I hope you have enjoyed the first part of this trilogy. Now moving on, I will share the details around my Vatican visit before concluding my story with a more pragmatic post that discusses how I was able to visit Rome on a budget.
The Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world, but do not be fooled by its size as its presence is visible almost everywhere throughout Rome and has very much shaped the Italian capital in many ways. Also, to say that the Vatican has acted as the command centre of the world throughout history would not be an understatement.
A visit to the smallest state in the world certainly falls in the category of top things to do when in Rome and I have actually decided to dedicate this whole post to it. I elected to organise the visit on my own and avoid the heavily advertised “skip the queue” tours. However, in order to do so I had to conduct some careful research and would like to save you the time of doing this yourself by sharing the best and cheapest way of arranging your very own.
Step one involves a visit to the official Vatican web page, where I was able to purchase a ticket that provides access to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The price of the ticket is €20 (£16) with all taxes and will allow you to enter at a pre-selected time slot. I personally, was able to enter one hour before my pre-booked slot and did not queue at all. However, I do appreciate that this may vary depending on the season and perhaps it is slightly busier in the summer or when special events take place. The closest tube stations are Ottaviani and Cipro if you are planning to arrive by metro, but having a nice long walk in Rome is fantastic and perhaps the best way to embrace the heartbeat of the Eternal city. Please note that the main entrance to St. Peters Basilica (big queues) and the Vatican museums entrance are separate and located around 10 minutes’ walk from each other.
The Vatican museums house a great number of artefacts as well as art pieces, which have been carefully arranged. The corridors are small and can become a bit overcrowded at times. However, this presents a perfect opportunity for you to tag yourself to one of the tour groups and perhaps learn something for free. I am sure that many of the guides are really knowledgeable, but cannot mention that I have heard some ridiculous statements like “Jesus Christ symbolises Christianity”. So if you decide to take a guide, my advice will be to do some research beforehand as to ensure that you get the most value for both your time and money!
Before heading to the Sistine Chapel I spent a couple of moments walking around the garden next to the museums, not to be confused with the actual Giardini Vaticani. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit the official garden this time and judging by the photos I’ve seen it is worth it. This of course is a valid reason for me to come back again soon!
The Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace (the Pope’s official residence) is the site where the Papal conclave takes place, when a new successive Pope is elected. On the occasion of a conclave, a special chimney is installed in the roof of the Sistine chapel, from which smoke ascends as a signal. If white smoke appears, created by burning the ballots of the election, a new Pope has been elected. If a candidate receives less than two-thirds of all votes, the cardinals send up black smoke — created by burning the ballots along with wet straw and chemical additives, meaning that election has not yet been successful. I really enjoyed my visit to the Sistine Chapel as I am a big fan of the Borgia series and it was great to see the chapel in person. The frescoes are greatly detailed and breath-taking, so taking a moment to appreciate them is a must. The Last Judgement fresco by Michelangelo positioned on the ceiling of the Chapel may well be the most famous one. Taking photos or videos inside is strictly forbidden.
And now the most useful tip you will get and gravitating around a big question - how do I enter St. Peters Basilica without going back to the main entrance and queuing for hours? The way to do this is by walking through a door positioned on the right corner of the chapel. There is a sign reading forbidden and reserved for organised tours only, so your best move would be to tag yourself to an organised group as the sign reads or if you are not so shy just walk straight through the door.
Entering St. Peters Basilica was a truly humbling experience and one that I will never forget. The names of Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini will live forever as St. Peters was largely designed by them and is considered the most celebrated work of Renaissance architecture. St. Peters is also one of the largest churches in the world and one of the holiest Catholic shrines.
After I took the time to appreciate the inside of St. Peters, I headed to the Cupola. Climbing the Dome of Basilica di San Pietro was worth every step and it costs €6. You also have the option of taking the elevator (€8). From the top a majestic 360 degrees view is revealed and all of Rome stands “naked” before your very own eyes.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Vatican visit and look forward to my next one. Now is time to reveal how I was able to visit Rome on a budget as mentioned earlier it is more affordable than many think!