The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica rank among the most popular tourist attractions in the world. And it’s easy to see why! As the world’s smallest independent state, the Vatican has bewildered people for centuries. Visitors are eager to get a taste of what life is like for the 1,000 people that call this miniature country home. But even more fascinating than the state’s geography or politics, is its religious connections and the wealth of spellbinding artworks and artifacts it safeguards.
If the Vatican is on your bucket list, and let’s be honest – it totally should be, then make sure to read this guide for everything you need to know before you visit. Save time and money on your Vatican tour with these top tips.
Your vacation time is precious! Don’t waste it waiting in the notorious lines outside the Vatican, which are often three-hours long. Spoil yourself by booking a skip-the-line ticket online. We promise you’ll thank us as you glide straight passed the crazy long lines with your no-wait ticket.
Also be weary of unofficial ticket sellers approaching tourists on their way to the Vatican. They may promise you skip-the-line passes and expert guided tours but often these ‘sellers’ are scammers targeting unassuming travelers, potentially ruining their once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Vatican.
Avoid the scams, hassle and long lines on your visit by booking your tickets through a reputable tour operator before you go.
2. Go early or late
Of course, you can beat the long lines and crowds waiting outside the Museums with your skip-the-line ticket, but how can you avoid the throngs of tourists when you get inside? The answer is simple, book your Vatican tour for the early morning or the late evening to beat the crowds. With about 20,000 people visiting the Vatican every day, you’ll have more space to marvel in the beauty of its Museums if you go outside of peak times.
If exploring the Vatican without the crowds is high on your list of priorities, we recommend taking our Exclusive Breakfast at the Vatican experience. This tour invites guests inside the Vatican before it’s even open to the general public. Guests enjoy a delicious buffet-style breakfast in the iconic Pinecone Courtyard and then visit the Museums before the crowds arrive. Early mornings aren’t for everyone though, especially when you’re on vacation. You can also explore the mysterious sights of the Museums and Sistine Chapel after the Vatican’s official closing time on this enchanting Vatican by night experience.
3. Avoid St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday mornings
The jewel of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, is at the top of the tourist itinerary for many visitors to the Vatican. If this sounds like you then be sure to avoid visiting the Vatican early on a Wednesday morning. Many visitors aren’t aware that the basilica is generally closed to the public and tour groups on Wednesday mornings for the papal audience. Don’t miss out on this architectural wonder and book your tour accordingly.
However, if the Museums and the Sistine Chapel are what interests you, visiting the Vatican on Wednesday morning could be perfect for you. As most visitors flock towards to the basilica for the papal audience, you can have a much more relaxed experience as you explore the Vatican Museums with only a fraction of the usual number of tourists.
4. Tuesday to Friday are the best days to visit
Yes, we said to avoid Wednesday mornings if you want to check out the basilica, but nevertheless we always recommend visiting from Tuesday to Friday, travel schedule permitting of course! During the weekend the Vatican becomes substantially more hectic and Monday’s are pretty manic too. Tourists tend to visit the Vatican on Mondays when a lot of the other museums in Rome are closed. By visiting the Museums during the week, you can avoid a lot of the crowds for a much more enjoyable and relaxing visit.
5. What to wear
The Vatican is a sacred place and those wishing to visit the Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica must dress appropriately. Shoulders, thighs, knees, cleavage and midriffs cannot be exposed. In short, no miniskirts, shorts, tanks or crop tops. All bags and umbrellas go through a security check when entering the Vatican so try to pack light to avoid delays.
6. Explore St. Peter’s from above
Don’t miss the best view of St. Peter’s Square as you climb the cupola and explore it from above. With 551 steps in total, this climb is no easy task, but we promise it’s worth it. We recommend you save your energy and get the elevator the first 320 steps and climb the remainder. The view from the dome is one the best in the city. Be sure to look out for some of the city’s most iconic landmarks including the Vatican Gardens, the Colosseum and Villa Borghese as you explore the city from above.
7. Eat before you go (and bring snacks)
A lot of the restaurants and cafés close to the Vatican are overpriced and underwhelming. Avoid these tourist traps and save your euros by eating in another part of Rome before you get there. And don’t forget to bring water and a snack in your pack back, exploring 4.5 miles of world-famous art and fascinating artifacts is hungry work!
8. Book an expert guide
Visiting the Vatican is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most. Be sure to make your Vatican visit as memorable as possible by booking yourself a tour with an expert guide. There is so much magnificence to marvel at as you pass through the Museum’s impressive corridors, the Sistine Chapel and the basilica. Hear tales and anecdotes and unravel the secrets they don’t share in guide books, as you explore this spellbinding sight with commentary from an official Vatican guide on our best Vatican tours.