Vatican City, Rome and Italy Itinerary

DAY 1: Arrival at Rome
Transfer to Hotel Arrival at Rome
Check in Stay at 4/5 star property near Vatican City
Visit St Peter’s Basilica, and St Peter’s Square
  Vatican Museums with Sistine Chapel
Dinner Dinner at the in-house restaurant
DAY 2: Rome
  Breakfast at the hotel
Visit Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
  Borghese Gallery and Gardens
  Baths of Diocletian
  Basilica of St John Lateran
  Church of the Scala Santa
  Baths of Caracalla
  Arch of Drusus
  The Catacombs of San Callisto (St Calixtus)
  The Catacombs of San Sebastiano
  Catacombs of Domitilla
  Return to hotel
DAY 3: Rome
  Breakfast at the hotel
Visit Trevi Fountain
  The Spanish Steps
  Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
  The Colosseum
  Arch of Constantine
  Roman Forum
  Palatine Hill
  The Pantheon
  Centro Storico
Wine tasting Jewish quarter at Piazza Navona
  Stay overnight at the hotel
DAY 4: En route to Tuscany, Gargonza
  Breakfast at the hotel
Check Out Check out and travel to Tuscany
Experience Abbey of Sant’Antimo- Wine tasting and lunch
  Piazza Pio II- small town along the way famous for pecorino cheese
Check in Stay at Castello di Gargonza– Medieval castle turned hotel
  Dinner at the hotel
DAY 5: Excursion to San Gimignano and Pisa
  Breakfast at the hotel
Experience San Gimignano- the medieval Manhattan of Italy
  The Leaning Tower of Pisa- Piazza dei Miracoli
  Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta & Baptistery
  Campo Santo (Sacred Field- containing soil from Golgotha)
  Museo dell’Opera del Duomo- Cathedral Museum
  Campo Santo- Sacred Field
  Palazzo dei Cavalieri- Knights’ Square
  Basilica Romanica di San Piero a Grado, Via Livornese
  Palazzo Blu
  Return to Castello di Gargonza
DAY 6: Day in Florence, Stay at Venice
  Breakfast at the hotel
Check Out Check out and travel to Florence
Visit Piazzale Michelangiolo
  Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
  Vasari Corridor
  Uffizi Palace and Gallery
  Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria
  Loggia dei Lanzi- open air museum at Piazza della Signoria
  Bargello Palace National Museum
  Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza Duomo, Baptistery
  Basilica di San Lorenzo and Michelangelo’s Medici Tombs
  (Entry tickets required)
  Galleria dell’Accademia (Academy Gallery)
  Santa Croce Cathedral
  Travel on coach to Venice
Check in 4 star property in Venice
DAY 7: Venice, Stay at Bologna
  Breakfast at the hotel
Visit St Mark’s Basilica and St Mark’s Square
  Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and Bridge of Sighs
Gondola Ride Canale Grande (Grand Canal) Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
  San Polo
  Scuola Grande di San Rocco
  Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Ferry ride Island of Murano- glass blowing
Ferry ride Island of Burano- lace making
  Peggy Guggenheim Collection
  Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
  Gallerie dell’Accademia
  Santa Maria dei Miracoli
  Palazzo Rezzonico
  Torcello Island
  Lido Beach
Check Out Check out and travel to Bologna, food capital of Italy
  4 star property in Bologna
DAY 8: Bologna, Stay at Assisi
  Breakfast at the hotel
Visit Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno
  (two central squares of Bolgna, adjacent to each other)
  San Petronio (Basilica of St. Petronius)
  Basilica di San Pietro
  Quadrilatero- Bolognese Food
  Archiginnasio Anatomical Theater
  Museo Civico Archeologico (Archeological Museum)
  Oratorio Dei Battuti- Oratory of Battuti
  San Domenico (Tomb of St Dominic)
  Santo Stefano (St. Stephen Basilica)
  Leaning Towers at Piazza di Porta Ravegnana
  Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Gallery)
  Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca ( via 3.5 km portico)
  Travel on coach to Assisi
Check in 4/5 star property at Assisi
DAY 9: Assisi
  Breakfast at the hotel
Visit Convento di San Damiano
  Basilica of St Clare
  Cathedral of San Rufino
  Rocca Maggiore
  Tempio di Minerva (Temple of Minerva)
  Piazza del Comune and Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
  Chiesa Nuova- birthplace of St Francis
  Roman Forum and Museum
  Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery)
  Basilica di San Francesco (St Francis Basilica)
  St Peter’s Abbey and Franciscan Friary
  Eremo delle Carceri- where St Francis prayed
  Santa Maria degli Angeli, Porziuncola the holiest Franciscan shrine
  Stay overnight at the hotel
DAY 10: Back to Rome
  Breakfast at the hotel
Check Out Check out and travel to Rome by coach
  Arrival at Rome and onward dispersal

Before heading out

Our Vatican City and Rome Itinerary is meant for those on a tight schedule and travelling with family. The Vatican and Rome are living museums or art galleries. The variety, history and sheer depth of art and culture make both the city of Rome and the Vatican City an incredible destination, and is a must visit during one’s lifetime. However, due to the sheer scale and volume of information to absorb, one needs to be well prepared before heading out. We suggest that you do enough background reading on Vatican City and then engage the services of a very good guide to accompany you on your outing.

Vatican City

Photo Courtesy: VATICAN MEDIA/ AFP

Pilgrim Stays is happy to launch our own tours with recommended and vetted guides who will be able to guide you through the religious, architectural and cultural significance of various attractions.

Vatican City

By Thomas Römer/ OpenStreetMap Data

We suggest dividing your itinerary into two segments – The Vatican and then the City of Rome. The Vatican is a must do but requires background reading even for someone who is a devout Catholic. Many aspects of the history of the Church and the Popes are not well known to the general laity. The interplay between the then Popes and artists such as the immortal Michelangelo require some understanding of the historical context. Juxtaposed with the rest of the city of Rome, this would be a lot to absorb in a mere 2-3 days. Hence we suggest a slower paced trip with 2 days dedicated to the Vatican and 3 days for the rest of the city of Rome. This would give one enough time to tuck into gelato that melts in the mouth, and to treat your family to the best of Italian cuisine at Rome’s famed restaurants.

Vatican City

St Peter’s Basilica

The world’s smallest sovereign state, Vatican City is a truly tiny territory, comprising little more than St Peter’s Basilica and the walled headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. There are no border controls, of course, though the city-state’s 800 inhabitants (essentially clergymen and Swiss Guards) have their own radio station, daily newspaper, tax-free pharmacy, petrol pumps, postal service, and head of state—the pope. The Pope had always exercised a high degree of political independence from the rest of Italy, formalised by the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Pope Pius XI and the Italian government to create the Vatican.

Swiss Guards   Sistine Chapel

The Vatican City is still protected by the flamboyantly uniformed (allegedly designed by Michelangelo) Swiss Guards, a tradition dating from when the Swiss, known as brave soldiers, were often hired out as mercenaries for foreign armies. Today the Vatican remains the center of the Roman Catholic world, the home of the Pope—and the resting place of St Peter. While St Peter’s Basilica is one of chief attractions, it forms only part of the Apostolic Palace that can be visited independently.

Vatican Museums

Not to be missed are the Vatican Museums, arguably among the world’s biggest and richest that have on display an immense collection of art amassed by the popes. The Collection of Modern Religious Art added in 1973, houses paintings and sculptures from artists like Carlo Carrà, Giorgio de Chirico, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. One can very well estimate the worth of these priceless treasures considering the sums that works of these artists have fetched so far.

Vatican Museum

The sphere within a sphere sculpture outside the museum

The Adoration of the Magi was created in 1503 by Raphael

On the left side of Piazza San Pietro, the Vatican Tourist Office (tel. 06-69882019; Mon–Sat 8:30am–7:30pm) sells maps and guides that will help you make sense of the treasures in the museums; it also accepts reservations for tours of the Vatican Gardens. Adjacent to the information office, the Vatican Post Office sells special Vatican postage stamps (open Mon–Fri 8:30am–7pm, Sat 8:30am–6pm).

The only entrance to St Peter’s for tourists is through one of the glories of the Western world: Bernini’s 17th-century St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro). As you stand in the huge piazza, you are in the arms of an ellipse partly enclosed by a majestic Doric-pillared colonnade. Stand in the marked marble discs embedded in the pavement near the fountains to see all the columns lined up in a striking optical/geometrical play. Straight ahead is the facade of St Peter’s itself, and to the right, above the colonnade, are the dark brown buildings of the papal apartments and the Vatican Museums. In the center of the square stands a 4,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk, created in the ancient city of Heliopolis on the Nile delta and appropriated by the Romans under Emperor Augustus. Flanking the obelisk are two 17th-century fountains. The one on the right (facing the basilica), by Carlo Maderno, who designed the facade of St Peter’s, was placed here by Bernini himself; the other is by Carlo Fontana.

A St Peter’s Warning

St Peter’s has a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders and arms. Note: You will not be let in if you come dressed inappropriately. If you’re showing too much skin, a guard hands out blue paper capes similar to what you wear in a doctor’s office. Only limited photography is permitted inside.

Making the most of a day in Vatican City

Most Vatican visitors allot a day to see its two major sights, St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel). We recommend starting with the museums. Pre-order tickets for the earliest time slot available (from 9am) the day you wish to visit. Plan to devote several hours to see the highlights of the museum collections.

Sistine Chapel   Sistine Chapel

Next, grab a quick late lunch, either in the museum cafeteria or at a nearby sandwich shop or pizza joint. The streets leading from the museum exit to St Peter’s Basilica are lined with cheap eateries—mostly mediocre, but they’ll do in a pinch situation.

Once you enter St Peter’s Square, head to the back of the line (always long, but it moves fairly quickly) to enter the basilica. From the time you enter the basilica, you’ll need at least 1 hour for even the most cursory tour.

Sistine Chapel

A diagram of the subjects of the Sistine Chapel

By now it’ll be late afternoon, and you’ve got 2 options: Visit the Vatican Grottoes, burial place of dozens of popes, or climb the 551 steps (320 if you take the elevator) to the top of the dome of St Peter’s. Note that the dome is open until 6pm April to September, 5pm October to March. The grottoes stay open to 7pm and 6pm, respectively. If you’ve still got energy, head to nearby Castel Sant’Angelo, which is open until 7:30pm year-round—the view of Rome from the castle’s roof is a perfect way to cap off your marathon Vatican day.

Want more time at the Vatican Museums? Arrive at St. Peter’s early in the morning to get in line before it opens at 7am; that way you can tour the basilica before the crowds get thick. Then head to a late morning appointment at the museums and spend the rest of the day there.

Papal Audiences

When the pope is in Rome, he gives a public audience every Wednesday beginning at 10:30am (sometimes 10am in summer). If you want to get a good seat near the front, arrive early and prepare to wait—security begins to let people in between 8 and 8:30am but the line starts much earlier.

Vatican City

Photo Courtesy: VATICAN MEDIA

Audiences take place in the Paul VI Hall of Audiences, although sometimes St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square are used to accommodate a large attendance in the summer. You can check on Pope Francis’s appearances and the ceremonies he presides over, including celebrations of Mass, on the Vatican website. Anyone is welcome, but you must first obtain a free ticket; without a reservation you can try the Swiss Guards by the Bronze Doors located just after security at St. Peter’s (8am–8pm in summer and 8am–7pm in winter). You can pick up tickets here up to 3 days in advance, subject to availability.

Vatican City

Pope Francis at the Audience Hall

If you prefer to reserve a place in advance, visit the Vatican website to download a request form, which must be submitted via fax (yes, really) to the Prefecture of the Papal Household at tel. 06-69885863. Tickets can be picked up at the office located just inside the Bronze Doors from 3 to 7pm on the preceding day or on the morning of the audience from 7 to 10am.

At noon on Sundays, the Pope speaks briefly from his study window and gives his blessing to the visitors and pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square (no tickets are required for this). From about mid-July to mid-September, the Angelus and blessing historically takes place at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, some 26 km (16 miles) out of Rome. Under Pope Francis, the residence, gardens, and villas of the castle have been opened to visitors as a museum, accessible via Metro and bus as well as a new train service that leaves from the Roma San Pietro station. Visit for information on seeing Castel Gandolfo by train.

The City of Rome

There’s a real “Jekyll and Hyde” quality to exploring Rome with kids. On the one hand, it’s a capital city, big, busy, and hot, and with public transportation that doesn’t always work too well. On the other, the very best parts of the city for kids—Roman ruins, subterranean worlds, and gelato—are aspects you’d want to explore anyway. Seeing Rome with kids doesn’t demand an itinerary redesign—at least, if you’re willing to skip some of the marquee museums. And despite what you have heard about its famous seven hills, much of the center is mercifully flat and pedestrian.


Food is pretty easy too: Roman pizzas are some of the best in the world. Ditto the gelato, or ice cream (sacrilege I know). Restaurants in pretty much any price category will be happy to serve up a simple pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce) to a fussy eater.

The city is shorter on green spaces than European cities like London, but the landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese have plenty of space for them to let off steam. Pack a picnic or rent some bikes. The Parco Appia Antica is another family favorite, especially on a Sunday or national holiday when the old cobbled road is closed to traffic. The park’s Catacombs are eerie enough to satisfy grisly young minds, but are also fascinating Christian and historical sites in their own right.

Rome from the eyes of a child

Museums, of course, are trickier. You can probably get kids fired up more easily for the really ancient stuff. The bookshop at the Colosseum has a good selection of guides to the city aimed at under-12s, themed on gladiators and featuring funny or cartoonish material. Make that an early stop. We have taken a 6-year-old to the Musei Capitolini, and she loved hunting down the collection’s treasures highlighted on the free museum guide leaflet. It was like a themed treasure hunt, and bought us a couple of hours to admire the exhibits—and the chance to see them from a new and unexpected angle, too. The multiple ground levels below San Clemente and the Case Romane del Celio are another obvious draw for small visitors.

Vatican Museum

Musei Capitolini

There are a couple of city museums designed with a specifically child-friendly angle. The best is the Museo della Civiltà Romana, which is popular with local schoolchildren for a good reason: Its models of Ancient Rome help bring the old stones to life. Your kids will be able to see Rome as it was at its peak. Watch out for the odd opening hours, though, because it is a half-hour Metro journey and walk from the center.

Vatican City

Scuola Gladiatori Roma

If kids get really into the gladiator angle, enroll them in the Scuola Gladiatori Roma (Rome Gladiator School), where they can spend 2 hours preparing for a duel in a reasonably authentic way. 

Away from the museums, kids will also likely enjoy some of the cheesier city sights—at the very least, these will make some good family photos to share on Facebook or Instagram. Place your hands in the Bocca della Verità at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and enjoy watching the feral cats relaxing amid the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, where a cat sanctuary gives basic healthcare to Rome’s many strays.