Julie Italy 25 Comments

If you are planning your first trip to Rome, then most likely a visit to Vatican City is on your to-do list. In this guide, we cover what you need to know about how to visit the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica, including what to do when you are here, the best time of day to plan your visit, and whether or not it is worth it to take a tour.

Planning a visit to the Vatican may sound complicated. With multiple places to visit within Vatican City, multiple tickets to purchase, and tales of long lines and massive crowds, you may be wondering what is the best way to visit Vatican City and actually enjoy your visit.

With proper planning, you can avoid the long ticket lines and have a great experience at the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.

We will also let you know about several “secret” rooms within the Vatican Museums. These special rooms are pricey additions to a standard tour of the Vatican but worth it for those who want to go deeper into the Vatican Museums and see some places that other visitors skip (and most likely don’t even know about).

Let’s get started.

Interesting Facts about Vatican City

Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. In 1929, it became independent from Italy by the signing of the Lateran Treaty. It is only 49 hectares (121 acres) with a population of just under 500 people. This city state is ruled by the Pope.

Note: Even though Vatican City is a separate country, you do not need to bring your passport.

There are three big sites to visit in Vatican City: the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

On a visit to Vatican City, you will visit these sites as two different sections. The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are visited on one ticket. You will enter the Sistine Chapel through the Vatican Museums, so if you only want to see the Sistine Chapel, you will have to walk through the Vatican Museums first.

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square is the second area you will visit. It is free to enter St. Peter’s Basilica but there is a line to get through security, and from mid-morning through mid-afternoon, this line can be enormous.

In St. Peter’s Basilica, you have the option to climb to the dome for an additional fee. This is worth it and you get one of the best views of Rome from the top of the dome.

How to Visit Vatican City

We are breaking up Vatican City into two different sections: the Vatican Museums (which includes the Sistine Chapel) and St. Peter’s Basilica. These each have their own entrance ticket and security line. You can visit them together on the same day or on two separate days. It may sound odd to break them up into two different days, but there are some advantages to doing this, which we will get to later.

Before diving into things to do at each area, there are a few important things to know first:

Audience with the Pope: Every Wednesday morning, if the Pope is in town, he will hold an audience in St. Peter’s Square, starting at 9:30 am. On Wednesdays, St. Peter’s Basilica does not open until 12:30 pm. The Vatican Museums tend to be less crowded on Wednesday mornings as well, according to our guide.

St. Peter’s Basilica: It is free to enter St. Peter’s Basilica so you do not need a ticket. However, you will go through security to enter the basilica and this queue can be very long, with waiting times over an hour. Go early in the morning or late in the day to avoid this long wait.

Getting from Vatican City to St. Peter’s Basilica: To get from Vatican City to St. Peter’s Basilica, you will have to exit the Vatican Museums and walk 20 minutes to St. Peter’s Basilica. There is a short cut from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica, but this is reserved for select tour groups. If you take one of these select tours, it can save you a LOT of time (you will avoid the 20 minute walk plus the wait in line, which can be an hour or longer on some days). 

Below is a map of Vatican City with the walking route from the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Basilica.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the walking route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Things to Do in the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are enormous. These museums display the massive collection of art that was amassed by the Catholic Church. There are 70,000 works of art on display in roughly 2,000 rooms of this maze of a museum. It would take years to see everything here.

On a visit to the Vatican Museums, there are a few notable rooms and statues to see, as well as the Sistine Chapel.

For the best experience, we recommend taking a tour. On our first visit here, we wandered around on our own and got very little out of the experience. More recently, we took a tour and it was well worth it.

Tim and I took an early morning tour, which allows you to see at least some of the rooms with low crowds. Plus, with a knowledgeable guide, you learn a lot about the history and artwork.

We will get into recommended tours later in this guide, but first, here are the main things to see in the Vatican Museums, plus a few “secret” rooms you can add on to your visit.

Entry into the Vatican Museums

The entrance into the Vatican Museums is on the north side of the museums, on Viale Vaticano. Here is the spot on Google Maps.

Some tours meet across the street from this spot, but you should double check this when you book your tour.

Make sure you book your tickets in advance or are on some sort of tour. The ticket line to enter the Vatican Museums can be enormous…up to a 3 hour wait at the busiest times. If you can’t make your reservation in advance, for example tickets are sold out on the day you want to visit, then you can purchase an entry ticket on GetYourGuide.

You will enter the Vatican Museums, go through security, and if you have a large bag or backpack, you will have to put it in a locker. Show your ticket and then enter the museums. You will ride an escalator or walk the top of the spiral walkway to the main level.

This list of things to do in Vatican Museum is located in order, as you will see them on the one-way walking route through the museums. You will follow the signs from room to room until you reach the Sistine Chapel.

The Pinacoteca

In its 18 rooms, the Pinacoteca displays artworks by Raphael, Leonardo, Caravaggio, and Perugino and many other artists. It is accessible from the hallway at the top of the escalator and the Pinecone Courtyard.

This is optional. Some tours include it, some don’t. There is so much to see in the Vatican Museums and this section of the museum is only worth it for those with lots of time and a big interest in art.

Pinecone Courtyard (Pigna Courtyard)

The entrance to the Pinecone Courtyard is near the top of the escalator. There are a few things to see here, including the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the sculpture of the “Sphere with Sphere” by Arnaldo Pomodoro, and the bronze pinecone that gives this courtyard its name. Michelangelo designed the steps that lead up to the pinecone.

Vatican Museums Pinecone Courtyard | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Pinecone Courtyard | How to visit the Vatican Museums

 

Sphere with Sphere | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

“Sphere with Sphere” by Arnaldo Pomodoro

 

Vatican Museums Pinecone

The bronze pinecone

Hall of Statues

From the Pinecone Courtyard, enter the museums. If you are looking at the bronze pinecone, the entrance into the museums is up the stairs to your right. Once inside, look to your right down the very long hall filled with statues and busts. Don’t spend too much time here because there are many better things to see.

Hall of Statues | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Hall of Statues | How to visit the Vatican Museums

Octagonal Courtyard

In this open courtyard sits some of the most important sculptures in the Vatican Museums.

The Laocoön Group is a sculpture of a Trojan priest and his two sons that were attacked by serpents. This artwork dates back to the first century AD.

Laocoön Group | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Laocoön Group

More statues sit around the courtyard as well as one of the baths from ancient times.

Octagonal Courtyard Vatican

Ancient bath in the Octagonal Courtyard | How to visit the Vatican Museums

Room of the Animals

This room is usually closed off, but you can still see the artwork from behind the rope. The name gives it away, but the Room of the Animals is filled with exquisitely carved statues of various animals.

Room of the Animals Vatican | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Room of the Animals | How to visit the Vatican Museums

Cabinet of Masks

The Cabinet of Masks is an add-on to a standard ticket into the Vatican Museums and can only be visited with a guide. Sometimes it is referred to as the Vatican’s “secret chamber.”

To get here, you will walk through the Room of the Animals and past the Gallery of Statues.

The Cabinet of Masks is a small room that contains several very important sculptures and historic pieces. On the floor is a tiled mosaic from the villa of Emperor Hadrian in Tripoli. You can see the painting of the “Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne” and sculptures of Paris and Venus.

Cabinet of Masks | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Cabinet of Masks | How to visit the Vatican Museums

 

Cabinet of Masks Mosaic Floor

The mosaic floor from Hadrian’s Villa

It may seem a little out of place, but you can also see what is called the “Dung Chair.” This rose marble chair has a hole in the center of it. Legend has it that it was used to assess whether the newly elected pope was male or female. The pope would sit on this chair and undergo an examination.

Dung Chair

The Dung Chair

Before you go, take a look outside through the window. You look out to a terrace and can see a portion of the Rome skyline.

Cabinet of Masks Terrace

Cabinet of Masks Terrace

Gallery of Statues

This beautiful room is another “secret room” in the Vatican. It is filled with sculptures, baths from ancient times, and has an elaborately painted ceiling. You can see this room as you walk from the Room of the Animals to the Cabinet of Masks, if you included the Cabinet of Masks on your tour of the Vatican.

Vatican Museum Statues | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Gallery of Statues | How to visit the Vatican Museums

The Belvedere Torso

The Belvedere Torso is in the Room of the Muses, which you will enter after walking past the Room of the Animals. This statue is important in that it had a big influence on Michelangelo’s art and the muscularity of the men in his statues and paintings.

Belvedere Torso | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Belvedere Torso | How to visit the Vatican Museums

The Round Room

Sitting in the center of the Round Room is Nero’s bathtub, which stood in his golden house, also called the Domus Aurea. The Domus Aurea is in Rome and can be visited on a tour.

Galleria della Candelabra

After passing through a few more rooms, you will walk up a flight of stairs and come to the Galleria della Candelabra. This was once an open terrace that was lit with candles. It was enclosed in the 18th century. The floor and ceiling are beautiful.

Galleria della Candelabra

Galleria della Candelabra | How to visit the Vatican Museums

Gallery of the Tapestries

Galleria della Candelabra leads into the Gallery of the Tapestries, a long hallway where the walls are covered with tapestries that tell the story about the life of Urban VIII, the birth of Jesus, the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and the massacre of the innocents. These tapestries date back to the 1500’s and it took 9 years to complete one tapestry.

Tapestry in the Vatican

One of the tapestries in the Gallery of the Tapestries

 

Gallery of the Tapestries

Gallery of the Tapestries | How to visit the Vatican Museums

Gallery of the Maps

This is one of the most famous rooms in the Vatican Museums. On the walls are maps commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 1500’s. There are 40 maps on the walls, all maps of Italy with a small portion of southern France. The ceiling was painted in the 1600’s by Giralamo Muziano and Cesare Nebbia.

Gallery of the Maps | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Gallery of the Maps | How to visit the Vatican Museums

Raphael Rooms or Sistine Chapel?

Once you exit the Gallery of Maps, you have a choice to make. You can go left to visit the Raphael Rooms and then visit the Sistine Chapel. Or you can turn right and immediately go to the Sistine Chapel. But once you visit the Sistine Chapel, you will not be allowed to enter the Raphael Rooms.

The Raphael Rooms are gorgeous and well worth the few extra minutes. These rooms are one of our favorite things to see in the Vatican Museums.

Room of the Immaculate Conception

If you choose to go to the Raphael Rooms, you will first walk through the Room of the Immaculate Conception. The frescoes that cover the walls and ceiling in this room are rather recent, painted in the 19th century by Francesco Podesti. These frescoes portray scenes from the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX.

Room of the Immaculate Conception

Room of the Immaculate Conception | How to visit the Vatican Museums

The Raphael Rooms

The Raphael Rooms were the apartments of Julius II. It took Raphael 16 years to paint these rooms, from 1508 to 1520. He died before they were completed, so the paintings were finished by his students.

There are several rooms filled with frescoes, the most famous being the Room of the Segnatura (Stanza della Segnatura). This room eventually became the place where Papal documents were signed, which gives this room its name (segnatura means signing).

The most important fresco is The School of Athens. Plato and Aristotle are searching for truth. Plato, the man with the orange robe who is carrying a book, was painted with the face of Leonardo da Vinci.

The School of Athens Vatican Museums | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

The School of Athens | How to visit the Vatican Museums

As you walk through the remaining rooms, you will see more paintings, including The Fire in the Borgo and The Battle of Ostia.

Raphael Rooms

The Fire in the Borgo | How to visit the Vatican Museums

The Sistine Chapel

To get from the Raphael Rooms to the Sistine Chapel, you will walk through the Borgio Apartments and the Museum of Modern Art.

The Sistine Chapel was built between 1473 and 1481. It gets its name because it was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. When it was completed, the ceiling was painted blue and covered with stars.

The frescoes on the walls were painted by Botticelli, Perugino, and other famous artists. They are Renaissance masterpieces, but Michelangelo would later come and steal the show by painting the ceiling.

In 1508, Michelangelo began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Until this time, he had only been a sculptor with no real experience painting frescoes. It took him four years to complete the ceiling and has become one of the most important Renaissance artworks. He also returned to paint The Last Judgement, a fresco on the wall behind the altar.

Sistine Chapel

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel | Sergii Figurnyi/shutterstock.com

Photos are not allowed inside of the Sistine Chapel (we purchased the photo above from shutterstock.com). This is strictly enforced. You are also not permitted to speak while in this room. It can be hot and crowded. If you take an early morning tour, you will get this experience with fewer people, which makes it much more pleasant (we’ve been here when it was wall to wall people and with just a few other visitors).

PRO TRAVEL TIP: On our most recent visit, we took an early morning tour of the Vatican Museums. We had the option to go right to the Sistine Chapel first, to see it with just a few people. Our guide said that wasn’t worth it…it’s better to tour the other rooms with lower crowds than to see the Sistine Chapel right at opening time. In the Sistine Chapel, most of the time you are looking up, and since you can’t take photos, there’s no rush to get here from a photography standpoint. We visited the Sistine Chapel at 10 am and there were a handful of people here, but it did not feel overly crowded.

Exiting the Sistine Chapel

There is a door that leads to a passageway that connects the Sistine Chapel directly to St. Peter’s Basilica. Only certain tour groups are allowed to take this exit.

The main exit leads you to a long hallway that takes you back towards the entrance of the Vatican Museums. You will collect your things, if you put anything into storage, and then exit the Vatican Museums. You will walk down the modern Bramante Staircase, which is a double helix ramp and one of the most photographed places within the Vatican Museums.

Our photo was taken first thing in the morning, at the start of our early morning Vatican tour.

Vatican Staircase | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

The modern Bramante Staircase

The Bramante Staircase

The original Bramante Staircase was built in 1505 by Donato Bramante as a double helix. Its purpose was to allow people and animals to ascend to the Belvedere palace of Pope Innocent VIII.

The design of the modern staircase, which is also a double helix and how visitors exit the museum, was inspired by the original Bramante Staircase.

It is believed that Michelangelo lived in the room at the top of the these stairs.

Bramante Staircase | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

The original Bramante Staircase

Seeing the Bramante Staircase can only be done with a guide and is limited to just a few people per day. It’s also a very pricey add-on to the Vatican Museums (about €350 per person).

We did this to get the full experience of the Vatican Museums, and to be able to write this guide. Paying that kind of money to see just one sight within the Vatican Museums is not something many people would consider doing. However, it is one of the most interesting things that we saw in the Vatican, we were the only ones here, and could walk up and down the ramp and take as many photos as we liked.

Here are a few more photos.

Bramante Staircase Photo

Bramante Staircase Top | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

Bramante Staircase

Bramante Staircase View

You also get a nice view of Rome while visiting the Bramante Staircase.

About the Tour We Took

We booked the Private Morning Vatican Tour with Secret Room by LivItaly Tours (€589) and added on the Bramante Staircase (€375). To do this, we spent a huge amount of money, (€850 in 2022), and prices have gone up since we did this (it costs about €964). We also paid full price for this tour. We don’t ask for discounts and don’t make it known that we run this travel website, so we can get the same experience as everyone else.

Most people wouldn’t consider spending this amount of money to tour the Vatican. Mainly we did it so we could write this guide to the Vatican Museums.

And for most people, I don’t think it’s worth it. You really have to have an interest in the Bramante Staircase and the Cabinet of Masks for this to be worth what you pay.

This tour only included the Vatican Museums and it lasted about 4 hours (from 7:30 am to 11:30 am).

However, an early morning tour is absolutely worth it. Our first visit to the Vatican Museums was midday in July. This place was mobbed. We couldn’t wait to get out of the museums and did not enjoy our visit. On an early morning tour there are far fewer people and you get a much better experience.

If you want to take an early morning tour, but without the secret rooms, this tour with LivItaly uses the tunnel between the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, which saves you a lot of time.

Italy Travel Guide Rome

Getting from the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Square

From the exit of the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Square, it is a 1 km walk that takes about 15 minutes. You will walk around the outskirts of Vatican City and then enter St. Peter’s Square.

If you are hungry, Alice Pizza is just a very short detour off of this walking route. You can get pizza al taglio. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and the pizza is great. Our Vatican Museums guide recommended this restaurant to us and it was a perfect, quick lunch spot. For more recommendations on where to eat in the area, check out our Rome Restaurant Guide. These restaurants are also marked on the map above.

Things to Do at St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Square

This is the square that sits in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was designed by Bernini between 1656 and 1667.

Sitting in the center of St. Peter’s Square is the Vatican Obelisk, which is an Egyptian obelisk made of red granite, as well as two fountains, the Maderno Fountain and the Bernini Fountain. Flanking the square are 284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters.

For the grandest entrance into St. Peter’s Square, walk up Via della Conciliazione.

St. Peters Square

St. Peter’s Square | How to visit the Vatican

The entrance into St. Peter’s Basilica is located on this square (to the right of the basilica). You can enter the basilica as early as 7 am. The line generally forms starting at 8 am and by 9 am snakes its way across St. Peter’s Square.

Entering St. Peter’s Basilica

The entrance into St. Peter’s Basilica is on the right side of the square, near the Maderno Fountain. You will go through security, similar to what you do at an airport, at this location.

There is no fast-track or skip-the-line ticket to bypass the security line. Everyone must go through the security check to enter the basilica, whether you are visiting independently or are on a guided tour. However, there are a few select tours that take an underground tunnel from the Vatican Museums directly into St. Peter’s Basilica, like this one, which skips the security line.

St. Peter’s Basilica is open from 7 am to 7 pm. For the shortest wait in line, get here by 8:30 am.

On our visit in September 2022, at 7:30 am, there was a 10-minute wait to get through security and enter the basilica. When we left, at 8:30 am, there was no line and no waiting time. We returned to the area on the same day at 10:30 am. The line was massive and I estimate that people were waiting at least 45 minutes to get through the security check.

Once past the security check, you will walk right into the basilica. Since it is free to visit and you do not need a ticket, there is no line to enter the basilica once past security.

St Peters Basilica | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

Inside of St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world. The inside is awe inspiring. Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Donato Bramante all played a part in designing and decorating the basilica. Once inside, there are a few things to make sure you see.

The dome. Modeled after the dome of the Pantheon and Brunelleschi’s dome of the Florence Cathedral, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was designed by Michelangelo. You can climb the dome for views over Rome, and we’ll get to this soon.

St Peters Basilica Dome

The dome and the top of the Baldacchino

The Papal Altar & the Baldacchino. The Papal altar sits below the dome. The Baldacchino is the four-legged structure that covers the Papal altar. It was designed by Bernini. The columns are bronze and then decorated with gold accents.

The Baldacchino

The Baldacchino | How to visit the Vatican

St. Peter’s Chair. St. Peter’s Chair, also called the Throne of Saint Peter, is a wooden throne that was used by Saint Peter. Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted the ornate bronze casing that surrounds it.

St Peters Chair Vatican | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

St Peter’s Chair

La Pietà. Michelangelo was only 23 years old when he carved this statue. It is one of the most famous statues in the world and bears his signature across Maria’s chest.

The Pieta

La Pietà | PhotoFires/shutterstock.com

Graves of the Popes. There are several popes that are buried on the main level of the basilica and you can see their graves, including John XXIII and St. John Paul II.

Vatican Grottoes. The grottoes are the Papal tombs that sit underneath of St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the final resting place for over 90 popes and dignitaries. You can visit the grottoes independently or on a tour. The grottoes do not open until 9:30 am, but you can enter earlier on special tours. Note: Multiple online sources list the opening at 7 am, even the official website. During our visit here in 2022, the staff member at the entry to the grottoes told us that they do not open until 9:30 am. Keep this in mind if you plan to enter the basilica early in the morning.

Vatican Grottoes Entrance

Vatican Grottoes Entrance

The Treasury Museum. This museum, which is located inside of the basilica, contains artifacts collected over the centuries, including a plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Photos inside of the museum are not allowed and there is a small fee to enter. We did this but only think it is worthwhile for those with an interest in the history of the basilica and Catholic Church.

List of Popes

List of the popes near the entrance into the Treasury Museum

The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

For one of the most iconic views of Rome, climb to the top of the dome. There are two ways to do this.

  • Climb 551 steps to the top of the dome: €8
  • Take the elevator to the terrace, climb 320 steps to the top: €10

You can purchase your tickets inside of St. Peter’s Basilica at the ticket kiosk. The dome is open from 8 am to 6 pm April through September and 8 am to 4:45 pm October through March. There can be a line for this as well, so get here early to save time.

St Peters Square Rome Italy | How to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica

The view from the dome | How to visit the Vatican

Audience with the Pope

On Wednesdays at 9:30 am, the Pope holds a general audience in St. Peter’s Square (if he is in Rome). Tickets are free but need to be reserved in advance. Click here for full details.

How to Get to Vatican City

If you have plans to tour the Vatican Museums, take the metro to the Ottaviano station and from here it is a 5-minute walk to the entrance into the museums. You can also take a taxi or Uber to the Vatican Museums entrance.

If you are going to St. Peter’s Square first, take the metro to the Ottaviano station and from here it is a 12-minute walk to St. Peter’s Square. For a more dramatic entrance, take a taxi or Uber to Piazza Pia and walk up Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square (about a 10-minute walk).

How Much Does it Cost to visit Vatican City?

Vatican Museums: €20 plus €5 reservation fee

Tours to add on the Cabinet of Masks and the original Bramante Staircase are extra and this exact cost depends on the tour that you take.

There is free entry into the Vatican Museums on the last Sunday of the month (expect larger than normal crowds).

St. Peter’s Basilica: Free

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica: €8 – €10

When are the Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basilica Open?

Vatican Museums: Monday to Saturday 9 am to 6 pm; Sunday 9 am to 2 pm; the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel can close for special events so check the official website before you go.

St. Peter’s Basilica: October through March 7 am to 6:30 pm; April through September 7 am to 7 pm; on Wednesdays when the Pope is in town, St. Peter’s Basilica does not open until 12:30 pm

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica: October through March 8 am to 4:45 pm; April through September 8 am to 6 pm; get updated hours here

Best Time of Day to Visit the Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basilica

The best time of day to visit the Vatican Museums is early in the morning, ideally on an early morning tour. These early morning tour groups enter the Vatican Museums at 8 am, one hour before general entry begins. This gives you enough time to explore some of the rooms with low crowds and get to the Sistine Chapel before it gets very crowded. Just be aware that there are quite a few early morning tours, so you won’t have the museums all to yourself.

Wednesday mornings are another great time to visit the Vatican Museums. If the Pope is holding an audience in St. Peter’s Square, visitation tends to be lower at the Vatican Museums.

The best time of day to visit St. Peter’s Basilica is in the morning, arriving by 8 am. This avoids the long line to get through security, plus you can be one of the first people to the top of the dome. Late afternoon is another nice time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, but you could have limited time, depending on how late you arrive.

Tours of Vatican City

There are a lot of tours of Vatican City. Some just include the Vatican Museums and others include both the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.

If you only need an entrance ticket into the Vatican Museums, you can buy one via GetYourGuide. This has the advantage of being able to cancel your reservation up to 24 hours in advance and get a full refund.

This early morning small group tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica gets great reviews and uses the same tour group we used (LivItaly Tours).

This very highly rated tour includes the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica.

On this tour, visit the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and climb the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

 

What We Did

We have visited Vatican City three times.

The first time was during the month of July. We had tickets to enter the Vatican Museums, so we skipped the line, but inside, we faced the largest crowds we have probably seen in a museum. It was wall-to-wall people. Tyler and Kara were kids at the time and counting down the minutes until we could exit the museums. That afternoon, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica, and since it was later in the day, had low crowds and a fantastic experience.

Our second visit was in September 2022. On one morning, Tim and I visited St. Peter’s Basilica, getting here at 7:30 am. Crowds were very low and again, we had a great experience at the Basilica.

On the following day, we took an early morning private tour of the Vatican Museums. It was awesome, not only to have lighter crowds this time of day, but to also tour the museums with a guide. There is a lot to see and you won’t get much out of your visit if you wander around without a guide. At least consider getting the audio guide but a tour guide is even better.

We split our visit into two separate days, to visit both the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica early in the morning. It may seem like a hassle to get to this area twice, but it’s the best way to tour both places with fewer people.

St Peters Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica

Helpful Tips for Visiting the Vatican Museums

Purchase your Vatican Museums ticket online in advance. To avoid waiting in an extremely long ticket line, purchase your ticket online in advance. If tickets are sold out, then purchase your ticket though GetYourGuide.

Beware of people selling skip-the-line tickets into St. Peter’s Basilica. You’ll see these guys in St. Peter’s Square and along Via della Conciliazione. These are just overpriced tours of the Vatican Museum that also include St. Peter’s Basilica.

Dress Code. Cover your knees and shoulders. This goes for men and for women. You could get turned away if you are not wearing appropriate clothing.

Beware of pickpockets. With big crowds comes the possibility of pickpocketing. While walking through the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, beware of pickpockets.

Wednesdays can be good or bad, depending on what you want to get out of this experience. Crowds are light in the Vatican Museums when the Pope holds an audience. But you will not be able to enter St. Peter’s Basilica until 12:30 pm, so it could make your visit to Vatican City longer.

Consider splitting your visit into two separate days. To visit both St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums first thing in the morning, split your visit into two days.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a guide for the Vatican Museums?

No, you do not need a guide and you do not need to take a tour of the Vatican Museums. You can visit the museums independently and have the option to use the audio guide.

Should you take a tour of Vatican City?

Tours offer several advantages over visiting Vatican City on your own. With a guide, you will learn about the various rooms, artwork, and the history of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica with a knowledgeable guide. Some tours give you early morning access, to stay ahead of the crowds, or include secret rooms within the Vatican Museums. To get the most out of your visit, a tour of Vatican City is worth it.

What is the best day of the week to visit the Vatican Museums?

Wednesday mornings, when the Pope holds an audience in St. Peter’s Square, is the best time to tour the Vatican Museums, since they are less crowded during this time.

Can you go directly from the Vatican Museums into St. Peter’s Basilica?

There is a tunnel between the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica but only select tours can do this. If you are not on a tour, you will have to exit the museums and walk about 20 minutes to St. Peter’s Square.

Is the Sistine Chapel worth it?

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most important pieces of Renaissance artwork. The ceiling was painted by Michelangelo and the frescoes that cover the walls were painted by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Rosselli, and other famous Renaissance painters. A visit to the Sistine Chapel is worth it, even if you aren’t a big art aficionado. Just be prepared for large crowds, because this is one of the most popular places to visit in Vatican City.

More Information for Your Trip to Rome

For a full list of things to do in Rome, check out our article Best Things to Do in Rome. For the best viewpoints of Rome’s famous landmarks, take a look at our article Best Views of Rome.

Learn how to plan your time with our One Day in Rome Itinerary, 2 Day Rome Itinerary, 3 Day Rome Itinerary and 4 Day Rome Itinerary.

In our article How to Visit the Colosseum, we cover everything you need to know, from ticket types, things to do at the Colosseum, if a guided tour is worth it, how much it will cost and how to have the best experience.

For advice on where to eat, read our guide about Where to Eat in Rome, that has restaurant recommendations near the Colosseum, Vatican City, and the historic heart of Rome, plus some great rooftop restaurants. We also have a guide to the Best Rooftop Bars in Rome.

Get recommendations on where to stay in Rome in our Rome Hotel Guide.


If you have any questions about how to visit the Vatican Museums or St. Peter’s Basilica, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to Italy

ITALY ITINERARIES: If you are just beginning to plan your Italy itinerary, take a look at our 10 Days in Italy Itinerary for five different ways to spend 10 days in Italy. We also have a detailed 10 day itinerary that includes Rome, Florence, the Cinque Terre, and Venice and a 10 day southern Italy itinerary that includes the Amalfi Coast, Matera and Puglia.

VENICE: Learn more about Venice in our article Best Things to Do in Venice. We also have guides about How to Visit St. Mark’s Basilica, where to get the Best Views of Venice, and how to spend Two Days in Venice.

FLORENCE: If you are planning your first visit to Florence, don’t miss our guide to the 10 Best Things to Do in Florence. We also have a guide about how to visit the Florence Cathedral and related sites, the best rooftop bars in Florence and the best viewpoints in Florence.

TUSCAN HILL TOWNS: Check out our detailed guides to Siena, Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Lucca, Volterra, Arezzo, and Cortona. For a full list of things to do, read our article Best Things to Do in Tuscany.

PUGLIA: Read about 15 beautiful places to visit in Puglia and the best things to do in Alberobello. We also have a guide to the best things to do on the Gargano Peninsula and how to spend one day in Vieste.

 

We have TONS more information about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, the Dolomites, the Amalfi Coast, the Cinque Terre, and Puglia.

 

Vatican Museums St Peters Basilica Rome

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 25

  1. Avatar for Chris
    Chris

    We only have two days in Rome and we want to see the Pope on Wednesday morning and tour the Vatican Museum after. We get to Rome on Tuesday noon, and would like to tour St Peter’s Basilica in the afternoon from 4pm. How much time do you need to tour and climb the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica? Do you think it is a wise idea?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, you can visit the basilica the day you get into Rome but it would be get there earlier (3 pm). It can be busy mid-afternoon so you could be waiting in line for some time (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, maybe more depending on the time of year). If you booked 1 pm Vatican Museum tickets on Wednesday, spent 2 there, you could potentially do the basilica afterwards. On the quickest of visits, it takes about an hour to see the inside of the basilica and climb the dome. 2 hours is better if you don’t want to feel like you are in a race, plus gives you contingency time if there is a line to climb the dome. The dome is only open until 4:45 pm, so make sure you do this first, regardless of the day you plan to visit, and take into account the time it could take to wait in line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. So, if you arrive at 4 pm, you might not be able to do the dome climb if there is a line to enter the basilica. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Chris
        Chris

        The St. Peter’s Basilica website says the dome closes at 6pm. We may be able to do it just to climb the dome on Tuesday late afternoon. Then on Wednesday, the Vatican Museum and then the Basilica (this time excluding the dome).

        Thanks Julie.

  2. Avatar for Melissa
    Melissa

    Thank you for your amazingly helpful guides!! Do you think it is feasible to see St Peter’s Basilica first, and then walk over to the Vatican (with reservations) and do the Vatican Museum second? If not paying for a tour, it seems like it would make sense to get to the Basilica early to avoid long lines, and reserve regular tickets for the Vatican late morning. I realize it would be a little crowded, but may save money/time. Any tips/thoughts about this approach?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      1. Avatar for Melissa
  3. Avatar for Matt
    Matt

    I have a photography lighting question for the St. Peter’s Basilica Dome. It seems like the standard advice is to do the dome climb early in the morning, but wouldn’t the view of Rome be very backlit in the morning? It seems like your “The view from the dome” photo was taken in the afternoon. Do you have a photo from your morning visit? I’m going in November, so I don’t think the sun will be very high by 8:30am-ish. Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, you are correct, our photo was taken mid-afternoon in July, from our first visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. In the morning, you will be looking towards the sun (you will be facing directly east). On our most recent visit, we did not climb the dome, since we had already done that in the past. But having been to St. Peter’s Basilica and Square in the morning, the sun is shining from the east, so I don’t think the morning would be a good time for photos from the dome. Later that morning (about 10 am) I took photos from Castel Sant’Angelo and my east facing photos were terrible. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Matt
        Matt

        Thank you for your insight! I have one more question about doing the St. Peter’s dome climb on a Sunday. I previously assumed that Sunday would be a bad time to visit due to religious events/crowds, but now that I think about it, I only hear about avoiding Wednesday mornings. Do you see any issues with attempting to visit St. Peter’s on a Sunday morning?

        To add to my confusion, the official website for the Basilica does not mention the Basilica nor the dome being closed on Wednesday mornings. I wouldn’t have known to avoid Wednesdays if I just looked at the official website.

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          As far as I know, and from everything I’ve read online, St. Peter’s Basilica remains open on Sunday mornings (our visits were on weekdays), so I don’t see any potential issues visiting at this time. But yes, Wednesdays can be bad, but only when the Pope holds mass and is in town, and that schedule may be released for the next month or two, just to double check if it will have an impact on your visit. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Fred
  5. Avatar for Lena
    Lena

    Thank you for sharing such valuable information with the online world! I’m building our whole visit on your itineraries and tips. What I wonder, however, are the links to GetYourGuide website. Each link brings me to the general page for Rome, but nothing specific. I would really like to book a tour that you did! Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      The tour that we did was a private tour through LivItaly and we added on the Cabinet of Masks and the Bramante Staircase. It cost us about 975 euros per person, which is a huge fee, but we paid that in order to visit the “secret rooms” of the Vatican to write this guide. I don’t think that’s worth it for most people, but you can look around on the LivItaly website or use this GetYourGuide link to a small group early morning tour with LivItaly which is a similar experience at a much more reasonable price, just without the special rooms. Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Barbara Harrick
    Barbara Harrick

    We want to see the Vatican Museums, Sistene Chapel and St Peter’s on a tour BUT want to make sure we end up at the Vatican gift shop before exiting.

    Any suggestions? Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you take the tunnel from the Vatican Museums to St. Peters you might not see the gift shop. If this is the case, let your guide know at the start of the tour and maybe they can help you add this in. But if you exit the Vatican Museums at the main exit (onto the street) you will go past the gift shop, if I remember correctly. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Veranika
    Veranika

    Hi Julie,

    Thank you for such an informative guide! Can you please confirm this is the tour you recommend with the tunnel b/w Vatican Museum and St. Basilica: ‘Vatican Early Entrance Skip-the-Line Small Group Tour’ (by LivItalyTour with 46 reviews). The link takes me to getyourguide Vatican tours general page, and I wanted to make sure I’ve selected the correct tour. Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That link is to the small group early morning tour of the Vatican by LivItaly that we highly recommend. However, we did a different tour, in order to be able to write this guide. We took a private early morning tour by LivItaly and included the Bramante Staircase and the Cabinet of Masks. This private tour runs about 450 euros per person and the Staircase and Cabinet of Masks are additional charges (for a total of 920 euros per person). This can only be booked on the Liv Italy website and here is the link. We did it to be able to write this guide but ordinarily wouldn’t pay that much for a tour, and most people wouldn’t either, since it is very expensive. However, the link that you are referring to is a more affordable option of what we did. It’s a small group tour, so the price is a lot cheaper, but it’s with the same tour company (which is fantastic) and you get the early entrance. But you won’t see the Bramante Staircase and Cabinet of Masks unless you pay the money for the private tour and additional rooms. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Veranika
  8. Avatar for Aimee
    Aimee

    Your guides are always so helpful! I’ve never used ‘ get your guide’ before… from the link you shared, from the overview I dont see ‘tunnel included’ but should I assume if it covers ” ROME: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & Basilica Tour” that it includes the tunnel?
    Also trying to understand, there are 2 separate lines, one for tickets and one for security check & even if you have a ticket for a tour, you still have to wait in security check line, correct? For my current itinerary I’m thinking an afternoon tour might be easier for us, but I also don’t want to waste hours in lines if possible

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Aimee. Yes, there will be two separate lines. If you have a ticket, you will skip the ticket line but still have to go through the security line. In general, the security line isn’t too bad in most cases. As for the tunnel, check the “Full Description” of the tour you are looking at to see if it includes the tunnel. Unfortunately, in some cases, even this isn’t clear. For example, for the early morning tour we took, there is a statement that the tunnel is not yet open. However, I reached out directly to this tour company in February and they confirmed that the tunnel is open, so the GetYourGuide text has not yet been updated. If you want to play it safe, took a look at the tours on the LivItaly website and potentially make your reservation there, plus you can send them an email with any questions you have and they tend to respond quickly. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Aimee
        Aimee

        If we plan a tour on a Wednesday it sounds as though we would have to do Vatican museums first, then St. Peter’s Basilica. Early morning is not an option on those days, correct? Or is the Pope not always doing audiences on Wednesday- would the LivItaly tour options reflect that ?

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          You can do an early tour of the Vatican Museums on Wednesday (that’s when we toured the Museums, as they are generally less crowded that day) but you will not be able to enter St. Peter’s Basilica until the afternoon. We returned to the area on a different morning to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a bit of a hassle, getting there twice in one week, but this allowed us to do both the museums and the basilica in the morning. If you don’t want to do it that way, have lunch nearby after you tour the museums, and then visit St. Peter’s Basilica that afternoon. There may be a line, I’m not sure how long it would be, and that would also depend on the time of the year. And also, the Pope does not hold an audience every Wednesday, so you can check the schedule using the link we provide in this guide. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Kelli
    Kelli

    Can you tell me any of the history of the Corredor between the Sistine chapel and St. Peter’s Square? I’ve scoured the Internet and all I can find is that it used to be reserved for the use of the popes. My tour guide took us through this short cut And I wanted to know more about it but I can’t find anything on the Internet. Thank you so much!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      From what I know, it was a shortcut to be used to get from the Sistine Chapel/Vatican Museums into St. Peter’s Basilica. I don’t know if it has any other historical importance other than that. The corridor wasn’t open during our visit (it closed to tourists for a few years after COVID and just reopened right after our visit) so we never heard the history about it from our guide. Cheers, Julie

  10. Avatar for Karen
    Karen

    This is fabulous summary with very relevant details that answered so many of my questions. I appreciate your time in putting all of this together in one place!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *