And boy, do I regret not prioritising it sooner.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know that much about it besides it being home to the ol’ Pope and Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel. But after spending a little over three hours exploring the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basicilla, I know without a doubt that it won’t be my last trip into the smallest sovereign state of the world.
I only scratched the surface of what there is to explore and definitely didn’t spend enough time soaking up all the incredible works of art and architecture.
I could easily spend a few days wandering past the Vatican Gardens, elbowing my way through the crowds and learning as much as possible about the history of every single nook and cranny.
While the price tag is a bit pricey (especially if you’re travelling Rome on a budget), the Vatican deserves a spot in the “splurge” section of your itinerary.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to visit the Vatican!
How to Get to the Vatican Museums
The entrance to the Vatican Museums is located on Viale Vaticano in Rome, Italy. You can easily reach it with Rome’s extensive public transport system.
Metro: The closest metro station to the Vatican museums is Ottaviano. I recommend buying a local sim card so you can use Google Maps to see how to get there from your hotel.
Bus: There are also multiple bus routes that stop close to the Vatican Museums. These include 492, 49, 23, 81.
How to Get to St. Peter’s Basilica and Square
If you’re not visiting the Vatican Museums, you can get off at the Ottaviano or Cipro metro stations and walk to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica and Square.
There are also buses (routes 40 and 64) that stop nearby.
Best Time to Visit The Vatican
With 20,000 people visiting the Vatican every single day, you can expect to fight crowds 365 days of the year. Personal space is non-existent in the Vatican Museums, and you’re going to be nudged along as you try to catch a glimpse of the treasures that lay inside.
While there isn’t a best time of day to visit the Vatican, there are a few things you can do to explore the Vatican with slightly fewer people:
Avoid Wednesdays and Saturdays: On Wednesdays, the Vatican is swarming with devote Catholics that want to attend the Papal Audience. On the weekend, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are at their busiest on Saturday’s when travellers from around Italy and Europe fill up the city.
Buy a Skip the Line Ticket: Whether you wake up at the crack of dawn or come in the later part of the afternoon, you’re going to find a long line of people waiting to get into the Vatican. You can spend hours waiting to go in, so it’s well worth paying the extra Euros to avoid that hell.
Visit the Vatican in the Evening: From April to October, you can buy a tour that lets you explore the Vatican Museums on a Friday night. With much smaller crowds, you’ll have more time to appreciate the artworks and the experience won’t feel as rushed.
Avoid the Summer Months: Rome is at its busiest in the summer. From June to August, people from all over the world flock to the city for the mid-year holidays. Tickets and tours to the Vatican sell out in advance, and you’ll have a harder time trying to plan a last-minute visit. If you can’t avoid the summer, buy your ticket to the Vatican well in advance and consider splurging on the more expensive tours (like the night visits) for a calmer experience.
Visit the Vatican in the Winter: The winter months are low season in Rome. December to February are the best months to visit the Vatican if you want smaller crowds. The only exception is Christmas and the first week of January when the Vatican is as busy as the summer months.
Avoid the Last Sunday of the Month: On the last Sunday of the month, you can visit the Vatican Museums for free. While this is a great deal for budget travellers visiting Rome, the museums will be overflowing with people.
How to Get Skip the Line Tickets for The Vatican
The Vatican Website: You can pre-purchase your skip the line tickets to the Vatican through the Vatican’s official website. While you won’t have to stand in the general line, you’ll need to wait in a shorter queue when you arrive to collect your tickets.
Book a Tour: The tour company will pre-purchase your skip-the-line tickets, and you can enter the museums without having to wait in a second queue. For my visit to the Vatican, I booked a skip-the-line ticket with a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica with a company called Headout.
Omnia Pass: The Omnia Pass gives you access to the top attractions in Rome and includes public transportation. You’ll get free entry to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and fast track entry to St Peter’s Basilica. The pass costs EUR 113 and is valid for three days.
If all the tickets for the Vatican are sold out online, don’t buy tickets from touts. You have no idea if the tickets are real and if these people are legit guides. Avoid any hassle by booking your ticket well in advance.
Are The Vatican Guided Tours Worth It?
Yes! Visiting Vatican City (especially the Vatican museums) with a guide is the best way to get the most out of the experience. With so much to see, it’s a sensory overload and having someone there to guide you and answer all your questions is worth it.
I booked my tour of the Vatican with Headout. I had an excellent guide from America who has been living in Rome since college. She also has a degree in Art History and works for the Vatican.
She was incredibly passionate and made the whole experience engaging and had answers to everyone’s questions.
Tips for Visiting the Vatican
Dress Code for Visiting The Vatican
There is a dress code for the Vatican – especially if you plan to visit St Peters Basilica. Make sure to cover your knees, shoulders, midriffs and shoulders.
I’d also stay away from wearing knee-length skirts and shorts. It’s up to the Vatican guards to deem what is acceptable, and you don’t want to go there and get turned away.
Where to Eat
Before you go into the Vatican Museums, there’s a vegan café called Lattuga that’s on the way to the entrance. You can pick up a delicious baguette and a cup of coffee. It’s the perfect pit stop if you aren’t staying in self-catering accommodation or you didn’t have time to make breakfast.
Once you’re inside the Vatican, you can grab something to eat from one of the cafes on the grounds. There are also dozens of restaurants around St. Peter’s square.
Don’t Go to St. Peter’s Basilica First
There is no way to get from St Peters Basilica to the Vatican Museums. You’ll have to walk all the way to the entrance of the museums and stand in another long line. If you go to the museums first, you can take a short passage from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica.
(I’ve detailed how to find the passageway below)
If you have a DSLR camera, bring along a wide-angle lens so that you can get in as much of the architecture as possible. There’s not going to be room to change lenses, so choose wisely and keep your camera around your neck, so you don’t need to keep opening your bag.
Don’t forget to look up for the ceilings!
Don’t Bring a Large Backpack
Large backpacks, tripods or selfie sticks are not allowed in the Vatican Museums of St.Peter’s Basicila. For your visit, pack a crossbody bag that you can keep in front of you.
If you’re looking to buy one, I’d recommend getting an anti-theft option, so you have one less thing to worry about it while you navigate your way past the crowds.
What to See in the Vatican
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are the world’s largest private art collection (and most of the art isn’t even on display!).
While you don’t need to sign for a tour to see the artworks, it’s 100% worth it. My mom and I upgraded our ticket to a guided tour last minute, and I’m so glad that we did!
Without our knowledgeable guide, we wouldn’t have had an understanding about what we were looking at or the history of the Vatican.
There isn’t really signage, and even if there were little placards of information, the sheer number of people makes it impossible to get in front of each art piece.
You’ll want to block out at least two hours to explore the museums. It’s a super exhausting activity, and you’re going to be standing for most of the time.
Ticket prices for the Vatican Museums: I paid EUR 35 for s skip-the-line ticket and EUR 10 for a guided tour.
What to See Inside the Vatican Museums
The Sistine Chapel is one of the Vatican’s greatest treasures. It’s where the popes come to vote and crown their new leader, but it’s also home to some of the best examples of Renaissance art.
The ceiling and walls are covered in paintings from legendary artists like Botticelli, Perugino, Luca and Michelangelo.
Without a doubt, the ceiling fresco done by Michelangelo is the most impressive part of the Sistine Chapel. He spent four years painting the nine stories from Genesis in secrecy (while lying on his back). After he unveiled the artwork, it broke the mould of Renaissance art.
His artistry becomes more impressive when you learn that his work in the Sistine Chapel was one of his first painting commissions. He also used the fresco technique, which requires applying wet paint to the wet plaster, leaving no room for error or revisions.
Art Works & Treasures
The Vatican Museums are full of incredible artworks and treasures. From the papal apartments to sculptures and floor to ceiling tapestries, there’s an endless list of things to see.
Here are some of the most impressive pieces to add to your Vatican itinerary:
The Raphael Rooms: The Raphael Rooms are the apartments of Pope Julius II. The frescos by Raphael include his famous School of Athens as well as other Renaissance masterpieces.
Laocoon and His Sons: The Laocoon and His Sons sculpture is one of the finest examples of ancient Greek art and one of the greatest sculptures you’ll see in the Vatican Museums. It depicts Laocoon and his sons being killed by sea serpents sent by Athena and Poseidon.
The Maps Hall: “Got maps? I’ve got plenty!” The Maps Hall is the ultimate geek-out session for history and geography lovers. There is floor to ceiling tapestries that represent the geography of northern and southern Italy.
Egyptian Museums: The Egyptian Museums inside the Vatican house the best collection in Italy. You can explore nine rooms that are full of mummies, papyruses and other ancient treasures from Egypt.
The Spiral Staircase: The Spiral Staircase is one of the most Instagrammable locations in Vatican City. It was designed by Guiseppe Momo in 1932 and is located at the end of the Vatican Museums. The staircase also uses a double helix and as a result, people ascending and descending never have to meet each other. #introvertgoals
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest Renaissance-era churches in the world. If you’re only in Rome for a few days and you don’t have a lot of time in your itinerary, buy skip-the-line tickets for St. Peter’s Basilica.
There’s usually a super long line of people weaving through the square even in the quieter months.
Opening Times: April to September 7 AM to 7 PM and October to March 7 AM to 6 PM
How to Get from the Sistine Chapel to St.Peter’s Basilica
Once you’ve seen the Sistine Chapel, you’ll find yourself in an anteroom with two exits. The door on the left will take you around the museums, and back to St. Peter’s square.
To save time, take the “secret” door on the right. It’s a passageway that connects the Sistine Chapel to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The passageway is usually only used by tour groups, but the guards don’t really check.
What to See Inside St. Peters Basicila
St. Peter’s Dome
Climb to the top of St. Peter’s Dome for an epic view of the city below. There’s an elevator that will take you to the first level if you want to avoid the initial 231 steps.
After that, you’ll need to climb another 320 steps (it’s not for the faint of heart and is a worthy challenge for Stairmaster addicts).
If you suffer from vertigo or claustrophobia, you might want to give it a skip. It’s super narrow at the top, you’ll be climbing in single file, and it’s crowded.
Ticket Prices for St. Peter’s Dome: EUR 8-10 per person
Once you go into St.Peter’s Basilica, keep an eye out for Michelangelo’s Pieta. It’s the only sculpture that he signed.
You can see his name carved into Mary’s sash.
While in the basilica, you can also visit the St Peter’s Treasury, and the Vatican Grottoes. Both have separate admission charges.
The Vatican Gardens
The Vatican Gardens are some of the most beautiful gardens in Italy. With only a few reservations each day, the tours are never crowded, and you’ll get a unique view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The gardens also house important holy sites like a replica of the Grotta di Lourdes.
When you book your tour of the Vatican Gardens your ticket will give you:
- Entry to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
- Exclusive entry into Vatican City with no waiting
- A guided tour of the gardens
Keep in mind that there is no re-entry. You’ll have to visit the Vatican Museums after your tour has finished or buy separate tickets.
Opening Times: There are two tours every day at 9 AM or 11 AM.
Woohoo! You made it to the end of this beast of a post! Hopefully, I managed to answer all the questions you have about visiting the Vatican. But if I did leave anything out or you have some advice for travellers visiting the Vatican, hit me up in the comment section below!
Psst…Want more Italy travel tips and Europe inspiration? Check out my other posts:
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