Turns out, it’s inside of another country.
What if I told you that the smallest country in the world was actually located inside another country? That’s right; Vatican City is .44 km² and is inside Rome, the capital of Italy. Home to the Pope and one of the largest churches in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican is the center of the Catholic Church, mostly funded by the donations of its one billion members. The rest of its funding comes from tourism. So, what is there to do in the smallest country in the world? Lots, actually.
Marvel at St. Peter’s Square
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Italian architect and the father of baroque style sculpture, designed the famous keyhole shaped piazza, so you know you’re in for a showstopper. Take a moment to marvel at the Doric columns, Egyptian obelisk, fountain, and colonnades while you wait in line for St. Peter’s Basilica or listen to the Pope speak. And don’t forget to go to the edge and place one foot in Vatican City and one foot in Rome so that you can say you stood in two countries at once.
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica
Admission is free to the Basilica, but expect lengthy lines to enter. Once inside, be sure to peek at Michelangelo’s famed sculpture, Pietà, and Bernini’s 10 story tall baldacchino, which stands over the main altar. If you’re looking for a unique sight, take either the stairs or elevator to the cupola, which offers a sprawling view over St. Peter’s Square. Below the church are the ancient “scavi,” or excavations. Only 250 people a day are allowed in the area known as St. Peter’s Tomb or the Vatican Necropolis, so be sure to get your tickets well in advance. Between the scavi and ground floor of the basilica are the grottoes, where you can view the tombs of dozens of Popes.
Discover the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Filled with art collected by past Popes, the Vatican Museums house several famous pieces including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and the Raphael Rooms. The impressive collection of classical and Renaissance art makes the Vatican Museums one of the most visited museums in the world. Pro tip: there are many additional rooms that are closed, but available to the public with a reservation. Make an appointment on the Vatican website to see the Chapel of Nicholas V, the Bramante Staircase, and the Cabinet of the Masks.
See The Pope
If you want to check “seeing the Pope” off your bucket list, you better plan your visit for a Wednesday or Sunday while he is in town. Papal Audiences are held on Wednesday mornings and consist of small teachings and readings, as well as a prayer and Apostolic Blessing. It’s best to get there early as most people arrive up to three hours beforehand to get a good seat. The other opportunity is at the Sunday Angelus, held at noon, where he appears from the window of his apartment and gives a speech and blessing.
Explore the Vatican City Gardens
Almost half of the Vatican City is covered by the Vatican Gardens. The sprawling green oasis was originally designed as a place of papal meditation way back in 1279. These days the grounds are available for guided tours focused on its many monuments and works of art.