There’s no doubt that my heart belongs to Rome, but within its hallowed precincts, Vatican City is a fascinating place to explore! While Vatican City might be the smallest state in Europe (only about 1,000 people reside within its walls), it looms large in the minds of Christians world-wide.
My view of Vatican City from the Cloud!
Over five million tourists visit Vatican City each year. If that figure seems a little daunting, then why not consider visiting the capital of Catholic Christianity over the autumn and winter months? The Festive Period unofficially begins on November 1 with All Saint’s Day; continues through December 8, the day of Immaculate Conception; December 25, Christmas Day; December 26, St. Stephen’s Day; January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and finally ends on January 6 with Epiphany. During this period and especially during the month of December, there are numerous religious and cultural events that bring the city alive with the Festive spirit!
Here’s a Pro Tip: The Vatican museums are always closed on Sundays, except for the last Sunday of every month when the museums open their doors for free! Remember that queues form quickly so start-out early not to be disappointed.
The principle airport into Rome, and thus Vatican City, is Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in the suburb of Fiumicino. However, there is a second airport, Ciampino Rome Airport, that is home to many low-cost airlines. From both airports, there are several modes of transport readily available, including car hire, private taxi, shuttle bus and the train. The FLI is a regional train and is my favourite mode of transport into Rome from Fiumicino. It’s fast, efficient and affordable. Trains depart from the airport train station every 15-minutes, and arrive in central Rome in 30-minutes. Alternatively, a cheaper mode of travel is by bus. A one-way ticket to central Rome costs around £5 and the journey takes just over an hour.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Rome, like all ancient cities, was not made to accommodate cars. Carefully consider alternatives before renting a car. There are few places to park, streets are narrow and you’ll need to have a very strong knowledge of Rome to navigate its ancient and medieval streets. Also, Vatican City is for pedestrians only – unless you’re the Pope!
Vatican city has some incredible sites to offer and during the Festive Period, the entire city of Rome helps out with cool events and exhibits. Here are some of my favourites:
- Saint Peter’s Basilica – You can’t miss this most spectacular example of Renaissance architecture in the heart of Vatican City. The church, more formally known as the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, was designed by a series of famous Renaissance artists including Michelangelo and Bernini. Its high alter is, by tradition, sited over the tomb of St. Peter, the Apostle.
Square?! Why isn’t it St. Peter’s Round?!
- Saint Peter’s Square – This enormous plaza beautifully surrounds St. Peter’s Basilica. At its centre is an Egyptian obelisk placed in the square by the Emperor Caligula when the area was a circus for chariot racing!
- Castel Sant’Angelo – For excellent views of Vatican City and wider Rome, climb to the rooftop of Castel Sant’Angelo. The building was originally the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian before being fortified during the Middle Ages and turned into a Papal stronghold and jail. Today this magnificent structure is a public museum. There is a covered passageway, the Passetto di Borgo, that links the Castle with Vatican City.
- Vatican Museums – The Vatican Museums include a collection of public art and sculpture museums found in Rome. Collectively the museums hold over 70,000 works of art gathered by the Catholic Church over the centuries.
Beautifully restored, I’m in Sistine you visit this Chapel!
- Sistine Chapel – The private chapel within the official residence of the pope, also known as the Apostolic Palace, is the site of the papal conclave. This beautiful 15th-century masterpiece of architecture boasts detailed frescos and internationally renowned artwork. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgement both by Michelangelo are the building’s two main attractions but there is so much more!
- Christmas Market in the Piazza Navona – Although these markets are liable to be cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, in normal years, the Christmas market in the Piazza Navona, is one of the coolest in the world! While most European cities have Christmas Markets, only Rome holds its largest in the iconic plaza with its incredible fountains by the artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini!
- Nativity Scenes at the Sala del Bramante – This display, near the Piazza del Popolo holds a huge collection of interesting nativity scenes from around the world that will help to fill you with the festive spirit!
Each neighbourhood in Rome competes to decorate the most beautifully during the Festive period, so a walk around Rome is a great way to connect with the season!
- Angrypig Birretta e Porchetta – Stop for a fantastic lunch at Angrypig Birretta e Porchetta, a small sandwich shop that specialises in all things pork! Order a porchetta sandwich and choose your own toppings.
There’s nothing to be angry about with this!
- Osteria dei Pontefici – Osteria is an affordable white table cloth restaurant that’s been run by the same family since 1959. The restaurant sits just a short walk from the Vatican and serves a mix of seafood, meat, pasta, and pizza courses in an incredible atmosphere!
- Tre Pupazzi – Tuck into traditional Italian dishes and Roman delights at Tre Pupazzi restaurant which sits in a beautiful 17th-century building. Reserve a table outside on the terrace and order the Tagliolini with Truffle. You won’t regret it!
While Vatican City might not have its own bars, Rome is bustling with late night clubs and hidden watering holes. Below are some of my favourite places to drink near Vatican City:
- Il Goccetto – This is a quaint little bar that’s particularly popular with the locals. Crowds of thirty-somethings gather here most nights to enjoy fine wine (there are over 800 bottles on the menu) and traditional bar snacks.
- Jerry Thomas Speakeasy – If you’re after a fun night out, start your evening at the Jerry Thomas Speakeasy. This 1920’s Prohibition themed bar has a long cocktail menu, and each drink is innovative and carefully crafted. It is consistently ranked as one of the top 50 bars in the world!
- The Factory – If you’re craving a good old beer, head to The Factory. This urban beer hall serves unique craft beer, pale ale, and traditional lagers. The bar is also a good place to take a break from Italian cuisine and delve into American burgers.
Staying in Vatican City might prove a little tricky as there’s no accommodation in the city-state itself. Instead, travellers stay in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Check out my three favourite hotels in Rome below:
- D.O.M. Rome – This boutique hotel has just eighteen fabulous suites and is perfectly located a short walk from the Vatican on the Via Giulia. Originally a 17th Century palace, it was later a Claretian Monastery. It’s service is impeccable and its location is one of the most historical in Rome!
Sunset over Vatican City is sublime!
- Hotel de la Ville – Romantic, elegant, and luxurious are all adjectives that spring to mind when I think of the Hotel de la Ville. The hotel sits inside an 18th-century palace and boasts a chic rooftop with memorable views over Rome. Vatican City is 30-minutes away by Metro.
- Hotel Indigo Rome St George – This affordable hotel is situated just a 20-minute walk from Vatican City and boasts an onsite spa, an outdoor and indoor restaurant, and a mini-gym. I particularly loved how close this hotel is to the lively district of Trastevere.
Often lost in a “tick the box” tour of Rome, Vatican City deserves a careful and relaxed look. My favourite time to visit is during the Festive Season when the crowds are low and the beauty is just as sublime!