On our recent family vacation we were looking for things to do with the children on a day trip in Rome. We decided to revisit the smallest sovereign state in the world which happens to be smack bang within the Italian capital – Vatican City, home of the Roman Catholic Church and it’s leader, Pope Francis. It is also home to the Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world.
The dome of St Peter’s Basilica dominates the Roman skyline and has done since construction was completed in 1626. It is the collaboration of some of the renaissance’s finest architects like Michelangelo and there has been a church on the site since the time of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It replaced Old St Peter’s Basilica that had stood since the year 4AD. We had visited the Vatican over 10 years ago, and were keen to show the children another of the world’s most iconic venues.
When visiting Vatican City it is best to plan ahead. The Pope gives a public address every Wednesday and Sunday, so you might want to factor this into your trip. We went on a Thursday afternoon and it wasn’t too manic. Various tour operators will be eager to sell you inflated Vatican tours of the city and museum but we decided to just book a guided tour of the Vatican Museum through the museum itself.
We booked in advance for a time that suited us and had the option of a group tour or a private Vatican tour and we chose the group option mainly for the price! Like many other cultural sites, children go free and it’s a surprisingly child friendly tour too. We also skipped the huge queue that went out of the museum, 500 meters down the street and around a corner. There is a special line for ticket holders and friendly official museum staff were dotted at different parts of the queue to direct us towards the correct entrance.
It’s worth noting that there is a dress code for the Vatican Museums. To visit the Vatican you must have your knees and shoulders covered and hats removed. This applies to adults and children. Once inside, we were presented with airport style body scanners and X-ray machines, an unfortunate necessity for such an iconic site.
We were through them swiftly and made our way to the ticket office where we exchanged our printed booking for actual Vatican tickets and were told to pick up our audio guide and meet our tour guide nearby. We were given a radio with an earpiece and when the guide, Cesare, arrived, he made sure that we could all hear him before the tour commenced.
The group was made up of about 20 people in total and was delivered in English. As the museum does not allow tour guides inside the Sistine Chapel we spent the first 40 minutes or so being talked through Michelangelo’s finest work, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, with the aid of large boards which highlight each section. It was fascinating to learn all about it and some of the sacrifices and hidden secrets Michelangelo put into his work. Did you know there are three self portraits of him in the masterpiece?
After the talk we were taken inside the building and stopped at various highlights with our guide loud and clear in our earpieces. He pointed out the collections along the way and stopped at some of the more interesting pieces. As it was getting busier inside we stuck close to Cesare as he was easy to loose in the crowds. He was very knowledgeable and answered people’s questions along the way.
We were taken around the more popular rooms of the museum which contain sculptures hundreds of years old, hand painted maps on walls that are still very accurate along with frescos by some of the worlds finest artists, with rooms dedicated to the likes of Raphael.
There are also rooms with more modern art from Warhol to Salvador Dali and we also got to see the last known painting that Vincent Van Gogh created. We managed to find a toilet and had a quick drink and snack before we moved on.
The end of the tour was the the showcase itself, the Sistine Chapel. Everyone is familiar with the paintings whether you know it or not. This was the second time we had seen it in person and it was just as awe inspiring, having had insider input from our guide earlier on.
The children were still enjoying it and loved pointing out the famous ‘finger touching’ painting in the middle. It is hard to believe that despite hundreds of years passing it is still in great condition and will be enjoyed by generations for years to come.
We soon found our way out of the museum and after visiting a gift shop we headed for St Peter’s Basilica which I’ll tell you about in another post. The Vatican Museums are a must see on any visit to Rome – with or without children and we’re so glad we got to take the children along for the ride.
The tour was a bit heavy going for the children and I’m not sure they listened to much of it but they really enjoyed looking around the Vatican and learning snippets of information along the way. It was a great day out and taught us so much about ancient Rome in the process!
If you’re looking for more inspiration on your next trip to Rome, here are some more posts that may be of use: