A visit to the small country (yes we said country, since 1929) of the Vatican is a must for any first-time visitor to the Eternal city of Rome and Italy’s vibrant capital. A powerful, and wealthy place with air of curious mystery, it’s no wonder that any visit to Rome includes a visit here hence why the visitors top around 7 million per year. Also, it is the headquarters of the largest Roman catholic church, west of the Tiber. St. Peter’s basilica itself serves as a popular pilgrimage site to this day for many who travel long and far as those once did centuries ago to pray with the highest Catholic figurehead.
If that wasn’t enough, the Vatican’s museums boast one of the largest art collections across the globe, a heaven of 15th and 16th century paintings by greats such as Raphael, Perugino and Ghirlandaio, courtyards with Greek and Roman sculptures, and the most appreciated area being Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel; the ceiling depicts the Bible’s Old Testament beginning with the Creation of the World and ending at the story of Noah and the great Flood. The staircase pictured above instead was designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1832, and is unsurprisingly the most photographed snail-shaped staircase in the world.
A fascinating place indeed, I'll never forget my own first time visiting, I felt extremely small while gazing upon the sunlight beaming through the large columns that surround St. Peter’s square, designed by Bernini between 1656 and 1667. This micro-city in itself, you’ll find a post office where you can send your own Vatican posted letters while side-stepping priests walking briskly to their day's work. Upon walking towards St. Peter's Basilica you can't miss the Swiss guard outfitted in Renaissance costumes with halberds at various checkpoints. It's all part of the charm and wonder at one of the most intriguing places on earth. When I’ve personally been, there has always been an abundance of movement and crowds of people in that square between tour groups, pilgrims and curious visitors which is my only complaint.
[An aeriel view of Vatican City at St. Peter's square]
Why Taking a Private Tour is Worth It
However, the annoying fact is, crowds can be overwhelming here on even a slow day. Old tricks like “showing up early” no longer work as the museums in Vatican City swell up quickly at daybreak. The only way to avoid this is by opting for a private tour. Luckily you have options. The most exclusive option with Luxo Italia offers a truly exclusive two-hour visit through two thousand years of history with a passionate local expert guide who will show you a practical lesson on the symbolism of Michelangelo’s world renowned masterpieces. The tour starts in the octagonal courtyard which houses the majestic Laocoon’s statue, and follows the path of ancient maps and tapestries, passing precious paintings along the way.
[Visitors near Laocoon and His Sons, an ancient sculpture in Gallery of Statues in the Vatican museums in Vatican city]
Finally, in a once-in-a-lifetime solo visit to the Sistine Chapel, the tour will allow the chance to enjoy one of the world’s most beloved places in complete and utter serenity. Here lies one of the most important works by Michelangelo, his Last Judgement which depicts the second coming of Christ.
[Interiors and architectural details of the Sistine chapel]
Being able to visit this solo would be something most people would never be able to do, most describe it as a completely emotional experience. The Sistine Chapel is usually packed to the point of exhaustion with people so having it on your own is something you will absolutely never forget.
For those who aren’t looking to break the bank, there is also something for you. We recommend a private tour of the Vatican that allows for solo access to some Vatican’s hidden rooms. This several hours’ tour allows you to visit the museum with an expert guide and gain access to some of the areas that most people never get to see through a reserved entryway, as offered by Luxo Italia.
Naturally, with the help of an expert guide, you will truly understand what makes these historical masterpieces special. Instead of having to glance constantly at a guidebook or wander around aimlessly not really sure what you are looking at; it’s a guide’s job to immerse you in this spiritual world, from past to present.
Want to see the Pope? Here’s a few helpful tips
For those interested in seeing the Pope in person, be aware that he typically addresses the public every Wednesday around 10:30am, in either the Audience Hall during the cooler months or directly in St. Peter’s square. Alternatively, he also gives a Sunday blessing from the window of his office in St. Peter’s Square. In the summer, however, he moves to Castel Gandolfo in the area of the Castelli Romani, usually from July to mid-September.
Last but not least below are a few tips on having a great experience at the Vatican during any time of the year
- Have a plan and don’t be afraid to stretch out your visit in two days as there is a lot to see here
- Book your tour in advance, as you can imagine the Vatican is extremely popular generally anytime during the year but much more so from May until September, book ahead and rest assured that you won’t have to wait in annoying lines.
- Dress appropriately: Many forget that this is a religious place and thus you should cover your shoulder and avoid wearing short shorts or skirts. Bring a wrap to drape over your shoulder if you happen to be wearing anything sleeveless.
- Plan where you plan to fuel up in advance. Food can be expensive and underwhelming near St. Peter’s Basilica, we recommend saving a few spots to go for lunch or a coffee. Our favorite places include Bonci Pizzarium, Sciascia Caffè and for something sweet, Il Gelato Bistro.
- Don’t forget to visit the cupola, yes it might be 537 steps but you’ll be privy to one of the best views in town!
- Look into a night visit. In 2016 they opened up night visits until October and you can read more about it here.
- Inquire about a visit to the Vatican Scavi aka the underground Necropolis which is only available to a limited amount of people per day.
For help planning your once in a lifetime adventure in Rome’s majestic Vatican city, contact LuxoItalia