Explore some of the iconic landmarks of Europe with our one day in Vatican City itinerary!
Vatican City may be the smallest country in the world, covering only half a square kilometre, but the beliefs and teachings of this religious superpower have shaped and guided many of the political and cultural development around the globe.
Home of the Roman Catholic Church and its spiritual leader – the Pope, Vatican City was granted a country status to enable the Pontiff to exercise his universal authority. Despite having a population of under 1000 residents, the country has its own flag and currency as well.
One day in Vatican City itinerary: Sightseeing and planning tips
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Here is a quick list of the attractions we will cover in Vatican City in a day,
Things to do in a day in Vatican City
- Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
- Saint Peter’s Square
- Saint Peter’s Basilica
- Wander the Vatican Gardens
- Castel Sant’Angelo
- Vatican City by night tour (optional)
Pressed for time? Book a private Vatican tour with breakfast
Vatican City is an independent city state, also known as a microstate in Europe.
It is a ‘country’ due to a diplomatic and political arrangement that came into existence on the 11th of February 1929 after the signing of the Lateran Treaty. This treaty granted Vatican City the status of a country.
As a city-state and a country, the Vatican is ruled by the Pope (Bishop of Rome).
To get to the Vatican, you have to arrive in Italy, as it is located in the heart of Rome.
Vatican City trip planning
Entry to the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square is free, but to enter the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel you need to pay for admission, except on certain occasions.
Visit the Vatican between Tuesday and Friday to avoid the huge weekend crowds. In addition, the Papal audience is held every Wednesday for which fast track tickets are available. Mondays too tend to be over crowded as all museums in Rome are shut on that day.
The Vatican Museums will form a major part of your one-day itinerary, and with a tour guide navigating different areas will be slightly easy. If you can make it, opt for an excursion like this one, it covers the major spots at the Museums and when the tour concludes you can stay back to explore more.
Keep in mind, that the best time to visit the Vatican Museums is in the morning, as queues begin to form as early as 07:30 am despite the museums opening at 09:00 am.
Do not leave this for later in the day as museums close at 6:30 pm hrs and visitors are obligated to leave the premises thirty minutes before closing time. Keep aside the better part of your Vatican one day itinerary to explore the museums only.
If your goal is to cover the Museum and the Basilica with a guide, then here is a 4-hour tour that includes both (no dome access), and this one with dome access.
Where to stay near the Vatican City
Though there are no hotels within the Vatican, there are dozens of properties near the border with Rome.
Vatican City is a mere 4 km (2.4 miles) away from Rome and you can get there from anywhere in the city by either metro (Cipro station), tram (19), bus (#64 or #81), taxi, train (St.Pietro station) or even foot, provided your accommodation is nearby.
A pretty good option is the Hotel La Rovere a pretty boutique hotel housed in a 19th-century old building. The Eden is another hotel with luxury interiors, and good views and is only a stone’s throw away from the basilica.
If you are looking for homey apartment-style accommodation, then Casa accanto al Vaticano will fit the bill. It is located less than 20-minute walk from the Basilica, and features a lovely garden and city views!
For something special, book a room at the Gran Melia Roma, located on the top of a hill overlooking the Vatican and hardly a seven minute walk from the St Peter’s Basilica.
Now, let’s kick start this Vatican City one day itinerary
Visiting Vatican City to appreciate the grandeur of this tiny country in one day requires a bit of planning. It is small, no doubt, but you will require a lot of research, breaks, and stamina to tick off all the things you want to see on your list.
Vatican Museums (09:00 am to 1:00 pm)
On the morning of your Vatican City itinerary enter the city through Via della Concilliazione from Rome.
Start bright and early to explore the Vatican Museums, home to some of the most priceless art collections (around 70,000+) amassed by the Pope over the centuries.
The Vatican Museums are made up of 26 museums in all and display some dazzling exhibits occupying a staggering five miles of wall space which will literally take days or even weeks to explore all.
To economize on time and effort, pick up a map as you walk in and single out what you want to see first
Founded in the early 16th century by Pope Julius, a visit to see the 50+ galleries is likely to take up at least four hours to cover everything.
We recommend booking the Early Entry Sistine Chapel tour where you have the services of an accomplished guide all the way to the end till the Sistine Chapel before the hordes arrive.
Must visit stops at the Vatican Museums
From all the galleries, make sure you visit room 8 of the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and the Pinacoteca Vaticana, home to paintings of famous artists like Leonardo Caravaggio, Raffello, and Grotto before heading to the most popular attraction of the museum, the Sistine Chapel, by far the most famous interior decorated space.
Make sure to spend time in the main room of the chapel to admire the magnificent Biblical frescoes made by the famous painter Michelangelo on the ceilings between 1508 and 1512.
A part of the building also houses the Pope’s official residence and is used as the Papal conclave when electing a new Pope.
Many guided tours may not include a stop at the Spiral Staircase, but you can always ask/request your guide.
- Opening hours: 08:30 am to 6:30 pm, Monday through Saturday. Sunday closed. Other closure days: January 1, 6 February 11, March 19, May 1, June 29, August 15, 16 November 1, and December 8,25,26.
- Admission: Starts from €36. Get Skip the line tickets with an audio guide plus Sistine Chapel visit included. Tours last 3 hours.
- Tip: On the last Sunday of each month the Museums can be visited free from 09:00 to 1:30 pm
The lines at the entrance of the Sistine Chapel can move quite slowly at times and entry can be blocked if the chapel is full to capacity.
Lunch break (1:00 pm to 2:00 pm)
There are plenty of nice places to eat in and around the Vatican, but most of them are tourist traps. Avoid the restaurants with agents standing outside handing out flyers with deals. Instead, enjoy a nice meal with a glass of wine at the Magazzino Scipione or a sandwich at the Angry Pig.
We were surprised to find a McDonald’s at the Vatican, but it exists if you wish to eat on a budget. By the piazza/square, you will also find small cafes.
St.Peter’s Square (2:00 pm to 3:00 pm)
After lunch head to St Peter’s Square for the next leg of your Visiting Vatican itinerary, possibly the greatest contribution of Gian Lorenzo Bernini to Vatican City.
The square is also known as Piazza San Pietro and is located right in front of the famed basilica. Spend some time admiring the complex by embarking on a leisurely self-guided Vatican City walking tour.
The square has hundreds of statues of saints and other figures and colonnades representing a pair of open arms, a symbolic gesture welcoming the people to the square and the basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica (3:00 pm to 5:00 pm)
A true Renaissance masterpiece, the St Peter’s Basilica is one of the most famous churches in Christendom. Stuffed with priceless treasures, inlaid marble, and lavishly decorated, it took over 120 years to fully complete the church.
Apart from being the burial place of St Peter and past Popes, this is where you will find the famous Bernini Baldachin canopy and Michelangelo’s tragic creation Pieta. The dome of the basilica is the tallest in the world and the entry is from above the visitor, to the right.
During your visit to the basilica, you may want to check out the Vatican Grottoes directly underneath. (Vatican Grottoes is different from the Vatican Necropolis, more on the latter below).
Entry is free but look for the entrance which is tucked away behind the Pier of St Andrew beside the high altar. Make this your last stop as the exit point of the Grottoes will take you outside the basilica.
- Opening hours: Opens Daily from 07:00 am to 07:00 pm, wintertime they close at 6:00 pm. Wednesday after the Pope’s audience at 1:00 pm.
- Entry: Free
- Tour: Here is a guided tour of the basilica along with the dome climb | Basilica tour + underground grottoes tour
Entry to climb the 551 steps of the dome is €6 or €8 if you take the elevator midway.
From there it is another 320 steps to the top. Budget an extra hour for the dome experience.
Wander the Vatican Gardens
In the evening, you can either explore the Vatican Gardens or visit the Castel Sant’Angelo as it is located right outside the border of the Vatican to Rome. We will share options for both below.
The Vatican Gardens enjoy an enviable reputation of covering more than half the area of a country and are an oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Vatican City.
The gardens are laid out in three styles, Vatican, English, and Italian.
The gardens date back to medieval times and were established by Pope Nicholas III and have since been expanded with sculptures and fountains. To enter the gardens, you need to book a tour in advance with the Vatican staff.
Castel Sant’Angelo (5:00 pm to 8:30 pm)
The final attraction of your one day itinerary to the Vatican will be the Castel Sant’Angelo, a 2000-year-old landmark of the city and a must-see ruins and archaeological site.
Castle Sant Angelo is the tomb of the former emperor Hadrian and provides the perfect insight into the history of Rome in one go.
A winding spiral staircase from the entrance leads you up to five floors of sumptuous salons and spooky corridors. The castle is a haven for history buffs as it is full of exhibits that are centuries old.
The feature of the place is the frescoed ceilings and the excellent views of the city from the top of the museum.
There is free WiFi on site so download the free Castel Sant’Angelo app for a more immersive experience.
- Opening hours: Opens daily from 09:00 am to 07:30 pm
- Admission: €15 (free entry on the first Sunday of every month. Currently suspended). Buy tickets here
The stunning Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge which was used by Emperor Hadrian whenever he made his royal visit from Rome was built in 174 AD and since the middle ages was used by the pilgrims visiting the basilica.
The bridge is lined with ten white angels, designed by Bernini in classic Baroque style and holding symbols of the passion of Jesus Christ.
Dinner (07:30 pm to 9:00 pm)
For dinner head to the Borgo neighborhood, to the west of Vatican City for some innovative Italian food on your first and last evening in the Vatican. Some nice options here are II Gatto E L’uva and Borghiciano. Or grab a pizza at Pizzeria Vecchio Borgo.
Trevi Fountain is also a short walk away from the Vatican/Sant’Angelo bridge and there are also nice eateries in that area for dinner!
Alternate tour recommendations for Vatican City one day itinerary
Touring the Vatican City Museums in a day is a great choice but if you have extra time, you can add these to your list:
Vatican Necropolis tour
The Vatican Necropolis lies underneath the Vatican City. There were major archaeological excavations done under Saint Peter’s in the 1940s, which brought to light major remnants of a necropolis during theImperial times.
It is very hard to get a hold of these exclusive tickets to the Necropolis as entry is capped at 250 visitors per day. If you are lucky and wish to visit do book your Vatican Scavi tour tickets ahead of time.
Tours last 1.50 hours, and it takes you through St Peter’s underground Necropolis.
See the Pope at the Vatican
Enjoy a four hour spiritual experience with a private guide to take part in the Wednesday audience of the Pope. Your tour will begin with a rundown of the history of the Holy See and all the former Popes of Rome and end by learning details about the iconic St Peter’s Square and Basilica.
You will then be escorted to your assigned seat to sit back in anticipation of the event.
After enjoying a spiritual interaction with the Pope in St Peter’s Square from a good viewpoint, the Cardinals will perform blessings in multiple languages for a richer appreciation of the whole ceremony.
Pro tip: Check the Papal calendar if you are planning to attend the Papal mass. The Pope may not be in Rome all the time and there could be deviations from the weekly schedule.
The Vatican by night tour
If you want to experience the Vatican without the crowds, not waiting in long lines, then do something different. An experienced private guide will take you on a tour of the Vatican after sunset in order to view the city from a new perspective.
Every Friday, during the summer months, the Vatican opens its doors at 7:00 pm for all those who wish to see the Vatican Museums, Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel by night.
Your guide will explain the highlights of some of the popular galleries such as the gallery of Candelabra, Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and the gallery of Tapestries.
Send a postcard from Vatican City
If you want a memento of your travels, sending a postcard from the Vatican post office is not only fun but a cost-effective activity to enjoy. This unique opportunity of mailing a postcard from an independent country to yourself or even friends and families is a novel way to send greetings.
The Vatican Post office, incidentally, lies at the exit gate of St Peter’s Basilica to the right.
Map for Vatican City walking tour itinerary
Additional travel tips for your Vatican visit
Book your tours and tickets well in advance as the lines get very very long and it can take hours to get in.
The Vatican Museum is immense and full of so many incredible things that booking a guided tour or using an audio guide is strongly recommended. You also get to skip the line entry tickets with the Omnia Rome and Vatican City Card.
If fast-track tickets are not available on your desired date, book a ticket that includes the audio guide.
Every Friday, from April to October, the Vatican Museums open their doors after sunset from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Visitors get a unique opportunity to enjoy marvelous pieces of art in a unique nocturnal ambiance during this period.
The museums are suitable for persons with disabilities, complete with lifts, specially fitted toilets, and suggested itineraries. Wheelchairs are available free of charge and can be accessed by making a reservation at email@example.com.
There is a strict dress code in place for those visiting Vatican City.
- No revealing clothes are allowed and shoulders must be covered at all times.
- As far as footwear is concerned, flip-flops are considered informal but sandals are okay.
- Remove headwear while entering buildings and also items such as knives, scissors, and eatables as they are not permitted inside the Vatican.
The only way to visit Vatican City is from Italy for which you will need a valid passport. The nearest airport is Rome’s Ciampino Airport in Italy.
Budget for the Vatican City
A hotel near Vatican City will cost an average of €135 per night while Airbnb rentals come to about €32 per night. Hostels cost about €15 per night.
Budget around €26 per day for public transportation and local restaurants.
The cheapest visit to Vatican City will come to about €250 per day for those who want to limit their expenses.
It is easy to understand Italy as a land of gangsters because of the word ‘mafia’ but organized crime is rarely directed at tourists. Vatican City is notorious for pickpocketing, especially in the areas around St Peter’s Square and during the prayer to the Angelus with the Pope.
However, on the whole, Vatican City is very safe. Its precious artworks are guarded well and the local largely clerical residents have reported no fears about burglaries or personal safety.
Violent crimes are rare in Vatican City, but should you feel threatened at any time enter an open store or restaurant. Asking the Swiss Military Guard to recover your $200 camera or mobile phone is not on their priority list.
Day trips from Vatican City
The Vatican itself is a tiny city and should form a part of a regular Rome itinerary. Still, there is plenty to see once you have taken in the breathless sites of the Vatican.
Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill
The Colosseum district formed the major part of ancient Rome and is adorned by iconic structures such as The Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Palatine Hill is located nearby and is still strewn with the ruins of the once palaces and homes of the Roman emperors. These are very impressive archaeological marvels and it is strongly recommended to go with a guide to understand these sites.
Admission: Starts at €12+€2 reservation fee
This antique settlement lies merely 35 km from Vatican City and is one of the best day trips from the city. Ostia Antica was the former port of Rome and of great commercial importance.
Though the ruins of Ostia Antica are overshadowed by the more famous city of Pompeii, destroyed by a volcanic eruption, there are equally important temples dedicated to Hercules and the Capitolium, the largest in the city, that stand out.
To get to Ostia Antica, hop on to a train from San Paolo station, next to the Piramide metro station in Rome and catch the train heading to Ostia Lido. Get down after twenty five minutes at the Ostia Antica station.
Was one day in Vatican City enough?
With just a day in Vatican City, you must budget the available time in such a manner to see the best attractions. A typical guided Vatican tour lasts only two to three hours which barely scratches the surface.
Allocate your time wisely and plan seven hours at the sites with an additional two hours for lunch and breaks.