papal Audience
Every Wednesday, St.Peter’s square becomes highly populated by the faithful as the Pope addresses the crowd during the Papal Audience. Tickets for this experience are free but you must ensure you get there at a time when you can find a good seat and keep in mind it will be very crowded. If you are lucky, you might get to rub shoulders with the Pope.
Enjoy a Guided Tour
Choosing to be led by a Vatican accredited expert in Art and Archeology is definitely the best way to learn the hidden stories, symbolism and history behind the vast art collection. An expert guide will not only make the experience engaging, they will also share facts and stories you otherwise would not find in the standard books. Most tours come with skip the line tickets and this will greatly maximize your time.
Discover our Vatican Tours!
If you have previously visited the Vatican Galleries, you have surely accessed the modern Giuseppe Momo version of the double-helix staircase in the Pio Clementine museum. However, you may not be aware that the Vatican’s original double-helix staircase was designed by Bramante and is also located in the Pio Clementine museum. This architectural masterpiece was developed to allow Pope Julius the II along with his carriage to access his residence easily and securely.
The Niccoline Chapel
Named after the Pope Nicholas V who commissioned it and decorated by the frescoes of Fra Angelico also known as Beato Angelico, this chapel was initially only accessible by special historical figures under privileged circumstances and has only recently been made accessible to the public by a special pass.
Explore the Green Heart of the Vatican
The Vatican Gardens are a haven of beauty and peace and contain not only historical masterpieces such as monuments, sculptures and fountains but botanical wonders as well. Combining Italian, French and English landscaping, these gardens are also known as the “Pope’s Playground”. The gardens also hold a collection of images of the Virgin Mary in depictions from different parts of the world.
Climb St. Peter’s Dome
While visiting the Vatican Museums, you have the option of paying an extra fee and accessing the dome of St. Peter. Designed by Michelangelo, the dome stands as one of the largest in the world. Although reaching it involves climbing more than 400 steps, it is more than worth it and you can opt to use the elevator to shorten the climb to 320 steps. To experience an optical illusion access Via Niccolò Piccolomini and watch the dome appear further as you approach and closer as you distance yourself. From Aventine Hill, you can admire the dome through the ancient Keyhole of the Knights of Malta estate.
Step inside the Vatican Library
The Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum otherwise known as the Vatican Secret Archives holds a collection of art, manuscripts, documents, correspondence that was originally developed by Pope Paul V who decided it would have been wise to keep track of historically relevant files of the Vatican, especially since they included letters to and from the biggest history figures in the world. Although only a small collection of these secret documents has been made available to the open public, if you are a reputable scholar, you have the chance to access specific documents available only by request.
Access the Passetto di Borgo
You may have read about it in Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”, stretching from the Vatican museums to Castel Sant’Angelo, this secret passageway was developed as an escape path for the Pope in case of threats and emergencies. Nowadays, it is no longer needed and is open to the public.
Vatican by Moonlight
To visit the Vatican in a more exclusive, intimate way, consider visiting it after hours. The best part is, by accessing it during the evening when only a maximum of 8,000 people are allowed in, you get to visit parts of it that are usually crowded during the day. These moonlit visits are only available on Fridays as marked by the Vatican calendar and if you opt to, you may also enjoy an aperitif on location. As for St.Peter’s Basilica, it is closed during the evenings so you won’t be able to access it.
Did you Know?
The Vatican stands over a site of the dead. Vatican Hill is also the location of an ancient Roman necropolis and the Emperor Constantine ordered the first basilica to be built around the burial place of St. Peter.
Discover our Vatican by Night Private Tour!
Access the Necropolis
At a time when Emperor Nero was looking to shift the blame for the fire that leveled Ancient Rome, he sought to execute Christians among which Saint Peter, the leader of the Apostles. He was entombed, like the others that suffered his same fate, in the Roman necropolis upon which the Vatican was built. His suspected tomb is located at the very center of St. Peter’s Basilica on Vatican Hill. The Vatican’s underground level is a maze of catacombs that few known about. To visit St. Peter’s tomb you have to access the underground level of the Vatican Museums and step into the ancient necropolis to explore tombs that date back over 2000 years. Visits to this ancient site must be booked in advance and are only available to a limited group of people at a time.
Vatican Mosaic Studio
A favorite a Pope Francis, who famously gifted miniature versions of the St.Peter’s Basilica art works to famous figures such as Barack Obama, the Mosaics Studio of the Vatican may be visited and offers the opportunity to order expertly crafted mosaics. To understand the level of craftsmanship, consider the fact that the paintings you see in St. Peter’s Basilica are faithful mosaic reproductions of the original masterpieces that have been removed for safer keeping in better suited locations. It is absolutely astounding to stand in front of such artworks and realize that they were so accurately reproduced from micro mosaic pieces. Best of all, by visiting the studio, you get to pick miniature versions to take home for display or use as a sophisticated gift idea.
May you have a culturally enriching Vatican experience.
Written by Anamaria Maier