detail of saint peter's basilica
Art and culture

Uncovering the Vatican’s secret must-sees

January 20, 2021

The first thing that comes to mind when visiting the Vatican is often Michelangelo’s spectacular Sistine Chapel – but there are many other, more unusual sites to explore within Vatican City. From Bramante’s staircase to scaling the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, here are some truly unforgettable experiences to have at The Vatican.
saint peter's basilica dome and cupola

Climbing St Peter’s dome

For one of the best views of Vatican City, climbing to the top of St Peter’s Basilica dome – or cupola – is a must. There are two parts to the climb, the first of which can be done by lift (which cuts out 231 steps). This part takes you to the interior balcony of the dome, where you can admire the magnificent mosaics and look down on the basilica below. The second part of the climb takes you up an increasingly narrow spiral staircase, up a further 320 steps. At the top you’ll be rewarded with unbelievable views of the Vatican Gardens, St Peter’s Square and the city of Rome stretching out before you.

Vatican Necropolis

Hidden beneath St Peter’s Basilica are treasures few visitors even know exist. Five storeys under St Peter’s alter lie ruins dating back thousands of years. Originally the site of a pagan burial ground from the first century AD, this vast necropolis spans several mausoleums from various eras of the Roman Empire. Most importantly for pilgrims, is the site of St Peter’s tomb. The area is cordoned off, but it is truly remarkable to be so close to the final resting place of the apostle. As you might expect, visitors can only access the necropolis via advanced registration. Numbers are strictly limited and only those over the age of 15 are permitted to enter.

Famous statue of Saint Peter in St. Peters-square Rome, near Hotel Eden
monastery mater ecclesiae

Vatican Gardens

Dating back to the medieval period, the Vatican Gardens have undergone many modifications over the years, the result of which is a series of beautifully manicured flower beds, bucolic walkways, grottoes, fortifications and elaborate fountains. Entrance is via private tour only, so the gardens are never crowded with visitors – a welcome change from many of Vatican City’s top tourist sites. The gardens also offer some of the most unusual and attractive views of St Peter’s Basilica, framed by foliage and towering trees. As a special behind the scenes experience, your guide might even reveal some of the Pope’s favourite locations for quiet contemplation

Bramante Staircase

Housing a wonderful collection of artworks, The Pio-Clementino Museum is also famous for being the home of Bramante’s iconic spiral staircase. Built in 1505, it was a landmark architectural achievement, and still draws visitors today (though numbers are extremely limited). Commissioned by Pope Julius II, the staircase was built with a ramp rather than with stairs, so that the Pope could use it to travel by carriage to his private residence. Lined with granite columns and paved with a herringbone design, the staircase is a spectacular sight all the way up to the top, where the spiral design is at its most arresting.

cupola of saint peter basilica from the garden of the vatican museum
st peter's square in vatican city

Gregoriano Profano Museum

Originally inaugurated in 1844 in the Lateran Apostolic Palace by Gregory XVI Cappellari, Gregoriano Profano Museum’s current home in the Vatican was spearheaded by Pope Paul VI in 1970. A large, open and airy space, the collection takes centre stage at this museum, which displays a wide variety of artefacts and classical artworks from Ancient Greek sculptures to Imperial Roman statues and portraits. Also on display are Roman mosaics and monuments, as well as a substantial selection of funerary sculpture, including altars, urns and sarcophagi.



Discover these incredible Vatican City sites on your next stay at Hotel Eden, with the help of our dedicated concierge team.

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