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Vatican definitely deserves one day on your trip to Rome. I only had a few days to prepare for my trip but just enough to do a bit upfront research and all the reviews on Vatican warned about the massively long lines especially on weekends. However, it is possible to avoid the long wait if you sign up for a tour. Since my visit was such a short one I decided to rather invest a bit extra to get the most out of my time in Vatican. I signed up for the early morning tour with What a life tours based on their excellent reviews on Tripadvisor. Before you go to Vatican it’s a good idea to check in advance the guidelines on clothing and other useful information for visitors.
Top 5 highlights:
- Early morning walk from Rome to Vatican
- Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel
- St. Peter’s church – and who was Queen Christina of Sweden
- St. Peter’s dome and grottos
- Sending postcards from the Vatican post office
1. Early morning walk from Rome to Vatican
It was a wonderful, almost magical experience to walk through the quiet Saturday early morning streets and cross the bridge to Vatican and see St. Peter’s church on the way to the meeting point. The tour started at 7.10 am from the What a life tours office and it turned out that today it was just 3 of us participating so we were ready for a real private tour!
2. Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel
At 8 am we were among the first to enter the Vatican museums (regular opening time is at 9 am) and we got to see a lot and take photos without any crowds – an impressive experience. Our guide Marcello made sure the 3,5 hour tour went quickly while learning fascinating facts and historical insights in a fun and relaxed way.
3. St. Peter’s Basilica and grottos – and who was Queen Christina of Sweden
We had the luxury of moving straight from the Vatican museums to St. Peter’s Basilica without any waiting. Surprisingly there was a church service going on and it was an amazing experience to hear the organs played and see the cardinals.
What deeply touched me was the amazing story of Queen Christina of Sweden (and my home country Finland as it was part of Sweden at the time!), the first female to be buried in the Vatican grottos and have her memorial in the St. Peter’s Basilica.
4. St. Peter’s dome
Once you’ve explored the ground floor and the grottos in the basement and if you still have the energy I strongly recommend to climb up to the Dome. It is 320 steps with elevator or 551 steps via the stairs. Only cash is accepted for the entrance fee (8 euros for the steps and 10 euros for the access via the elevator). I took the stairs as it was a great way to get exercise and in the cold and rainy weather it was a good way to warm up – I can imagine that in the summer it could be really hot though! The views of the dome from the ceiling level are amazing and fully worth the effort.
From there you can continue still further up (no elevator option anymore and beware that the stairway gets very narrow) all the way to the top where you can enjoy fantastic views over the Vatican and Rome – even in rain it was worthwhile.
On the way back, at the dome level there’s a souvenir shop operated by the nuns and I found it much more pleasant than the packed one downstairs. You can buy postcards and stamps here and there’s a small café next to it where you can (if lucky to get a table) sit down to write the cards. I would recommend buying only water or soda unless you’re dying of coffee craving – the coffee was served in a plastic disposable cup!
5. Sending postcards from the Vatican post office
The Vatican Post Office is located to the right on the way out from St. Peter’s and it’s a great opportunity to remember your loved ones by sending them a postcard stamped in the Vatican (it’s not every day you get one of those, right?). I was done with the visit by around 1.30 pm, so the trip to Vatican took in total about 5 hours – still plenty of afternoon left to find a nice restaurant outside of Vatican and see more sights in Rome.
Not everyone minds the lines and if you’re really well-equipped with patience you could save considerably if visiting Vatican the last Sunday of the month when it’s free entrance to the Vatican museums! If after visiting the world’s smallest country you would be looking for ideas on where to go next in Europe, here’s a fun quiz to help you find the next stop 🙂
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