Welcome to Vatican City, the world’s smallest country, both in land mass and population! This tiny, 100 acre country is one of the top tourist destinations for vacationers to Italy. It is also one of the most crowded! It’s a rare day at Vatican City when there isn’t a crowd queueing up at the ticket counter or entrance, exploring its vast treasure trove of art history, walking the aisles of St. Peter’s Basilica, or filling up the Sistine Chapel.
Touring Vatican City is a pinnacle of many visitors’ time in Rome. However, many visitors have just one day to explore this incomparable, beyond-words, city-country. So what’s a person to do with limited time? Plan ahead! Here are my top tips to help maximize your own one day experience inside Vatican City.
Make A Plan & Set Priorities
Taking time to establish your Vatican City priorities before arriving will pay off in the end. Is your priority to stand beneath Michelangelo’s frescos of the Sistine Chapel? To experience the Bramante Staircase up close? To have an in-depth tour of St. Peter’s Basilica? All this and more can be experienced in one day at Vatican City. Just not all in the same one day!
Prioritize what is most important to you, build your day around that, and then stay focused. With so much to see and do here, it’s very easy to become distracted. Also, some experiences are only available through guided tours, which often sell out. Establishing priorities in advance better ensures that you get the tour and the experience you want.
Book an Early Access or VIP Tour
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit Vatican City. It will be crowded. Period. But there are early access and VIP tours that can help reduce the crowd effect or provide a unique, limited access experience of some of the most popular Vatican City sites.
Early entry and VIP tours can get you into the Sistine Chapel before the crowds, take you to Bramante Staircase, or allow special access inside St. Peter’s Basilica. They can also help you speed past those long queues waiting to get inside. No, you won’t get the Sistine Chapel all to yourselves, but a before hours entry means it will be less crowded than later in the day!
Experience Vatican City With a Guided Tour
Yes, you can queue up for your Vatican City tickets on your own. Yes, you can wander the museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel without a guide. But if you have only one day within the walls of Vatican City, experiencing it via a guided tour gets you to the highlights. Remember, it’s unlikely you’ll see it all in one day!
A guided tour will cost more than simply purchasing your own entrance tickets, but it will be money well spent. Time wasted in long entrance queues, wandering museum halls in search of Raphael’s Stanze, finding the short-cut to the Sistine Chapel or the fastest way to St. Peter’s Basilica, is time lost that could otherwise be spent experiencing this fabulous destination.
Know Exactly Where To Meet Your Guide
When you book a guided tour, it should come with instructions on where to meet. Pay very close attention to details! There are many tour groups, often with similar names, often meeting in the same area, and there are a plethora of potential meeting places around Vatican City. If you end up in the wrong place, you could miss the tour. They won’t wait for you!
This almost happened to us. Our taxi dropped us off here, in front of St. Peter’s Square. A gorgeous way to start our adventure, with the early morning sun glinting off St. Peter’s Dome. But it’s not where the tours meet! Most tour groups meet in another square on a different side of St. Peter’s. It was a long walk, and we arrived with a few short minutes to spare!
Keep A Close Eye on Your Tour Guide
Remembering what your tour guide is wearing or where he is standing is vital to keeping up with the group. Once everything opens, those halls, chapels and aisles seemingly fill to the max in minutes. Taking stock of what your tour guide is wearing or where he is standing can ensure you don’t get lost in the crowd!
We were fortunate. Our tour guide was tall enough that when he raised his “follow me” flag, it was easy to spot him. And he wore a yellow shirt. But we still came close to being separated from our group inside the oh-so-crowded aisles of St. Peter’s Basilica!
Wear Appropriate Clothing
First and foremost, Vatican City is a religious institution. Dress accordingly. That means no exposed knees nor shoulders. Today is the day to skip the tank tops and shorts no matter the weather, else you might find yourself purchasing a last minute, expensive cover-up from a street vendor! The guides will check that you are appropriately dressed.
The clothing requirements are for real! We arrived properly attired, however, two women in our group did not. They were required to cover their bare shoulders before being allowed to proceed with the tour. And that meant an unexpected purchased of a wrap from a nearby street vendor. Comfortable walking shoes also come highly recommended. You will be amazed at how much ground you’ll cover in this one day!
Save Time to Savor the Moment
Though it all, remember this. Slow down! You won’t cover it all, so take time to savor what you can see. I know, there’s just so much here, and you want to see it all! Trust me, one day just isn’t enough time. So savor the journey through those areas that you do encounter.
Spend extra minutes beneath the Sistine Chapel vault. Double back into the museums after your guided tour is over. Pick a favorite area and meander through again at a leisurely pace. Simply sit outside in St. Peter’s Square and people watch, perhaps enjoying a gelato from a nearby shop. This is a magnificent experience, and one that should not be rushed.
Have You Been To Vatican City?
Several tour operators offer a variety of Vatican City experiences, including Walks of Italy and Dark Rome. With just one day of our vacation dedicated to Vatican City, we splurged on the Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine Vatican Tour. Our priority was to see the Sistine Chapel without the crowds, and we needed the expertise of a guide to ensure we maximized our time. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about all things Vatican city, and was well worth the premium for this skip-the-line VIP tour.
Like many, our day inside Vatican City was a highlight of our Rome adventures. How about you? Have you been to Vatican City? Did you too have just one day to explore here? How did you experience this magnificent destination? Do share!
Read more about our experiences inside Vatican City and in Rome at:
- Favorite Photographic Moments Inside Vatican City’s Papal Basilica of St. Peter
- Favorite Photographic Moments Inside the Museums of Vatican City
- Lasting Impressions Inside Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel
- 5 Fabulous Days in Rome – Family Adventures in the Eternal City
Read more about why we chose Walks of Italy for our tour at: 5 Favorite Reasons to Explore Rome With Walks of Italy.
Images by C.Biederman.