The Vatican City is the world’s smallest country at only 0.44 square miles. Even if you’re not Catholic or even religious, the Vatican City is a must for anyone traveling to Europe. However, there are a few things you should know.
1. How to Get into the Vatican City Museum for Free
On the last Sunday of every month, the Vatican is free to visit. The exceptions are if this coincides with a holiday like Easter or Christmas, or there is some special occasion. It’s only free until 2 p.m. with the last entry at 12:30 p.m. Doors open at 9 a.m. but the line starts queueing up as early as 6 a.m. If you plan to utilize the free entry, make sure to check the website to ensure there are no events or holidays the Sunday you want to go.
2. How to Skip the Long Lines
As mentioned, lines start to form as early as 6 in the morning. If you want to get close to the front of the line, you’ll have to get there well before 8, and preferably before 7. Otherwise, you might have a mile or two to walk at a snail’s pace to get to the entrance. However, there’s a better option. If you get there after 10 a.m., the line is only a few people long, and the wait is only a few minutes. The trade-off is you’ll have to get through the museum slightly faster (3-4 hours instead of the full 5 hours).
3. Photography in the Sistine Chapel is Banned
There is a very strict no-photos rule for the sacred Sistine Chapel, and other rules are also in place for electronics in general. No flash photography is allowed anywhere in the museum and cell phones are also off-limits. Security guards are on their toes patroling to ensure these rules are followed, and they will escort you off the premises if you violate them.
4. Bring Food for a Picnic in the Gardens
Eating and drinking in the museum is not allowed. However, there is a central grassy courtyard the museum surrounds that you can have a snack in. A great idea for saving money in Rome is to get some sandwich ingredients from a local shop and put them together while sitting on one of the benches around the grass. Rome doesn’t have the best authentic restaurants in Italy (most cater to tourists and are wildly expensive) but some exceptions like Da Enzo 29 can be found.
5. Expect to Spend 3-5 Hours on the Tour
It’s a little funny to think that the museum takes up a significant portion of the country, but it’s true. There are dozens of galleries to walk through in several buildings. Getting through them is made all the more difficult if you’re in the huge early-morning crowd. If you don’t like standing in long lines, go for the option of arriving after 10 and being out by 2. But if you really want to take your time seeing all the magnificent artwork, get there early (before 7) and be one of the first to enter at 9, giving yourself a full 5 hours in the museum.
6. Dress Appropriately
The dress code of the Vatican City museum is more than your average Catholic church. Not only do you have to keep your head bared, but you also need to keep your arms and legs covered. No shorts or t-shirts. Also, make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. As implied, this place is big! Consider purchasing some clothes at Craghoppers, which are best for international travel and come with plenty of zippered pockets for added security, quick-dry technology and permanent insect repellent.
If you’re not planning to get in on one of the free days, consider booking your tickets in advance. Also, be aware that the Vatican City Museum is not included in the Roma Pass City Card. After all, the Vatican City might be located inside Rome, but it’s not part of Rome or Italy. Have you been? Do you plan to go?