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Vatican Question

Do we need any special paperwork to enter Vatican City (anything like a visa)? Can't seem to find a clear answer online. If so does anyone know where we get the required documents. Need information on visiting Vatican. Do we need tickets to visit certain areas of the Vatican (like museums). Should I buy them online in advance?

Posted by
465 posts

I'd def use a RS recommended guide for the Vatican as there is SO MUCH to see and learn, you will be overwhelmed on your own between the museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica, etc -- it is A LOT and you will learn and understand so much more with someone to teach you and point out the highlights to you. They will also usually get the tickets you need as part of the cost. And they know how to navigate the crowds as it is VERY overwhelming.

Posted by
518 posts

When planning an international trip, begin by going into travel.state.gov and click on International Travel > Country Information and enter Vatican City in the Learn about your destination field. It says your passport must be valid six months upon your return home and you must have two blank pages. It's also a good idea to Enroll in STEP, so you'll be notified of all changes travelers need to be aware of.
You will not need to carry your passport when going to Vatican City. As a matter of fact, you won't even realize that you are in another country other than IT.
I also recommend that you buy RS Rome or IT guidebook to learn what he recommends about buying tickets to see Vatican Museum.

Posted by
17891 posts

I have no idea whether the situation will be different when Italy reopens, but the Vatican Museums have been unbelievably crowded in recent years. The usual suggestion for those who want to see the Sistine Chapel (which is part of the Vatican Museums) is to take an early-access tour that enters the Museums before the general public. I believe the Vatican website itself offers tours of that type, and they are less expensive than the commercial offerings. However, if you aren't on a tight budget, you might want to opt for the Pristine Sistine tour operated by Walks of Italy; it gets very good reviews on this forum.

Posted by
9081 posts

If you didn't know you were entering Vatican City you would think it's just part of Rome. No borders. No Guards. The only difference is the souvenir stands sell bobblehead popes.

Certain buildings are not open to the public.

Posted by
117 posts

No visa necessary!
They have closed the Official Vatican tours as of March 15th due to the uptick in Covid cases. They are offering refunds to all ticket holders. No tickets are available for future dates.
When they reopen, buy your tour tickets from the Official Vatican Website. They have tours for early before the crowds, late evening etc. They also would be giving refunds if they have to close again. That may or may not be the case with the 3rd party tours.

Posted by
2991 posts

@Frank II
There is one more difference. They have their own post office, with their own stamps. If you mail from there, your letters may actually arrive in the U.S. in a timely fashion, unlike those mailed from Italy.

Posted by
11985 posts

Hi, Clifford, and welcome to the RS forum gang. :O)

Do we need tickets to visit certain areas of the Vatican (like museums).
Yes. Only certain areas of Vatican City are open to tourists, and all but St Peter's Basilica and St Peter's Square require tickets. The basilica and square are free but as already noted, there is a security check to enter the church, and the line can be long.

Should I buy them online in advance?
Yes, definitely. Especially for the museums, and/or the Scavi, if wishing to visit that part. The Scavi is far underneath the basilica and is said to be where St. Peter is buried. Tickets are limited and are purchased from a different site (see below) than the one Joe helpfully provided above for museum tickets/tours.

http://www.scavi.va/content/scavi/en.html

The ticket line for the museums can be very, very long: NOT something you want to waste time standing in so buy tickets in advance as soon as they become available for your dates. Prior to COVID closings, tickets for the museums became available a couple of months in advance. But as acraven stated, the museums have been very, very crowded in recent years, especially along the route to the Sistine. Instead of just buying entry tickets and navigating the museums on your own, booking an early entrance tour which gets you into the chapel before the worst of the mob + guides you to select highlights is advised for efficiency and comfort: there are miles of museum collections to tramp so pretty much impossible to do them ALL in a day, nor do most folks wish to see every single collection.

The other advantage of a tour is that most of them end up in the basilica via a passage reserved specifically for tours. This allows you to skip the walk-around to the church's exterior entrance and a potentially long wait in that security line. The Vatican offers its own version (when fully open) and there are good ones offered by some independent companies, such as Walks Of Italy's very popular "Pristine Sistine" which acraven had suggested. Most museum+ basilica tours last 3.5 hours or so.

Posted by
1612 posts

I'd highly recommend a guided tour for the Vatican. We used https://www.througheternity.com/ for the Vatican and the next day for the Forum/Colosseum tour. By far the best guided tour company we've used in any of our Europe trips.

Posted by
2928 posts

Beware of pickpockets. My wife had a really old iPod pickpocketed literally right at the entrance to St. Peter’s. Whoever took it probably thought they were getting a pocketbook because of the leather cover. Heck, it didn’t even have WiFi. Get your Vatican museum tickets beforehand if you know for certain which day you’ll be visiting. After finishing with the Sistine chapel, exit through the door in the rear on the right. Unless they’ve closed that exit, it will put you by St. Peter’s and you won’t have to go through security again.

Posted by
11985 posts

...exit through the door in the rear on the right. Unless they’ve
closed that exit, it will put you by St. Peter’s and you won’t have to
go through security again.

Access through that door into the church isn't assured if you're not on a tour so I wouldn't count on it. There were reports that some of the guards were checking individuals for badges as that's supposed to be an extra benefit of paying for a tour.

Posted by
1092 posts

We've been twice, first thing in the morning, and walked straight in. One day was a Friday for sure.

"Access through that door into the church isn't assured if you're not on a tour so I wouldn't count on it' - we lucked out by accident on our first visit by following a small group.

Clifford, you may also be interested in doing the Scavi Tour. You have to provide a date/range of dates you will be in Rome well in advance, together with a copy of your passport. It was not that expensive, as I remember:

http://www.stpetersbasilica.info/Necropolis/ScaviTour.htm

Posted by
11985 posts

Asking the same as Nigel, Gundersen? The links in the site you've provided do not appear to work, and there's no need (anymore, at least) to provide a copy of your passport for Scavi tickets. I'll welcome correction if in error but believe the website for the excavation office/tour reservations is the one I'd provided above.

Posted by
1925 posts

I've been fortunate to visit the Vatican Museums 250+ times, primarily as a guide. As mentioned, you don't need your passport; We lived next to the Vatican and often cut through St. Peter's Square when walking to a restaurant - we used to joke about visiting another country on our walks. One thing not mentioned, do make sure you read the clothing requirements - and don't bring large bags or long umbrellas or you'll have to check those before entering the museums (and then walk all away around the walls when your tour is over to retrieve them). 

Besides St. Peter's Basilic, the Vatican Necropolis (Scavi Tour), and the Vatican Museums (which includes the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, Pinacoteca, Etruscan Museum, Egyptian Museum), you can also climb St. Peter's Dome or go down to the Vatican Grottoes. With specialized tours, you can see Cappella Niccolina, the Vatican Gardens, Pope Emerito's House, or the Vatican Radio Station. I did a tour once with Access Italy where we were able to go to the Pope’s Mosaic studio and watch & speak to experts restoring priceless mosaics. That same guide also took us in through the BACKDOOR of St. Peter's Basilica - which I never knew existed. IC Bellagio has a tour where you walk with the key holder, who is responsible for the opening of the 300 doors which lead to the splendid frescoed rooms of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. (Yes, you even get to switch on the lights of the Sistine Chapel!). 

I would suggest if it's your first time visiting the Vatican, you do secure a tour. There is so much to see! And if it's in your budget, do a private tour so you can stop and ask questions or explore areas more important to you. Many upscale tour companies - like Access Italy, IC Bellagio, or I.D.I. - have incredible access and can create unique experiences. I once had clients meet the Pope on his morning walk to work... as the guide had that access (and knew where to position the clients). But these tours are not budget-priced.

There are so many unique stories about the Vatican. As part of my work, I've probably been on 50+ tours. For a small group tour, Take Walks (also called Walks of Italy as the original company has expanded into other cities) does a good job with the Pristine Sistine Early Entrance Small Group Vatican Tour, which gets you in before the rush.

TIP - One area often overlooked...Pinacoteca.This incredible wing has the last painting of Raphael, The Transfiguration. See if you can figure out what parts were painted after his death. In the room before this painting, you'll find a painting by his father, Giovanni Santi. It's no match for his son's work. You'll also see - if it's not on loan, Carravaggio's, The Entombment of Christ and Da Vinci's, St Jerome. So definitely worth the walk-through!

Posted by
11985 posts

One small addition to Ron's (RnR) helpful info above? Don't confuse the Vatican Necropolis (commonly referred to as the Scavi) with the Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis. While both require a tour, they are different excavations, are reserved through different websites (Via Triumphalis is ticketed through the Vatican Museum site) and have different entry points.

Worth mention as visitors have been known to confuse them. :O)

Posted by
5823 posts

Unless you are the sort of person who always needs a guide to do anything you really don't need a guide for anything at the Vatican that is open to the public. You do need a guided tour for the Scavi tour. I did that about 25 years ago and no passport copy was needed to register for a ticket, but don't know if that is required now. If you enjoy guided tours and tend to book them for everything then go for it -- BUT they are not required for a good experience at the Vatican.

It is dead easy to book your own ticket for the museums and explore what interests you at your own pace. Back before reserved tickets were available, the lines were horrendous. Then we could usually find short lines around noon, but I would today not bother without a reserved timed ticket. The Basilica is free but of course these days a security line is part of the deal. None of this requires a guide if you are able to do your own research and decide what personally interests you.

Posted by
1925 posts

There are certain sites where a guide is probably not needed. The Eiffel Tower comes to mind as the views say it all! But after 8 or 9 times visiting the Louvre, I finally participated in a small group tour and enjoyed it so much more. Since then, I've done two private tours sandwiched around independent visits there.

In Rome, there are two locations where I always recommend a guide for first-timers: The Vatican and The Forum. The former is so large and there's so much history. At the Forum, for many, it may just look like a pile of rocks. A guide can break bring history to life in the Forum with stories, before & after flipbooks, and incredible insights.

A great guide is a wonderful storyteller, who reads his audiences and enhances their experience. They can make the 1520's relevant today - to all ages. As I studied to guide in Rome, we were encouraged to "audit" other tours (with the guides' permission) to learn more facts but also to enhance our delivery. (Of course, then we had to go validate what they said!). Hearing some of the locals talk with such passion (and knowledge) really helps you connect. And they inject humor, such as the "legendary" Penis Room in the Vatican or the story of how Daniele da Volterra became known as the "underwear painter."

Using a guide is a personal choice and it may work for some and not others. Yet, I still remember all the incredible guides I've met in Moscow, Berlin, London, Rome, and so many other spots. And sometimes just hearing their point of view is amazing. In Russia, after a tour of the cosmonaut museum, we invited our guide to lunch and debated the USA vs. the Soviet Union space race. In London, our guide took us exactly to the best spot to watch the changing of the guard - we were three feet away from the guards marching by. In Berlin, we got to hear stories about growing up in isolated West Berlin in the '70s and '80s. in Warsaw, we "discussed" the Cold War and what it was to live through the changes. In Rome, we'd find out their recommendations for the best "local" restaurants. In Switzerland, we biked to vineyards, met the owner, and had an amazing tour - and found out why we could not buy these wines outside CH! Guides have local experiences, knowledge, and ACCESS!

If I'm only going to go to a location once - and I have a compressed amount of time - I'll often search for a private guide. If I've been to a site - like the Louvre many times and want a new impression - I'll find a guide. So I think you can pick & choose when to use a guide and be selective. By doing so, you can enhance your trip independently or with guide support. Good luck in Rome!!!

Posted by
1092 posts

Kathy/Nigel. November 2012. We saw Ennio Morricone in concert as well.

Posted by
626 posts

Ignorance is Bliss. Get a guide for your first Vatican Museum experience. A great guide can substantially add to an experience. And you do not need to leave when the guide does...instead of having the guide cutting out to the St. Paul’s after the Sistine Chapel head back into the Museums and explore further on your own.

Posted by
11985 posts

...instead of having the guide cutting out to the St. Paul’s after the
Sistine Chapel head back into the Museums and explore further on your
own.

I think Bob meant St Peter's. While possible to ditch your tour at the Sistine, you can't backtrack into the museums from the basilica: it's a one-way internal passage. You'd just need to be sure that if you leave your guide/tour at the chapel that you're OK missing that part of the tour, if it includes St. Pete's, and are OK dealing with the separate, potentially long security line at the exterior church entrance.

There is an audio tour just for St Peter's that is supposed to fast-track visitors to the head of the security line but I've not done it and have read that it hasn't worked well for every visitor who has purchased it.

Posted by
16 posts

For the well-traveled, I would recommend using Rick's audioguide of St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel. I remember sitting on the side benches of the Sistine enjoying the audio tour that I could actually hear using ear buds. I noted some tour guides trying to keep their herds together and the mumble of their collective voices was admonished by the guards periodically yelling for them and their visitors to shush. I had an ideal and restful seat while the others stood around their guide. St. Peter's was equally enjoyable with Rick's audio. The only caution is that Rick's secret back door tunnel to St. Peters might be restricted by guards.

For the Rome novice, I would recommend walking or taking a taxi rather than public transportation unless you are wearing a security jacket (Scottevest types) and have experience in your hometown with mass transit. Too bad that the transit to the Vatican has such a bad reputation for pickpockets.

Like others have stated, all of our pre-Covid advice might be obsolete when things open up.

Posted by
626 posts

Bob was tired and misspoke. Yes, St Peter’s and yes I have back track from The Sistine numerous times (.the museum complex is huge, even the best guides take you to 25%; easy to work your way back through rooms you never knew existed and depart from where you first entered). A private guide (or very small group) can do winders in setting the stage, educating you on the history and highlights, and then cutting you lose once at the Sistine Chapel.

Posted by
11985 posts

Peter, Paul... Easily confused when one is short of zzzz's, Bob. :O)

Pickpockets...The vast majority of RS forum posters have successfully traveled Europe without losing a single thing to light fingers. There are a host of ways to keep your valuables secure so by using some of those methods, there's little to fear. As pickpockets can be hanging about pretty much any 'tourist magnet' location in the world, an ounce of prevention is easily worth the peace of mind!

But that's another conversation, and this might not be your first trip abroad anyway, Clifford?