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Visiting the Vatican, Rome - visitors' guide

Your guide on how to get to the Vatican, public transport, Vatican City tips and map

Ponte Sant'Angelo leading to the Vatican
Ponte Sant'Angelo leading to the Vatican

Visiting the Vatican is a must for every first time visitor to Rome. The Vatican Museum and St Peters in Vatican City are two star attractions for anyone visiting Rome; we have pages that cover both in more detail, while this page gives an overview of where the Vatican is, how to get there and some tips to get the best from your visit.

The Vatican is a country and is tiny (the smallest in the world).

The Vatican City is home to approximately 920 full-time residents and approximately 3000 people who work at the Vatican City and commute into the country from the greater Rome metropolitan area.

Visiting Vatican Museums & St Peter's Basilica

Vatican Museums and St Peter's - Rome
Vatican Museums with dome of St Peter's behind

The two blockbuster attractions that most visitors come to see within the Vatican City are the Vatican Museums & St Peter's Basilica. Although located in the same place they are different attractions and each has it's own ticket structure. St Peter's Basilica is free to enter but you will have to queue. To avoid this you can buy St Peter's fast-track tickets. The Vatican Museums also require tickets which can bought on the door, again after queuing or you can buy fast-track tickets to the Vatican Museums.

We have dedicated pages for each attraction going into great detail on the logistics, ticketing, and opening hours at the pages linked below.

On this current page we focus on the logistics of getting to and around Vatican City and some tips to help you get the best from your visit.

St Peter's Basilica - full visitor details

Vatican Museums - full visitor details

Where is the Vatican in relation to the City of Rome?

Vatican City is just to the north of the city centre of Rome, Italy and is easily reached independently by public transport.

Although Vatican City is a separate state to Italy and Rome there are no barriers or checks and Rome long ago has expanded all around the Vatican and far beyond. To the casual visitor Vatican City could be thought of as a district of Central Rome.

For the first time visitor, the vast majority will be making for St Peter's Square (id 4 on the map below) or the Vatican Museums (id 1).

The long straight avenue leading from Saint Angelo Castle (id 5) by the River Tiber up to St Peter's Square is called Via della Conciliazione. This is the main and by far the widest road into the Vatican from Central Rome and is where all the hop on, hop off open top sightseeing buses stop.

The Metro station is just to the north of the Vatican and the railway station to the south, each about 10 minutes' walk from St Peter's Square.

The area to the west of St Peter's Square has no public right of way. The main area that tourists visit within the Vatican beyond the main Vatican attractions is the area to the north of Via della Conciliazion, full of restaurants and tourist shops.

Vatican City and St Peter's map

Getting to the Vatican by public transport

Visiting Vatican by metro train, Rome, Italy
Take the metro to the Vatican
Rome bus to the Vatican
Catch the buses 40 and 64 from Termini to Vatican

Best ways to visit the Vatican

Rome Metro

The crowded Rome Metro has a station just outside the Vatican walls at Ottaviano-S. Pietro. Line A of the Metro runs through with trains every few minutes. It's a 5 minute walk from the Metro to both St Peter's Square and the Vatican Museums.

You can use Line A of the Metro to go to the Basilica of St John Lateran on the other side of the city situated close by San Giovanni Metro Station.

The Basilica of St John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano) is the cathedral church of Rome and the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. As such the Basilica contains the papal throne, although the pope rarely visits and lives over at the Vatican.

You can also use the Metro to quickly travel to the Colosseum changing trains to Line B at Termini Station.

On Line A between the Vatican and Termini is Spagna Metro Station, next to the Spanish Steps.

By train

St Peter's also has a train station, St Pietro. Commuter style trains loop around Rome to Termini Station, but the station is of most practical use to those travelling from Civitavecchia, the cruise port for Rome. However, it is a 10-minute walk to St Peter's Square from the station.

Public bus

There are many Rome city buses that pass or terminate next to the Vatican. The number 40 and 64 bus shuttle very frequently between Termini and the Vatican via the City Centre including the Piazza Venezia for the Roman Forum/Colosseum. Unfortunately there is no central bus stop or station that every bus route goes through.

40 (Limited stop express) - Termini - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Piazza Pia (for St Peter's/Vatican)

64 - Termini - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Vatican

62 - Repubblica - Spanish Steps - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Vatican

81 - Vatican Museums - Piazza Imperatore (Spanish Steps) - Piazza Colonna (Trevi Fountain) - Piazza Venezia - Circo Massimo - Colosseum

19 (Tram) - Piazza Risorgimento (Vatican) - Villa Borghese

Vatican Tours

One of the best ways to take the hassle out of getting to the Vatican is to book yourself onto a tour. There are a range of tours available that focus on the Vatican or combine it with other Rome attractions. Discover Vatican tours.

Hop-on hop-off buses

Rome has a collection of different providers all offering hop-on hop-off bus services. Each bus has a different route but the Vatican and Termini Station are considered the two main stops where offices are located. If you are exploring using Rome hop-on hop-off buses then this is a great way to make your journey to the Vatican. You can also buy bundle tickets that combine the travel on the bus with entrance to St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican.

Walking to the Vatican

For most people, walking is the most rewarding way of sightseeing in Rome - there is so much of interest around every street corner and much of the city centre is alleys too narrow for tour buses and vehicles. Although Vatican City is just north of Rome City Centre it's only a 15-20 minute pleasant walk to Piazza Navona in the heart of the city centre.

We have put together a series of self-guided walks of Rome connecting all the major sights of Rome, (see image above). As you can see Vatican City is at the northern extremity of these sights.

Walk 5 connects the Pantheon To The Vatican Via Piazza Navona opening up the rest of the network of walks documented.

Walk 5 - Pantheon to the Vatican via Piazza Navona - full details

Sightseeing walking map of Rome

Timing your visit to the Vatican

Queue to enter the Vatican Museums, Rome
Queue to enter the Vatican Museums
Queue for visiting St Peter's Basilica in Vatican, Rome
Queue for St Peter's

Vatican queues

The Vatican is a must see for every visitor to Rome, so expect crowds and queues whenever you come. The queues for the Vatican Museums are legendary.

If you are organising the trip, book tickets in advance either from the museum direct for which there is a delivery charge or from an agent for Vatican Museums tickets.

If you turn up on the day and have to join the back of the queue for tickets you may not be popular with your travelling companions and be tempted by the many touts that will approach you.

If you can it's well worth setting your alarm and getting to the Vatican Museums early or leaving it until later afternoon (last entry is at 4pm - you will need at the very least two hours to get round).

The museum is closed most Sundays, so Saturdays and Mondays are especially busy.

Again, if you can try and come off season when the crowds are less. During summer, Rome can be very, very hot too.

If you are really interested in the subject matter, get a good tour, if you can afford it, a private tour.

More detailed information about Vatican Museums

St Peter's queues

There will also be long, long queues in St Peter's Square to enter St Peter's itself. These queues tend to move along relatively swiftly so don't be put off by the masses in front of you. Basically the earlier you arrive the better.

More detailed information about visiting St Peter's

If you want to see the Pope, you can either see a usual blessing from his apartment at noon on Sunday, just show up (but in the summer he gives it from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 25 miles from Rome) or you can go to the more formal Wednesday appearance.

The Pope arrives in the Pope-mobile at 10.30am to bless crowds from a balcony or platform, except in winter, when he speaks in the Aula Paola VI Auditorium next to the square. You can easily watch from a distance, or get a free ticket, which you must get on the Tuesday before.

Book audience with the Pope tickets here

Tours are the only way to see the Vatican Gardens, book at least a day in advance.

Vatican Gardens - more information

Visiting the Vatican tips

Vatican Museums Sistine Chapel
Famous detail from Sistine Chapel

Essential tips for making the most of your Vatican visit

  • Book in advance. Although you can turn up on the day and queue and many many people do, you'll be more relaxed knowing you have planned ahead to avoid this.
  • Use an audio guide or guide book or better yet a tour guide. The Vatican Museum is vast and full of so many incredible treasures that a guide of some sort will definitely enhance your experience.
  • Early morning and late afternoon are the quietest times to visit except Wednesday mornings when there is the Papal audience.
  • If fast-track tickets are unavailable check the tickets that include the audio guide or tour tickets, often you can find tickets on the day you want by selecting a different type of ticket.
  • Plan for a day at the Vatican if you are combining the Vatican Museums and St Peter's Basilica, there is more than enough to occupy you for a whole day.
  • Vatican dress code

  • Do not wear inappropriate clothing. You wil be turned away. No shorts or sleeveless tops, skirts not covering the knee or hats.

Visiting the Vatican with kids

Vatican Museums and kids iphone
Capturing memories of the Vatican Museum

Italy is well known as being kid friendly and its attractions are no different. However it is worth taking a moment to think about what your child will get from their visit to the Vatican Museums.

Vatican Museums kids tickets

The first thing to think about is tickets. If you do not buy tickets in advance your children will have to wait alongside you in a queue. This queue varies in length on different days and times, but queues are never something most parents enjoy waiting in with kids. Buying your Vatican Museum tickets online in advance will start the trip on a positive note for kids as they walk past the queue.

Ticket prices for children are reduced. You can buy them on the day, after queuing or you can buy them at the same time as your adult fast-track tickets online. Under 6 go free and 6-17 inclusive costs €8 on the door.

Small children and strollers in the Vatican Museum

If you have small children then you need to think carefully about whether to take the stroller inside the museum with you. There is no disputing that the museum will be busy, having a stroller to steer and work through the crowds might be considered too stressful for some but can be a godsend for others. In the busy interior it is worth remembering that your childs view will probably only be tourist legs for their entire trip from the pushchair. If your child is small then perhaps a backpack style carrier might be more flexible an idea.

If you do not take the stroller inside and leave it at the entrance cloakroom, then there is a lot of walking involved at the Vatican Museums, so be prepared for a lot of carrying yourself, as their legs quickly tire. If they are at the age where they would rather be chasing birds around St Peter's Square, then going into the Musuems might prove too much for them and for you.

Before you book, consider one of the tours, which might be a better fit as it can help to entertain them, although most tours will take the full amount of time to get through the treasures inside, so do check its length. The other choice is to forego all the other museum treasures and head straight for the Sistine Chapel. The walk alone to get to the Sistine Chapel takes you through the museums and can take 30 minutes, you would be missing an awful lot, but you would get one of the showcase attractions ticked off your list.

At the end of the day only you know what is best for your young kids, you may feel they will get more from other areas in Rome at their age and then throw your coins into the Trevi Fountain to make sure you return when they are older. St Peter's Square is free if you queue and is a large space, whilst visiting St Peter's Basilica is something kids of any age will enjoy.

If your kids are older, then the Museums are certainly fasinating enough to keep them entertained. There are areas that kids will find more interesting and as with all museums and especially the Vatican, inspiration is around every corner.

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