Vatican City walking tour itinerary (self guided in 7 stops)
This Vatican City walking tour will take you to seven sites, including little gems I discovered during my five years in Rome, as well as some iconic sites.
This is the tiniest country in the world, less than a square kilometre, but it has the highest concentration of art works and attractions on the planet.
And if you are visiting on a Sunday morning, you may also experience the Holy Father’s Angelus prayer at noon
You can also think of staying in the nearby Borgo Pio or Prati, two of the best areas for a Rome trip with family and kids.
But let’s get into the Vatican City itinerary, with the first stop at the world-famous Vatican Museums.
Table of Contents
You can read also
- Where to stay in Rome – The 5 best areas
- Best Airbnb in Rome (close to everything, with amazing view & more)
- Walking in Rome (3 great itineraries with maps)
The entire Vatican country was listed back in 1984 as a World Heritage Site and, although occupying a small territory, it tells you how beautiful is the whole area.
I have been around the area so many times when I lived in Rome.
I even rented a studio apartment metres from St Peter Square for a little while.
One thing I highly suggest for any place you plan to visit in Rome, even more so in the Vatican City, is to buy the skip-the-line tickets in advance otherwise you will be spending more time queuing than actually enjoying the place.
Here below is the map of the Vatican City walking tour that you can print/save/share from Google.
Start your day with an early visit to the Vatican Museums. That’s when you will get the most of it.
They open at 8 am, however, you will be most probably in a queue already, which sucks but, I tell you, the queue at 11am can be 10 times bigger, easily over 500m long.
And this is why I highly suggest buying a skip-the-line ticket (you can always cancel up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund).
The Vatican Museum is a unique place because it not only holds archaeological and artistic history, but you can also find the residential rooms of previous Popes.
One of the oldest rooms is the Niccoline Chapel, which was commissioned by Pope Nicholas V. It was turned into a beautifully decorated chapel.
Another old room was the Borgia Apartment, which was home to Alexander VI.
It has six renovated monumental spaces and houses the Collection of Contemporary Art.
One of the most significant rooms here is the Sistine Chapel, named after Pope Sixtus IV Della Rovere.
It is one of (if not THE) most interesting places in the museum, with walls and ceiling telling iconic biblical stories.
On the walls, you will find Stories of Moses, portraits of the Popes, stories of Jesus and the False Drapes.
If you look up at the ceiling pier, you will see the beautiful frescoes with Old Testament stories by Michelangelo.
You will also find nine central panels that tell the stories of Genesis. You can also see the coat of arms of Sixtus IV and other marble parts.
Pope John Paul II greatly honoured the chapel and talked about it often and its significance to the Christian journey.
Besides the skip-the-line ticket, book also the essential audio guide. You would be lost without it.
Alternatively, you can also think of joining this skip-the-line tour with a guide which will provide a ton of information and interesting facts, either in a tiny or small group, from 2 up to 4 hours.
Once you leave the Vatican Museums, venture into Borgo Pio, the small medieval area between St Peter’s Square and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Back in the Renaissance, this place had homes owned by the Popes and the patricians.
It was built to handle more pedestrian traffic thanks to the walkways.
At Borgo Pio, there is an above-ground passageway leading to the Vatican known as the Passetto.
You can also find the Palazzo Della Giustizia and the Italian High Court.
On the eastern side of the neighborhood is the Tiber River.
The narrow paths are a great place to explore, as you might find a few souvenir shops and other types of boutique stores.
This area of Rome is popular with visitors day and night, so you will not be alone.
You will probably exhaust your exploration of Borgo Pio in 30 minutes, including the usual quick break for an espresso coffee at Osteria Café Del Monte.
Time to head to the imposing Saint Peter’s Square, one of the most beautiful square in the world.
Make it on Sunday for the Holy Father’s Angelus prayer at noon, when the Pope will take a little talk and a prayer too.
Keep in mind that, although a unique experience, Sunday morning can be really crowded and the St. Peter’s Basilica may be closed to the public.
The square was built between 1656 and 1667 under Pope Alexander VII by Bernini.
Notice that it has two prominent parts.
The first is the trapezoidal space, with converging rectilinear arms.
The second is the two hemicycles of the fourfold colonnade.
There was meant to be a third space. Unfortunately, work came to a halt following the death of the Pope.
Take a walk on the wide access street (Via della Conciliazione) leading to the Vatican which enhances the St. Peter’s dome.
The square is massive and is about 320 meters deep. It has four rows of 88 pillars and about 284 columns.
At the top of the columns is the balustrade which holds about 140 statues depicting saints. These were created by Bernini’s students in 1670.
You will also be amazed by the 2 fountains and statues of St Paul and St Peter at the bottom of the stairs.
Take the time to check out the Scala Regia, which connects the Vatican and the square.
Right at the end of the square, you will see the gigantic St. Peter’s Basilica, hosting up to 20,000 worshippers.
This site has an interesting story with the area used completely differently to what we can see today.
In fact, in the 4th Century, Emperor Constantine decided to build a place to honour where St. Peter was buried.
The construction was done and ready in 329. It was used as a funeral banquet room and cemetery.
Only in 1506, Julius II decided to build a massive basilica in its place.
Michelangelo was brought in to create the perfect design of the church we know today.
It took 24 years to complete after the renowned architect’s death.
Another architect added the square design and facade.
The front of the church came up in 1612.
Bernini designed the major altar canopy and the church interior.
As you walk in the Basilica, you can see unique artworks, like Michelangelo’s La Pieta.
This work of art has been through some damage and is now kept safe by a crystal.
You can also visit the chapels and the tombs of the popes who passed on long ago, including St. Peter himself.
This is another must-visit place in Rome, however, you won’t be alone. In fact, the St Peter’s Basilica is also famous for its never ending queue of people waiting to go in.
For this reason, I highly recommend joining this St. Peter’s Basilica Dome to Underground Grottoes Tour that will allow you to skip the line, besides having a guided tour full of information and interesting facts.
The Passeggiata del Gelsomino is one of the hidden gems of the Vatican City that only a few locals know, let alone the tourists.
It may come to a surprise, but also Vatican City has its own railway network, the shortest in the world of course.
It is just 300 metres long, running from the own station, Citta’ del Vaticano, to the Italian station of Porta Pietra.
It was built in 1930 to connect the two countries. It was used only in a rare few cases by the Pope.
Back then, it was mainly used to transport good inside the Vatican.
Today, there is no train anymore scheduled, however, one of the track has been removed and they organised a pedestrian area instead.
This is now basically a balcony with an amazing view of the Vatican and Rome
To get there, you may feel like in a Harry Potter movie.
You need to enter the San Pietro Station and head over to the repurposed track.
So easy, but so hidden too.
Time to get back to the San Pietro Square and take the imposing Via della Conciliazione, direction Castel Sant’Angelo.
More than a Via (Street), this is a real wide boulevard, about 500 metres long that will take you to the castle and the Tiber River.
An interesting fact about Via della Conciliazione is that it actually did not exist till 1950.
Borgo Pio, that you previously visited, extended to cover the entire boulevard.
The access to San Pietro Square was through the usual small street and lanes, typical of Rome.
The Vatican always wanted to have a wider access to Rome, more imposing than the alleys of the Borgo.
The first plans started over 500 years ago, but the demolition only started with the Duce (Benito Mussolini) in 1937.
Thirteen years later, the work was completed, including the installation of the obelisks on the side, working as lampposts.
In Via della Conciliazione, you also find the Auditorium where I personally experienced one of the best acoustic ever.
I suggest checking the official website for the concerts and performances program
You cannot miss the Castel Sant Angelo, right at the end of Via della Conciliazione, a boutique castle facing the Tiber River.
It was built in the 2nd century as ordered by emperor Hadrian.
He originally wanted it to be a mausoleum, however, it was soon converted into a castle in 280.
It is connected to the Vatican grounds through an elevated passage.
This was once the tallest building in this area.
It was not initially tied to the archangel Michael until 590 by Pope Gregory I.
A chapel was also erected at the spot where the Pope saw angel Michael.
In 1753, a large bronze statue in honour of Michael was erected.
This six-storey building holds 580 rooms. It was used as a refuge for the Pope in the event of an attack as well as executions.
It was opened to the public in 1870 and has a prison on the 2nd floor, displays of old-school weapons on the ground floor.
There is also a mausoleum holding the tomb of Emperor Hadrian on the 1st floor.
The 3rd floor holds Renaissance pieces like furniture and ceramics.
The Popes’ living quarters are on the 4th floor while the 5th floor has a terrace to view Rome. This is where the Archangel Micheal’s statue is located.
This is another popular destination to visit, so, unfortunately, expect long queues to get in.
For this reason, I suggest buying the skip-the-line ticket. You can also include in your ticket an audion guide for 4Euro that you can download on your mobile (remember to bring with you the earphones)
This is the last stop on this Vatican City walking tour, an itinerary that runs through the best of this unique tiny country.
The St Angelo Bridge is the most beautiful bridge that you can find in Rome, today a full pedestrian area.
It was built in the first century (around 1,900 years old) by the emperor Hadrian.
The statues that you see on the side were added only later in the 16th and the 17th century by the Vatican.
The angels, ten of them, were designed by one of the most famous artists of the time, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and they are today invaluable.
One grim fact about the bridge is that, for many years after the 16th century, it was used to hang the bodies of the criminals executed in the Piazza del Ponte.
As you expect, you will not be alone. My little tip here, come back later at night to share it with a just bunch of people.