When trying to figure out the whole Vatican "thing," we spent some time digging through forums looking for advice and only got more confused. I had no idea what was where or what needed a ticket or how much time we would need. I distilled it down to one oft repeated point and just went with it to see what happened when we got there: I purchased a skip the line tour ticket. It meant a) we would bypass the hours-long wait to do whatever it is this ticket was good for and b) accept that it was also a rip off because there is no tour, just a person who collects you at a meeting point, escorts you through a separate door and buys your ticket while you check your coat. I figured given the time of the year the regular line wouldn't be bad at all and it wasn't, but rather than risk it shelled out for tickets. We waited around for a good 20 minutes for the rest of our "tour group"-all of two other people-while everyone else walked right in to the Vatican Museum without the slightest holdup.
The Vatican complex is enormous, and the museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel, is not anywhere near St Peter's Square. If you are looking at St Peter's asking yourself where the hell you're supposed to go, turn right to leave the square. There are nine hundred people with clip boards selling skip the line tickets that are happy to direct you to the entrance a good ten minute walk away.
With that, I'll add some other points you need to know if you are planning a trip to the Vatican, based on my mistakes and experience:
The ticket is for the museum and Sistine Chapel. The Chapel does not have a separate entrance.
You can reach the museum entrance the easiest by Metro.
You can reach St Peter's Square the easiest by the 64 bus.
Pope Francis gives public blessings on Wednesday and Sunday. You can get a free ticket with a reservation, or try your luck with standing room. The blessing is multi-lingual.
Saint Peter's Basilica is free to the public, but you do have to pass through security. Coat check is offered.
Give yourself a full day to see everything, or two with a small child. Maybe another if you want to see the Pope.
Go to the top of the cupola. 5 euro to walk the whole thing, 7 euro for a partial elevator lift.
Vatican City is a state, but no, you don't need a passport. It's really just in name only.
We spent Thursday and Saturday at the Vatican, and have no record or memory of what we did Friday. It's the strangest feeling of missing time. Or of repeated sights, whichever.
The museum was great. There is so much to see it was overwhelming; as with the Borghese Gallery, I really loved the Roman sculpture.
The long, long, beautiful corridor was lined with murals showing maps of Italy. The ceilings themselves were a work of art.
St Peter's Basilica
The basilica is massive, and unlike most old churches perfectly streamlined in its design and use of color. Inside you can see a Michelangelo pieta, the tombs of every notable Pope, including the first Bishop of Rome himself, Saint Peter. Long shafts of light shine strategically through the church to great effect. Mosaics of Peter hang everywhere. In fact, the entire cupola is done in mosaic. Emily couldn't get enough this new concept and had us stop every time she saw a "mosaic-made-outta-little-rocks."
In all we spent most of the day there. We stopped only to find lunch and came back to see more.
This is a mosaic. It looks like an oil painting. Wow.
"It's a baby mosaic-made-outta-little-rocks."
Along the disorienting walk to the top of the cupola.
For our last full day, we headed over to an unassuming and out of the way church, San Pietro in Vincoli, Saint Peter in Chains. Consecrated in 439, and revamped several times over the centuries, it houses the actual chains that held Peter captive in Jerusalem. There is also a huge sculpture of Moses created by Michelangelo.
In the foreground, the chains, and in the background a depiction of the liberation of Peter.
From there we strolled down to Via dei Fori Imperiali, and checked out all the other Roman ruins, and peeked in at the Forum one last time. We watched street performers and let Emily run around where we could. It was a nice morning together. In the evening we took the metro to the Spanish Steps and followed the herd toward the crowded shopping district. The streets let out into Piazza del Popolo, where there stands an obelisk dating back to Ramses II. After a quick bite in a very old restaurant, we headed back to our room with a sigh, not ready to leave Rome at all. There is so much left to see.
The brick building is the Curio, where the Senate met.
The trip was everything my nerdy heart wanted and more. I so happy I had this experience with my family.