The smallest country in the world, Vatican City or the Holy See as it is also known, is surrounded on all sides by Rome, Italy. Small but mighty, this city within a city is a great addition to your Roman vacation and worth at least a day trip no matter your religious affiliations.

World-class beauty

Famed for its status as a religious holy site, Vatican City is steeped in history and is world-renowned for its stunning architecture and vast collections of art. Perhaps most famed for the Sistine Chapel, the city also is home to St. Peter’s Basilica and Square.

When visiting Vatican City, a majority of your day will most likely be spent at the Vatican Museums, a massive complex of more than five miles of corridors and 70,000 pieces of art. Also, worth a visit, if you can secure a reservation, are the Gardens of Vatican City. Peaceful and tranquil, the exclusive attraction can provide a much-needed refuge from the hubbub of the city center.

And, even the road to Vatican City is peppered with breathtaking art via the Ponte Sant’angelo. The bridge connects Rome to the Vatican and features the stunning Bernini angels.

Travel by tour

Many consider tour groups to be the best way to see the city, but you also can create a tour all your own with a little grunt work.

Individual entry to the Vatican Museums starts at 17 euro and online bookings will automatically cost an additional four euro. While you may not save any dough this way, you will save time by not having to stand in the museum’s notoriously long ticket lines. Reservations are easily made through the Vatican Museum’s website.

For those who want to take in all the sights of the city and soak in its centuries of history directly from the mouth of an expert, an organized tour may be right for you.

Tours can be anywhere from three to eight hours and often cover the highlights including the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. As an added perk, some tours come with a skip the queue bonus allowing you to jump the line to enter and avoid the city’s many large crowds.

Additionally, certain tours will give you access to portions of the Vatican Museums not readily available to the public, including the Pinacoteca Vaticana art gallery, and often have direct access from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica.

Anything else?

You will need tickets to attend certain Papal events and to participate in a General Audience with the Pope. Tickets are free and available through the Vatican website. The official request form is available online but must be mailed or faxed to the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

Note, if you plan to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, attend mass or a Papal event, you will need to abide by the dress code specified by the Vatican. Shorts, short skirts and tank tops are not allowed, and the general rule of thumb is to keep shoulders and knees covered.

While Vatican City receives a steady stream of visitors year-round, the largest crowds tend to gather on Sundays and Wednesdays due to appearances from the Pope and other religious observances. Although there’s no way to truly escape the crowds, scheduling your trip for the winter months is your best bet. Late November into early December, January and February often receive the smallest crowds.