Taking for a guided tour in Vatican City? Here's how to make the most of it, from post cards to gelato.
It's unthinkable to come to Rome and not visit the Vatican. But you don't just stroll into such a legendary location without a plan. We started by signing up for a group tour - an invaluable travel tool - and we learned some critical lessons along the way. Here are our seven best practical tips for making the most of a guided tour to Vatican City.
Check and double check your meeting point.
Happily a little divine intervention came our way. Thank you to the sidewalk angel/tour ticket seller who pointed us in the right direction and then took things one step further and jogged with us to the appropriate corner! Our advice: Check and double check your instructions. Make careful note of the name of your tour, the company hosting it, and the name of the company who sold it to you. Many tours and companies have very similar names and even logos.
If I were to do it all over again, I'd also look on tour reviews on Trip Advisor, as often there's lots of helpful tidbits of information from other travelers who found themselves in the exact same situation - you might just catch a few practical tips.
There's never not a crowd.
Happily, while it looked chaotic and crowded to us, things moved quickly and efficently and we never really needed to wait for any significant amount of time and the guides did a good job of ushering everything along.
Pay careful attention to what your tour guide is wearing - you'll want to keep a close eye on them - and ask them where you should meet in the event that you get separated from the group. (But don't get separated! Stick with your group like glue!) Being terrified of losing my guide had an unexpected advantage for me - I was close enough that I could naturally hear her speak, without having to rely on the mic-and-ear-bud system.
You CAN see a lot in a short amount of time.
But if your interests are more moderate in nature or if you are doing a whirlwind tour of several Roman attractions to get a taste of the city for a future visit, you can absorb and appreciate the Vatican's main sites in just a few hours.
Our 2 hour Early Entry Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica Service tour with Walks of Italy was the perfect fit for us. We were able to enjoy a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, as well as receive extensive background information from our guide about the significance of what we were going to see. We also enjoyed a long walk through the galleries of the Vatican Museum and the chance to explore St. Peter's Square on our own at the end.
Obviously this was a less in-depth experience than other tours that offer more intensive programs but it was perfect for us. We had a chance to see something that had intrigued us for years and it still left plenty of time in our limited Rome itinerary for many other attractions and activities. We were truly glad we had gone and similarly happy that we chose a short tour - it was the ideal length and subject matter for us, our interests, and our overall timeline.
Don't stress about photos.
Add the crowds plus the ever-moving nature of a tour and, well, let's just say that the gift shop is a great idea. Post cards are cheap, easy to carry, and sturdy enough to last a lifetime. Don't worry about getting the perfect shot - just enjoy this special place. And if you do really want a memorable photo opportunity, be open to suggestion and ask your guide for recommendations - they see everyone clamor to get the same shots day after day and probably have strong opinions about overlooked opportunities.
Bring a pen - and hang around for a while.
If you're just buying and mailing one card, make sure you have a couple of Euros on hand. I seem to remember that there was a 5 Euro (more or less) minimum to use their credit card machine.
One thing I wish I had known in advance is that there ARE places where you can eat within the walls of the Vatican. If we had a short snack break I'm sure we would have stayed even longer! I love this article about food culture at the Vatican, complete with suggestions on where you can get a basic lunch and some coffee within Vatican City's walls.
Tour or solo, remember this rule: Dress and act respectfully.
Vatican City is the spiritual and political heart of one of the world's largest religions, is a place of deeply important personal and religious pilgrimage to people from all over the world, and is home to some of humanity's most divine artistic treasures - all excellent reasons to speak quietly, be aware of your surroundings, and dress in a comfortable, covered up style. And like any busy travel situation, mutual courtesy goes a long, long way.
(PS: The smiling Sister above is demonstrating another important Vatican City fashion rule - keep your purse in front of your body. As with any other top 10 tourist attraction, pickpockets make the rounds here.)
Don't forget to stop for divine gelato.
Make your trip to Vatican City an easy one.
- Did you know that Vatican City has a pharmacy? And that it's the busiest in the world? I'm fascinated by this! If you visit, please let me know.
- While the Vatican uses the Euro as its currency, it does not issue its own Euro banknotes. It does, however, issue Euro coins. They're highly collectable so check your change at the post office!
- Looking for accommodation recommendations around Rome? The team at Journeywoman (one of my favourite travel resources) has a fantastic list that coveres everything from 1 to 5 star properties.
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Walks of Italy provided us with complimentary media passes for our tour and we are grateful for their support. All research, writing, and opinions remain my own.