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Concierge.com's insider take:
The tiny sovereign state of the Vatican is an essential stopover on any Roman holiday and offers enough in itself to fill days if not weeks. Consecrated in 1626, the current St. Peter's Basilica remains the symbol and heart of the Catholic church and houses Michelangelo's stirring Pietà and Bernini's spectacular tomb of Pope Alexander VII. Bernini is also responsible for the magnificent elliptical colonnade in St. Peter's Square. If you are up for the climb (and don't suffer from vertigo), take the steps up to the top of the dome for incomparable views—and a much welcome bar-café.
It would take weeks to do full justice to the overwhelming Vatican Museums, a 15-minute walk around the Vatican walls from the square, so choose the highlights that appeal to you. Besides the Sistine Chapel—with Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1512) on its altar wall and Creation (1535) on its ceiling, plus a veritable who's who of Renaissance greats on the side walls—areas not to miss are the Pinacoteca, with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Raphael; the rooms frescoed for Pope Nicholas V by Raphael; and the Pio-Clementino museum with its peerless collection of ancient sculpture. Kids will enjoy the mummies in the Egyptian museum.
Note that a strict dress code applies in St. Peter's and the Vatican Museums: You will be turned away if you have bare shoulders or bare legs above the knee. The new, shorter visiting times listed below are for individual visitors; only prepaid groups can access the museums outside of these times. Note also that closing times are those of the ticket office, not the museums, which stay open for another 75 minutes to allow visitors to complete the circuit. Check the Vatican Web site for small variations to the times and days given here (for example, over the Christmas and New Year's period).
St. Peter's Basilica
Piazza San Pietro
Tel: 39 06 6988 1662
Open daily 7 am to 6 pm, October through March; 7 am to 7 pm, April through September.
Viale del Vaticano
Tel: 39 06 6988 3333
Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 3:30 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 1:30 pm, March through October; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm, November through February. Open the last Sunday of each month 9 am to 12:30 pm, free of charge.
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