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Rome City Trip - Vatican City and Trastevere

St. Peter's Square in Vatican City
St. Peter's Square in Vatican City


ROME DAY 2: St. Peter's Square, the Sistine Chapel and Trastevere

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Vatican City may be small in size, but exploring its incredible richness can easily take a full day. There's little in the way of eateries, so it's best to get your breakfast before coming or simply plan on an early lunch. The earlier you get there, the better, as tourist lines get long.

The Sistine Chapel viewed from Saint Peter's Dome
The Sistine Chapel viewed from Saint Peter's Dome

The best place to start is in the center of St. Peter's Square. Catch your breath and enter the massive Renaissance basilica, featuring the famous dome designed by Michelangelo.

Directly to your right is Michelangelo's "Pietà," created when he was just 24 years old. From there it's one masterpiece after another as you walk past the nave to reach the ancient bronze statue of Saint Peter, whose foot has been worn smooth over the centuries by the touch of pilgrims hoping for good luck. Above the papal altar is the "Baldacchino," the fantastic bronze canopy sculpted by Bernini in a little less than a decade.

If you've got the energy and aren't afraid of heights, closed spaces or 320 steps, make sure to climb to the top of St. Peter's for one of Rome's best views.

Afterwards, come down to earth with pizza and antipasti at the nearby Hostaria Dino e Toni or specialty meats and cheese at the historic delicatessen Franchi.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Then dive into the momentous Vatican Museums, decorated with paintings from Renaissance masters such as Raphael, Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Signorelli. The highlight is undeniably the Sistine Chapel, frescoed by Michelangelo.

It's impossible to see everything in a day, so choose the rest of the galleries wisely. We like the Braccio Nuovo, or New Wing, for the impressive ancient Greek and Roman mosaics and statuary.

Exit the sacred city via the Ponte Sant'Angelo, considered the most beautiful bridge in Rome with its statues designed by Bernini. At the river's edge is the rotund Castel Sant'Angelo, Roman Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum and last ditch sanctuary for many a pope (who can access it through secret tunnels). The museum inside contains art objects, paintings, furniture and weapons, but the café alone is inviting enough for an afternoon pause.

From there, head south along the Tiber into the quirky neighborhood of Trastevere, where the ancient artisanal vestiges of this genuinely Roman enclave mingle with its modern, Bohemian inhabitants. Most of the fun is just exploring the winding, narrow, cobbled streets and checking out what Romans do in Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo

A good spot to check out the dinner crowd is at the very popular pizzeria Dar Poeta, but be prepared to wait or navigate crowds for the yeast-free, slow-rise dough pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven. For a calmer, sit down affair still full of local flavor, try Da Augusto a few blocks closer to the river.

This neighborhood really picks up in the evening with a young and international crowd spilling from the tiny bars and clubs that line the cobbled streets. A good old-school wine bar is the rustic Enoteca Ferrara. Those looking for live music and art performances try Le Ombre Rosse.

Continue to Day 3

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* Sistine Chapel image by Maus-Trauden. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Aaron Logan

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