The Keys to Unlock the Best Things to Do in Rome

In this 10 part weekly guide to Rome we share the local secrets and tips for savouring the best things to do in Rome.

There is a lot of information and misinformation about the Vatican and when, how and what you should see as a tourist. Rome Confidential gives you the dirt on the best way to experience one of the busiest sites in the city.

We sat down with Rome-based tour guide Jimmy Kennedy who is an expert on Vatican sightseeing for some insider city tips and theories.

Vatican city tour
Our Vatican expert Jimmy Kennedy

Here’s what he shared with Rome Food Tours:

What would you say is the biggest mistake people make when planning to visit the Vatican?

I think the biggest mistake that people make when visiting the Vatican is not doing their research. Some people will go directly into St Peters Basilica as they presume when they see the line that this is the entrance to the Vatican. Once inside they are walking around looking for the Sistine Chapel. Had they done their research they would realize that you must go through the Vatican museums first as this is the only way you can enter the Sistine Chapel.

What is the best time to go? And what are the visiting hours for different Vatican sightseeing (ie St Peter’s Basilica, Museums, etc)?

The best time to visit the Vatican is around 2.30pm. The afternoon is much quieter because all of the guide books say to avoid the lines you must go first thing in the morning! From Tuesday to Friday it is very unlikely you will have to wait in line if you arrive after 2pm. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the quietest days as the Vatican is closed on Sundays which make Monday and Saturday very busy. The Pope does his Papal audience on Wednesdays which also makes Wednesdays very crowded as well. The Vatican Museums close at 4.30pm with the last exit at 6pm. St Peters Basilica closes at 7pm.

I want to see the Pope. When and how to do I beat the crowds?

The Pope comes out at 10.30am on Wednesdays. To see the Pope is free! All you have to do is turn up on St Peters Square. To sit at the front to have a much more personal experience you need to have a ticket. These are very easy to get and they are also free. You must approach a Swiss Guard (they are very approachable) who will always have tickets to see the Pope. If you arrive early enough with this papal ticket you really can get around 15 feet away from Pope Benedict XVI.

You offer a special tour of the Swiss Guard, who are they??

The Swiss Guard are the Pope’s private army. They are the oldest and the smallest army in the world. 110 Swiss Guard arrived from Switzerland in 1506 to protect Pope Julius. Today the Swiss Guard still must:

  • be Swiss
  • know 4 languages
  • be Catholic
  • be 5 foot 9 inches or taller
  • come from the Swiss military and
  • be between the age of 19 and 30
Vatican Museum - sightseeing
Inside the Vatican – Jimmy tells us what not to miss!

Once inside, what is the one special thing we shouldn’t miss as a tourist?

This question is easy… The one place you must absolutely not miss is the Sistine Chapel. The fresco painted ceiling is incredible. Michelangelo was only 32 years old when he began painting and finished in only 4 years.

What are some of your favourite facts and stories you love telling your clients?

One of my favourite things to say about the Vatican is the fact that it became a separate country in 1929. It officially makes the Vatican the smallest country in the world and it is the only country in the world with a zero birth rate (we hope!). The Vatican also has the highest crime rate per ratio of population (the population is 831 people) where 90% of the crimes in the Vatican remain unsolved.

I also love telling my clients about the funny questions we get asked on tours. A very popular one is “This is the Sistine Chapel? Where are the other 15 Chapels?”

I’ll be you didn’t know….

The Sistine Chapel is where Conclave takes place. This is where the decision is made as to who becomes the next Pope.


Contact [email protected] with Rome Confidential in the subject title for any feedback or requests for a topic you want us to cover.

Voted one of the best things to do in Rome, Eating Europe Food Tours offer a Rome walking food tour through one of Rome’s oldest and characteristic neighbourhoods.

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