During my second visit to Rome in September 2013, my friend Nic and I took a day to visit Vatican City, the walled city within the city of Rome, which is home to the Pope. This was also my second visit to the Vatican, and I appreciated the museums even more than I did the first time, solidifying my belief that the collective of the Vatican Museums is one of the best in the world.
The Vatican has an incredible collection of sculptures and paintings, including a number of renaissance masterpieces that is unmatched in any other museum. Halls upon halls are adorned with beautiful classical statues, paintings, tapestries, and murals, including a whole wing decorated with frescoes by Raphael, and of course the famous Sistine chapel, covered from top to bottom with murals by Michelangelo.
The complex is a collection of multiple Papal museums which are interconnected with each other and are accessible with one general entrance ticket; the museums are all housed within the city limits of Vatican City. With so many wings containing so much art, it’s easy to spend an entire day exploring the Vatican Museums, so the outdoor garden in the centre of the museums, home to the iconic Sphere within Sphere sculpture and landscaped lawns, makes for a nice break in between.
On this second visit, I got to appreciate the Sistine Chapel with new eyes, after being disappointed by the experience on my first visit in 2008 (too small, too crowded). The Sistine Chapel was just as busy this occasion, but knowing what to expect, I was able to see past the crowds and admire the works, and somehow the building itself seemed bigger and more impressive than I remembered. I also got to see the Raphael Rooms – the entire wing decorated with some of Raphael’s most famous murals, which are now my favourite part of the museum – for the first time, as they had been closed to the public during my first visit in 2008!
If you visit Rome, you must go to the Vatican Museums. They will be crowded with tourists, but the works of art you’ll get to admire are worth the hassle. We bought our tickets online in advance, which helped us avoid a two-hour plus queue (no joke!), which definitely made our experience much more comfortable. If you’re not familiar with art, you can also join in a tour, which will help you understand the art and history of the Vatican better, and give you express access.
Outside of the museums, the St Peter’s Basilica is the other great must-visit attraction within Vatican City. A visit to the Basilica is free of charge (yay!) but that means the waiting time to go in can be long (boo!); either way, the time spent in a queue to go in is worth every second. This Basilica is said to be the final resting place of St Peter, and many statues inside and outside the Basilica depict him, holding the key to heaven. There are also a number of other statues inside and outside of the Basilica, including some works by Michelangelo.
The building of the Basilica is a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture, and its dome can be seen towering above Rome from many points around the city. The enormous St Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica is impressively ornate and offers great views of the Basilica’s facade while waiting on the queue to go in, so in the end, queueing doesn’t feel like a waste of time!