Since we've been busily crossing tiny countries off of our travel list, we had to stop off in Vatican City on our recent trip to Italy. When we were in Rome last summer, we walked through it, but I was wearing shorts, so we couldn't go in to the basilica or anything super cool like that. This year I got smart and wore trousers AND packed a long sleeved shirt so that we could get the full Vatican City experience (museum, basilica, etc.) And because I firmly believe that the world is shrinking, I ran into a family that I teach gymnastics to in Germany while perusing a museum gallery! In any case, here are my Vatican City tips for you:
1) Pay attention to the dress code: This is super hit or miss, but if you want to go into the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter's Basilica, your knees and shoulders need to be covered. I suppose the rules on this are a bit flexible, as when we went into the Sistine Chapel, two girls ahead of me had spaghetti straps on and no one said a word to them, but another woman had a regular tank top on and was asked to buy a scarf to cover up. Just be proactive on this. I wore a spaghetti strap top and then packed a long-sleeved blouse to throw on for the time we spent in holy places.
2) Arrive early: It is free to walk into St. Peter's Basilica and that means that the lines are LONG! We didn't really plan much of our day, so by the time we were ready to check out the basilica, it was close to 1500. We were told that it could take up to 3 hours to get in and they close at 1900, so we jumped into the line. It actually only took about 40 minutes, but it was HOT, so I'd recommend getting there first thing in the morning to get it taken care of in the quickest/coolest manner possible.
3) If you go to the top of the cupola in St. Peter's Basilica, pay to take the elevator: I'm all about being eco friendly AND getting some exercise, but it's almost 600 steps to the top. I climbed to the first level, which is inside the church (on an admittedly sore knee), but I was insanely dizzy from the climb. I really thought I might hurl and then we continued our journey all the way up to the top and another member of our party had to stop because he thought he was having a heart attack. The steps are steep and narrow and when you get close to the top, the walls are curved and it is really hard to tell which way is up. Perspective gets super skewed, so if you decide to take the stairs, bring yourself a sugary snack, a full water bottle, and a fan. There are SOS phones if you run into trouble, but I definitely enjoyed our elevator ride back down to the bottom. And it only costs an extra 2 Euros to take the elevator. It's worth it.
4) If you want to go to the museum and see the Sistine Chapel, purchase tickets ahead of time: It's a no brainer. You could walk right in with your pre-purchased tickets OR you could stand in line for up to several hours to gain access to the huge complex of galleries and such. You can purchase these tickets up to 60 days before your visit. It just makes sense.
5) Pack food or eat before you go: The restaurants in the museum are overpriced and the food isn't great, but if you're planning on spending a long day at the museum, you may want to have snacks. I don't think you're really supposed to pack food, but at the security check near the ticket counters, they didn't confiscate anything from me, so I'd say that you're good to go!
6) Pack a water bottle: There are tons of fountains with potable water scattered around the Vatican City. We operate on a "Kill it and fill it" premise where whenever we see a fountain, we chug whatever water we have (kill it) and then refill the bottle as many times as we need so that we can stay hydrated between fountains and can get around having to pay for water all over the place.
7) Bring a pen/addresses: There is a post office in the Vatican Museum. If you don't already know, the Vatican City is its own country with its own zip code, so sending post cards from here is kind of a cool souvenir for your friends. The catch: They sell pens for about 2 Euros a pop. Bring your own to avoid the extra cost! Also, try to plan ahead and put addresses of anyone you may want to mail things to in your phone/tablet/purse/etc. There is no wifi in the museum.
8) Don't fall for it: There are about a zillion people trying to sell tour packages or so-called package deals to get into the museum and basilica. Many of these people will tell you that they are not trying to sell you anything, will offer you a ton of information about where to go to get in to the museum or basilica and THEN will start trying to sell you stuff once you're hooked. As much as I hate ignoring people who are just trying to make a buck to pay their way, I'd advise that you walk past these people. I like to carry a hand fan with me when I'm in Italy for the summer, and this is the time I pull it out. I stay cool and am able to block myself from making eye contact with pushy sales people without being overly rude.
I think that's about it! Plan to take lots of photos or plan some games to play while waiting in the lines that you may end up waiting in, but other than that, enjoy!