Vatican City will be familiar to many people, even if they have never been there. You will almost certainly feel the same. This tiny area of Rome is called an enclave, and it actually exists as an independent state in its own right. It does not have its own currency though, instead using the single European currency – the euro.
Since many people are familiar with the euro you may already know what to expect from the currency. It is divided into 100 cents, and although these are officially known as euro-cents they are normally just referred to as cents.
The one cent coin is the smallest one and then you’ve got the 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. You can also get a couple of euro-valued coins – the one and two euro pieces. The banknotes go from the smallest 5 euro note through the 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euro notes. However the largest three are not often used. They are still legal tender but they tend to be rather appealing for those who like to forge banknotes, hence why they aren’t very common.
Vatican City is not actually part of the European Union, even though it exists inside Italy, which is a member. The Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State is responsible for issuing all the currency in the state.
One interesting fact is that Vatican City does have its own ‘country’ side of the coins with their own designs on, just as all other member countries have. The early issues are now worth a fortune, and all of them feature a Pope on them. The first series of the coins was issued back in 2002.
As you may already know, the euro is legal tender in all countries that have it as their currency (including Vatican City). Even though the country-side of the coins varies between countries, it makes no difference to whether those coins are acceptable in another country. You can use euros gained from France, Germany and any other euro-using country in Vatican City.
This is good news since you can easily order any quantity of euros you need for your trip prior to getting to Vatican City. Many people combine a trip to Vatican City with a trip to Italy, even if they only visit Rome. As such you can withdraw cash from a cash machine prior to going into the city itself. There are cash machines inside the city though; indeed if you know a bit of Latin you can have the experience of using the only cash machines in the world to have Latin instructions! Don’t panic though – you only need use them if you select that option.
It’s usually quite easy to use credit cards to pay for things as well. For a while in 2013 they were banned from use though. This was because the bank providing the cash machines hadn’t complied with anti-money laundering provisions put in place by the European Union. Rest assured they did come back into use eventually.
Every good currency converter will have the euro as one of the currencies you can convert any other currency into. Furthermore you can often find the currency listed at the top of the long list of currencies included. If not, you can simply type in the currency ISO code EUR to find it.
If you wish to learn more about Vatican City – or Holy See as it is also known – you can visit the appropriate page on the UK government website at https://www.gov.uk/government/world/holy-see.
It is rather sobering to learn Vatican City has an exceptionally high crime rate. One source puts the rate at an incredible 1.5 crimes for every individual there. As such you must take particular care when visiting. This should not put you off going there but it is certainly well worth being aware of.
The major problem is pickpocketing, and when you see how many tourists there are in Vatican City you can almost tell why this is the case. Everyone is keen to see everything around them, and there are always crowds. For the pickpocket eager to dip in and out of pockets that might hold cash or other treasures, it is a simple matter to pick easy targets and disappear into the crowd before anyone even realises what has happened. Be aware they are professionals so the more you can do to keep your hands on your valuables the better.
When staying in a hotel make sure you have a room safe you can use. This is where your passport, travel tickets and other documents, and any other valuables you have should stay. Don’t carry any more cash than you really need at any one time, and be alert whenever you need more from a cash machine. Money belts are a great idea but it is also a good idea to consider dividing up your money into much smaller amounts to go in different pockets. This far reduces the chance of losing everything to a pickpocket.
As we have already discovered, Vatican City is situated within Rome. The A90 road circles Rome itself and well inside this sits Vatican City. There is no capital city since it is recognised as a city state in itself. It is also known as the walled city for the simple reason that most of its boundary with Rome is defined by walls. One exception is in St Peter’s Square, which has a thick white line painted on the ground to denote the point at which Vatican City ends and Italy begins. So if you feel up for it you can be in two countries at the same time!
We should start with St Peter’s Square since this is one of the most famous areas of Vatican City. The overriding feature is of course St Peter’s Basilica, which was designed by a whole host of famous names including Michelangelo. It is nearly 500 years old although this is aged from the time it was completed. It took an amazing 120 years for it to go from start to finish. Many however would argue that it was worth every second to get to this stage. It is impressive indeed, partly for its artwork and partly for the fact that many Popes have their final resting place here. It is also believed (with some evidence to back it up) that Saint Peter could also be buried underneath the basilica. While it is uncertain whether this could ever be definitively proven, it is certainly a fine resting place to have.
Outside the basilica in the square itself you will see an Egyptian obelisk. It is not the only one Italy has to offer, but it is the only one that has stayed standing ever since the ancient Romans were in town. It provides the perfect centrepiece in the square and in front of the basilica – and let’s face it something majestic was needed to even stand a chance of looking impressive next to the basilica itself.
Of course you cannot go to Vatican City without making the time to see the Sistene Chapel. Dating from 1483 this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it seems impossible to think it could be anything else. Be prepared to strain your neck to get a look at that famous ceiling. You can also appreciate the works of such artists as Botticelli, Roselli and Michelangelo. For art buffs this really is a sensational and probably overwhelming place to be.
Third on our list of must-see destinations within this tiny country are the Vatican Museums. This is an art museum that receives millions of visitors every year and it is not difficult to see why. You can actually visit the Sistene Chapel as part of your museum tour as it is included on the way round, so do bear this in mind. Artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Bellini all have works in here. No matter which art museums you have seen in your life, you cannot fail to pass this one up. It is truly breath-taking to be among such amazing examples of classic art.
Vatican City may be small, but it doesn’t lack for amazing attractions, sights and appeal. It is a rather unusual city and country to be sure, but this is part of its charm. You are unlikely to find a quiet spot to sit back and appreciate everything around you, but then this is part of its charm too. Get ready, take a deep breath, step through into Vatican City and make the very best of your time there.