There’s so much to see in Vatican City in such a short time that it can be overwhelming and confusing. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you plan your Vatican adventure! Here’s our list of the top things you have to see in Vatican City.
Pro Tip: Planning can be tough, but it’s easier to organize your trip when you have all your resources in one place. Create a browser folder and bookmark this post along with our dedicated guide to planning your visit to the Vatican, where you’ll find everything you need. Also, check out our article on the best Vatican tours.
What To See In Vatican City
Vatican City is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and the smallest independent country in the world. It is home to some of the greatest works of art in the world and an unforgettable experience not only for lovers of art but also of history, culture, and architecture.
Welcoming around 19,000 visitors per day, it can be an overwhelming place to visit. To guide you through it, we’ve created this list of the top things to see in Vatican City. To be fair, there are far more things to see here at the Vatican, so you can also read our ultra-comprehensive list of what to see at the Vatican here (written by a licensed Vatican guide!).
Not ready to book a tour? See if a Vatican tour is worth it.
13. Discover an Ancient World in the Egyptian Gallery
This collection showcases the relationship between the Roman Empire and Egypt. As you might know, Mark Antony and Julius Caesar both had relations with Cleopatra. This gallery features sculptures and other artworks from ancient Egypt.
Among other pieces acquired by former popes, find impressive Egyptian sculptures and prized sarcophagi from the third century B.C. The collection occupies five rooms, so plan to spend about 25 minutes in each.
12. Stroll Through the Manicured Vatican Gardens
Escape the crowded Vatican Museums by strolling through the charming Vatican Gardens. Did you know these gardens are home to 100 different fountains?
Access the Vatican Gardens by booking a full day tour of the Vatican Museums, gardens, and Castle Gandolfo with us. Breathe in the fresh air and enjoy this oasis of peace and tranquility in the busy city of Rome. Soak up the beauty of the innumerable grottoes, antiquities, and world-class landscaping. Plus, prepare yourself for some incredible views of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Popular Rome Tours
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our best Vatican tours to take and why.
11. Feast your Eyes on Masterworks in the Pinacoteca
Though many visitors overlook the beautiful Pinacoteca, this picture gallery is a great pit stop on your Vatican City adventure. This semi-modern section of the Vatican gives visitors the opportunity to study 460 works of art painted by the likes of Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo, Guido Reni, and Giotto.
Art lovers and historians can spend hours in the Pinacoteca studying the iconic works, but even as a casual Vatican visitor, the incredible collection is worth seeing.
10. Explore the Beautiful Pinecone Courtyard
Who would have thought that a giant pinecone would adorn one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the Vatican Museums? Named after the colossal bronze pinecone that once stood near the Pantheon next to the Temple of Isis, the Pinecone Courtyard was designed by Donato Bramante.
From here, catch an amazing view of St. Peter’s Dome. If you’re lucky, the guards let you spin the giant fractured sphere sculpture in the center of the spacious courtyard.
9. Hear the Scandalous Stories of the Borgia Apartments
Now part of the Vatican Museums, the Borgia Apartments were the scene of murder and scandal—but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them. This is why you should definitely take a Vatican tour! Your guide will share the stories of the Borgia as you walk through these beautiful rooms.
Alexander VI Borgia was arguably the most scandalous pope the papacy ever had. These rooms were the private living quarters of the pope and his immediate family. Due to their reputation and the harm they did to others, future popes refused to live in these apartments.
As you enter the Room of the Sibyls, take a look at the impressive frescoes on the ceiling painted mainly by Antonio da Viterbo. Then, look around—legend has it that this is the room where Cesare Borgia killed his sister Lucrezia’s husband in 1500.
8. Admire Laocoön and His Sons at the Pio-Clementino Museum
The Vatican’s Pio-Clementino Museum is one of Rome’s best collections of ancient Greek and Roman statues. In the octagonal Belvedere Courtyard, check out the Apollo Belvedere, Laocoön and His Sons, and the Belvedere Torso.
Then, visit the biggest and oldest bathtubs you’ll ever see. Nero’s Bathtub measures an incredible 25 feet in diameter. Take a close look at the red marble, it is so rare the tub can’t be recreated.
Read more in our Pio-Clementino Museum guide!
7. Walk Through the Gallery of the Candelabra
Here come the headliners of the Vatican Museums: The Gallery of the Candelabra, the Gallery of the Tapestries, and the Gallery of the Maps. You’ll walk through them on your way to the Sistine Chapel, but we hope you’ll take a moment in each to appreciate these impressive spaces.
Originally an open-air loggia built in 1761, the long hallway of the Gallery of the Candelabra was walled at the end of the 18th century. Now, it’s divided into six sections full of notable statues, relics, and works of art. Keep an eye out for one of the more unique statues, the Artemis of Ephesus. It depicts the fertility goddess with a number of bull’s testicles, which are often misidentified.
6. See the Renaissance Eye Trick in the Gallery of Tapestries
The Gallery of the Tapestries is 245 feet long and features large tapestries on both walls down the entire hallway. On the left wall, you’ll see impressive tapestries designed by the master Raphael. These designs, called cartoons, were then sent to master tapestry makers in Belgium.
A particularly interesting tapestry is the Resurrection of Christ. It shows a triumphant Christ exiting from the cave where he was buried. A little secret, if you are in this room, is to stare at Jesus’ eyes from one side of the painting to the other—his eyes will follow you! A little Renaissance eye trick.
5. Discover the World Anew in the Gallery of Maps
Our personal favorite of these three Vatican galleries is the Gallery of the Maps. Prior to the era of Google Maps, the map frescoes provided insight into how Renaissance Italians viewed themselves and their surroundings.
Pre-dating a unified Italy by nearly 300 years, the Gallery of Maps shows the length and breadth of the peninsula circa 1580. These highlights of the Vatican Museums are all covered in our Vatican tours. If you want to see these galleries and the Sistine Chapel with an art historian by your side, this is your best bet.
Popular Vatican Tours
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our best Vatican tours to take and why.
4. Visit St. Peter’s Square
Even if you don’t make it to the Vatican Museums, visiting St. Peter’s Square is a must on your trip to Rome. Located in Vatican City, at the feet of St. Peter’s Basilica, the massive piazza is enclosed by two massive arms of four rows of colonnades. As you walk up to the square, notice how the square looks like it has two massive arms welcoming you.
The construction of the square was carried out between 1656 and 1667 by artist Bernini, with the support of Pope Alexander XII. Although St. Peter’s Square is in the heart of the Vatican, many tourists consider it an important part of the Eternal City as well. In fact, St. Peter’s is the largest open space in Rome.
3. See the School of Athens in the Raphael Rooms
Raphael was one of Rome’s most famous Renaissance artists who encompassed all the ideals of a Renaissance man. In constant competition with Michelangelo, the artist designed and frescoed multiple rooms connected to the Vatican Museums, which you can read more about here.
Among other masterpieces, visit one of Raphael’s most famous works of art: The School of Athens. A depiction of philosophy, the painting represents all the greatest mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists sharing ideas and learning from each other. In an early version of a selfie, Raphael painted himself into the painting! Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, engaged in dialogue, take center stage in the masterpiece.
2. Take in the Opulence of St. Peter’s Basilica
Don’t miss this! St. Peter’s Basilica is a massive church filled with artwork from some of the most celebrated artists in history. On a Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica tour, enter through a special door and skip the lines to get straight inside the most opulent church in the world.
Once inside, admire masterpieces that include the Il Baldacchino, La Pieta, the statue of St. Peter, and many more. Not an art fanatic? That’s ok, just the size of this place will impress you. With awe-inspiring architecture and elaborate wall designs, St. Peter’s has the potential to leave any traveler speechless.
1. Be Awed by the Sistine Chapel
Since the Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museums, entrance is included in your ticket. Now restored, every detail and color is visible. Only when you’re inside, is it clear why the Sistine Chapel is one of the most celebrated works of art in Western civilization.
If you want to avoid the crowds, we offer a skip-the-line Vatican Tour that goes straight to the Sistine Chapel when it’s almost empty. When you enter the Sistine Chapel, you’ll get a sense of just how high the ceiling is and how many paintings are up there. Since the chapel is a place of worship, speaking is forbidden inside.
Not ready to book a tour? Find out if a Vatican tour is worth it.