When backpacking in the Vatican City State, I decided to get a full grasp over what on earth this mini-country within a country is all about. It has to be one of the oddest places I have visited and so I decided to do a complete Vatican City Tour with Walks of Italy. Visiting the Vatican Museums, many people are content to see just the Sistine Chapel (which is marvellous) but they are bypassing ancient wonders, Renaissance masterpieces and treasures untold in this tiny country. If you want to get more from your experience, gaining a real understanding of the Vatican’s world-class art and history, this is the tour for you.
The tour from Walks of Italy covers the best of the Vatican Museums collection, the Sistine Chapel and a fully guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in just 3 hours and 15 minutes (it might over-run a bit)– so you can leave happy that you’ve given the Vatican City the time and attention it deserves. It’s a splendid mini country!
What is the Vatican City State and the Holy See?
Often incorrectly referred to as “the Vatican”, the “Holy See” is not the same entity as the “Vatican City State”, which came into existence only in 1929 because of the Lateran Treaty; the Holy See, the episcopal see of Rome, dates back to antiquity. Ambassadors are officially accredited not to the Vatican City State but to “the Holy See”, and Papal representatives to states and international organizations are recognized as representing the Holy See, not the Vatican City State. So basically the Vatican City State has been an independent country since 1929 (I’m counting it on my places visited post of course, but as it’s not an official FIFA country yet, it won’t add to my real life country count!).
Booking Your Vatican City Tour with Walks of Italy
Booking your tour couldn’t be simpler – you can book it in many ways:
1. Through the website Walks of Italy
2. Over the phone
3. At your hotel/on arrival in Italy
OUTSIDE OF ITALY:
From the US (toll-free): +1-888-683-8670, International: +1-202-684-6916
Their U.S. office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (CDT)
From Italy: +39-069-480-4888. Their Rome office hours are Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Central European Time, Rome local time (GMT+1).
E-mail contact: [email protected]
* If dialing Italy from a U.S. phone, dial 011-39.
Overview of my Tour of the Vatican City State
The tour starts outside a coffee shop called Il Caffe Antiche Mucha which is situated on the corner of Via Leone IV and Via Degli Scipioni. I take advantage of this and get there early to grab a pre-tour Espresso coffee!
Getting here is a breeze by the way – just head onto the Metro Linea A (the red line) and get out at Ottaviano S. Pietro stop. I’d also recommend buying an all day metro ticket (€7 Euros) as you can get on and off unlimited. Rome wasn’t built in a day and can’t be done in a day, but by getting a day ticket, you can get through a lot of the sights including your Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy. While backpacking in Rome I stayed in a cool hotel/hostel called Hotel Papa Germano by the way (near Termini) and it’s well recommended.
So we meet at 9.15 am sharp and are greeted by the co-ordinator Pamphilia and our guide Elisa.
We have our introductions for the tour and are each issued with an audio box Antenna which hangs over our neck and earphones.
It’s going to be a busy tour so off we go. Again, I must stress that this tour is absolutely the best way to see the Vatican in such a short time period. The main reason is that you have ZERO queues. You are going in with a group and just jump right to the front! You will definitely love this as you gaze at the massive queues for the museums and ticket offices. You just skip all the waiting! The reason for this skip-the-line is that Walks of Italy pre-purchase the tickets and pay the 4€ reservation fee per person, that adds up to the 16€ ticket.
Before I detail the tour itself, here are some cool facts I learned on the tour:
1. The Vatican City State is the world’s smallest sovereign state
2. The Vatican City State attracts 50 million visitors per year
3. The Vatican City State is the only country in the world that has more people working in it than living in it
4. The Vatican City State have their own stamps and coins
5. The Vatican City State was officially formed as a separate country in 1929
6. The entire country covers less than half a square kilometre
There are 10 of us on the tour today which seemed like a perfect size. You stay with your guide throughout the tour, listening to her on the headpiece. The sound levels are very clear and the information is detailed and informative. Here are the different parts of the tour.
1. Entrance to the Vatican City State/Leaving Italy
We head through the main entrance and go through the doors to the Vatican City. We start in the Museum part. This in itself is a border crossing, we are now officially in the Vatican State and have left Italy behind.
There is no passport check or visa of course, but there is a bag check. The bag check is similar to that at an airport. Basically you put your bags through the machine and walk through a scanner. Prohibited goods include large bags, laptops etc. so make sure you travel light on the day. I had a bottle of water with me and that is fine. But I’d advise travelling as light as possible as if your bag is too big, you’ll have to leave it in and pick it up at the end – which would be a bit time consuming and inconvenient. Bring your passport just in case, though I didn’t need mine. Once we are all through the bag check, Elisa goes to get our tickets.
2. Ticket Issuance
Elisa issues each of us with a ticket to enter the Vatican Museums. The normal price would be €16 Euros (after a massive queue) but we’re straight in and the ticket is of course included in the price of the tour. This includes an entrance to all the museums, and of course the Sistine Chapel. You swipe your ticket and go up the escalator. Welcome to the Vatican City State!
3. Introduction to the Vatican City State
We head to the outdoor courtyard at the top of the escalators and here Elisa gives us an introduction into the history behind the Vatican State and of course all about Michaelangelo, the Sistine Chapel and the Pope.
During this part we learn that Mike was in fact homosexual, hence the drawing of women with muscles and the numerous naked men with exposed willies in his works. We also learn that photography is forbidden inside the Sistine Chapel because the Japanese bought the rights to it years ago.
4. Cortile Della Pigna
Our first proper stop inside the Vatican City is outside – at a massive courtyard. Views are tremendous here and there is a bronze pine cone at the front and a massive bronze sphere in the centre. All around this courtyard, the famous museums are housed.
Most of the Vatican’s Museums are on all four sides of us, all around the courtyard. It’s a busy day for the tour as the previous day was wet and so the dry air has attracted loads more tourists today.
5. Museo Chiaramonti
We head inside to this museum down a massive corridor. This is the Museo Chiaramonti. Highlights are the head sculptures everywhere and a decent viewpoint out the window, which views over Rome in the neighbouring country of Italy.
6. Museo Pio Clementino
This museum has hundreds of statues in it. We learn that the genitals were defaced and removed at one point. One of the previous popes had the same idea to cover up the nudity inside the churches, asking “is this a bath or a church?”. As well as having no genitals, some of the statues have no fingers or heads.
Elisa reveals that there is rumoured to be a Genital Museum somewhere inside the Vatican with all the missing pieces! This reminded me of the film The Goonies when Chunk or Marty stick the willy on upside down on the statue giving the dude a mini erection. Enough of the genital talk though – the museum is stunning. There are head busts, full bodies and rooms of animal statues. There is simply too much here to take in! Look out for the Belvedere statue – it’s one of Mike’s favourites.
The museums seem to lead naturally into each other. We head through the Cortile Ottagono (Octogan Court) and into the Greek Cross Room. The entire walk is full of works of art in all directions including the floors and ceilings.
7. Galleria dei Candelabri and the Maps Gallery
There are a few art galleries in corridors coming up so I’ll bung them into one section even though they have different parts and names. After the statues, we enter a room of art and maps then into a corridor of incredible tapestries.
It’s not just the tapestries that stand out though – it’s the ceilings and walls – all painted magnificently. We are given lots of information on the artists too.
8. Stanze di Raffaello
After a coffee and toilet break we are heading towards the tour’s main masterpiece – the Sistine Chapel. However on route we have to pass the Stanze di Raffaello. These are Raphael’s rooms. In small chambers, the art of Raphael. It’s then cameras off time as you head downstairs into the Sistine Chapel.
9. Sistine Chapel ** (Incredible!)
Since the Japanese bought the copyrights to this place, no photos are allowed inside and basically everybody accepts this. Just stand there and admire the truly incredible art all above you. On my travels I have never before seen a single room quite as magnificent as this, art wise. The Sistine Chapel is absolutely fantastic.
10. St. Peter’s Basilica
We end the tour with a mega 45 minute guided tour of the largest church in the world. Yes, here in the Vatican City State, St. Peter’s Basilica is the biggest church on the planet. Exact size is 1,200,000 metres squared (it actually shares the title “largest church in the world” with the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in the unlikely town of Aparecida in Brazil.)
It is one of the holiest Catholic shrines on the planet. Please note that entry to St. Peter’s Basilica is entirely FREE of course as it’s a holy church, but you cannot enter any other part of the Museums or the Sistine Chapel for free.
As it is free, sadly there are pickpockets about and we are constantly warned about this on the tour, so stay safe. Yes, it seems sad that pickpockets operate inside a church but they do.
St. Peter’s Basilica is magnificent and is still being finished would you believe. Amazing. It’s also a rare church that doesn’t feature a cross at the very front. As this is St. Peter’s resting place, it is holy and special so no cross sits here. You can also get married here and our guide Elisa gives us yet more interesting facts in this final epic end to the tour.
All the way through the tour Elise has supplied us with endless facts and information. So much so that it felt like an intensive history lesson right there. There are also some really fun and quirky parts to the tour including a lookalikes section as you browse at some head sculptures and wonder who they resemble. I’ll not spoil everything for you though – it’s a great tour, all I can say is get it booked!
Once we leave the St. Peter’s Basilica Church, the tour comes to a close and you can either hang around in the grounds at your leisure or head back across the border into Italy.
Here are my videos from the complete Vatican City Tour with Walks of Italy:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 1:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 2:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 3:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 4:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 5:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 6:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 7:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 8:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 9:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 10:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 11:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 12:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 13:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 14:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 15:
Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy Part 16: