The smallest country in the World
Since The Vatican is a separate country and to follow with the way I do create the travel guides in my blog, here is a standalone guide for it. Although pretty much the same is self-explained in the guide for Rome. Basically, this guide is based upon an older visit and not the most recent, since all the next times we’ve done a trip to Rome we did not return to The Vatican again. Fair enough one will always walk past it and around it, but to be honest having already been twice in the Basilica and gigantic museums, spending countless hours and making the way through the hordes of tourists, I think I have enough for quite some time until I feel the need for repeating in the future.
It takes at least half a day to visit, therefore plan ahead and know the times in advance, trying to avoid the rush hours where the queues build up exponentially. For instance, I would never recommend you to get there by the time they open and the following 2 hours, but coming towards the midday is already a good choice. You can admire the incredible architecture from the outside in the morning, and consider accessing inside after an early lunch. Remember once you enter all you have are some cafes and pricey restaurants, a limited choice.
Two of it’s highlights are why every visitor to Rome come, as otherwise, it’s like you have not visited Rome to be honest: Saint Paul’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, all of which listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Both lie within the Vatican City, also known ad the Holy Sea, the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population. The only such exception to be found in the world where a micro state is within the boundaries of a city of another state. An ecclesiastical monarchical state, ruled by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It’s also one of the last seven remaining absolute monarchies in the world, being the others as matter of curiosity and information Qatar, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Swaziland.
Although the origin of the Papal States, which over the years have varied considerably in extent and can be traced back to the 8th century, it was not only until the 11th of February 1929 that the treaties were signed acknowledging, among other things, the full sovereignty of the Vatican and established its territorial extent as we know it ever since. But another fact about the city-state is its economy, almost entirely supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.
Reaching the city is as simple and easy as taking the metro Line A to either Ottaviano-S.Pietro-Musei Vaticani or Lepanto stations which are within the Vatican boundaries, or to Cipro station outside, all three serving the city just minutes away from Sain Peter’s Square.
Other than that, there is not much more to be said here for this brief introduction. For more information about The Vatican check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Vatican City
- Swiss Guards The army of Swiss guards is the smallest and oldest in the world founded by Pope Julius II in 1506, same Pope who ordered the construction of the “new” Saint Peter’s Basilica and asked Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. You will see them all over.
- Saint Peter’s Square Designed as an ellipse is the centrepiece of the Vatican, with its characteristic colonnade all around and the imposing facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the middle. Expect hordes of people coping it every time there is a mass given by the Pope outdoors.
-Saint Peter’s Basilica The heart of the Roman Catholic Church. Imponent, opulent and large at all proportions. The dome was designed by Michelangelo and you can go all the way up to the top but be aware of the hundreds of steps even there is a lift for the first section.
-Obelisk Located in the middle of the square was transported from Egypt to Rome in 37 AD, and it’s the second largest Egyptian obelisk in the world.
- Vatican Museums Closed on every Christian holiday so please bear this in mind, also Sundays except the last of each month which is also free admission. Other days open until 16.00pm which is the last admission and costs 15 Euros. Do never miss this if you are a first time visitor in Rome. It’s one of the greatest museums in the world, and even considering it’s monster size, it’s great organised in the sense that you have only to follow a one way direction, and although there are countless pieces or art, works of architecture and several buildings worth to mention, the list would go on and on. As you follow the route you will discover absolutely every stance.
-Sistine Chapel The masterpiece of Michelangelo, and one of the greatest works of art in the world.
-Raphael’s Rooms The next priceless works of art. A series of four rooms with frescoes painted by Raphael and his workshop.
- Castel Sant’Angelo Which real name is Mausoleum of Hadrian was built as the family tomb of Emperor Hadrian between 130 and 139 AD. It survived to our days in great shape thanks that was converted in 401 AD to be used as fortress and castle for the Popes. It is entirely under Vatican land and right in front of it is the Pons Aelius over the Tiber river, also built upon orders of Hadrian forming a grand approach.
Since The Vatican lack of any public transportation itself due to it’s small size, and basically because it uses the infrastructure of the city of Rome, I will then concentrate in describing these below, which are the same you can see in the travel guide of Rome.
Rome is served with 2 large airports connecting it to everywhere across the world. Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino is the larger serving most intercontinental routes while the smaller Ciampino is mostly used by low cost carriers. Connecting both airports with the city, the best, cheapest and most frequent option is by the Terravision Bus, which from Leonardo-Fiumicino costs 4 Euros per way if you book it in advance over the website, otherwise 6 Euros if bought on the bus (or 11 return); and from Ciampino 6 for single, 12 Euros return, both routes connecting with Termini Station. Just follow signs to buses from the arrival terminals and you will find those buses easy.
The city is served with 3 metro lines, 6 tram lines and countless bus routes. Light rail and commuter trains do also cover a great network. You will never be far from any transport as it covers absolutely every corner of the city and all sights.
There is a great choice of tickets available to suit any of your needs. For instance, a single ticket costs €1.50 and is valid for 100 minutes allowing you the interchange between different modalities (bus to metro to tram or however you combine them). Only if you are likely to be taking more often than 4 times the transport, it will be advisable if you get a day travel card which costs €6 and it’s valid until midnight. Much better if your stay is at least 3 days, for €16.50 you can get a 3 day travel card and €24 for 7 days.
Should you get a Roma Pass then apart from the transportation, it also includes the entrance to 2 museums/archaeological sites (excluding the Vatican Museums). This will set you at €24 for a 48 hour or €36 for a 3 days pass.
Hop-on/hop-off buses costs between €18 and 20 depending on the company and tickets can be purchased on any stop or on-board. Most of the routes start/end at Termini station.
On the same note as before on the transports section, The Vatican do not have accommodation establishments other than these of official use, therefore I add below the same notes you can find in the travel guide for the city of Rome.
The cost for hotels in Rome has definitely nothing to compare with the rest of Italy (except Capri or Garda as an example and other destinations same as important among the rich and famous). Finding a good deal for a good hotel is hard to pretty much impossible. Either you get a low rated hotel, or anything decent starting from 3* will already set your costs higher than what you would expect compared to pretty much everywhere else in Europe (expect anywhere in Switzerland, Paris and London I would say). Of course you can find nice and cheaper hotels but on the outskirts of the city which I would totally avoid.
Try to be somewhere near the city centre, let’s say around Trastevere, Termini, Repubblica or Vatican are some of the best as you are always walking distance to most of the sights, something that you would appreciate specially at night and therefore not depending on any public transportation to return to your hotel. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In the most recent trip we stayed at the Hotel Repubblica, as name suggests, next door to Repubblica Square which is an important transport node in the city and also extremely well located as you are walking distance to many of the main tourist attractions. A very basic and simple 3* hotel they claim, though not even 2* elsewhere in other city in Europe. The building both outside and inside were pretty run down and in need of serious repair, but room was clean and with all facilities needed. Just for one night was OK but I won’t consider if for 2 and never for more.
On an older trip we stayed at the Hotel Center 1, 2, 3; on Via Giovanni Giolitti 433. Minutes away from Termini train station on a rather side and lone street, was good enough for what we needed as we were only 1 night. Bearing the dirty state of the street and overall weird feeling when walking at night, was nothing to worry about at the end. Hotel was comfortable, clean, nice rooms and nice service, and of course one of the good points is that you don’t need any public transportation to start your sightseeing around the area.
The very first time I’ve been to the city, as we were on a school trip, the hotel was way outside the city centre but great if you are on a tour across Italy with a car. Either by car or public buses it is a short commute altogether to the centre of Rome. And not to mention if you are a golf player, then this will be the ideal place, the Marco Simone Golf Resort.