Visiting Vatican City can sometimes be overwhelming, exhausting, and confusing. There is so much to see in a small dose of time. It’s no wonder that people consider Vatican City an entirely separate country as much as there is to see and do. Don’t worry about planning your Vatican City adventure – we have that covered. Here’s our list of the top ten things to see in Vatican City.
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; plan to spend about 25 minutes in each.
Escape the crowded Vatican Museums by strolling through the charming Vatican Gardens. Did you know these gardens are home to a 100 different fountains? Access the Vatican Gardens is by booking a full day tour of the Vatican Museums, Gardens and Castle Gandolfo with The Roman Guy. Breathe in the fresh air and enjoy this oasis of peace and tranquility smack dab 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.
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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 allows visitors to study 460 works of art, painted by the likes of Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo, Guido Reni and Giotto. Art historians and appreciators can spend hours in the Pinacoteca studying the iconic works, but even as a casual Vatican visitor, the incredible collection is eye candy.
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.
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 ft in diameter. Take a close look at the red marble, it is so rare the tub can’t be recreated.
The Vatican’s Main Galleries
Here come the headliners of the Vatican Museums: The Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of the Tapestries and our personal favorite, the Gallery of the Maps. Prior to the era of Google Maps, the map frescoes provide insight into how Renaissance Italians viewed themselves and their surroundings. Predating 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 on The Roman Guy’s 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.
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 encased by two massive arms comprised of four rows of colonnades. As you walk up to the square, notice how the 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 Saint 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.
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. 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 the selfie, Raphael painted himself into the painting! Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, engaged in dialogue, take center stage in the masterpiece.
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.
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Since the Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museums, entrance is included in your ticket. Now restored, every detail and color in the restored 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 skip the crowds, we offer a skip the line Vatican Tour that goes straight to the Sistine Chapel when it’s almost empty. Only when you enter the Sistine Chapel is it clear how high the ceiling is and how many paintings are up there. Since the chapel is a place of worship, speaking is forbidden inside.
I Want More Italy!
Check out our video guide to the top ten things to see in Vatican City below. The Vatican Museums and its surrounding attractions are hard to navigate alone, we have you covered.
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