Navigating the Vatican Dress Code: Dos and Don’ts Explained

May 19, 2024

If you’re traveling to the Italian capital, it’s very likely a trip to the Vatican is high on your agenda. And why wouldn’t it be? You may also be wondering if there’s a Vatican dress code you should keep in mind.  Spoiler: there is.

Acting as a modern-day gateway into centuries worth of incredible history, the Vatican Museums are an example of awe-inspiring architecture and play host to a collection of art guaranteed to take your breath away. However, they do have some rules that need to be followed regarding dress code.

If you want to enjoy the renowned space in all its splendor, you will be required to adhere to certain rules and regulations per the Vatican’s consideration.

Aerial picture of Vatican City and Rome

When planning a visit to the Vatican, you must certainly keep in mind their dress code rules and regulations. Photo credit: Caleb Miller

When in Rome: How to dress for a visit to the Vatican

Like any religious site around the world, the Vatican asks its visitors to respect its system of rules, and included in these rules is a specific dress code.

“Entry to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Gardens is permitted only to appropriately dressed visitors,” reads the Vatican’s official statement. Prior to your visit to the Vatican, it’s highly recommended you consider this point, and–most importantly–whether or not you’re willing to accept the stipulations and act accordingly.

This is because the Vatican is an independent state and has the authority to impose its dress code throughout the city. As per the Vatican’s statement, this is to ensure “respect of the sacredness of the institutions.” Word to the wise; by choosing to ignore it you run the risk of being turned away.

People walking around St. Peter's Square Vatican City

Vatican City is an Independent State and thus, can set specific rules and regulations that you need to take in consideration when visiting. Photo credit: Pixabay

What does “appropriately dressed” actually mean?

The Vatican makes reference to “appropriately dressed visitors,” but what does this mean exactly? Understanding the term goes a long way towards avoiding potential embarrassment or disappointment.

Beginning with a Vatican decree, it’s emphasized that “low-cut or sleeveless attire, shorts, miniskirts, and hats are not permitted.” As a general guideline, ensuring your knees and shoulders remain covered serves as a reliable starting point for appropriate dress.

people in line at a museum

An important aspect to consider ahead of your Vatican trip: Dressing appropriately. Photo credit: Truus, Bob & Jan too!

FAQ’s about the Vatican dress code

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the dress code you need to follow in order to be certain that you’ll be granted access to the Vatican City and you won’t have any troubles.

Can I wear a t-shirt, tank top or turtleneck to the Vatican Museums?

Tank tops, vest tops, spaghetti-strap tops, sleeveless blouses and any revealing garments are a no-go when visiting the Vatican. This is definitely harder during Summer in Italy. In the summer, you should opt for shirts, t-shirts, or sleeved blouses which cover your shoulders, and sheer blouses that keep you cool while remaining covered–but just be sure you’re dressed modestly underneath any translucent materials. Avoid any transparent or semi-transparent clothes, otherwise.

person wearing black t-shirt and denim jeans

A long shirt or a t-shirt over jeans is always a good look. Photo credit: Cottonbro studio

Can I wear shorts, skirts or slacks in the Vatican?

Both men and women should opt for lightweight trousers, preferably made of linen or cotton. Jeans fit the dress code, but there’s a good chance it will be much too hot to wear them, so with that in mind, it’s worth considering the do’s and don’ts when it comes to shorts and skirts. If you decide to wear a skirt, mini skirts are a no-no, so opt for a longer style and remain cool by choosing cotton or linen fabrics. And if all else fails and the contents of your suitcase are posing problems, you can pick up a skirt or pair of trousers cheaply around Ottaviano Street, which is located just around the corner from the Vatican, or at any of the major shops closer to the center of the city.

Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City blue skies

When thinking shorts and skirts, make sure they at least cover your knees. Photo credit: Ágatha Depiné

What shoes should I wear for a tour of the Vatican?

The Vatican website doesn’t actually make reference to footwear, but that doesn’t mean you get free rein when it comes to anything and everything beneath the ankle. Like every other aspect of your wardrobe decision-making ahead of your visit to the Vatican, err on the side of caution and choose a pair of shoes which won’t draw unwanted attention. Think flat, think comfortable, and think low-key. And avoid any footwear which could be considered loud or garish.

Insider’s Tip: In the summer, men and women should opt for sandals or flats, as opposed to flip-flops.

Woman in summer clothes inside St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

A  light shirt and slacks is an ideal outfit for the Vatican, think of cooler fabrics for the summertime. Photo credit: Anna Church

Can I wear a hat in the Vatican?

In summer, many of us tend to wear baseball caps and sun hats to protect us from the sun’s rays, while in winter we opt for woolen hats and earmuffs to keep out the chill. In the Vatican, you can (and will) be expected to remove any type of hat before gaining entry to the religious site. Just like displaying too much skin is considered disrespectful, wearing a hat indoors is deemed equally bad manners.

little boy wearing a beanie and walking

You can forget about wearing any type of hats inside the Vatican Museums. Photo credit: Allan Mas

What other things shouldn’t I take to the Vatican City?

According to the official website, visitors are required to leave all luggage, suitcases, rucksacks, and any packages or containers considered unsuitable by staff on account of their size or nature in the cloakroom before entering the exhibition spaces.

Most umbrellas, sticks (apart from those used for walking), tripods and stands for photography, and video cameras must also be left in the cloakroom.

However, one thing you should take with you is a light scarf or long-sleeved cover-all. Not only will it come in handy if you think you’re in need of a little extra cover, but it will be a welcome addition if you tend to feel the chill in vast buildings like the Vatican!

Couple taking picture during summer in Italy not following Vatican dress code

Can you recognize all the Vatican dress code infringements in this image? Photo credit: Michel Stockman

Check out our multiple Vatican Tours with countless artistic and architectural treasures, skip the line benefits and even privileged access at night.

Join a Top-rated Tour of the Vatican

Update Notice: This post was updated on November 21, 2023.

by Niamh McClelland

View more by Niamh ›

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