I Snuck Into The Vatican, Once: St. Peter’s Basilica/Vatican Museum

Saint Peter’s Square

I have a few stories worth telling that are associated with Vatican City which I’ll tell while integrating photographs throughout.

First off, for those of you who don’t know, Vatican City is a sovereign city-state confined by its own walls, and is landlocked by Rome, Italy. 

The Vatican Museum and Saint Peter’s Basilica are probably the two most popular tourist attractions in all of Rome. Yes, that’s second to all of the ancient ruins throughout the city, including the Roman forum. Due to this, lines that are literally miles long form at the entrance to the city, so if you’re planning a trip you absolutely must be prepared to wake up extremely early in the morning in order to arrive at the city entrance as early as humanly possible. If I were you, I’d camp out the night before (if this were even allowed). Yes, it’s that bad.

More of Saint Peter’s Square


This already brings me to my first story ~

When I was in Rome, Italy, I went with a group of students for a short two-week study abroad session. On the day that we were supposed to go to the Vatican Museum, our professor’s girlfriend was supposed to wake up early in order to head to the city walls to wait in line for us. The plan was that she would hold our spot in line while we caught up on some sleep and met up with her when everyone was ready.

One problem: she forgot she was supposed to do this. We got off the train and headed in the direction of the Vatican Museum’s entrance, but we immediately ran into the longest waiting line you have ever seen. Literally, without exaggeration, we were told by authorities that it was an expected 7-hour wait to reach the entrance, and this was at 7:30 a.m. We left our professor to wait in line in case we had to do this, and the rest of us, including his girlfriend (a native Italian who speaks the language fluently) continued on to the entrance. Once we arrived we got a hold of a couple of the guards and our professor’s girlfriend began to explain to them that we were a school group from America and how it was her fault that we weren’t already in line. She pleaded with the guard to let us pass in front of everyone else who was already waiting. The guard said absolutely not.

The Swiss Guards

Now, I certainly do not recommend doing what we did in response to this. If you are caught, I’m sure you could get into a heck of a lot of trouble…

The guard said that we had to wait in line just like everybody else, even if we were a school group. This is understandable, but the next moment a group of Italians came up to the two guards that we were talking to, rudely interrupting our conversation, and started speaking Italian so fast that it seemed to even confuse the guards. Both guards turned their backs on us, completely absorbed in whatever was going on, and at that moment, our professor’s girlfriend looked at all of us, grabbed my friend’s hand and darted into the crowd of people, completely cutting-off the line which we were just told we could not cut, and went through the entrance to the Vatican. The next thing we knew we were joining the inner line heading to the entrance of Saint Peter’s Square, looking over our shoulder’s to make sure the guards weren’t headed after us. No lie, I technically snuck into the Vatican. (To be clear, these two guards were not Swiss Guards as seen in the photograph above. It would be impossible to get passed those guys)

Saint Peter’s Basilica

You don’t find out until you’ve already been in line all day long, but once you are close to the entrance to Saint Peter’s Basilica, if the religious officials don’t think what you are wearing is appropriate, they turn you around and deny you access to the church. This means:

For Women:

  • Absolutely no spaghetti straps, actually, you better be wearing sleeves.
  • No V-neck shirts.
  • No shorts, skirts, or dresses that do not reach below your knees.

For Men:

  • A short-sleeved shirt is fine, but a collar is prefered.
  • No shorts that do not reach below the knees.

The only way around these rules is if you have some way of covering yourself up. Luckily, scarfs are very popular in Rome and work as great cover-ups. This leads me to the following image:


My friend here, (Hmm, I wonder if she’d be mad at me for posting this? Hey, we need some comic relief, right?) was turned around by authorities because they decided that both her sleeves and her shorts were too short. Luckily we had these scarves hanging around, so we were able to tie them around her in order to make her a little more “presentable.” This picture ended up being the joke of the trip, we still even talk about it today, two years later.

Saint Peter’s Basilica is absolutely incredible and beautiful. For those of you who do not know, it is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and also the first Pope. It is considered one of the holiest sites in Christianity. It was extremely dim inside, so my photographs didn’t come out great, but I’ve decided to still let them do the rest of the talking on Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The altar and burial site of St. Peter


 One of the smaller domes in the ceiling


The central dome of St. Peter’s Basilica


The above image is the view of Saint Peter’s Square from the entrance to Saint Peter’s Basilica. I wish I could go back to take this photograph again minus that guy’s head, and minus the random arm on the left, but like I said earlier there are so many people there all the time that I’m probably lucky that’s all that made it into this picture. 

Next, we returned to the Vatican Museum, which has more people inside it than Saint Peter’s Basilica. For this reason, I didn’t really like the Vatican Museum too much, but if you know anything about me then you already know that I highly dislike being stuck with crowds of people, especially tourists. Oh, and when I say crowds, I literally mean shoulder-to-shoulder-back-to-back and any other possible way to stand next to somebody…

Hallway – Vatican Museum

See what I mean? But then again check out the artwork! Not only are you surrounded by artifacts and sculptures on all sides of you and at almost all times, it’s also all over the ceiling. Stone carvings carved right into the ceiling and surrounding paintings also on the ceiling! I was most interested in the artwork done on the ceiling, which is better seen here:

The artwork here, and throughout the entire Vatican Museum, truly is mesmerizing. There are some places where it is impossible not to simply stand there (if you weren’t constantly being bumped into) staring at the ceiling, the wall, or even the ground. Which brings me to my second to last photograph that I’ll share with you, from my favorite room in the entire museum:


Here, the upper-half of this image is actually the ceiling, which is painted with an awesome 3D feel, and the lower half is actually a diagonal part of the wall that then connects to the vertical wall below the bottom boarder of the photograph. This painting absolutely blew me away when I looked up at it. The fact that it is even possible to paint such a thing is amazing to think about in itself.

This brings me to my last short story to conclude this post:

If you don’t know, the Vatican Museum ends within the Sistine Chapel, which is where Michelangelo’s painting of the hand of God giving life to Adam can be found on the ceiling. This painting, like all the paintings in the museum, is extremely old, dating back to the early 1500s. Since everything is so old in the Sistine Chapel and because it is a holy church, you are not allowed to talk more than a whisper. There are religious officials and security everywhere who continuously ask people to keep quite. You also aren’t supposed to take photographs of anything because the flash can wear away at the paint. Well, I accidentally forgot about this rule, raised my camera to get a picture of Michelangelo’s iconic painting, and all of a sudden, as if the entire building around us would crumble to the ground if my flash went off, the religious officials and security guards started yelling and screaming in Italian. This instantly caught my attention, especially because I couldn’t understand what they were saying, so I turned and saw all of them staring back at me, and I knew enough to put the camera down. Embarrassing, right? Part of me still wishes I had gotten the photograph. Oh well…

This concludes my post on The Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica. I’ll leave you with a final image, taken by my friend Tahlya, of the spiral staircase leading to the exit of the Vatican Museum. I hope you enjoyed this post!

Spiral Staircase, Vatican Museum. Image by Tahlya, a friend of mine

Coming Soon: The Roman Forum


Author: Nathan Bush Wedding Photography

My name is Nathan Bush and I am a loving husband, an avid world traveler, an adventurer, and an off-road and Jeep enthusiast. I began my serious journey into photography in the mountains of Patagonia Argentina where I fell in love with the wilderness world. My passion has taken me to Iceland, Alaska, Peru, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, and countless National Parks.  A good friend once told me I should combine my knack for beautiful landscape photography with capturing the details of their wedding, so I decided to dive right into the challenge. It has been quite a ride from there, and thus today, my passion for photography has evolved to capturing the raw candid emotion and intimate moments involved in wedding photography.

12 thoughts on “I Snuck Into The Vatican, Once: St. Peter’s Basilica/Vatican Museum”

  1. Nice article, I found that going to the Vatican after 2pm was less busy and I didn’t have to queue. Best part for me was the spiral staircase 🙂

    1. Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to keep that in mind for a year from now when my family wants to head to Rome. The spiral staircase is quite interesting– you don’t really expect it when you’re on your way out.

  2. wow.. u really moving to warmer land!! Keep moving Nate, those pics are very beautiful of Italy. Love it! I like the changing color from the places U step in, from blue-white-gray places of beautiful Iceland to the colorful of Mediterranean Italy. Great shots!


    1. Thanks, Octa!
      This article and these photos are actually from a trip I took about two years ago but never wrote about. You’re right though, the contrasts between Italy and Iceland are quite severe. I’m still in the process of planning where I’m heading next. My family wants me to jump in on a trip to Italy (again), Austria, Germany, and Poland with them, but at the same time I want to head to either the Sahara or a Jungle. Both are landscapes I have never seen yet which is my main reasoning for wanting to go.

      Thanks for continuing to read my blog!

  3. Love the photos – that’s hilarious about the scarves! I would imagine many tourists run into that problem without being aware of the strict dress code. I’m with you, though – those crowds would’ve driven me crazy!

    1. It was hilarious watching everyone get turned around. But there were so many people, they actually did let some through…my friend was not one of the lucky ones. We’re lucky we had the scarves on us, otherwise, who knows what we would have done. The crowds were intense. The Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica are still worth a visit, but you certainly have to make sure you put yourself in the right mindset as far as knowing you’ll practically be holding hands with a stranger all day.

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