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Vatican City Is a Must-See

Oct 12, 2007
The Italian capital is also renowned for its breathtaking fountains and pigeon-filled public squares, including the Piazza San Pietro. Local color includes jumping out of the way of speeding mopeds ' even pedestrians on the sidewalk are not safe!' and grabbing lunch at one of the many mom-and-pop pizzerias hocking their haute cuisine pizza by the kilo.

Blending the best of European history, culture and cuisine, Rome is surely a must-see for any European traveler. And whether you are planning a week-long stay or just a long weekend, you'll want to be sure to put Vatican City on your itinerary.

Situated in the heart of Rome, Vatican City is actually its own state making it the world's smallest nation at just under a half a square kilometer. (Be sure to send postcards to all your friends while visiting they will be postmarked in Latin from Vatican City.)

The seat of the Catholic Church and the temporal home to Pope Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Vatican City is perhaps best known in non-Roman Catholic tourist circles as the site of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Located in the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel is open daily April to September from 9 AM - 7 PM and from October to March 9AM - 6PM. The local Tourist Information Office offers free 90-minute tours of the Basilica, which leave daily at 2:15 PM. Visitors can also venture solo through St. Peter's Basilica or with the help of an audio guide (for rent in the cloakroom for 5). A strict dress code is enforced at the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica: visitors are not permitted in sleeveless tops, shorts or short skirts.

Before you leave the Basilica, be sure to check out the unparalleled views from the top of the dome. You can take the elevator or the stairs (the stairs are brutal, but will save you a few euro.) Open daily until 6 pm in the summer, 5 pm in the winter.

After your awe-inspiring walk through the Sistine Chapel, you might want to continue your epoch journey through the greats of European art at the Vatican Museum. One of the best art galleries on the Continent, the Vatican Museum is ingeniously designed in the round, allowing visitors to easily follow the one-way route. The museum usually closes at 4:30 and is only open one Sunday a month. Be sure to check in advance of your visit, since Italian national as well as religious holidays are all observed. Expect to wait in line, as the crowds are compounded by security checks, especially during the summer months.

Don't expect a wealth of dining options in Vatican City, although visitors can grab a quick bite at the Vatican Museum's cafeteria. Of course, with Rome's culinary greatness beckoning, you might just prefer to check out your options a bit farther afield.

Likewise, unless you are a personal guest of the Pope, there are no accommodations inside Vatican City. However, the Vaticano district is just outside of Vatican City, and offers a host of accommodations, ranging from exquisite five-star hotels to quaint bed and breakfasts to comfortable apartment rentals that are perfect for families and longer-term visitors.
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