Millions of people visit the Vatican (St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums) every year. And yes, some are turned away because of what they are wearing! Even though it is a major tourist attraction for people of all backgrounds, Vatican City is also a major holy site in the Catholic religion. As such, it is important to think about what to wear to the Vatican (or t0 any church in Italy, for that matter).
Vatican Dress Code
First things first: what are the actual rules about what you can wear to the Vatican? It is actually more about what you CAN’T wear. The following items of clothing are not allowed in the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel), St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Gardens. If you are visiting it is prohibited to wear:
- Shorts above the knee
- Sleeveless tops
- Lowcut clothing
The Vatican’s dress code applies to both men and women and essentially comes down to ensuring that your knees and shoulders are covered.
What to Wear to the Vatican
While there is a dress code in terms of what is not allowed, there are no set rules about what TO wear to the Vatican. (Unless you are a female diplomat about to meet the Pope, in which case you wear black. I doubt this applies to too many of us).
If you are visiting St. Peter’s Basilica and/or the Vatican museums, you should dress for comfort while respecting the rules about covering your knees and shoulders.
Blouses or shirt that cover the shoulder
Skip the spaghetti straps and be sure to wear a shirt with sleeves when you are visiting Vatican City. This is more of an issue in the summer than in the winter.
There is no need to dress formally but men may want to opt for a linen shirt (which is a good choice for traveling to Italy in general).
For women, if you are wearing a dress or top with thin straps, you have two choices: bring a scarf to wrap around your shoulders, or carry a cardigan to wear inside at all times.
It is probably going to be less hassle to simply wear a blouse or a t-shirt with sleeves. Short sleeves are fine, but I would pick a breezy top like this one for comfort (and because Italians tend to dress up a bit and save the t-shirts for the gym).
Mid-length skirts or trousers
It can be annoying to be banned from wearing shorts in the heat of summer, but the Vatican is serious about keeping knees covered. My favorite solution is to wear a mid-length skirt (or a dress that goes to the knee). I find that this length of the skirt is great for braving public transportation as well because then your skin doesn’t actually have to make contact with the bus or metro seats.
There is no need to be frumpy (though the flash of midriff above isn’t going to work – simply pair the skirt with a different top).
Guys can sometimes get by with longer shorts, but trousers or jeans are always a better bet. Pick a lighter cotton like these for summer months when the museums are hot and crowded.
It is not explicitly banned, but I do not recommend wearing flipflops or casual sandals to the Vatican. Again, dress like you are going to church (which you are!)
The Vatican Museums are massive and every hall combined would stretch on for eight miles. You will be walking A LOT, so keep this is mind when you dress for your day.
I like structured flats or Superga sneakers (which are insanely popular here and go with pretty much anything).
Breaking the Vatican Dress Code
If you arrive at the Vatican wearing short shorts and a tank top – fear not! While you can give up and head home if you like, you can also purchase a plastic poncho/robe to wear around which covers your shoulders and knees. Yes, everyone will look at you but at least you can still go see the Sistine Chapel?
Here are some suggestions on items that you can wear to the Vatican:
Do you have any other suggestions about what to wear to the Vatican?
And do you already have your tickets? If you are planning to visit the Vatican, be sure that you have your tickets purchased in advance to avoid the two-hour-long line.
For more Italian fashions tips, here is what to wear on a flight to Italy and what to wear in Rome in autumn.
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42 thoughts on “What to Wear to the Vatican”
Hi Good morning Natalie. Many thanks for this information about the dress code to go to the Vatican City. God bless you
Do the dresses/skirts need to actually cover the knee cap or can they just touch the top of the knee?
Technically the knee cap but they are more concerned with any thigh showing. Brushing the top of the knee will be fine
Thanks so much for this information! If, in the winter, a woman wears opaque tights with a skirt or dress, does the hem still need to reach the knee?
Hi Margie! That should be fine (as long as the dress is not overly revealing in other ways). I hope you enjoy your trip to the Vatican!
Hi, I am travelling with 2 teenagers, one will be happy in jeans but younger son lives in sports wear. If smart is this acceptable , as long as not shorts ? Thank you
Ciao! He honestly should be fine if they are to the knee. If you can convince him to wear a polo, it should be totally acceptable. It is more about wearing something that would fit in inside a church, which is essentially what the museums still are
Hello, Do you know if a sheer colored (Or see through scarf-chiffon) are acceptable to cover your shoulders with?
It should be!
Is it possible to wear a shirt that shows a little bit of your stomach? Or should you go with a shirt that covers everything?
Hi Edith – no stomach can be showing so it would be best to go with a shirt that covers everything. Have fun!
Are capri leggings okay to wear or am I better off wearing a longer skirt to the Vatican City?
Ciao! Capri leggings should be fine, but athletic wear is a bit informal, so if the skirt isn’t too much bother (or if you have a nice top with the capris) it might be better 🙂
Hi Natalie, Would it be okay to wear jeans with minimal holes in the knee?
Thanks so much!
Ciao! That should be fine. The main thing is to be covered and dressed respectively for the church.
I will be visiting in August. Just to be clear a dress can be worn as long as the him fall below the knee, and the sleeves on the dress. Are long sleeves required or sleeve length similar to a T-shirt length okay? I hear it’s warm in August would a light. sweater over a sleeveless sundress, it has modest straps but no sleeves be acceptable? Lastly, I read your suggestion about the “Superga” sneakers they are so cute. Are those acceptable inside the Vatican etc?
Superga would be fine! A modest sleeve is fine as long as the shoulder is covered. You could use the light sweater only in places like the entrance and the chapel/ st. Peter’s and likely be fine with straps only in other parts of the museum.
I saw you mentioned not wearing flip flops or casual sandals. I have a pair of supportive Birkenstock sandals with a silver strap that is dressier than the double buckle sandals one usually thinks of regarding Birkenstock. In your opinion, do you think they would be okay to wear with capris? Thank you!
Hi Allison! There is no specific rule about footwear in the Vatican dress code so the suggestion is more about appropriateness and comfort. I think Birkenstock are fine
Okay, awesome! Thank you for your quick reply!
Did you see my post?
Bermudas for men are Ok?
As long as they hit the knee, they should be fine!
Hi my daughter is travelling with school to Vatican museum. Can she wear shorts with opaque tights.
This will really depend on the specific guard who lets in her group. Usually, knees being covered are the rule and pants would work but I’m not sure tights are seen as the same thing. A skirt that reaches the knees would be a safer choice
Hi, I will be going to the Vatican on a Friday night in August. I’m curious about the back of a dress I’m considering from eShakti. It has a lattice back so the back strap might show a bit. Is that acceptable or should I keep looking? Here’s the website of the dress. http://www.eshakti.com/shop/Dresses/Lattice-back-cotton-voile-belted-shirtdress-CL0067829
That looks good to me! If you are still nervous, you can bring a light scarf to use as a wrap but it seems like a lovely outfit which meets the vatican dress code.
A word of warning.–Just because the tourists have to be covered up does not mean the artwork is. It is a cornucopia of nudity of bare breasted women and male genitalia. Papal Porn I guess.
What about kids? Can kids wear flip flops? And do they also have to cover up like adults?
Flip flops are fine as long as they can stand and walk in them for a long time. They don’t have to be as carefully covered but should essentially wear what you would allow them to go to church/place of worship in
for a girl, is it acceptable to wear leggings (or jeans) and a t-shirt? or is that too informal?
Hi Lauren – it should be fine. Many people do dress casually but the trick is to be well covered and respectful
hello! I’m visiting the Vatican in a few days, I have a long dress that just barely covers the knee and is somewhat see-through in some lighting, do you think it would be okay? should i wear a top/sportsbra underneath or should i ditch the whole dress? thank you for reading!
If it touches the knee, that should be fine. Transparent/see through/visible bra won’t work, however.
Hi ! I wanna know if there is any restriction about the color or not ! Tnx
No! No issues with colors
Hi Natalie my partner and I are travelling to Rome next month to go to watch Scotland v Italy in rugby and we were planning on visiting the Vatican in the morning. As my partner usually wears a kilt. Can you please advise whether a kilt would be permissible? It is basically to save us time travelling back to our hotel to change then heading to the rugby so we want to be prepared. Thank you.
Hi Mary! As long as it is to the knee, that should be fine! Especially for the museums. They can sometimes be strict at St. Peter’s Basilica if it really doesn’t cover the knee but it all depends on the guard and the day
In the future I would love to visit Vatican. If I wore a Gap dress that I have that is still pretty modest albeit slightly above the knee. And shoulders are exposed but I guess a shawl would solve that problem. And I do have a pair of comfortable white trainers. Or sneakers as they are called in America. Just asking for future reference.
It will be fine for the Museums! For St. Peter’s – if it doesn’t cover the knees, then it depends on the guard on the day. Some can be sticklers.
Your blog is amazing, so thank you!
I am visiting the Vatican this weekend. Will a maxi dress with a slit be okay? It is slightly sheer, but the material covers to my ankles!