How to Tour the Vatican

vatican private tourRome Italy Travel Tips for Visiting the Vatican

The Vatican City home to the Pope and the Holy See is a must see for any tourist coming to Rome. Located within Rome, the Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world. The Vatican City State has three entrances protected by Swiss guards: the Bronze Door located to the right of St. Peter Basilica, the Arch of the Bells to the left of St. Pete Basilica, and Saint Anne’s Gate in Via di Porta Angelica. A one of a kind architecture and masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small holy state. When tourists talk about visiting Vatican City, they are often referring to three major attractions: the Vatican Museums home of a priceless collection of artworks including Michelangelo Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica the largest Christian church in the world and St. Peter’s Square enclosed by Bernini’s colonnade.

vatican best tourThe Vatican Museums art collection is one of the largest in the world with tons of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish and Renaissance art. In fact, the reason why Vatican Museums is plural is because is a huge complex housing a collection of different museums that are linked to each other. The Vatican Museums contain masterpieces of paintings, sculptures and works collected by the Popes through the centuries. The chief attraction of the Vatican Museums is Michelangelo  Sistine Chapel. To experience the Sistine Chapel famous ceiling frescoes, you have to visit the Vatican Museum. Contrary to what many people assume, the Sistine Chapel isn’t a separate building. The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums and as such, tickets for the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum are actually combined.

vatican after hours tour

Vatican Museums Opening Hours

The Vatican Museums are open from Monday to Saturday 9AM-3PM, The Vatican Museums close on certain Holy days throughout the year. The Vatican Museums close on Sundays, except for the last Sunday of the month when the AM visit is free of charge. The Vatican will be packed on these Sundays, making it hard to fully enjoy the artworks and exhibits.

Best Way to Avoid the Vatican Museums Long Lines

In 2013 the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel were visited by 5.5 million people, which makes it the 5th most visited art museum in the world. Booking reservation with skip the line access to enter the Vatican Museums is highly recommended. A skip the line ticket for the Vatican Museums includes access to the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, tapestries, paintings gallery and the rest of the art collection open to the public.

How do I get to the Vatican?

The Vatican Museums entrance is on Viale Vaticano. There are different ways of getting to the Vatican City. You can reach the Vatican Museums by bus. Alternatively, you can take the Metro Line A toward Battistini and exit either at Ottaviano-S.Pietro or Cipro-Musei Vaticani. They are both about the same distance from the entrance.

Vatican Tourist Traps

As you near the Vatican Museum you might be approached to “join an official tour of the Vatican museums starting in 15 minutes”. Avoid those tours. These folks called gatherers roam around the Vatican City and work on a commission basis for almost anyone! If you want a tour and avoid the long lines go through a reputable company.

vatican skip the line tour

What is the best time to visit the Vatican?

The answer really depends on what month you are coming to Rome, what day of the week you plan on seeing the Museum, and what time of day you plan to enter. Add to that a few other variables such as Religious holidays and large tour groups  and you can see how difficult it is to answer this question. However, the key point to know about the Vatican is that it is very crowded throughout almost the entire year. It is best to visit during January and February or the end of November and early December, when it is quieter. May through October a reservation is mandatory. Mornings until midday are very popular and busy. On average 25,000 visitors walk through the museums every day, which means that there is often a line of people waiting to enter in the morning. In the early afternoon when most of the large tour groups  have already left, it becomes less crowded. On Mondays, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel might be busier than the rest of the week. Also, take into consideration days when big events take place, like Wednesdays’ general audience with the Pope. On the last Sunday of every month the Vatican is free of charge. Naturally, as it is free, there are huge crowds on these days, and there is no skip-the-line system in place. Unless you absolutely have no other choice avoid free Sundays at the Vatican, on this day you can expect the longest lines.

What is the best way to visit the Vatican with children?

The Vatican Museums cover about 4.5 miles of awe-inspiring galleries full of priceless artistic masterpieces. With a museum collection as extensive as this, touring the Vatican with children may seem like a daunting proposition but a successful visit is possible. To experience a museum of this size with kids Nancy Aiello has developed custom private guided family-friendly Vatican Sistine Chapel tours focused on your children interests and ages. When planning a family trip to Rome we believe that you can take kids to any art museum even the Vatican Museums, provided that the adults have adjusted their expectations to take into account the interests and attention span of the children. On average 25,000 people walk through the museums every day, meaning the waits can be long even as you are moving inside the galleries. Schedule your private Vatican family tour later in the day to avoid the morning crowds. Nancy Aiello highly recommends that parents avoid taking children at the busier morning times. In the less crowded afternoon hours when crowds start to wane kids can get a better experience in one of the largest, and busiest, museums in the world.

Are strollers allowed in the Vatican Museums Sistine Chapel?

Yes you are allowed to bring strollers in the Vatican Museums Sistine Chapel however strollers are not permitted in St. Peter’s Basilica and must be checked in. It is useful to know that there are several places where carriages must be carried up stairs, therefore lightweight models are best!

What are the restrictions for visitors visiting the Vatican?

The Vatican City is a sacred religious place, not a tourist site. Restrictions for visitors at the Vatican are quite strict. All visitors are asked to display a valid identity document prior to entrance to the Vatican Museums. All visitors are required to pass through a metal-detector prior to being granted admittance.

Is there a dress code at the Vatican?

Access to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel is permitted only to visitors dressed appropriately (no sleeveless blouses, no miniskirts, no shorts, no hats allowed and this rule applies to children, men and ladies).

Vatican Museums Sistine Chapel and St. Peter Basilica: The DOs and DONT’s

What are the must-sees inside the Vatican Museums?

There is not just one big thing to see at the Vatican. With miles of rooms filled with priceless art touring the Vatican museum can take the whole day and it is not easy to make a short list of things to see. There are several museums to explore like the Pio-Clementine Museum, the Egyptian Museum, the Belvedere Courtyard and the Belvedere Torso, the Map, Candelabra, and Tapestries Galleries, the Raphael’s Papal Rooms, and of course Michelangelo Sistine Chapel.

Is the Vatican accessible for wheelchair users and disabled visitors?

Yes, nearly all sections of the museums are accessible to disabled visitors.

vatican city tourVatican Travel Tips on How to Get a Glimpse of St. Peter Basilica and St. Peter Dome

St Peter Basilica, the most visited Basilica in the world adorned with artistic treasures, is a must for any tourist coming to Rome.  St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church building in Christendom. The first time you enter this awe-inspiring church you will be awe struck at its enormity. The Holy Basilica of St. Peter houses a wealth of historical art as well as the tombs of the Popes. The famed Michelangelo’s Pieta and the massive Bernini canopy that rises above the ancient tomb of St. Peter attracts visitors from all over the world every day. The dome, designed by Michelangelo dominates the view of Rome. Climbing the top of St. Peter’s Basilica to get spectacular views of Rome it’s a strenuous walk and requires a considerable amount of physical effort. The spiral staircase has 323 marble steps. It is strongly recommended that if you are unable to easily climb stairs, are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights do not visit the Dome.
St. Peter Basilica is open every day from 7AM to 7PM, April to September and from 7AM to 6PM, October to March.
Entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free of charge every day of the year. No tickets are required to enter St. Peter Basilica. To preserve the sacred character of the church, groups consisting of more than five members and accompanied by a guide are  kindly requested to use “audio-guides” which can be rented at the entrance to the Basilica.
St. Peter Dome opening hours: 8 AM-4.45 PM.
St. Peter Dome tickets: €7 including elevator ride, €5 without elevator. Admittance to St. Peter Dome cannot be pre-booked. The line to climb the Dome is extremely slow moving, it can take up to 1 hour to reach the lone ticket taker.
We recommend the elevator as there is nothing to see along the stairs and it is a strenuous walk. Sensible shoes essential if you are to attempt the ascent of the Dome as the stairs are very slippery.
The dress code is strictly enforced at St. Peter’s Basilica. Dress properly in order to have the opportunity to access it. Shoulders and knees must be covered for both women and men. Capri pants are permitted, as long as knees are well covered. Sandals are considered appropriate. Shoulders and knees must be covered and no shorts or low-cut or sleeveless tops are allowed (both men and women).

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Nancy Aiello Tours specializes in Italy family travel. Family travel is about exploring inspiring places in a way that is accessible to all members of the family. Feel free to share your favorite Italy travel suggestions here! New articles are published weekly, sometimes daily.
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