This is the only year in the past 5-7 years that I have not been to Italy. I am still hoping not to break that cycle by adding a weekend trip to Italy soon, I am always open to your suggestions on where in Italy is good for a short weekend break from London. So far I have managed to explore a few places, including some popular spots like Venice, Milan, Pisa, Verona, Rome and my absolute favourite, Lake Garda. Lake Garda is one of the biggest lakes in Italy with many beautiful towns around it. Worth a visit if you havent been.
When my boyfriend an I visited the Vatican, over a year now, it was just a few days before Pope Francis' was announced as Pope. So you can just imagine how busy St Peter's Basilica and St Peter's Square were, but in all its commotion with sightseers, news reporters, and crowds of believers all congregating in the streets, there was a certain spiritual calmness to this micro-nation. So small is the Vatican City that you can get away with not planning anything to do in particular and still be able to cover most of the independent papal state in one day.
There are plenty of little cafes, bars and restaurants to stop over and have mini-breaks from exploring the Vatican City so there is no need for me to recommend any as most of the ones we stopped at had great food and wine selections. So I thought instead to give you 5 spots or things to make sure you dont not to miss out on. Also worth pointing out, is that you should check when and if the Sistine Chapel is open during your visit as sadly this is the one thing we missed out on, on our visit. Then again this is another reason for my partner in crime and I to visit the Vatican City again.
5 PLACES TO SEE WHEN VISITING THE VATICAN CITY
ST PETER'S SQUARE AND THE EGYPTIAN OBELISK
One of the first places you will explore before seeing much of the popular spots is St Peter's Square and the beautiful Egyptian Obelisk located directly in front of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. The Egyptian Obelisk was erected a good 100 years before the Square was even designed. Its actually a good 4000 years older than the church so make sure you stop by and take in the smaller details. Give yourself time to explore the square with your own eyes and keep the camera in the bag, as the best times to take pictures of the square and all its four-rows-deep columns is late in the afternoon(or early morning before the sun is high). This is when the columns creates beautiful shadows and make those pictures pop!
ST PETER'S BASILICA
When ever I travel, religious places(and markets) are usually at the top of my list, so I couldn't come to the Vatican City and not visit St Peter's Basilica. The intricate detail of everything inside, even little things such as internal railings, windows, the way the light filters through its dome, the paintings and murals, the floor designs, all have had an amazing attention to detail that you just have to take your time and appreciate it all. Also knowing that you are in a place where one of Jesus's Apostles is buried adds to that mystical feeling of closeness to spiritual history. A time we only read about. I don't think it matters so much whether you are Christian or not, but as someone that has interest in religious teachings from many other faiths it's intriguing to be so close the burial sight of someone that is said to have been close to one of the world's most popular religion's spiritual leader. Not to mention that St Peter was the first Pope and Bishop of Rome and by Catholic tradition buried directly below the high altar . Whether I am visiting a Hindu Temple, a mosque, Sikh temple I have always found knowing a little bit about the history and traditions attached to the building adds to the rich experience of visiting such a place.
CLIMBING THE CUPOLA - ST BASICILA'S DOME
Not many people realise that you can actually climb up to the Dome. It's a good 320 steps but the views across the Vatican City and Rome are worth the test in stamina. The best times to get up there I find is later in the afternoon, not just for the hazy afternoon light but for how everything seems slower for up there. The way people, cars looks to slow down towards that end of the day, all adds to how you take the whole experience of marveling at one of Michelangelo's master pieces. Also, you get to experience it, while he never got the chance, having died before his designs of the dome were completed. London's Views from St Paul's Cathedral's Dome don't compare but are just as beautiful at sunset. I have a poston my blog with the best places to view the sunsets in London in addition to Pauls Cathedral.
VATICAN TREASURY AND MUSUEMS
For such a small state, it's certainly packed with treasures from all corners of the world. From the Popemobiles that were donated from the likes of Mercedes Benz, Leyland, Renault, to master piece paintings, murals, sculptures that line the halls. From Egyptian collections, ancient Greek to the Renaissance. Wall to wall treasures, leaving the museums one cannot miss the opportunity to take pictures of and on the famous stairs in the Vatican City too.
I mentioned before that we didn't get to see this places but another reason to return to Rome and Vatican city is the Sistine Chapel. I have yet to see Michelangelo's amazing Sistine Chapel ceiling frescowhich shows Adam brought to life with the touch of the Almighty's forefinger. You will need to plan accordingly in order to get the chance of visiting the chapel as you are required to book in advance via their online reservations and bring a passport to enter the Vatican's papal palace.
VATICAN CITY VISIT - PLANNING TIPS:
1. Make reservations in advance in order to visit the Sistine Chapel and bring ID with you.
2. Visits to St Peters Tomb are for adults and children older than 15, these can also be booked in advance. Tickets were about 10-12 Euros when we visited.
3. There is a lift to the Dome which costs about 7 Euros although you can take your chances with the stairs.
4. There are free tickets to receive the Pope's blessing, these have to be booked in advance and only run during certain times of the year. Usually from late summers.
5. There are also self-guided tours that allow you to visit many of Rome's tourist sights and skip the queues too, in both Rome and the Vatican City.