One Day in Vatican City: the Best 1-day Itinerary

Welcome to the heart of Catholicism, Vatican City – a sovereign city-state and the smallest country in the world!

Planning to spend one day in Vatican City and wondering about the best things to see and do? This Vatican City 1 day itinerary has everything you will need to make the most of your visit to this holy city.

For many travellers, visiting this religious hub is a bucket list item and I completely understand why. With its awe-inspiring architecture, breathtaking art collections and fascinating history, Vatican City has much to offer for culture enthusiasts and spiritual seekers alike.

This itinerary will include more than just a day at the Vatican.
Beyond the iconic Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel, this Vatican itinerary includes what to do in Vatican City like where to stroll, where to eat and other attractions all based on my experiences and staying in Vatican City.

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Is Vatican City Worth Visiting?

view of trees and top of church dome on a one day in Vatican City itinerary

Absolutely! Vatican City is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, art, and religion. As the smallest country in the world, it packs a lot of cultural and historical significance into a small space.

Visitors to Vatican City can explore the stunning St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the world’s largest and most beautiful churches, which houses some of the most important works of art and artifacts in Catholicism.

The Vatican Museums offer a unique opportunity to see masterpieces of art and sculpture from across the centuries. Highlights include the Sistine Chapel and the Gallery of Maps, which features a collection of stunning 16th-century maps of Italy.

If you’re planning a trip to Rome, a visit to Vatican City is a must. Even if you’re not religious or particularly interested in art, Vatican City is a fascinating place to visit.

One Day in Vatican City Itinerary

Here are the best things to do in Vatican City in a day.

1. St. Peter’s Square

Vatican square for vatican city itinerary

A day in Vatican City is bound to start here. St. Peter’s Square sits in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

One of the first things you’ll notice about St. Peter’s Square is its size. It’s one of the largest public squares in the world, spanning over 5 hectares (12.5 acres) and capable of holding over 300,000 people. The square is shaped like an enormous ellipse and is surrounded by colonnades that stretch over 300 meters (984 feet) in length.

One of the most prominent features of St. Peter’s Square is the central obelisk, which stands at a towering height of 25 meters (83 feet) and dates back to ancient Egypt. It was brought to Rome in 37 AD and placed in the Circus of Nero, but it was later moved to its current location in St. Peter’s Square in 1586.

statue of people on boat in square while on a one day in vatican itinerary

Two fountains lie on either side of the obelisk. The fountains were designed by the Italian sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and are known for their intricate Baroque-style details. They’re a popular spot to snap some photos and soak in the beauty of the square.

Visiting information:

  • Opening hours: 24/7
  • Cost: Free
  • Travel Pro Tips: if you want to include this in your Vatican City one day itinerary try and visit before 9 am if you want to see it before the crowds

2. The Vatican Museums

What to see in Vatican City will most certainly be the Vatican Museums, as they contain one of the world’s largest and most valuable art collections, with over 70,000 works. With its 26 museums and almost 8 km (5 miles) of wall space – it will be impossible to see it all! That’s why I recommend you choose a select few that interest you the most to avoid museum fatigue.

Strategically, a great many museums that I’ve listed you’re bound to see as they are en route to getting to the Sistine Chapel. There’s no avoiding them.

The other thing that can’t be avoided is the crowds. You will be moving as one large mass, from museum to museum spread over two floors to get to the Sistine Chapel.

  1. Vatican Pinacoteca – features a stunning collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings from artists such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini and Leonardo da Vinci. Out of the 18 rooms, seek out room 8 which holds three Raphael paintings.
  2. Pio-Clementine Museum – home to some of the most important ancient Greek and Roman sculptures in the world, including the iconic Laocoon and His Sons statue.
  3. Chiaramonte Museum – showcases art and artifacts of the ancient Near East, including ancient Babylonian, Assyrian, and Persian artifacts. The Braccio Nuovo, or New Wing, is where the large sculptures like the colossal statue of River Nile.
  4. Gregorian Egyptian Museum – features a collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt including mummies, sarcophagi, and funerary objects spread out in nine rooms.
  5. Gregorian Etruscan Museum – showcases the art and artifacts of the Etruscan civilization, which was a dominant force in central Italy before the rise of the Roman Empire.
  6. Tapestry Gallery – houses a stunning collection of tapestries, many of which were commissioned by Pope Clement VII in the 16th century. The tapestries were designed by Raphael and painters from the Netherlands in Renaissance and Baroque styles.
  7. Gallery of Maps – is one of the most famous galleries in the Vatican Museums, and for good reason. It features a series of 40 maps of Italy, painted in the 16th century, which showcase the incredible cartography skills of the time. Not to mention the incredible ceiling.
  8. Raphael Rooms – is a series of four interconnected rooms decorated by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael (and his assistants). The four Raphael Rooms are the Room of Constantine, the Room of the Signature, the Room of Heliodorus, and the Room of the Fire of Borgo with each one depicting different scenes.
  9. Borgia Apartments – a set of six lavish rooms once occupied by Pope Alexander VI. The highlight of these rooms is the beautiful fresco cycle in the Sala dei Santi, which shows scenes from the lives of various saints.

All of these museums will lead you now to the Sistine Chapel which is located in the Vatican Museums.

Visiting information (Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums):

  • Address: Viale Vaticano, 00165 Rome
  • Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. From July 1 to Oct 31, on Friday and Saturday, the Vatican is open until 10:30 pm (final entry 8:30 pm).
  • Cost: €21 to purchase tickets from the official Vatican website (see below tips). On the last Sunday of each month, the museums are free from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. But expect that it will be specially packed on those days.
  • Travel Pro Tips: Without a skip-the-entrance-line ticket expect the line to be up to 1 to 2 km long (even starting well before 8:30 am). It’s not recommended you buy online from the official Vatican website or simply show up and expect to get a ticket on the spot.

3. Sistine Chapel

One of the most famous and beautiful chapels in the world was built between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV. The chapel is famous for its stunning frescoes, which cover the walls and ceiling of the entire space.

The most famous part of the Sistine Chapel is, of course, the ceiling, which was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. The ceiling depicts scenes from the book of Genesis, including the creation of Adam and Eve, the temptation and fall of man, and the flood. The frescoes are notable for their incredible detail and the way they seem to come alive under the chapel’s beautiful lighting.

Another interesting feature of the Sistine Chapel is the Last Judgment fresco on the altar wall, which was also painted by Michelangelo between 1535 and 1541.

In addition to the frescoes, the Sistine Chapel is also famous for its beautiful architecture and design. The chapel has a long rectangular shape, with a high ceiling and a beautiful altar at the end. The walls are decorated with beautiful tapestries and the floor is made of beautiful marble.

One of the most interesting things about the Sistine Chapel is that it’s still in use today. The chapel is used for important religious ceremonies and events, including the election of new popes.

Visiting information (Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums):

  • Address: Viale Vaticano, 00165 Rome
  • Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. From July 1 to Oct 31, on Friday and Saturday, the Vatican is open until 10:30 pm (final entry 8:30 pm).
  • Cost: €21 to purchase tickets from the official Vatican website (see below tips). On the last Sunday of each month, the museums are free from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. But expect that it will be specially packed on those days.
  • Travel Pro Tips: Without a skip-the-entrance-line ticket expect the line to be up to 1 to 2 km long (even starting well before 8:30 am). It’s not recommended you buy online from the official Vatican website or simply show up and expect to get a ticket on the spot. NOTE: there are no photos allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Security is very strict about this (but managed to sneak a couple, before I got my warning!).

4. Spiral Staircase

spiral staircase at the vatian city in 1 day

Every photographer will want to capture the famous and most beautiful spiral staircase. You can find this famous staircase at the very end of the visit as you exit the Vatican Museums.

5. St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

trees with church dome in one day in vatican city 1 day itinerary

St. Paul’s Basilica is one of the most significant churches in Europe. It was founded in the 4th century and has been rebuilt and restored several times over the centuries. The current basilica was completed in 1854 in Renaissance-style architecture.

One of the most striking features of St. Paul’s Basilica is the massive 80-metre-long nave, which is one of the largest in the world. The nave is lined with marble columns and features beautiful mosaics and frescoes on the ceiling.

The highlight of the basilica is undoubtedly the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle, which is located under the main altar. The tomb is a significant pilgrimage site for Christians from all over the world. The basilica also contains several other important tombs, including those of several popes.

St. Peters Dome is the tallest in the world and the entrance to the dome is on the right side of the basilica, above the visitor center. Climb the steps for a view of Vatican City.

guard at door to church in vatican city itinerary

Visiting information:

  • Address: Viale Vaticano, 00165 Rome
  • Opening hours: Open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. From April 1 to September 30 it’s open until 6 pm
  • Cost: Free (Basilica)
  • Dome Cost: €6 to climb the 551 steps or €8 to take the elevator midway up. From the elevator, it’s another 320 steps to the top. Allow about an hour for the dome experience.
  • Travel Pro Tips: allow an hour if visiting the Dome

6. Vatican Gardens

fountain with rock formation on a day at the vatican city itinerary

Visiting the Vatican Gardens has to be the best-kept secret! This hidden gem is one of the most serene and beautiful gardens in Europe. Not only does it offer a breathtaking view of St. Peter’s Basilica, but you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of the grounds.

But there’s much more to the Vatican Gardens than just a beautiful view. Throughout the 23 hectares (57 acres), about half the size of Vatican City is a wide range of horticultural plants and trees imported from all over the world.

Fragrant rose gardens, winding paths through the tree canopy woods, beautifully manicured lawns and numerous fountains and statues add to the peaceful ambiance. Another highlight of the Vatican Gardens is the Vatican Grottoes, a series of underground chambers that contain tombs and monuments of popes throughout history.

Included in the Vatican Museums entrance ticket is one of the highlights – the spectacular Belvedere Courtyard, a stunning open-air space that offers panoramic views of Rome. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and many other iconic landmarks, making it an ideal spot for taking photographs.

Visiting information:

  • Opening hours: Open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm
  • Cost: varies (see booking of a group tour)
  • Travel Pro Tips: you can only visit the Vatican Gardens on a group tour (see below group tours for more information)

7. Stroll the Streets of the Borgo Neighbourhood

Just beyond the walls of the Vatican City, behind St. Peter’s Basilica and located along the right bank of the Tiber River, you’ll find the small charming neighbourhood of Borgo. Be sure to include this in your Vatican 1 day itinerary.

Due to its coat of arms featuring a lion, the area is also known as Leonine City.

fountain between 2 buildings while on vatican itinerary

One of the best streets to stroll is Borgo Pio. This cobbled stone street is chock full of cafes, restaurants and scenic spots, like a fountain. Venture down the side streets of Via Plauto and Via degli Ombrellari to Borgo Vittorio as well. It won’t take you long to explore, but it’s worth it!

It’s also a fantastic spot to go and refuel for that Vatican itinerary! Here are the places I recommend (and tried) for food and drink for your 1 day in Vatican City:

  • Breakfast: Gran Caffè Borgo (169 Borgo Pio) and Bar Latteria Giuliani (48 Borgo Pio)
  • Lunch: Borgosteria (161 Borgo Pio), Al Vecchio Forno Old Bakery (159 Borgo Pio), Mordi Sandwichouse (139 Borgo Pio)
  • Aperitif: Passpartout (50 Borgo Pio), Il Sorpasso (31/33 via Properzio)
  • Gelato: L’arena del Gelato (1 Borgo Pio) and Hedera (179 Borgo Pio)
  • Dinner: Rione XIV Bistrot (21 Borgo Pio), Da Romolo alla Mole Adriana (12 Vicolo del Campanile), Borghiciana Pastificio Artigianale (186 Borgo Pio)

8. Castle Sant’Angelo

Castle Sant’Angelo is a historic fortress that sits on the bank of the Tiber River. Climb to the top of the fortress, and you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of Vatican City and beyond.

The castle has been used for various purposes throughout history, from a mausoleum for Roman emperors to a papal residence, and its exhibits reflect this rich and varied past.

One of the highlights of Castle Sant’Angelo is the Passetto di Borgo, a secret passage that connects the castle to Vatican City. This passage was famously used by Pope Clement VII to escape the Sack of Rome in 1527.

You can also see the prison cells, where many famous figures were held captive throughout history. From the notorious murderer Beatrice Cenci to the scientist Galileo Galilei, these cells offer a glimpse into the darker side of Italian history and the lives of those who were imprisoned here.

Visiting information:

  • Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50
  • Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am to 7:30 pm
  • Cost: €12.00 (free for those under the age of 18), free first Sunday of the month

9. Pont Sant’Angelo

bridge with 5 arches leading to round castle on vatican city 1 day itinerary

Pont Sant’Angelo, known as the Bridge of Angels, is a historic pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River.

The bridge is adorned with ten beautiful angel statues that were designed by the renowned Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his pupils. This is a great spot to come early in the morning to catch the sunrise or in the evening for sunset watching before a late dinner.

Vatican Tickets

church dome and fountain on a one day in vatican city tour

Knowing that the Vatican receives up to 20,000 visitors per day means this is an attraction where skip-the-line tickets or a Vatican city tour are an absolute must. The lines are long – 1 to 2 km long – and so the extra cost of booking with Get Your Guide is worth it!

There are many different Vatican tours you can go with, so I’ve selected the most popular and highly rated. Choose the right Vatican City tickets that work best for you.

Ultimate Planning Tips for Things to Do in Vatican City

fountain with columns at vatican city itinerary

How long to spend in Vatican City

Because everyone is a different type of traveller, I haven’t prescribed a strict time-based itinerary. Some will want to spend several hours, and others will be so overwhelmed by the crowds and give up after only a couple of hours.

Go there knowing it is impossible to see it all. Choose what interests you the most, and without a doubt, get your skip-the-line entrance tickets well in advance.

How to get there

  • By Metro: You can take Metro Line A (the red line) and get off at the Ottaviano station, which is the closest stop to Vatican City. From there, it’s a short walk to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • By Bus: Several buses run from various parts of Rome to Vatican City. The most popular bus routes are 40, 62, 64, and 81. These buses stop near St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museums.
  • By Walking: Depending on where you are in Rome, you can also walk to Vatican City. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk from the historic center of Rome to St. Peter’s Square.

How to attend a Papal Audience

rows of chairs in front of vatican city things to do

On Wednesdays, if the Pope is in the Vatican, you’ll have an opportunity to see the Pope and receive his blessing! It’s called the Papal Audience and it’s held at St. Peter’s Square, to accommodate the very large crowd that gathers.

Most of the readings during the Audience are in Italian, but occasionally you’ll hear some in English, French, German, Spanish, Polish, or Portuguese.

At the end of the Audience, the Pope will pray with everyone and extend blessings to loved ones, especially those who are ill or suffering. And if you bring any religious items like rosary beads, the Pope will bless them too! It’s a really special experience, especially for those of the Christian faith.

Visiting information:

  • Address: St. Peter’s Square
  • Date and Time: Wednesdays (when Pope is in the Vatican) at 9:15 am with the service lasting 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Travel Pro Tips: Order tickets in advance to secure a spot, visitors often arrive 2-3 hours in advance of the General Audience

Where I Stayed

When I visit Rome, I always like to stay in different neighbourhoods throughout the city so I get to know the area well.

I’ve stayed in the neighbourhoods of Monti, Esquilino and Borgo. I love the Borgo neighbourhood. Not only is it mere steps to Vatican City, but it’s also chock full of great restaurants and is central to the top things to do in Rome.

Sistina Ark Apartment

This apartment is industrial-chic. With its original features of the beamed ceiling, medieval door and tile flooring there’s a modern edge with its minimalist light-bulb fittings, vintage locker-style cabinets and poster bed in clean lines. It’s a spacious studio with a separate kitchen space with large windows looking out to a private courtyard.

You couldn’t ask for a better host who is attentive and helpful. As well as offering daily cleaning, an ideal location on the charming Borgio Pio Street and some surprises in the fridge. I’d stay at any of their apartments again in a heartbeat!

Click here to check prices and book your dates

Sistina Chic Apartment

loft apartment with stone wall in vatican city

Step inside this architecturally designed space where a wall of glass shows off the ancient Passetto walls of the garden beyond. Everything is custom- from the furniture to the design elements of the floating loft space.

The communal garden of privacy vines offers a quiet oasis to relax. Although I didn’t stay in this apartment, the host provided me with a tour, and all I can say is… WOW!

Click here to check prices and book your dates

8 Interesting Facts About Vatican City

fountain with columns on vatican city itinerary
  1. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, both in terms of area and population. It covers an area of just 44 hectares (110 acres) and has a population of around 800 people.
  2. Vatican City is the only country in the world that is surrounded by a city – Rome, Italy.
  3. The official language of Vatican City is Latin, but Italian is also widely spoken.
  4. The Vatican City is the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope is its head of state.
  5. The Vatican has its own post office, radio station, and newspaper.
  6. The Vatican City has its own currency and flag, which is white with two crossed keys and the papal tiara, symbolizing the keys to heaven and the power of the pope.
  7. Vatican City is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with millions of visitors every year and 20,000 in one day.
  8. The Swiss Guard is responsible for the security of the Vatican City and the Pope. The guard’s distinctive uniform is made up of a blue, red, and yellow striped jacket, dark blue trousers, a black beret, and a white collar.

FAQ About Vatican Itinerary

Can you spend a whole day in the Vatican?

Yes, you can easily spend a whole day in the Vatican. It’s recommended to dedicate at least 6-8 hours to exploring the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

What are the best days to visit the Vatican?

The best days to visit the Vatican are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for fewer crowds. The busiest days to visit are Mondays (due to Rome museums being closed), Wednesdays (Papal Audience) and the weekends.

What is the dress code for the Vatican?

The Vatican has a strict dress code that requires shoulders and knees to be covered. Avoid shorts, skirts above the knee, and sleeveless tops.

How old is the Vatican?

The Vatican is approximately 1,700 years old, having been established as an independent state in 1929. However, its history dates back to the 4th century.

Can you just walk into Vatican City?

Yes, you can just walk into Vatican City from Rome and you won’t even notice a discernable difference between when you’re in Rome or Vatican City. That means no passport or Visa is required to visit.

As a Holidaymaker

Vatican City is a truly incredible destination that should not be missed. This 1-day itinerary will allow you to experience some of the most breathtaking sights this tiny city-state offers. From the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Basilica to the tranquil beauty of the Vatican Gardens, there is something for everyone here in Vatican City.

Use my Italy Travel Guide to start your planning now.