The huge Vatican Museums complex that includes the Sistine Chapel is one of the world’s most visited museums, with more than 5 million visitors a year. It’s also one of the largest. Its immense size coupled with big crowds can make a visit seem overwhelming so I highly recommend taking a small-group or private guided tour. Tours allow you to skip the (long) ticket line and often to go through the security check more quickly. Keep reading to see a variety of visiting options.
Vatican and Sistine Chapel Small Group Tours
The Roman Guy has created several experiences to help you get the most out of your visit. You’ll get a 5% discount on any of these small-group tours by using promo code ITALYMARTHA when you book online:
- Pre-opening Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel. Being among the first people to enter the museum in the morning is a great way to avoid the crowd. This tour enters 1 hour before opening time and heads first to the Sistine Chapel so you’ll see it when it’s still fairly empty. You’ll then have a tour of the top things to see in the Vatican Museums, followed by a skip-the-line tour of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
- Super Early Gold Tour. Enter even earlier, at 7:30, for a really exclusive pre-opening visit. At this early time there are no lines to go through security or enter and you’ll see the Sistine Chapel without the crowds. The 2 hour tour also includes a highlights visit in the 3 main galleries and access to Saint Peter’s Basilica.
- Early Entrance Express Tour. This is a shorter version of the pre-opening tour. It still includes the Sistine Chapel, highlights of the museums, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and entrance one hour before opening.
- Detailed Itinerary with Priveleged Entrance. This 5 hour tour enters 1 hour before opening and goes into more depth than the previous tours, hitting the Sistine Chapel, highlights, and hidden gems.
- Afternoon Tour. Although more crowded than pre-opening or evening, the afternoons sometimes see fewer visitors than mornings and your guide will help you navigate through the crowds to see the highlights, including the Sistine Chapel. Although this tour doesn’t include Saint Peter’s Basilica, your guide will offer to take you to the special entrance following the tour or you can remain inside the museum on your own.
- Rome in a Day Tour. You’ll see highlights of Rome as well as tour both the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums (with transportation to the Vatican) on this 7 hour tour. It’s a great way to pack in the top sights in one day.
Private Vatican Tours
The above tours are also offered as private tours for those who prefer a more intimate experience (sorry only small-group tours qualify for the discount). There’s even a private tour for families that’s interactive and child-friendly.
The Ultimate Way to Visit the Vatican Without the Crowd
I’ve been to the Vatican Museums twice. The first time I went on an afternoon tour. When we got inside, I was really glad to be on a tour rather than trying to navigate on my own and realized that, unlike most places I’ve been, I would never try to do it independently. I avoided going back for quite awhile until the Roman Guy invited me to visit on an exclusive after-hours tour.
Walking through the nearly deserted museum was a completely different experience from my first visit. We were able to take a close look at art works and easily concentrate on what our guide was saying. Brandon, a Vatican City accredited Tour Operator, is an amazing guide and really brought the art works and the museum to life with his educational stories. Our two hours inside flew quickly by and I was sorry to leave.
Of course the highlight of the tour was being inside the Sistine Chapel with only a small group of people. On my first visit, the Chapel was packed and it seemed tight and cramped. But on the exclusive visit I experienced its immense size and could really appreciate the stunning art work.
Taking an Exclusive After-hours Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Tour is truly a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget!
- See the full-list of Vatican tours with the Roman Guy.
Museums Visiting Information
Important Information: Visitors must go through a metal detector to enter. Backpacks and large objects must be left in the cloakroom. Knees and shoulders must be covered to enter and hats are not allowed.
The museums are open Monday through Saturday, 9AM to 6PM (last entrance at 4PM) and usually on the last Sunday of the month, when there is no admission charge. See Vatican Museums web site for updated information, events, and transportation.
Although tours are highly recommended, if you don’t want to take one, be sure to buy skip-the-line Vatican Museum tickets in advance.
Plan Your Visit to Rome
- Where to Stay:
JK Place is a top contemporary boutique hotel, near the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.
Singer Palace Hotel is on Via del Corso, a top shopping street, and has a rooftop restaurant
St. Regis Grand Hotel, Rome’s first deluxe hotel, has been recently remodeled and is a luxurious choice.
Starhotels Metropole is a good choice near Termini Station.
Rome and Sistine Chapel Guide Books:
- Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel
- 101 Surprising Facts about Saint Peter’s and the Vatican
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Rome
- Rick Steves Pocket Rome
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