Vatican City with kids: best things to see (besides the museums)!

by marta
Vatican City: facade of St Peter basilica

A handpicked selection of the best things to do in Vatican City with kids for families who want to see the Vatican but don’t want or cannot tackle the large Vatican Museums with kids.

If you are reading this article, chances are that you have done your research, decided that a visit to the Vatican Museums with kids is not for you this time and are wondering if it still worth going to Vatican City or you should skip it altogether.

Let me give you a quick answer: it is totally worth it!

The Vatican Museums tend to gest most of the attention however, there is a lot more to do in the Vatican city with kids and the good news is that a Vatican visit without the museums is still worth it, easy and can actually be really fun!

This is my guide to the best things to do on a family visit to the Vatican and that will allow you to cross off your Rome bucket list this gorgeous state within the state and still keep your kids entertained!

Good to know! We have a super comprehensive travel guide to Rome for families: check it out here.

Child in St Peter square with overlay text 'what to see in Vatican city with kids beside the museums. A mama's guide to kid friendly attractions in Vatican City'

Vatican City with kids: need to know

Vatican City is a small and compact State within Rome city.

It lies on the opposite side of the River Tiber, if you are coming from the city center, and comprises of several buildings and attractions, the most famous of which are St Peters’ Basilica (Main floor and dome) and the Vatican museums (including the Sistine Chapel)

You can get to Vatican city on foot, by bus or by metro.

The closest metro station is Ottaviano, the closest buses are 40 , 64, 62, 19 (tram), 49, 32, 982, 492, 990, 81.

If coming on foot, I recommend you use google maps to gauge the exact distance from where you are but overall, it is useful to know that the Vatican is about 20 mins walk from Piazza Navona, 25 from the Pantheon and a whopping 45 minutes from the Colosseum – and this is at adult pace!

Unless you happen to stay in the area, I highly recommend you get pubic transport to get to the Vatican with kids or they may well get excessively tired even before getting there.

Did you know that children under 10 travel for free on Rome buses? You can find this info and more about using public transport in Rome with kids in tow here.

Things to do in Vatican City with kids

Cross an international border into St Peter’s Square

The easiest place to visit in the Vatican and one that is scenic and interesting for both adults and kids is St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro)

This is the large piazza in front of St Peter’s basilica and it is free to visit, beautiful, outdoors and super simple to visit with children.

No lines, no tickets, no set time to visit, you just walk into it like you would any other square – family-friendly sightseeing in its most approachable form!

The square is vast, beautiful and impressive and primary school kids usually love to learn that entering it means crossing an international border.

Need to know: Despite being a different state, there is no passport control between Italy and the Vatican so I am afraid you cannot get tour passport stamped.

While not an overly exciting endeavour in itself, entering the square means you have visited one more country, and one you have entered it on foot! So the idea of it usually lands well with young kids especially.

Watch the magic trick of the disappearing columns – Piazza San Pietro

Once you are inside the piazza, get your kids to look out for the markings on the ground on the square.

They hide a secret!

The colonnade framing St Peter’s square has been built by architect Bernini, a man known for its exquisite creations but also for a love for optical tricks, one of which he applied to this square.

Marking on the ground of Piazza san Pietro Vatican

It works like this: the colonnade has several rows of columns, all of which are well visible from pretty much anywhere in the square, giving the colonnade the aspect of a stone forest.

However, if you stand on specific spots, marked on the ground, the columns align in such a way that you can only see one row – the others effectively disappear from your sight!

This is amazing for adults and properly magical for little kids.

The best way to get the wow moment is to tell them to look at the columns first, count the rows, send them on a quest for the marked spots, get them to step on the mark and count again.

I promise, most of them won’t be able to get over it, it is so incredible!

Marvel at record-breaking St Peter’s Basilica

Entering St Peter’s basilica often requires a bit of patience (security screenings mean there is often a long line) but it is really worth it for adults and kids too.

The basilica inside is stunning and so might and vast, it stops you in your tracks at pretty much any age – after all, it is one of the biggest churches in the world if not the biggest of all!

The size of the church speaks for itself, however, there is a more fun way to get children to engage with it and truly appreciate what it means.

If you look at the pavement in the central nave, you will see markings highlighting the dimensions of 10 of the biggest churches in the world and how they compare, for size, with St Peter!

Need to know: There is a strict dress code to enter St Peter’s basilica and it applies, albeit more loosely, also to children. To avoid bad surprises, when visiting the church wear long trousers / below the knee skirts, cover shoulders, bellies, backs and cleavage and avoid bulky bags as they are not allowed in.

If you are in Rome for a fay only and need to store your luggage, you can consider storing it with Luggage Hero, which has several locations around town.

Climb St Peters’ dome (older kids only)

Climbing up St Peter’s dome is one of the most impressive things you can do in Rome and not only if you are a child!

The views from up there are incredible and the stairs to get there also a bit of an adventure: there is much more to this than just taking a lift and going up!

The lift brings you up to a certain level (you can also walk, the first part of the stairs is the easiest) but then you need to climb upstairs and I tell you, those last 300 and something steps are hard!

They are absolutely worth it if you are fit, do not suffer from fear of heights and are not claustrophobic (this last bit is important!) but they are quite intense to tackle so I only recommend them to families with older children.

I would, on the other hand, avoid them with toddlers or baby carriers.

Need to know: there are two separate staircases, one to go up and one to go down. Only start climbing if you know you and your child can make it to the top as you cannot simply turn round and go back!

See the elegant and colorful Swiss Guards

The Swiss guards are the body of men in charge of the safety of the Vatican State and they are amazing to see.

They have a wonderfully colorful and distinctive uniform like no other you have ever seen that stayed the same since the time of the Renaissance, when it was first created!

Swiss guards in Vatican City with traditional colorful uniform

The uniforms have vertical stripes, they are orange, blue, red and white in colors and they come with fabulous headpieces, different for the different grades within the army.

The best places to see the Swiss Guards are Via di Santa Anna, Arco delle Campane and Sant’Uffizio (all near St Peter’s Square).

Explore Borgo

Borgo is the old neighborhood around St Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City and a lovely place to explore.

The district comprises of only a few streets but it is pretty, partially car free and has some nice cafes, gelato places and restaurants that are great for a meal and a wander.

You can find here >>> my guide to Borgo (Rome neighborhood)

Borgo, Rome

Send a postcard with a Vatican stamp

You may not feel you are in a different State, when you walk around Vatican City, but you are and a fun way to prove it and to have a memento of this foreign adventure is to send a friend (or yourself) a postcard using the Vatican postal service.

The Vatican has a postal system that is different from the Italian one – it is also way more efficient, should you need to actually send something important.

To use it, you need to buy a Vatican stamp and use the yellow post boxes you find in Vatican City – the yellow element is important: the red ones are Italian and need a different stamp altogether!

You can buy your stamp at the post office to the right-hand side of St Peter’s square.

Important: make sure you go to the post office and not the ‘Filatelia’ (the stamps shop) as the latter has collectible and rare stamps, not everyday ones.

Vatican post office

Check out the secret passage between St Peter and Castel Sant’Angelo: Il Passetto

Nowadays it may be hard to imagine the Vatican being attacked by a foreign army.

However, over the course of the centuries the Popes were often in danger and came up with a clever way to get themselves to safety whenever needed: they created a secret passage that allowed them to run, unseen, from St Peter to the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo!

The passage is still visible nowadays, albeit only from outside (at the time of writing): the best wat to see it is taking a stroll around Borgo towards the castle – something I highly recommend also because of some nice restaurants along the way!

Stop and reflect in front of the monument ‘Angels Unaware’

Beside the left wind of the colonnade framing the Piazza stands a modern momument called ‘Angels Unawaer; that I always point out to my kids.

The monument was inaugurated in 2019 and represents migrants and refugees from all places, backgrounds, walf of life and historical times as a mememento to the evangelical call to hospitality.

The monuments is touching a great way to start a conversation about migrations and asylum with kids of suitable age.

Angels Unawares monument in St Peter Square, Vatican City, Rome

How to organize your day in Vatican City with kids

As you can see, there are a few fun things to do in Vatican City with kids, even without the museums, and you may now be wondering how long it would take to do them all or how best to plan your day.

Thankfully, most of these things do not require planning (each will take as little or as much as you decide), with two major exceptions: the visit to the basilica and the dome.

Both basilica and dome get very long queues and do not offer the option to book ticket ahead. If planning on doing one or the other, aiming for specific times often helps.

The quietest time to climb the dome is usually early in the morning, at opening.

The quietest time to visit the basilica are early morning (the sooner after mass the better, unless you want to attend, of course) or late in the afternoon.

At this time, usually you get lower crowds as day trippers have left and lines are shorter.

I hope you enjoyed this guide to what else to do in Vatican City with kids, besides the museums. If you have questions, please join my Facebook group about visiting Italy with kids – I will be happy to help!

Safe travels!

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