The smallest country in the world!
Highlights: Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, and Guided Tours
If you want to knock another country off your list (the smallest country to be exact) and are in Rome then check out the Vatican City. Don't worry – they won't ask for your passport!
Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by Rome, Italy, is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It's home to the Pope and a trove of iconic art and architecture. Its Vatican Museums house ancient Roman sculptures such as the famed “Laocoön and His Sons” as well as Renaissance frescoes in the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling. (Wikipedia)
We arrived to the gate entrance and lined up behind the others. We had previously purchased our tickets online, but soon there were people trying to sell us a guided tour package. At first we dismissed them, but they were persistent. After talking we decided it was worth it. We followed them to a little office around the corner which made me a little unsure, but once we saw a fellow American there we felt more at ease. The next English tour was in an hour, and that was just enough time to get a coffee. Next time I think I would book a guided tour beforehand.
The great thing about being with a tour group is that it takes out a lot of the aimless roaming, guesswork of what to see, and of course waiting in lines. We were able to move pass the long queue outside, quickly pick up our tickets, hit all the museum highlights plus get access to a short cut passage between the museum and the Basilica in about 1.5-2 hours. Plus our guide gave us some really amazing tidbits of information about several pieces that we would have missed. All in all it was worth it!
TRAVEL TIP: The Vatican Museum Shortcut starts at the end of the Sistine Chapel and is marked for groups but is not heavily monitored. I've seen non tour group members follow the trail without a problem. I believe this might be a tip in Rick Steve's guide book as well. Apparently without this shortcut you have to take a fairly long walk out of the chapel and back around to the entrance of the city. So it's worth a try one way or the other.
Speaking of the Sistine Chapel -- that whole experience was quite comical which was not what I had expected. Imagine a jam packed, ornate hall with hundreds of tourists looking up at the ceiling while the security guards are yelling over a microphone: "Silencio, No Photos!" . . . but everyone is still doing those things. Still it's definitely worth seeing but go in with the historical knowledge beforehand and understand it will be crowded.
TRAVEL TIP: The Vatican is always crowded. Even in the off season. We started at 10:00am and it was so busy in some of the smaller halls. Also there are no beverages or food for sale inside the museum. You get hungry and thirsty quickly after all that walking. Also, I didn't find a bathroom anywhere except in the ticket sales area at the beginning of our tour.
I think chatting with the guide about Michelangelo, the animal sculpture room, the map hall, and mailing postcards might have been my favorite parts of visiting the Vatican. There is just TOO MUCH to see in one visit. I honestly couldn't retain it all.
We first discovered the Hop On/Off buses and the sales office right outside the Vatican City. We got our passes and rode a bus to the Colosseum. Along the way we saw where Caesar was killed, Circus Maximus, and the Castel Sant'Angelo plus experienced the crazy drivers of Rome, oi vey!