Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel Guide

Posted by & filed under Rome.

This post will provide information about how to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, including the best time to go, how to skip the line, guided tours and a preview of the highlights.  Be sure to also check out our guide to visiting St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

PLAN YOUR VISIT

This section will cover topics such as how to get here (below), hours and best times to visit, and prohibited items. Consider the following information before you head out to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. 


How to Get There

The Vatican Museums are located on the west side of the Tiber River and on the northern edge of Vatican City. There are many options for traveling to this location, but we will be focusing on some of the easiest and most affordable choices.

However you end up here, we recommend using this Google Maps link for exact directions to the Vatican Museums.  

Click here to learn more about the metro system in Rome.

 

How to get to the Vatican Museums

 

Subway

For many people, taking the subway is probably the best way to reach the Vatican. This depends on where your hotel or accommodations are.  The A-Line actually offers two stops very close to the Vatican Museums: Cipro and Ottaviano.

Cipro: This is technically the closest metro stop to the museums’ entrance, but it can also get very busy during mid-day. If you plan to arrive early in the morning, this is probably the best option.

Ottaviano: This stop can be handy when the crowds get larger during mid-day. The Vatican Museums are one of the most popular destinations in Rome, and lines can stretch as far back as 600m on particularly busy days (see red line in the image above).

If you plan on arriving later in the morning, and especially if you don’t have a skip-the-line ticket, you will want to consider the Ottaviano stop instead.


Tram

Depending on where you are located, you may be able to take the #19 tram down to the St. Peter’s stop. This will take you closer than any other option on our list, but it may be difficult to reach this tram from the city center.

Visitors will want to consider this option if they are traveling from the surrounding areas of Rome, but as we stated above, use the Google Maps link to be sure.  


Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tours

There are a few hop-on-hop-off tour bus services which provide stops just a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square. 

Most tour buses will stop very close to Via della Conciliazione, allowing you to enjoy the incredible views of St. Peter’s Basilica as you walk up to the museums. 

TIP: We recommend considering the Vatican & Rome Bus Tours. This is the only bus tour in Rome that actually has ties to the Vatican. You can take their tours and get free entry to the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel with the Omnia card.


HOW MUCH TIME IS NEEDED TO VISIT THE VATICAN?

This depends on what you want to see and even more on when you plan to go and whether you have skip-the-line tickets or not.  The Vatican Museums are open every day but Sunday from 9:00 am – 18:00 (6 pm) with the last entry at 16:00 (4 pm), but not all times are equally busy.  

As we mentioned before, the lines for tickets to enter the Vatican can reach close to a km in the peak summer months and you could wait for 90-120 minutes just to enter the museums.  


IMPORTANT: Be sure to get skip-the-line tickets and get to the Vatican early in the morning or later in the day, and if you can afford it, we highly recommend an early-bird ticket and tour.


As you can see in the image below, from 11:00 am till 15:00 (3 pm), it is very busy.

 

Busiest time at the Vatican

 

On Saturdays and Mondays, the volume of people visiting the Museums and the Sistine Chapel is at the highest level.

 

Best time to go to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

 

If you only want to see the museums, you probably won’t spend as much time here.

That being said, if you decide to stick around and explore areas such as St. Peter’s Basilica, you could end up staying in the area for almost an entire day.

With that in mind, here are a few average peak hours time-frames you should consider.

  • Vatican Museums: 2-3 hours for the main exhibits
  • Sistine Chapel: 1-2 hours for queue, walk & visit
  • St. Peter’s Basilica: 1-2 hours for main church
  • Vatican Grottoes: 2-3 hours for the main sites

Needless to say, one could easily spend an entire day at the Vatican. This is why skip-the-line and/or early bird tickets are critical. At the very least, make sure you arrive by 8:30 am so that you can avoid the very long ticket and security queues.

As a matter of fact, there are so many things to see in the museums alone that you could spend an entire day looking through them. If you just want to see some of the highlights, you might not spend as much time here.

However, visitors who want to see as much as possible should seriously consider devoting an entire day to just the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel.

You have to go through the Vatican Museums in order to reach the Sistine Chapel. The walk alone can take up to 30 minutes and you also have to go through an additional metal detector to enter.

Once inside, there is a lot to see and do which you will want to give yourself time to experience. We recommend that you do not neglect to set aside enough time to visit this historic location.

Make sure to consider the operational hours at the Vatican Museums when deciding when to visit. If you plan to make a trip to St. Peter’s Basilica either before or afterward, check our section about the church for our recommendations.


SECURITY AND PROHIBITED ITEMS

There are some items that you simply cannot take into either the Vatican Museums or the Sistine Chapel. Although some things are completely forbidden, others will be held for you at the cloakroom. Here is a list of items you will be asked to check in while visiting this historic location:

  • Umbrellas
  • Sticks
  • Stands
  • Tripods
  • Video Cameras
  • Luggage
  • Suitcases
  • Large Bags
  • Knives
  • Scissors
  • Metal Tools

In addition to these items, visitors should also keep the following details in mind:

  • Alcoholic beverages are not allowed
  • Food and drink are not allowed
  • Strollers are welcome
  • Guide dogs and animals are permitted
  • Touching the artwork is prohibited
  • Photography is permitted for personal use only
  • Flash photography is not allowed
  • Laser pointers are not allowed
  • Microphones are also prohibited
  • Mobile phones must be kept silent
  • No photography of any kind is allowed in the Sistine Chapel

Please note that visitors who bring any kind of firearm or dangerous weapon will be turned away from both the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.  

In addition to these rules, it is important to keep in mind that the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel have a strict dress code. Guests with low cut or sleeveless clothing, shorts, mini skirts, and hats are not allowed.

 


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HOW TO GET TICKETSVatican Museum Tickets

There are several different ways to get tickets for the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel. Whether you want to take a guided tour or just explore the grounds on your own, it’s important to get an idea of how much admission will cost. 


TIP: Several tourist discount passes include free, skip-the-line entry to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel as well as St. Peter’s Basilica.


So, it shouldn’t cost more than €21 for an adult ticket with fast-track entrance, especially with our tip for a free audio tour. 

For an extra €12, you could buy your tickets through Get Your Guide and have their concierge service meet you at the Vatican and help guide you to the fast track line and security and give you a map and an overview of your trip.

Many people like this. You can read the reviews to see if this is a worthy add-on for you. 


Night Tickets

During the spring and summer, the Vatican Museums open their doors between the hours of 19:00 (7 pm) and 23:00 (11 pm) to give visitors a chance to see their exhibits after dark. This service is only available on Friday nights and it can be very difficult to get tickets, so we recommend purchasing them well ahead of time to avoid any issues.  

Guests who take advantage of this opportunity indicate that the crowds are much smaller and it’s a lot easier to enjoy the experience at night.

  • Ticket Prices: €21 for Adults | €12 for Reduced (Children)

If the official Vatican ticket site doesn’t have the night tickets, you should be able to purchase these as part of a guided tour from some of the guided tour companies listed below.

TIP: In addition to the night tickets, there are a variety of specialty services available at the Vatican Museums. Click here for additional information.


Guided Tours

In addition to the various ticket options available, you might also want to consider a guided tour. Guided tours include skip-the-line tickets, and when you have a guide to show you around, so you’ll never get lost!

Several of these tour options also offer early-bird access.  If you want more information about these services, make sure to read our section covering many different guided tours of the Vatican Museums & the Sistine Chapel.

Free Admission

Believe it or not, you can actually get into the Vatican Museums without paying even one euro. On the last Sunday of every month, the museums open their doors to all visitors.

Although this is a wonderful opportunity, it also draws a much larger crowd than usual. With that in mind, we recommend avoiding this option unless you really need to save some money. Free admission is also granted on World Tourism Day (September 27th).

 


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GUIDED TOURS 

When visiting the Vatican Museums, you may quickly become overwhelmed by just how much there is to experience. After all, there are 9 different museums and several additional galleries to see – and then there’s the Sistine Chapel! With so many incredible and historic exhibits on display, you may want to consider hiring a guide to show you around.

In this section, we will discuss the various types of guided tours you can take, including small group guided tours and audio tours.  


Official Guided Tours

The guide provided on these tours has been authorized by the Vatican City State, ensuring that the information they provide is going to be very accurate. These professionally guided tours will reveal some of the most beautiful and historic areas in the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

They even offer a few tours which include St. Peter’s Basilica and other areas of the Vatican! 


However, according to several tourist reviews on TripAdvisor, the tours provided by the museums can get very crowded and difficult to follow, so you might consider a small group tour, or better yet, an early-bird tour


  • Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel Tour
    • Tickets: €33 for Adults | €24 for Reduced (Children)
    • Duration: 2 hours
    • Languages: English, Italian, German, French, Spanish
  • Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel Tour (+St. Peter’s Basilica)
    • Tickets: €38 for Adults | €29 for Reduced (Children)
    • Duration: 3 hours
    • Languages: English, Italian, French, Spanish, German

St. Peter’s tour availability dependent upon the schedule of Papal Appearances. The tour cannot access St. Peter’s Basilica if the Holy Father is holding a special ceremony.


TIP: If you are interested in visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, make sure to read our post about the historic location for more information. 


Additional Official Tours

If you want to see and experience more than just the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and/or St. Peter’s Basilica, they also provide tours of other areas in and around the Vatican. These tours are also offered by guides who have been authorized by Vatican City State.

 


Private Guided Tours

In addition to the official tours offered by the Vatican Museums, there are also several private services which provide a very similar experience.

Tours operated by private companies are usually limited to small groups of less than 20 people, in order to ensure the best possible tour. This is just one of many reasons why you may want to consider one of the following options. 

You can also check out a more extensive list of options that go above and beyond what we list below.

Each company also offers early-bird tours, which allow you to enter the Vatican 90 minutes before the general public.

These companies are all very well rated. Customers can choose between many of the same tour options available directly through the Vatican Museums.

You can also expect some of the following guided tours to last much longer and potentially provide a lot of additional details about the historic exhibits on display. While the official tours are limited to only 3 hours at most, some of the services on this list offer tours that last for up to 5 hours. 


The Roman Guy

The Roman Guy tour company offers several Vatican Tours, including 2 early-bird options.  Their main offer is the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel/St. Peter’s Basilica Tour.  This 3-hour tour is available every day but Sunday.  Group sizes are small and are capped at 18 participants.  Tours include skip-the-line access

Our readers get  5% off all Roman Guy tours with code FREETOURSBYFOOT

  • Tickets: €64/Adults | €61/Seniors | €59/Student
  • Youth Tickets: €55/Child | free for Kids under 6
  • Every day but Sunday at 10:30 am and 14:30 (2:30 pm)
  • Click here for more details

Longer, more in-depth Vatican tours are available as well as tours throughout Rome.


City Wonders

This is another excellent company that also offer several Vatican Tours, including 2 early-bird options. What we really like about them is that they offer this tour 5x a day in English and 1x in Spanish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese and that they have a 24-hour cancellation policy through Get Your Guide (not on their website). 

Their groups can be a bit larger than the Roman Guy at 20 max and they are slightly more expensive, which are the only reasons we list Roman Guy first. Tour duration is also 3 hours. 

  • Tickets: €66/Adult | €61/Child (6-18)
  • Children under 5 are FREE
  • Every day but Sunday at 8:00 am, 8:45, 9:00, 10:00 and 14:30 (2:30 pm)
  • Read the reviews.

 


Official Audio Tour

If you’re not interested in having someone show you around, you can always take one of the audio tours offered at the Vatican Museums. These tours are far more affordable, but you may find it easier to locate things with the help of an actual tour guide. There are two audio tour options to consider:

This tour provides commentary on more than 400 different subjects. It is designed and curated by experts of the Vatican Museum.

  • Ticket Price: €7,00 per person
  • Languages: English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese 

Rick Steve’s Audio Tour

This is an excellent and free alternative to the official audio tour which provides a lot of helpful information for visitors at the Vatican Museum. In addition to covering a variety of topics in the museums, Rick Steve also provides a free audio tour of the Sistine Chapel, both with accompanying maps.

Visitors are free to download both audio tours directly from his website and listen to them with their smartphone.

You will need to wear headphones in the museums as microphones and loud audio devices are not allowed to be used. Mobile phones must be kept silent, so headphones/earbuds are an absolute must.

TIP: Use Bluetooth wireless earbuds to avoid any cables getting pulled out while listening to the tour. If you make too much noise in the Vatican Museums or the Sistine Chapel, you may be asked to leave. This is a great way to make sure that you won’t disturb anyone else with your audio tour.

 


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EARLY BIRD AND SKIP THE LINE TICKETS AND TOURS

The earlier you visit the Vatican Museums, the less likely you will be to run into large crowds. Thankfully, in addition to the services provided directly by the museums, you can also get early access and skip-the-line tours from licensed partners such as those listed above.

These tours usually start at 7:30 am, 90 minutes before the general public is allowed in. The differences between the tours are how many participants there are, how long you have your guide for, and whether or not the tour includes St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Many visitors indicate that this is the best way to see the museums and experience the Vatican if you can afford it, and we agree. Here are a few options for only well-reviewed companies to consider.

 

 


City Wonder Tours

This company offers several early-bird options.  The least expensive is their Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Early Bird Tour, which gets you in at 7:30 am and a tour guide to escort you directly to the Sistine Chapel. 

You have your guide for just 60 minutes and then you are free to visit the Vatican Museums on your own (tip- use the Rick Steves free audio tour for the museums). Groups are limited to 20 participants.

This tour does not include St. Peter’s Basilica, but TripAdvisor reviewers say that you can blend in with another group to have tour access to St. Peter’s and avoid having to queue again.

  • €46.80 | Adults
  • €42.20 | Child (6-18) – under 6 are free
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour.
  • More information or to book.

The Roman Guy

Privileged Entrance Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel.  The Roman Guy offers 2 early bird tours, a 2.5 hour (express) and a 3.5-hour tour. These tours are available Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 am and includes a tour guide the entire time with an optional visit to St. Peter’s Basilica included. 

Our guests get 5% off these prices with code FREETOURSBYFOOT

2.5 Hour Express Tour

  • Tickets: €69/Adults | €67/Seniors | €63/Students
  • Youth Tickets: €59/Youth | Kids under 6 are free.
  • Limited to just 16 guests.

3.5 Hour Version

  • Tickets: €84/Adults | €79/Seniors | €74/Students
  • Youth Tickets: €69/Youth | Kids under 6 are free.
  • Limited to just 13 guests.

 


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Highlights of the Vatican Museums

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE VATICAN MUSEUM AND THE SISTINE CHAPEL 

There is a lot to experience at the Vatican Museums and inside the Sistine Chapel. Some guests have even indicated that it could take upwards of a month to see everything they have to offer.

It’s far too easy to become overwhelmed, so we’ve decided to provide a few noteworthy details about some of the most popular exhibits. This guide should be handy for anyone who just wants to see the basics.


The Pine Cone Courtyard

Highlights of the Vatican MuseumThe first thing you’ll notice upon entering this area is a large pine cone statue in front of the Belvedere Palace. As you may have guessed, this statue is where the courtyard got its name.

This courtyard was constructed by Donato Bramante, though the pine cone was constructed much earlier—nearly 2,000 years ago! It originally stood near the Pantheon and represents Isis, the god of fertility.

If you look closely, you may notice a giant sphere that was constructed in 1990 by Arnaldo Pomodoro. Though its meaning is unknown, many speculate that this sphere represents the cosmos.

The two sculptures are very different and represent both the old and the new in Vatican City.


Octagonal Courtyard

Highlights of the Vatican MuseumThe most impressive piece of art in this courtyard is the Apollo Belvedere. Apollo was the Greek god of the hunt. Many scholars consider this sculpture to be the most perfect and symmetrical sculpture in the world.

It was found during the Renaissance and is thought to have been created around 120 AD. Michelangelo used this sculpture to paint Jesus in “The Last Judgment”.

Also in this room are a statue of the River God, Arno; Laocoon (seen in the photo to the right), the man who tried to warn the Trojans not to accept the Greek’s gift of the wooden horse; and several sarcophagi.

The River God sarcophagus dates back to 140-150 AD. Laocoon was sculpted by Michelangelo. 


The Spiral Staircase

Highlights of the Vatican MuseumDesigned by Giuseppe Momo in 1832, this staircase is well known due to both its location and size. This structure is made up of two stairways engraved with iron which form a double helix.

Some visitors may be familiar with this shape as that of DNA, but it’s worth noting that there is no way Momo could have known that when the stairs were constructed. This is also known as the Snail Staircase. 


The Round RoomHighlights of the Vatican Museum

You may have noticed that this room is also appropriately named. In the middle of this room, you will find a giant bath that supposedly once belonged to Nero, emperor of Rome. Surprisingly, this room had to be built around the bath.

The mosaic floor is 1700 years old and depicts scenes from battle. It’s made of imperial porphyry, a purple stone only found in the mountains of Egypt.


The Gallery of Candelabra

Highlights of the Vatican MuseumThe long gallery behind the Round Room is full of pale marble statues. These statues were once colorful, but their paint has long since worn away. Many of the statues were adorned with fig leaves from the mid-16th – 19th Century in order to give the statues a little modesty.

Two of the most prominent statues are of the Greek goddesses Diana and Artemis. Artemis is the goddess of fertility, and Diana is the goddess of the hunt. Both hunters and farmers used to pray to these statues in hopes of a prosperous year ahead.


Raphael Rooms

These rooms include paintings by Raphael and his students. They are broken down into four rooms: Room of the Segnatura, Room of Heliodorus, Room of the Fire in the Borgo, and Room of Constantine.

Keep an eye out for famous paintings such as The Baptism of Constantine, Deliverance of Saint Peter, The Parnassus, and Disputation of the Holy Sacrament.

If you want to see even more work done by Raphael’s students, make sure to visit the Gallery of Tapestries as well. 


Gregorian Egyptian Museums

If you want a change of pace, head for this museum filled with 9 rooms of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839, this section of the museums includes various sculptures, statues and bronze objects. Look in the second room to find mummy cases and sarcophagi which were traditionally used during Egyptian ceremonies. Go to the fifth room to see incredible statues of various pharaohs, queens, and gods.


The Sistine Chapel

Highlights of the Vatican Museum

This chapel is the home to the papal conclaves, the group that chooses the next Pope. Finished in 1481, The Sistine Chapel was designed by Baccio Pontelli and named for Pope Sixtus IV.

This building is most famous for the frescoes that adorn the ceilings and walls, painted by Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, and of course—Michelangelo.

The frescoes on the walls depict scenes from the life of Moses, Jesus, narratives from Genesis, and the ancestors of Christ.

Perhaps most notably, the famous ceiling was painted by Michelangelo from 1508-1512. He also painted “The Last Judgment” from 1535-1541.

 


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