Tips for Visiting the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Visiting the Vatican is an essential Rome experience and any visit to ‘The Eternal City’ would be incomplete without seeing the masterpeice that is the Sistine Chapel. However, the Vatican Museums are so huge, busy and crowded it can be overwhelming but a bit of forward planning should allow you to have an enjoyable visit.
Did you know:
Did you know that the Vatican is actually a separate country and it houses the 2nd biggest art collection in the world (after the Louvre in France.)
The Vatican museums are so big they are over 9 miles long and if you spent only one minute admiring each painting it would take you four years to see them all!
The Vatican Museums receive over 25,000 visitors a day in peak season! That’s more than 1/2 million visitors per month lining up to view Michelangelo’s famous frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel hence the massive queues to get in!
If you don’t want to waste your holiday queuing read on to find out how to skip the queue, find the secret passage way and loads more tips to make the most of your visit to the Vatican:
How to skip the lines at the Vatican Museum
Visiting the Vatican is on everyone’s list of things to do in Rome so no wonder that the Vatican is super popular and crowded – the lines stretch all the way down the street! If, like me, you don’t want to waste precious time waiting, then my top tip is to arrive as early as you can and to buy your tickets in advance.
We did a Vatican and Sistine Chapel Express tour with City Wonders. We met our guide at 7.30am and getting up early was worth it because we were the first ones inside, way before the museum opened to the general public at 9am!
Because you are not allowed to talk inside the Sistine Chapel our City Wonders guide told us all about the Vatican and explained the history, meanings and significance behind Michelangelo’s famous frescoes before we entered. I really appreciated this insight because now I could really understand why this is one of the most celebrated artistic masterpieces in the world and this knowledge gave so much more meaning to the whole experience of visiting the Vatican.
How to see the Sistine Chapel
Because of the sheer amount of visitors, the Vatican Museums work on a one way system so normally visitors cannot just head straight to the Sistine Chapel but have to go through the whole museum first and the visit the Sistine Chapel at the end. B
But with our tour we were whisked straight off to the main event and as we were the first ones in the museum we could gaze up at that amazing ceiling, taking time to study all the little details and to enjoy one of the world’s greatest masterpieces as it was meant to be experienced – in blissful peace and quiet!
Normally the tour then takes you via a shortcut into St Peter’s Basilica and then below the incredible church to the Vatican Crypts where the most important Popes have been buried.
Unfortunately that day St Peter’s Basilica was closed until lunchtime but our guide showed us where the short cut corridor was and, as there was much more to see in the Vatican museums, we decided to stay in and admire more of the works before heading to St Peters when it opened later on.
For a while we wandered through the Vatican on our own admiring the paintings in glorious solitude but after the museums opened to the rest of the public the corridors and rooms quickly became busy with the thousands of other people visiting the Vatican.
The Vatican’s one way system
By 11 am the Vatican was so packed that it was hard to enjoy the exquisite works on display but, because of the one way system, we had to carry on shuffling round (with the thousands of other people) until we got to the Sistine Chapel at the end again.
The one way system means that no, you cannot just pop in and see the Sistine Chapel – it is at the end of the circuit so you have to visit most of the other galleries first.
This is not necessarily a bad thing in theory because there is so much more to see in the Vatican than just the Sistine Chapel, but it does mean that the corridors are very crowded with other people who just want to get to the Sistine Chapel as fast as possible which can make it hard for you to spend time appreciating the other works.
St Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s Basilica is another of the must see things in Rome and you can see this at the same time as visiting the Vatican museums. It’s just as popular though and the queues to get into St Peter’s Basilica also snake all the way around St Peter’s Square but luckily our City Wonder’s guide had told us about a passageway that we could take from the Sistine Chapel down to St Peters Basilica and skip that queue. (It’s not signposted but if you’re just about to exit the Sistine Chapel it’s the door on your right hand side)
From both inside and outside St Peter’s Basilica really is a sight to behold, as the largest church in the world and the center of Christianity I was expecting it to be pretty large and spectacular, but it was even more imposingly huge and grand than I was expecting. It can hold 20,000 worshipers ( and more outside in the huge piazza) and it was interesting to see pilgrims from all over the world coming here.
So, should you take a tour of the Vatican?
Overall, I’m really glad that we took this City Wonders tour, skipping the queues, finding the secret passageways and getting in early saved alot of time and hassle. It also meant that, because we came so early, we got to enjoy the Sistine Chapel without the crowds that, by the early afternoon, had become pretty unbearable.
Not only that, these stunning and significant works of art are a lot more interesting when you know the meanings and importance behind the art instead of just looking at pretty paintings and ticking something off the bucket list just because you are in Rome and visiting the Vatican is the thing to do. Although, I have to admit that I didn’t realise just how much there was to see in the Vatican Museums and actually, in hindsight, I wished that I had opted for a longer tour to see and understand even more.
More tips for visiting the Vatican and Sistine Chapel:
- The normal cost to enter the Vatican museums is €16 ( different prices apply for fast track or early entry and guided tours) but it is free to enter St Peter’s Basilica. Both have long queues, although they have separate entrances, but you can take a shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St Peter’s and skip that queue.
- The museums open to the general public from 9am – 6pm but you can get early entrance or night tours through a tour company.
- On Sundays the Vatican museums are closed expect for on the last Sunday of each month when entrance is free but expect this to be even more crowded than usual. The only way of seeing the Vatican Gardens are by tour with an official Vatican guide.
- When visiting the Vatican be aware that security is high so you will need to go through an X-ray machine so don’t bring any objects that could be considered ‘weapons’ with you. Big backpacks are also not allowed in but you can leave them for free in the cloakroom.
- Even though the Vatican City is a separate country you don’t actually need to bring your passport with you to enter when visiting the Vatican museums.
- The Vatican also has a dress code (like many churches and religious areas in Rome) Ladies need to have shoulders and legs covered but there are hawkers hanging around all too happy to sell you an overpriced sarong if you forget to cover up. However, be careful of the touts hanging around trying to sell you tours and all manner of other things.
- You can take pictures (without flash) in the Vatican museums but you cannot take photos in the Sistine Chapel. You must also be quiet in the chapel.
- The Vatican museums are mostly housed in old buildings and were not meant for the high volumes of tourists. There are cafes but bring some water with you too as the museum is not air conditioned so it can get hot when it’s busy.
- If you want to see the Pope come on a Wednesday there’s the general audience to the public or on Sundays when he blesses the public in St Peters Square but expect the Vatican to be busier on these days.