Top 7 Best Things To Do In Vatican City

The distinction of smallest country on Earth (by size AND population) goes to Vatican City. Located within Rome, Italy, Vatican City has less than 1000 inhabitants and has been an independent country since 1929. Also called the Holy See, it has been the home of the Catholic Pope since the 14th century and is the seat of worldwide Catholicism. Each year, roughly five million tourists visit this tiny country, each one entering through St. Peters Square. Though only 44 hectares (110 acres) there is much to see and centuries of history, culture, and religion to learn about. Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Vatican City.

1. Visit St. Peter’s Basilica – and the Vatican Grottoes beneath

Best Things To Do In Vatican City

No visit to the Vatican would be complete without seeing St. Peter’s Basilica. One of the largest churches ever built, the building that we see today is actually the second St. Peter’s Basilica. Originally built in the 4th Century by Emperor Constantine, the Basilica marked the site where St. Peter was supposed to have been buried. However, by the 1400s the church was in a state of disrepair and was knocked down to be reconstructed under the orders of Pope Julius II.

2. See Bernini’s Colonnade at Saint Peter’s Square

See Bernini’s Colonnade at Saint Peter’s Square

It’s one of the most iconic pictures of Vatican City and a must-see for visitors near and far. St. Peter’s Square is located directly in front of its eponymous Basilica. Built from a design by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, the square has become one of the most famous of its kind. Seen from above it resembles a giant keyhole with two large colonnades which Bernini intended to resemble the ‘motherly arms of the church’.

A popular gathering point for tourists and visitors to the Vatican Museums, from this spot you can see the Papal Apartments and is the place where the Papal address is held every Wednesday during the summer months.

3. Take in the Sistine Chapel

Raphael's tapestries in the Sistine Chapel

Not only is the Sistine Chapel one of the most famous chapels in the world, we’re prepared to say it ranks as one of the most famous buildings in the world. Forming a small part of the Apostolic Palace – the Pope’s official residence – the Sistine Chapel was named after Pope Sixtus IV who commissioned the building during the 15th century. Today the chapel is both an attraction and the site of the Papal conclave for the election of the new Pope.

One of the main reasons for visiting the Chapel is to see the stunning artwork by Michelangelo adorning the ceiling which was completed during 1508-1512. Though all electronic devices are banned during the conclave, on a normal day you might just be lucky enough to get a selfie with the Pope, as previous visitors did.

4. Explore Saint Peter’s Tomb

How to See St. Peter's Tomb in Vatican City | The Roman Guy

Underneath the modern day basilica are the remains of the original 4th century church. Excavations at this site have revealed what archaeologists believe to be the tomb of Saint Peter, who died around 64 to 67 AD. Bones of an elderly and strong man were found in a box behind a wall there in 1942. The Vatican has never made a definitive claim regarding whose bones they are, but Pope Paul VI did state that the identification process was ‘convincing.

5. Visit Ponte Sant’Angelo

Ponte Sant’Angelo

In the second century, emperor Hadrian constructed Ponte Sant’Angelo, a bridge meant to serve as a grand entrance to his mausoleum, Castel Sant’Angelo. It means Bridge of the Holy Angel, and it spans the Tiber River. It was Bernini who made it a masterpiece in the 17th century. He designed ten angel statues, each one holding a symbol related to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – including a whip and thorns.

6.  See Vatican Museums

See Vatican Museums

Originally founded in the 16th century by Pope Julius II, the Vatican Museums hold one of the largest art collections of any country. Covering roughly seven kilometres of corridors, you’ll see Egyptian mummies, Etruscan pieces, Renaissance masters, and modern art. Don’t miss the classical statuary in the Museo Pio-Clementino and the Raphael frescos. The museums are housed in two palaces – the Vatican Palace and the Belvedere Palace. Inside you’ll find three stunning courtyards:  the Cortile della Biblioteca, the Cortile della Pigna, and the Cortile del Belvedere. It’s impossible to see everything in a day, so prepare ahead of time to figure out what your ‘can’t miss exhibits’ are.

7. Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Saxia

Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Sassia - Best Things To Do In Vatican City

This 8th century structure was once lodging for Saxon pilgrims and then later turned into a hospital complex by Pope Innocent III. Sixtus IV added a beautiful courtyard and two halls filled with frescoes. Now privately operated for conferences, the massive building is impossible to miss and inspires awe in everyone who visits.

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