Top 8 places to see in Vatican City, Italy

20 Main Sights of the Vatican

The Vatican is a unique “state within a state,” a popular tourist destination and a religious shrine for millions of Catholics from around the world. It has its own government, bank and armed forces, and all the subjects of this enclave state have a passport.

You can get to the Vatican from almost anywhere in Rome by public transportation. Walkers will enjoy the walking route from the center of Rome or Piazza Venezia to the enclave.

Tourists from around the world come to the Vatican to see the unique frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, visit St. Peter’s Basilica, or visit the Vatican Gardens. Other attractions at the Vatican include Raphael’s Stans, the Vatican Library, the Egyptian and Etruscan Museums, and the Pinacoteca.

Pilgrims most often visit their shrine during the election of a new pope, as well as at Christmas and Easter. The Vatican offers many souvenirs for its visitors – stamps, money with local symbols, tourist albums, postcards and magnets.

What to see in the Vatican?

The most interesting and beautiful places, photos and brief descriptions.

St. Peter’s Square

One of the most famous sights of the Vatican. St. Peter’s Square, built in the 17th century, is located in front of the cathedral of the same name. The line, visually continuing, symmetrical semicircles of colonnades that form the square, is the outer boundary of the Vatican. The square is decorated with two fountains and an Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula.

St. Peter's Square.

Apostolic Palace

The official residence of the Pope consists of a collection of palaces, galleries and halls connected by passageways. The Apostolic Palace houses the Papal apartments, several chapels, the offices of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the museums and the Vatican library. Here you can visit the Pinacoteca, the Sistine Chapel and the Stans of Raphael.

Apostolic Palace.

St. Peter’s Cathedral

St. Peter’s Cathedral is the real heart of the Vatican. In the IV century a small basilica was built over the supposed grave of the Apostle Peter, which in the XVI century it was decided to rebuild into a grandiose cathedral. The consecration of the structure took place in 1626. Such great masters as Raphael, Michelangelo and Bernini worked on the creation of St. Peter’s cathedral.

St. Peter's Cathedral.

Grotta di Lourdes

The Grotta di Lourdes, an artificial cave in the Vatican Gardens, is a scaled-down replica of the French Lourdes Grotto. The reason for the erection of Grotta di Lourdes was a dogma of the Pope in 1854. Construction of the cave began in 1902 and it was consecrated by Pope Pius X on March 28, 1905.

Grotta di Lourdes.

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is a unique religious and cultural monument of the Renaissance. Not too remarkable in appearance, the Sistine Chapel is famous throughout the world for its frescoes. Works by Botticelli, Rosselli and Perugino in 1536-1541 were complemented by Michelangelo’s grandiose The Last Judgment. The Sistine Chapel is now used for conclaves.

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Sistine Chapel.

Pinacoteca

The Vatican Pinacoteca was founded in the 18th century by Pope Pius VI and received its own building in 1932. The gallery, which is open to the public, consists of 18 rooms in which more than 400 paintings are exhibited in chronological order from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. Works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Giotto, Perugino, Titian and other famous masters can be seen here.

Pinacoteca.

Vatican Gardens

The famous Vatican Gardens were first mentioned back in the 13th century, when their main use was for the cultivation of vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants. Now, the Vatican Gardens, covering more than 20 hectares, are of ornamental value and can only be visited with a guide. There is a heliport for connections to Roman airports.

Vatican Gardens.

Raphael’s Stans

Raphael’s Stans are four small rooms in the Papal Palace, decorated with frescoes by the great painter. Work in these rooms was carried out from 1508 to 1517. Some of the frescoes, particularly in the Hall of Constantine, were painted after Raphael’s death by his pupils.

Raphael's Stans.

Villa Pius

The Villa of Pope Pius IV, also known as the Casino of Pius, was built in the mid-16th century. The building now houses the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Villa Pius consists of two pavilions and two covered passages. All the rooms are decorated with frescoes and statues and the floors are tiled with majolica.

Villa Pius.

Pio Clementino Museum

The Museum of Ancient Art of Pio Clementino was commissioned by Pope Clement XIV and Pius VI, and so it was named. This extensive museum was founded in the Belvedere palace in the 18th century. There are human and animal sculptures, several mosaics and sarcophagi, and many Roman busts.

Museum of Pio Clementino.

Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini

The Church of Santo Stefano degli Abyssini is considered one of the oldest churches in the Vatican. It was built back in the fifth century, but after some time it was destroyed. In 1159, the church was rebuilt again, after which it underwent several reconstructions. Nowadays, Santo Stefano degli Abissini is a functioning church decorated with a unique 15th century fresco.

Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini.

Borgia Apartments

One floor below the Stazione Rafael is the Borgia Apartments. At the end of the XV century these rooms were the private apartments of Pope Alexander VI. The apartments consist of five rooms decorated with frescoes. The subjects for the paintings were chosen by Pope Alexander VI himself. The Borgia apartments include not only the halls, but also the treasury and the Pope’s bedroom.

Borgia Apartments.

The Swiss Guard

The Swiss Guard was created in 1506 and today it is the only armed forces of the Vatican. The members of the Guard take part in masses and diplomatic receptions, they guard the apartments of the Pope and the secretary of state, and they also guard the entrance to the Vatican and all the floors of the Apostolic Palace.

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The Swiss Guard.

Chapel Niccolina

The very modest Niccolina Chapel (only 6.6 × 4 meters) consists of two tiers. It is one of the oldest rooms of the Apostolic Palace. The walls of the Niccoline Chapel are decorated with extraordinarily beautiful frescoes dedicated to the lives of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence. The painting was done by the famous Italian artist Fra Beato Angelico.

Chapel of Niccolina.

Gregorian Etruscan Museum

Since 1828, traces of ancient settlements have been discovered in southern Etruria. It was decided to assemble all the finds discovered during these excavations into a single exhibit. Thus was created the Etruscan Museum, which was opened in 1837. It exhibits a variety of everyday objects, a bronze statue of Mars and a marble portrait of Athena.

Gregorian Etruscan Museum.

Court of Pinias

The Court of the Pine cone, also called the Court of Pinia, is one of the attractions of the Vatican. The place got its name after the bronze cone located in front of the Bolvedere Palace. In 1990, the Pinia courtyard was additionally decorated with a huge spinning gold ball about 4 meters in diameter.

Court of the Pinias.

Vatican Apostolic Library

The unique Vatican Library began to be collected back in the 15th century. Today it includes a huge number of books (including in Latin and Greek) manuscripts, engravings, maps and coins. The halls of the library are decorated with frescoes on a religious theme.

Vatican Apostolic Library.

Gregorian Egyptian Museum

Founded in 1839, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum contains a variety of art from Egyptian dynasties. The museum consists of 9 rooms displaying ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, mummies, statues and steles, ancient Egyptian household items, and Christian and Islamic ceramics.

Gregorian Egyptian Museum.

Chiaramonti Museum

The Chiaramonti Museum is an ancient museum of classical sculpture established between 1805 and 1807. The museum consists of a large arched gallery, called the Corridor, and two halls. Chiaramonti houses sculptures from the Roman era, works of art dealing with Roman and Greek mythology, and over 3,000 fragments of unique inscriptions.

Chiaramonti Museum.

Leonino Walls

A medieval fortification called the Leonina Wall surrounds the Borgo district in addition to the Vatican City. After Rome was attacked by the Saracens in 846, it was decided to start building a defensive wall. The Leonine Wall, designed to protect the Vatican from Muslim attacks, was erected from 848 to 852.

Leonino wall.

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TOP-10 ideas what to see in Vatican City. Part I

Even if you’ve never been to the Vatican, you probably know the same facts that attract millions of tourists to the small state every year. First and foremost, Vatican City is the center and stronghold of a major world religion and home to a priceless collection of art. Moreover, it is very convenient to visit Vatican City, if you come to Rome (and all roads lead there, as you know, sooner or later) – the tiny state is placed in the heart of the “Eternal City”.

Of course, it’s better not to plan a visit to the Vatican by yourself. Without a guide you can spend a whole day here too, but as practice shows, independent tourists miss a lot.

The Castel Sant’Angelo was built during the Roman Empire.

In a place where every cobblestone on the sidewalk breathes history, a guided walk is especially interesting.

Reviews of several of the most popular Russian-language Vatican tours can be found below or use Tripster [link], which has the largest selection of guides and walks in Rome in Russian.

If finances are tight, you can always use our itinerary of Rome in 1 day, which not only tells how to optimally build a walk to see the maximum and avoid the queues, but also how to organize a full and extremely high-quality audio guide to the main sights for almost nothing.

But we’ve digressed. It’s time to get directly to the ideas…

№ 10. Castel Sant’Angelo.

The history of Castel Sant’Angelo began almost 2 thousand years ago. Like many other structures in the Vatican, the castle was rebuilt many times. It was originally built in 135 by order of Emperor Hadrian, who wanted to build a tomb here for himself and his family.

It is unlikely that the Emperor could have imagined that much later the fortification of the structure would become a reliable protection for many Popes. In case of danger, the popes could easily reach Castel Sant’Angelo through an underground tunnel and take refuge behind its walls.

The Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built as a mausoleum for the emperor

In the Middle Ages, the castle’s underground prison, located directly beneath the fortress, was equipped with a torture chamber. It was from here during the Inquisition that many prominent figures went to the stake, whose views were contrary to the position of the Church. Among the most famous prisoners was the astronomer Giordano Bruno, who was accused of heresy.

The fortress got its present name in 590. At that time the plague was raging in Rome, and in order to defeat it, Pope Gregory the Great led a procession through the city, praying for the salvation of the people.

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At the top of the fortress he had a vision of an angel hiding a sword in its scabbard as a sign of the end of the epidemic. Since then, the fortress has been called the Castle of the Holy Angel, and a bronze statue of the Archangel Michael has been erected on its site.

Now St. Angelo is home to the Museum of Art and the National War Museum.

№9. The dome of the Cathedral of St. Peter’s

Be sure to climb the gallery located under the Dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral. A bird’s eye view of almost all of the Vatican, its famous gardens, and parts of Rome.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the highest church dome in the world: 119 meters high and 42 meters in diameter. To reach the top, one must climb 510 steps up to the edge of the Dome and then take another 330 steps up a narrow winding staircase to the terrace. The opportunity to lose a pound or two on the way to the Dome is inexpensive at only 6 euros.

The hike to the St. Peter’s Cathedral Dome is worth the effort

If the number of steps to the top scares you, you can cut part of the way at the expense of the elevator. The pleasure of getting to the roof without catching your breath will cost 8 euros, but after all, you’re not in the Vatican every day.

In addition to the view of Rome, the Dome of the Cathedral is famous for another attraction – there is the highest souvenir shop in the Vatican and a post office, where you can send a commemorative postcard. So do not hide your wallet far away – on the roof of St. Peter’s Cathedral it is not the most useless thing.

№8. Vatican Gardens.

Of the 44 hectares, on which the Vatican is located, half of the territory are the famous Vatican Gardens. You can get here only by making an appointment as a member of a tour group, not earlier than 10 am, because at 9 am the Pope and his brother are busy jogging along the paths of the garden in the morning.

The first mention of the Vatican Gardens dates back to the end of the 13th century. At that time, vegetables, fruits and medicinal herbs were grown here for personal use.

Over the centuries, many of the Popes have enriched their collection of trees and plants with specimens brought for them from all over the world. The harmony of the surrounding landscape is complemented by a large number of antique statues, fountains, gazebos, waterfalls and observation decks.

In addition to the classic garden entourage there is the Ethiopian College, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences with the famous 16th century observatory, other buildings and even the railroad.

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№7. Sacred Grottoes of the Vatican

Sacred Grottoes of the Vatican are a unique system of catacombs, long narrow tunnels, numerous niches and chapels under the Cathedral of St. Peter. The first caves on this site appeared as early as the 4th century, while the most recent ones are attributed to the 16th century.

The main relic of the Grottoes is the tomb with the relics of St. Peter. For the Christian faith that he preached, in 64 A.D., during the reign of Nero, he was crucified and for his death to be especially painful, he was hung upside down.

Half of the Vatican area is occupied by the famous gardens.

Every year thousands of pilgrims flock here to worship the ashes of the great man. For centuries popes, kings and nobles have sought to be buried alongside the remains of St. Peter.

Numerous mausoleums, tombs and sarcophagi house the relics of Emperors Otto II and Adrian IV, King James III and Queen Christina of Sweden. Twenty popes, including John Paul II, have found their final resting place here.

№6. An audience with the Pope.

Seeing the Pope, or even better, getting his blessing, is a dream come true for avid Catholics and laymen alike. Every Sunday at noon, if the Pope is in his residence, from his window he blesses the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

If you want to see the Pope up close, go to the general audience, which takes place on Wednesdays in St. Peter’s Basilica (except in summer, when the Pope is in his summer residence).

At eleven o’clock in the morning, eight guards bring the throne, on which the Pope sits, into the Cathedral. There, he is seated on another throne and addresses the audience with a welcoming speech. He then blesses the faithful and consecrates the icons and other objects they have brought. Tickets to the audience of the Pope can be purchased at the link below.

Heads of state, high clergy and other “VIPs” are invited to an audience. If you have very serious business with the Pope, you can try your luck and ask for a private audience.

To do that you should write an application to the papal prefecture with indication of the reason for such a desire, fill in a special form and wait for an invitation to His Holiness. Time will tell whether you will be lucky or not…

Continuation of the article TOP 10 ideas, what to see in the Vatican and the most interesting places, we described in the second part of the article, published here. And if you haven’t yet accessed our free BlogoItaliano Course on Italy, now is the time to do so.

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