Top Things to See in Vatican City

View of Vatican City from the Dome of St Peter's Basilica
View of Vatican City from the Dome of St Peter's Basilica

By Vicky · Published Mar. 26th, 2024 · Updated Mar. 27th, 2024

This guide covers the top things to see in Vatican City, including St Peter’s and the Vatican Museums, with a map and tips for visiting.

Map of the Top Things to See in Vatican City

Tips for Visiting Vatican City

  • St Peter’s Basilica opens every day at 7am. This is the best time to visit. Not only will you see the sunrise (winter) or the lovely early morning sun (summer), but the queue is very short to non-existent at this time.
  • Once inside St Peter’s, have a brief look around before heading to the queue to buy tickets to the Dome, which opens at 7:30am. If you wait to complete your visit to St Peter’s, the queue for the Dome will have built up and it will be very busy at the top. So save your full visit of the church until afterwards.
  • Book tickets to the Vatican Museums (official site, GetYourGuide tickets*) well in advance – this means months in advance in summer.
  • Not the Vatican Museums are closed on Sunday and St Peter’s only opens at 12:30pm on Wednesdays rather than the usual 7am.
  • You’re not allowed to wear shorts, short skirts or sleeveless tops.
  • You have to go through a security check to enter both the Basilica and the Vatican Museums, so don’t bring anything dangerous like knives etc.
  • Check out our Italy page for more walking tours and hiking ideas!

Top Things to See in Vatican City

The top things to see in Vatican City are listed below, in the order that you might want to see them:

St Peter’s Square:

  1. Via della Conciliazione View
  2. Bernini’s Colonnade

St Peter’s Basilica:

  1. View from the Dome
  2. La Pietà di Michelangelo
  3. Baldacchino di San Pietro, by Bernini

Vatican Museums:

  1. Pio-Clementino Museum
  2. Pinacoteca
  3. Gallery of Maps
  4. Raphael Rooms
  5. Sistine Chapel

Tickets to the Vatican Museums

It’s a great idea to get tickets to the Vatican Museums online in advance. This will save you from having to queue, perhaps for several hours, and sometimes you won’t even get in without a pre-booked ticket because the tickets are sold out.

For all tickets bought in advance, you’ll need to choose a day and a timeslot. Along with the Colosseum, tickets to the Vatican Museums are most likely to sell out far in advance, so book them as soon as you can. In the few winter months, you can probably still find tickets a few weeks in advance, but if you’re visiting anytime after and including easter, you’ll want to book tickets months in advance.

Even with a ticket booked in advance, you have to queue for a short time to go through security. Make sure you’re there at your assigned timeslot. When it’s time, the guards will call your group, check your tickets and then you get to security. Once inside, there are places to rent an audioguide and leave your bags.

Vatican Museum Tickets for Independent Visits

If you want to visit the Vatican Museums without a guide, you can either get tickets onsite (€20), on the official website (€25), or from GetYourGuide (the best-selling ticket* is €31). If you don’t want an audioguide, there’s no real benefit of tickets from GetYourGuide apart from them being slightly easier to book. Plus, occasionally tickets can be sold out on the official website, but remain on GetYourGuide. If you do want an audioguide, which costs slightly more, booking through GetYourGuide means avoiding the audioguide queue inside because GetYourGuide has a dedicated desk.

Vatican Museum Tickets for a Guided Tour

If you want a guided tour, tickets from the official website cost €40. This time, it’s often slightly cheaper to book guided tour tickets from GetYourGuide* since they often have reductions.

Exploring St Peter’s Square

St Peter's Square in the early morning
St Peter’s Square in the early morning

St Peter’s Square is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It is one of the most iconic and recognizable squares in the world, designed and constructed principally by the architect Bernini during the 17th century. You can freely wander into the square at any time (unless there’s a special event going on). Early mornings are a great time to visit since the square is mainly empty and the light is beautiful.

1. Via della Conciliazione View

The view of St Peter's from the Via della Conciliazione

One of the top things to see in Vatican City is actually just outside it. The view from Via della Conciliazione, a wide pedestrianised street, focuses your line of sight on St Peter’s grand Basilica. This is the first thing you’ll see as you have to walk up this street to enter Vatican City. Again, early mornings are a great time to come as there are far fewer people.

2. Bernini’s Colonnade

Bernini's Colonnade, one of the top things to see in the Vatican City

Take a while to focus on the semi-elliptical colonnade, created by Bernini, a very famous sculptor who worked almost exclusively for the church. Four rows of columns make up the colonnade, with statues of stains at the top. Its curved design embraces you as you first enter the Vatican, symbolising the embrace of the church.

What to See in St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter's Basilica

Key Information: The Basilica is open Apr-Sep 7am-7pm, and Oct-Mar 7am-6.30pm, apart from Wednesday when it only opens at 12:30pm. It’s free to enter the Basilica, with no tickets, but you have to queue up for the security check.

St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano) is one of the most important and iconic religious buildings in the world. Located within Vatican City, it serves as a major pilgrimage site and a symbol of the Catholic Church. It stands on the traditional site where St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and considered the first pope, was believed to have been martyred and buried.

How to avoid the queue to St Peter’s Basilica

To avoid the sometimes several hours long queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica, there are a couple of possibilities:

  1. The simplest way to avoid the queue is to arrive early. The Basilica opens at 7am throughout the year. If you arrive at this time, the queue will be short to non-existent. Before 8am the queue is still fairly short, you may just queue for a few minutes. If you arrive after 9am, the queue may well already be an hour long and the wait will increase as the day continues.
  2. Another way to avoid the queue to St Peter’s Basilica is to go on a guided tour of the Vatican Museums plus St Peter’s, such as this tour*. Make sure to select the option that also includes St Peter’s Basilica. On this tour, and other similar tours, after visiting the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, you’ll leave through a ‘secret’ doorway that leads directly into St Peter’s. Confusingly, on the guided tours of St Peter’s Basilica only you do not get to skip the queue but must wait in line with your guide. However, some tours of St Peter’s start very early, such as this one*, which means the queue is very short.
  3. This only applies to a few people, but if you have a baby in a stroller or baby carrier, or are pregnant, you can go to the front of the queue and the guards will let you straight in.

3. View from the Dome

View of Vatican City from the Dome of St Peter's Basilica


Key Information: St Peter’s Dome is open year-round from 7:30am-6:30pm. Occasionally bad weather closes the dome. Tickets cost €8 if you walk all the way up (551 steps) or €10 to use the elevator for part of the climb (320 steps remain). Climbing up the dome is not recommended for those with claustrophobia.

The Basilica’s dome, designed by Michelangelo, rises to a height of 136 meters and dominates the skyline of Rome. The views from the top are super impressive and it’s one of the top things to see in Vatican City. By climbing the dome you also get the fun experience of exploring the church’s rooftop and the slightly scary walkways leading upwards.

How to Visit the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica

To climb the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica, you can either buy a ticket onsite (€8 or €10) for an independent visit or go on a guided tour that includes the dome*. If you buy a ticket onsite, the queue for tickets is just outside of the main entrance to the Basilica itself, on the left as you face the church. Note that this queue gets longer and longer throughout the day, so visiting first thing, as close to 7:30am as possible, is a great idea. You can then return to explore the church after climbing the dome.

If you choose to climb all the way up, there are 551 steps. The option to take the elevator part of the way brings you to the rooftop of the church. There’s even a small cafe and giftshop here! You then have to walk the rest of the way up. First, you walk around the inside of the dome, with close-up views of the paintings, before heading up a spiral ramp, then a narrow spiral staircase. It can be a bit claustrophobic, disorienting and scary if you think about where you are!

4. La Pietà

La Pietà, one of the most famous sculptures in the world and one of the top things to see in Vatican City

La Pietà is one of the most famous statues carved by Michelangelo. The sculpture depicts the body of Jesus Christ on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The masterpiece is renowned for its emotional intensity, with the sorrowful expression of Mary bringing anyone to tears. The name “La Pietà” translates to “The Pity” or “The Compassion” in English, reflecting the profound sense of sorrow and empathy conveyed by the statue. A photo cannot do it justice.

5. Baldacchino di San Pietro, by Bernini

Baldacchino di San Pietro, by Bernini, a highlight of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

The Baldacchino di San Pietro (Canopy of St Peter) by Bernini is a huge, extravagant altarpiece in the centre of the Basilica above the tomb of St. Peter. The artist scavenged bronze used in the monument from the Pantheon and worked it into spiral columns with cherubs at the top. Its grandeur and rich decoration make it one of the most significant examples of Baroque art and one of Bernini’s most celebrated masterpieces.

Highlights of the Vatican Museums

Highlights of the Vatican Museums

Key Information: Open Mon-Sat, 8am-7pm, until 8pm on Friday and Saturday in summer. For ticket information, see above.

The Vatican Museums, founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, are a group of art and Christian museums. They showcase an extensive collection of art and historical artefacts spanning centuries of human civilization and are some of the most visited museums in the world.

How to get to the entrance of the Vatican Museums

To get to the entrance of the Vatican Museums from the Square of St Peter in Vatican City it’s roughly 15 minutes walk. Leave the square through the Colonnade to the left (when facing away from the church). Pass underneath the stone walkway leading to Castel Sant’Angelo and continue along the street with the walls of the Vatican to your left. At the main street turn left, then right and left again, always following the huge Vatican walls.

Visiting the Vatican Museums can be overwhelming. There are so many different museums with so much to see. On top of that, it’s often very crowded so a bit stressful. You can easily find yourself just standing in a gradually moving queue through the exhibits without taking much in and not even noticing what you’re seeing. The key is to focus on a few key museums and a few pieces within them. Below are a selection of the best things to see in the Vatican Museums.

6. Pinacoteca

Adam And Eve In The Garden Of Eden, Wenzel Peter
Adam And Eve In The Garden Of Eden, Wenzel Peter
One of Bernini's Fallen Angels, one of the top things to see in the Pinacoteca museum in vatican city
One of Bernini’s Fallen Angels

The Pinacoteca Art Gallery houses a collection of paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, including works by artists such as Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Titian.

Highlights include Leonardo da Vinci’s “St. Jerome in the Wilderness”. It depicts the figure of St. Jerome in contemplation and although sketchy and unfinished, is considered an anatomical masterpiece. Raphael’s Transfiguration, a painting of Christ appearing to the apostles, is another work not to miss.

You’ll also find Bernini’s Fallen Angels in the Pinacoteca, sculptures that have been damaged over time. This actually makes them more interesting, and perhaps evocative, as you can see how they’ve been made.

7. Pio-Clementino Museum

The Laocoön Group sculpture, one of the top things to see in Vatican City
The Laocoön
Bronze Hercules in the Pio-Clementino Museum
Bronze Hercules

The Pio-Clementino Museum houses a vast collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. It consists of a series of galleries and halls, each dedicated to specific themes or types of art. Many of the sculptures are probably Roman copies of Greek originals, including two of the most famous works – the Laocoön and the Appolo Belvedere.

The Laocoön sculpture is easy to miss, hidden behind the crowds in a small courtyard nook. In the statue, sea serpents strangle a Trojan priest and his sons because he’s trying to warn the Trojan people that the Greek’s gift horse is fake.

8. Gallery of Maps

A map painting in the Gallery of Maps in Vatican City
The ceiling of the Gallery of Maps, one of the top things to see in Vatican City

The Gallery of Maps is a stunning hall renowned for its magnificent frescoes depicting maps. These maps are painted in vibrant colours, depicting cities, towns, rivers, mountains, and other geographical features. Their painters, from 16th century Italy, knew the geography with remarkable accuracy for the time. The frescoes are not only decorative but also valuable historical and geographic documents, providing insights into the Renaissance fascination with cartography and the desire to explore the world.

9. Raphael Rooms

The Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) are a suite of four rooms located within the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, originally intended as papal apartments for Pope Julius II. They are renowned for their stunning frescoes painted by the Renaissance artist Raphael during the early 16th century. Today they’re considered one of the greatest achievements of Renaissance art.

In the Room of the Segnatura (library), the frescoes represent the four branches of human knowledge. These are theology, poetry, philosophy and jurisprudence. The Room of Heliodorus depicts scenes of divine intervention, while in the Room of the Fire in the Borgo you’ll find scenes of miracles attributed to various popes. Finally, the Room of Constantine depicts the life of the Emperor Constantin.

10. Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is probably first on the list of top things to see in Vatican City. It’s one of the most famous churches in the world, with perhaps the most famous ceiling anywhere. Michelangelo painted the breathtaking ceiling frescoes, though you can’t take photos inside so you’ll have to buy a postcard. The scenes were painted between 1508 and 1512 and depict various scenes from the Book of Genesis. This includes the iconic “Creation of Adam,” where God reaches out to touch Adam’s hand, giving him life.

Best Guidebooks for Exploring Rome

Lonely Planet Rome*

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Rome*

Lonely Planet Italy*

Check out our Italy page for more walking tours and hiking ideas!

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