Vatican City is an independent country within Rome, Italy, and is the temporal seat of the Pope, who heads the Roman Catholic Church. It is reputed to be the world's smallest state. Built on a low hill, the Vatican's walls enclose an area of just over 100 acres, making it easy to traverse on foot.
Vatican City is accessible by taxi, bus, or on foot. The Metro line takes tourists to Cipro, where the museums are located, or to Ottaviano to see St. Peter's Basilica. You can also take the tram to Piazza del Risorgimento. The Vatican Euro—the country's official currency—is the rarest in circulation in Europe. As a collector's item, it is valued far higher than its face value.
Although many of the Vatican buildings are closed to the general public, those areas that are open are hugely popular; the most popular are St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican museums.
The Vatican museum is considered one Europe's greatest art galleries and has gained fame for its spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel adorned with Michelangelo's frescos. It takes approximately one hour to wander through the halls and buildings before you reach the Sistine Chapel. Since the museum closes quite early, it is best to visit it first and then move on to the Basilica. A restaurant, bar, and pizzeria are all available at the museum.
To enter St. Peter's Basilica, you need to pass through a metal detector. The queue is sometimes long but moves quickly. If you have the energy, take the elevator to the roof and climb the narrow stairwell (featuring 323 steps) to the top of the dome. The view from the top is unforgettable and well worth the expended energy. Before you leave, venture downstairs into the crypt, where you'll find the tomb of the last Pope. Visitors to the Basilica are expected to dress conservatively. Shorts, short skirts/dresses, and sleeveless tops are not accepted. Bags may need to be left at the entrance. You will be permitted to take photos so long as you don't use the flash. This can, however, greatly impact the quality of your photos due to the dim lighting in the Basilica.
The Basilica is open daily except on Wednesday mornings, when it is closed for audiences with the Pope. Visitors are welcome to attend daily mass at the prescheduled times.
Short tours are available daily, giving tourists the opportunity to view the otherwise private Vatican Gardens. Tours of the gardens should be booked a day in advance, while tours of the Necropolis or the Saint's Tomb should be booked a week in advance.
The Pope makes an appearance at noon on Sunday and on Wednesday mornings to give his blessing to the people from a balcony. To get a free ticket, check with your hotel or stand in line at St. Peter's Basilica to receive one from the Swiss guards.
Inside the Piazza di San Pietro is an ancient Egyptian obelisk that once marked the center of the Circus of Nero, where St. Peter was ultimately killed. A plaque now stands in its place since it was relocated to another part of the Piazza by Pope Sixtus V. Upon its relocation, the Chigi Star, which contained pieces of the True Cross, was added to it. It is the second largest Egyptian obelisk, following the Lateran obelisk.