The Vatican is a small sovereign state located within Rome, and it is the seat of the Catholic Church. You can easily get there as there are two metro stops located near its borders, and it is a densely packed but small area. It contains St. Peter's Square and Basilica (one of the two largest churches in the world), the Vatican museums, and some administrative and private buildings.
When we arrived one morning, we were stunned to see that the line for St. Peter's Basilica wrapped all the way around the square (which is more of an oval), all the way to the other end of the building. However, the line moved fairly quickly, and we steadily moved towards the entrance over 45 minutes. There is no fee and no ticket required for entrance though you do have to pass through a metal detector.
The church is so grand, and of immense scale. It’s hard to grasp that the Statute of Liberty can fit inside the main dome. There were probably hundreds of tourists inside at once, but it didn’t feel very crowded. It probably took an hour to go around, admiring all the mosaics and sculptures.
Tourists from all over the world were gathered here, and there were tour groups led by guides speaking multiple languages. I tagged along an English-speaking group for a while to learn more about the specifics of the architecture and history.
Every nook and cranny held beautiful and fascinating details - it was difficult to take everything in at once. We also went through some underground passages to see the tombs of past popes, though you aren't allowed to photograph down there.
There is the option to go up to the top of the dome. Either way, you have to climb some steps, but for 2 euros more (7 total) you can take an elevator up part of the way, and only climb 300 or so steps. The stairways are extremely narrow, progressively so as you climb further and further up.
There are two levels to the dome – one is around the inside of the dome, where you can look down into the basilica and the people milling around underneath. This is a pretty cool view, except that there is a fine metal grill going all the way around so it is hard to get a good look.
I did get a glorious view of the artwork of the inside of the dome though.
Then, after I walked along the passageway a bit, it was time for more flights of stairs! The climb itself wasn't bad, but you might take caution if you have claustrophobia, as the space does get quite tight. I imagine that during the peak tourist season the passageway would also be more crowded and tightly packed than it was during my visit.
Finally, we arrived at a narrow platform circling the outside of the dome. The panoramic views from the top were amazing! We could walk all the way around the dome, and each side offered a beautiful perspective of the Vatican and beyond. At this height, I was able to fully appreciate the gorgeous bright colors of the buildings.
One side offered a good perspective of the lush and pristine Vatican gardens.
I really like how some of these Italian apartments are laid out in a pentagonal shape, with a large private courtyard in the center of the block.
Far off into the distance, some mountains shrouded in mist and clouds...
...and closer up I could see the people waiting in line to gain entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.
On another side are the Vatican Museums, which I visited later on the trip.
It’s a bit crowded up on the outside of the dome, and hard to move around other tourists in the narrow space, but well-worth the unique experience and the terrific views. By the time we got down from the dome, it was already the early afternoon. It's not impossible to do the Basilica and the museums in one day, but I think it is better for one's stamina and appreciation of the beauty and history to split it into two separate days.
Sadly, it's very easy for one to get adjusted to beauty, even at this magnificent level...