Vatican City is the smallest city in the world, but it’s bursting with activity for locals and tourists alike.
To find the world’s smallest city, you’ll need to look for the world’s smallest country as well. You can find them both—Vatican City is in fact a country and a city—encircled by Rome, Italy. At only 0.17 square miles, the tiny city-state is not even a quarter of the size of the next smallest country, Monaco.
Though every country defines the word "city" differently, meaning some cities host populations of only a handful of residents, Vatican City is generally considered to be the smallest city by population size as well as by area. It has a population of only about 800 people, just over half of whom are citizens. However, many who do have Vatican City passports actually live abroad, working in diplomatic posts.
Priests, nuns, cardinals, and members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard (who have protected the Vatican officially since 1506, and do so still while wearing distinctive orange and blue striped uniforms) make up a large portion of those who reside in the city-state. The most famous resident, of course, is Pope Francis, who also serves as the monarch of the tiny country. Still, Vatican City is a distinct entity from the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church, the Holy See.
In 1929, the Holy See and Italy signed the Lateran Pacts, and Vatican City was founded. Despite its size, it has many of the hallmarks of any other country—it prints its own stamps, mints its own coins (Vatican City uses the Euro as well, easing any currency difficulties when crossing over from Italy) and has its own flag.
One thing Vatican City doesn’t have is a taxation system, but the tourism industry helps to make up for the lack of income, and with good reason. Despite its size, the tiny city has plenty to offer visitors, and its convenient location in central Rome makes it an easy and essential stop on any trip to Italy. Vatican City is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural and artistic significance. It boasts an impressive collection of Renaissance and Baroque art, including stunning Michelangelo frescoes.
There are plenty of tours which will show you the best the city has to offer, and if you are particularly interested in the history behind the art and architecture, these are a perfect option. Most also allow visitors to skip the line, which can be well worth the fee on its own. If you prefer to do it yourself, make sure to visit the Vatican Museums, where you will find an array of incredible art. The Sistine Chapel, which houses the incredible fresco ceiling painted by Michelangelo, is part of the museum complex. The museum also offers its own tours, including a multi-sensory tour to give blind and partially-sited visitors the opportunity to experience the artwork.
St. Peter’s Basilica, first built by Emperor Constantine between 324 and 325 AD, and later re-built in the 17th century, is also an essential stop. When you’re hungry, head to traveler-favorite Pizzarium for a square of pizza. It’s a short walk from the sites, but less crowded and more reasonably priced.
And of course, if you have no immediate plans to visit the tiny city, you can still check out the Vatican’s more religious goings-on on by following its leader on Twitter, @pontifex, or on Instagram, @Franciscus.