Considered a separate country from Rome (and the world’s smallest sovereign state), the Vatican is an exciting experience by itself and we feel it deserves its own review. On the baby-friendly scale, I would rate it an 8 out of 10. There is plenty to see and do within its walls and a toddler as young as 2 can easily enjoy this destination.
Getting in the Vatican City
The first thing you need to know when traveling to the Vatican is how to find it.As we’ve mentioned in our review of Rome, bus drivers in the city aren’t exactly the friendliest of people. The major sign that you will see is the bridge leading to St. Peter’s square. If you are unsure about how to get there, most bus riders are pretty friendly and it would be best to approach them instead to ask any commuting questions you may have. There are several buses that pass by the Vatican, namely:
- 40 (Limited stop express) – Termini – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Piazza Pia (for St Peter’s/Vatican)
- 64 – Termini – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Vatican
- 62 – Repubblica – Spanish Steps – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Vatican
- 81 – Vatican Museums – Piazza Imperatore (Spanish Steps) – Piazza Colonna (Trevi Fountain) – Piazza Venezia – Circo Massimo – Colosseum
- 19 (Tram) – Piazza Risorgimento (Vatican) – Villa Borghese
If you plan to go by the Metro, the adjacent Prati district is served by line A.
Do take note that visitors and tourists are not allowed to drive inside the Vatican and even for residents, only those with official business inside the city are allowed to take their car inside.
Best Time To Visit
Since we were staying with a host who has lived in Rome for years, she told us that the best time to go to the Vatican would be at noon on a Sunday. There is a mass and the pope gives his blessing from his apartment. If you are in the area on a Wednesday, arrive early to see him in the popemobile at 10:30am.
Whatever time you arrive, do expect a large crowd. During mass, the entire square is filled to the brim. They quickly disperse shortly after. The line to get into the Basilica or any other Vatican museum for that matter, is legendary for being a long arduous one.
If you’re visiting at the peak of summer prepare to bring water as the heat can be sweltering and buying bottled water is costly. Vatican water is potable but I really don’t want to risk it when traveling with a toddler.
What to do in the Vatican
The Vatican is really a place not just for the religious but for art and history lovers as well. It can help give your child early exposure to such beautiful paintings and sculptures.
While small in size, there is still a lot to see and do in the area. Right outside the Vatican walls, there are flowerbeds shaped as huge images. Your young one might enjoy just seeing the Swiss Guard in their colorful uniform.
Kids will have a blast chasing after birds in St. Peter’s square and getting a refreshing splash of water from one of the four fountains. For school-age children, you might want to look up the history of Nero’s circus, the crucifixion of St Peter and the Egyptian obelisk prior to your visit so you can teach your child about when you get there. There are guided tours in the Vatican for EURO 32 which you should consider when traveling with older kids.
If you’re on a limited time frame for your Vatican visit, we would highly suggest going inside St. Peter’s Basilica. There is a dress code that is strictly enforced in St. Peter’s Basilica. No shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts. Make sure to visit the website to find out all the details you need prior to your visit.
Once inside, pay the additional fee to use the lift so you don’t tire out your kids early into the tour. The first major thing you’ll see are the mosaic cherubs upfront and exit near the cupola. It can be a tight squeeze if you want to go up further into the cupola (dome) so you might want to just stick to the first level if you’re with smaller children. While waiting for adults in your party to come back from their cupola climb, go the the official souvenir shop inside the Vatican. You’ll find the the prices for the items there are about the same as those you would find outside the gate, except everything there is already blessed by the pope.
There’s a bar right next to the souvenir shop, so you can grab a gelati. If we haven’t mentioned it enough in our Rome review, the gelati experience is not something you should miss when traveling with kids in Rome. We literally had 10 in one day — it’s that good!
You could spend a good 30 to 40 minutes inside St. Peter’s Basilica without getting a single yawn from your kids. The paintings and sculptures are exquisite. They really captured my child’s attention. Or as my daughter did, they could always just run around the vast corridors and look through the peep holes into the Vatican Grottoes below where numerous popes and saints are entombed. You can actually go down into the Grottoes but make sure your kids can observe silence and please do not take photographs as this is considered a sacred place.
All-in-all, a visit to the Vatican is a great experience for kids. The lines, the heat, and lots of walking can be tiring but it’s all worth the effort.