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Our Flagship Tour of the Vatican and Vatacombs

Meet your expert guide by the Vatican Museum entrance and after brief introductions enjoy skip-the-line entry to what is arguably the most important and largest art collection in the world.

The Vatican Museums weren’t always as we know them today. For over five hundred years, celebrated Popes slowly gathered and commissioned works of art from the most talented painters, architects and sculptors in Italy and brought them to the Vatican to showcase them for their own personal enjoyment and that of a carefully chosen circle of clerics, artists, nobles, and scholars. Each new Pope sought to leave a legacy, commissioning chapels, frescoes, sculptures, libraries, paintings, courtyards – one masterpiece after another until the Papal Collection finally grew to more than 70,000 works of art spread over 1400 galleries.

In 1771 Pope Clement XIV finally opened the doors to the public, making it possible for us to enter the Holy See and walk in the footsteps of Popes and the most celebrated artists from Renaissance and Baroque Italy.

On this epic Vatican Tour you’ll walk in the footsteps of Popes and Renaissance Masters as you take in the Rooms of Raphael and of course the Sistine Chapel from its commissioning to the finishing touches by none other than Michelangelo Buonarroti. With an expert guide, learn to discern between myth, fact, and popular Hollywood fiction regarding this epic work of art.

Enjoy fast-track access to St. Peter’s Basilica to view masterpieces by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini among others before descending to the Papal crypts below. We conclude on the portico with an overview of Bernini’s magnificent piazza (St. Peter’s Square), the central obelisk, and of course the Swiss Guard.

  • Stand just feet away from Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
  • Take in the beauty of the extraordinary rooms of Raphael
  • Skip all lines with priority tour operator access
  • Visit the “Vatacombs,” the eerie resting place of former Popes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Expert local guide
  • Skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican Museums
  • Room of the Muses and Belvedere Torso
  • Pinecone Courtyard
  • Octagonal Courtyard
  • Rooms of Raphael
  • Gallery of Maps
  • Laocoonte Sculpture 1st Century AD
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Vatacombs (papal tombs beneath St. Peter’s)
  • Visit to the Necropolis / Scavi
  • Transport to and from meeting point


  • Tour departs rain or shine
  • Unfortunately, wheelchairs and strollers cannot be accommodated on this tour. Contact us for private tour options for your group.


  • Tag Vatican Tours
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Vatican Ticket & St. Peter's Dome Climb

Visit St. Peter’s Dome in the Vatican. Meet your guide on St. Peter’s Square and stroll across the piazza into the Vatican City, where your climb begins.

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Best of the Vatican Tour

See the best of the Vatican Museums, then have the rest of the day free to enjoy Rome after booking this, the ORIGINAL Vatican highlights tour!

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Vatican Tour & St. Peter's Dome Climb

The original all-inclusive Vatican City experience featuring a climb to the top of St. Peter’s Dome for an incredible view of Rome followed by our award-winning tour of the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel.

Vatican Tours

Despite being a religious state, Vatican City isn’t exclusively for followers of the Catholic faith. In fact, this small country offers a treasure trove of historic buildings and a rich cultural heritage that will captivate tourists and art enthusiasts alike.

Situated right in the heart of Rome, the Vatican is a foreign state with some strict entry rules, and due to its popularity, it remains bustling with visitors all year round.

The Vatican City: the Smallest Country in The World

The Vatican isn’t just the smallest country in the world. This tiny State, with a population of less than 500 inhabitants, is renowned as the famous headquarters of the Catholic religion and the home of the Pope.

You have two options to explore the Vatican: you can visit it during a self-guided tour or join a guided tour of the Vatican. Personally, I’d recommend the latter, even if you happen to be a permanent resident of Rome. And now, let me explain why.

Are Guided Tours of the Vatican Worth it?

In a nutshell… yes. While it’s possible to explore the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica on your own, a guided tour can truly make a difference.

Why Opt for a Vatican Guided Tour

  • A guided tour typically covers all the main attractions of the Vatican in a well-organised single tour of a few hours.
  • The Vatican Museums are truly vast and filled with exquisite artworks. In fact, they’re so extensive that attempting to visit them independently can be overwhelming. With a guided tour, you can focus on the essential highlights without running the risk of getting tired before you’re even halfway through the visit.
  • Even with a skip-the-line tour, queues for the Vatican Museums can be incredibly long. Choosing a guided tour with authorised tour operators can be a smart solution, as it grants you access through partner-exclusive entrances.
  • Exploring the Vatican with professional guides allows you to discover fascinating anecdotes and insights that you wouldn’t come across during a self-guided visit.

Types of Vatican Tours

There are several options for visiting the Vatican. Let’s explore them.

Guided Tours of the Vatican

As I mentioned earlier, a guided tour is definitely the best way to make the most of your visit to the Vatican. I’ve tried visiting the Vatican on my own multiple times, and having an expert guide by your side can truly make a difference. These tours usually start at a meeting point in the area.

Group Tours of the Vatican

This is the most common type of tour. Many tour operators offer tours in small groups, so following your guide and moving around the Vatican Museums is not complicated at all. Besides, if you ever feel like breaking away from the group, you can always rejoin them and continue at your own pace.

Private Tours of the Vatican

This is a decidedly luxury option. The price of a private Vatican tour is higher than a group tour. The advantages? You’ll have the guide entirely at your disposal. Moreover, many private Vatican tours include pick-up and drop-off at your hotel or apartment.

Vatican Early Opening Tours

Among the various guided tours, both private and group, there are some that grant access to the Vatican Museums at their early opening. As I’ve mentioned before, the Vatican is one of the major tourist attractions in Rome, and there’s often a very long queue to get in.

So, if you want to see them without the typical crowd that fills them, I recommend booking one of the Vatican’s early opening tours. You’ll literally be the first to step inside the Museums and the Sistine Chapel, and your visit will have a whole different feel.

Self-guided Tours of the Vatican

If you’re on a budget, you can still visit the Vatican by purchasing an entrance ticket to the Vatican Museums without a guide. However, this option may entail waiting in line at the entrance for as long as 3 or 4 hours. The same goes if you decide to visit only St. Peter’s Basilica, which doesn’t require an entrance ticket.

Skip-The-Line Tours of the Vatican

Let me tell you: skip-the-line tickets for the Vatican are worth every penny of their price.

In the past, I worked for a tour operator, and for work-related reasons, I visited the Vatican several times with a skip-the-line service. I can assure you that if you choose the right tour operator, you won’t even wait for 5 minutes at the entrance. You’ll bypass the long queue that starts from Via Leone IV and goes all the way to the Vatican ticket office. And you’ll thank me for recommending this type of tour.

After-Hours Tours of the Vatican

From April to October, the Vatican stays open on Friday evenings. So, if you wish, you can opt for one of the enchanting evening tours of the Vatican offered by tour operators. Not only will you see the Vatican in a completely different light, but you’ll also avoid sightseeing during the hottest hours of the day.

Tours of the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo

Castel Gandolfo is a delightful town on the shores of its namesake lake, located about 24 kilometres southeast of Rome. It’s been the summer retreat for the Pope for centuries.

And now, you have the fantastic opportunity to join a tour of the Pontifical Villas, where you can travel to Castel Gandolfo and explore the beautiful gardens and historic residences that belong to the Vatican, just outside the confines of Vatican City itself.

These tours are typically available during the summer months, and you can easily reach Castel Gandolfo by train from the Vatican Museums. Once there, you’ll be guided through the extensive gardens and the Apostolic Palace, which serves as the official residence for the Pope during his stay at Castel Gandolfo.

Major Attractions in Vatican City

There’s so much to see within Vatican City, and it’s an incredible place to explore.

What to See Inside St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica , you’ll have the chance to visit:

  • Bernini ‘s stunning colonnade in St. Peter’s Square
  • The magnificent Baldacchino, a work of art by both Bernini and Borromini
  • Michelangelo’s breathtaking Pietà , located in the right nave of the Basilica
  • The lid of Emperor Hadrian’s sarcophagus
  • The tomb of Pope Alexander VII, crafted by Bernini
  • Michelangelo ‘s iconic Dome
  • The Vatican Grottoes: the final resting place of the Popes and St. Peter himself.

What to See Inside the Vatican Museums

Now, when you venture into the Vatican Museums, make sure you don’t miss out on these incredible sights:

  • The Tapestry Room, filled with intricate and awe-inspiring tapestries
  • The Pinacoteca, which houses masterpieces by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, the Perugino, and Caravaggio
  • The Pio-Clementino Museum, dedicated to statuary, where you’ll find the impressive Laocoön sculpture group
  • The Gallery of Maps
  • Raffaello’s Rooms, including the famous ‘School of Athens’ fresco
  • The magnificent Spiral Staircase
  • The Sistine Chapel
  • the Vatican Museum Gardens

Time Needed to Tour the Vatican

Most guided tours at the Vatican run for a standard 2 to 3 hours, giving you an overview of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and the iconic St. Peter’s Basilica. These tours usually start early in the morning or early in the afternoon, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy the place.

Of course, nothing is stopping you from entering the Museums when they first open and spending the entire day delving into the wonderful art collections they hold.

Dress Code for the Vatican 

The Vatican is a religious site, and although it attracts many tourists, it does have a conservative dress code. It’s really important to respect this dress code if you want to be allowed entry. Many foreign visitors are disappointed each year when they’re turned away due to inappropriate attire, and I don’t want you to be one of these.

To enter the Vatican, it’s important to:

  • Avoid short skirts and shorts
  • Cover your shoulders and arms
  • Steer clear of plunging necklines and cropped tops
  • Remove hats before entering
  • Wear anything that might offend Catholic morals or decency
  • Cover any tattoos you might have

I know it gets scorching hot in Rome during the summer, but it’s crucial to adhere to these rules. My advice for the hot months is to wear a long dress or lightweight suit, or perhaps bring a light jacket to cover your arms and shoulders before entering. You can show off your sexiest outfit after you’ve completed the visit.

Tip: By dressing respectfully, you’ll ensure a smooth visit to the Vatican and demonstrate your appreciation for the sacredness of the place. 

Tips For a Great Vatican Experience

And here we are at the end of this guide to Vatican tours. I’ll share a few extra tips that might come in handy in addition to what’s already been mentioned.

  • Make sure to visit the Vatican early in the day – you can’t imagine how crowded it can get.
  • Only book guided tours from professional authorised tour operators.
  • Always double-check the opening times, especially around religious dates and events throughout the year.
  • Purchase your ticket several weeks in advance, as they often sell out quickly.
  • Upon entering the Vatican, you’ll go through a security check with a metal detector, similar to airport security. Be sure to read the rules on the official Vatican website . Among other things, you can’t bring knives, scissors, umbrellas, or cameras with you, and even things like tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed.
  • Once inside the Sistine Chapel, remember not to take any photos or videos – it’s strictly prohibited, and the security personnel may ask you to delete any shots you’ve taken in front of them.
  • Accessing the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel requires payment, but on the last Sunday of each month, you can enjoy free admission to both the museums and the Vatican Gardens from opening until 12:30 PM. Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica alone is, instead, always free, so you can still marvel at its grandeur without any cost. Happy exploring.

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Pristine Sistine™ Early Entrance Small Group Vatican Tour

The wonders of the Vatican Museum pointed out by expert guides.

  • Get ahead of the crowds—and save hours waiting in line—by visiting the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning.
  • Get a full appreciation for the highlights of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica on this comprehensive early morning Vatican tour.
  • Our guides are passionate art experts, full of stories and familiar with even the smallest details. You'll find them easy to engage with thanks to your small group size.

Preview the experience

Tour description, start your day at the vatican museums on our original early morning tour..

Our Pristine Sistine™ Chapel tour is the product of 13 years of constant development and refinement. We've found that the trick for this tour is to enter the Vatican right as it opens for the day so you can experience the most beautiful (and busiest) rooms—the Raphael Rooms and Sistine Chapel—before the majority of the daytime crowds arrive.

Be among the first guests of the day to stroll through the halls of the Vatican Museums.

Passing through the iconic galleries with your expert guide, you'll take in some of the world’s most incredible works of art, stopping at the Belvedere Courtyard, the Gallery of the Maps, the four Raphael Rooms, and more on your way to the Sistine Chapel. It can be difficult to navigate these spaces later in the day due to the crowds, but on this Vatican early morning tour, your guide will have more time and space to give you a proper explanation. There are so many incredible details in these frescoes, including likenesses of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo hidden in plain sight in the School of Athens.

Now that your eye is trained to great Renaissance masterpieces, it's time for the main event. You'll enter the Sistine Chapel just as the doors open to groups and ahead of the daytime crowds. By this time, your guide will have given you the full history of this space and pointers on what to look out for. Take your time and enjoy some of the most iconic images on earth. After 15 to 20 minutes of quiet contemplation, you'll embark on a guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Finish your early morning Vatican tour by skipping the line into St. Peter's Basilica.

From the Vatican Museums, we'll lead you through a special-access corridor to enter St. Peter's Basilica*, skipping the enormous general-access lines. Inside, you'll enjoy a full St. Peter's Basilica tour and learn to fully appreciate the artistry that went into works like Bernini’s monumental altar canopy, Michelangelo’s moving Pietà, and the titanic dome.

Explore the treasures of the Vatican with an art historian guide and a small, intimate group.

The Vatican Museums are home to some of the world's most precious artifacts and impressive artworks, but it can be hard to understand the significance of the works without some expert help. That's where our guides come in. They're all experienced art historians with perfect English. Throughout your early morning Vatican tour, they'll show you the highlights of the collection and enrich your visit with witty anecdotes and entertaining details. And as your group size is limited to a maximum of 15 guests (with top-quality headsets), you’ll always be able to hear your guide and engage with their stories, asking all the questions you can think of.

Most people only visit the Vatican once in a lifetime (if ever!). Our Pristine Sistine™ Chapel Tour guarantees that you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience while you're there. As it's one of our popular tours, we recommend that you book it early. If you find that it is sold out on your available dates, we have several other very similar tours which we recommend you check out. These include: Pristine Sistine at Closing Time: Late Entry Vatican Tour The Complete Vatican Tour with Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s Basilica VIP Vatican Key Master’s Tour: Unlock the Sistine Chapel .

The special access passage between the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica is closed on Wednesdays and subject to other unexpected closures. On such days we will instead explore the magnificent Pinacoteca Gallery.

Unfortunately due to the nature of this tour it is not suitable for guests with mobility impairments, or for wheelchairs or strollers. Please contact the Guest Experience team at [email protected] or call +39 068-596-0143 (Italy) or 888-683-8670 (USA) to make alternative arrangements.

Please note that this description is an example and your experience may vary depending on the season, day of the week, and group size. Regardless of where your tour goes, you always have an excellent experience.

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Verified guest reviews, jun 25, 2024.

I really enjoyed our Pristine Sistine Tour. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, in addition to being funny and engaging. I will say-I think the name of this tour is a little misleading…while I’m sure that our early arrival made it less crowded, it was still extremely busy and we waited an hour to get inside. I don’t mind that that’s the reality of what’s available-I just think the name and description should be updated so visitors know what to expect!

Jun 24, 2024

Julia was an amazing guide!!! We loved this tour!

Jun 23, 2024

I can't imagine trying to navigate the Vatican Museums without a tour guide. It can be overwhelming with the amount of people. Our guide was fantastic - very knowledgeable and engaging.

Jun 22, 2024

We really enjoyed this tour with Paola as our guide. She was incredibly knowledgeable and a wealth of information. It is a longer tour with lots of walking (which we knew), and there is so much to see. Of note, there isn’t much time spent in the Vatican museums because they are so vast, so if that is something you’re interested in then this might not be the best option. But we wanted to see all three: the museums, Sistine Chapel, and Basilica, so it was great for us!

Jun 21, 2024

Our tour guide Jeb was fantastic! We learned so much about the art in the Vatican museum. And getting a history and overview of the Sistine chapel prior to going in there provided a way to reflect and enjoy the space.

Know before you book

Make it a perfect day.


Those who wake up early not only get to experience the Vatican Museums without the typical crowds, but they’ll also have the entire day to explore Rome after. Here’s our one-day itinerary for visiting the Eternal City.

Similar tours

The complete vatican tour with vatican museums, sistine chapel & st. peter’s basilica, pristine sistine at closing time: late entry vatican tour, alone in the vatican: exclusive vip access vatican museums & sistine chapel tour.

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Visiting the Vatican - Top tips you need to know!

Elyssa Bernard

By Elyssa Bernard

November 21, 2023

Planning on visiting the Vatican when you come to Rome?

Here's everything you need to know!

saint peter's basilica

Visiting the Vatican - everything you need to know

Here is what you really need to know about visiting the Vatican:

  • When to go ? (what time of year and time of day)
  • What to see ? (St. Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museums, and much more!)
  • Which should you visit first, the Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel) or Saint Peter's Basilica ?
  • How to skip the lines for Saint Peter's Basilica ?
  • How to get tickets/skip the line to the Vatican museums ?
  • Can you just visit the Sistine Chapel ? 
  • Can you see the Sistine Chapel without crowds ?
  • How do you visit the Vatican Gardens ?
  • How do you visit St Peter's tomb ?
  • How to plan all your Vatican visits for your trip ?
  • How to get to the Vatican ?
  • Where to eat near the Vatican ?

The first time I came to Rome as an adult, I missed seeing the Sistine Chapel because I had no idea the Vatican Museums closed at 2pm (long before smartphones and Google, ahem.) 

It must have been a Free Sunday, when the Vatican Museums are open and free but with reduced hours.

Now that I live here, I go often to Saint Peter's Basilica , Saint Peter's Square , and the Vatican Museums .

I also helped thousands of our guests plan their visits in the 17 years we ran our B&B .

Based on years of first-hand experience, I know how to tell you what to do and what not to do.

You can avoid a stressful visit to the Vatican by reading my tips first!

vatican tour today


  • You don't need a passport.
  • Vatican City is a separate state from Italy, with just over 500 residents.
  • The two main places to visit are Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums (where the Sistine Chapel is.)
  • The pope is head of Vatican City.
  • The pope's church is not Saint Peter's Basilica. It is Saint John in Lateran.
  • You can visit the Vatican, and you can stay nearby, but you cannot sleep inside the Vatican.

Visiting the Vatican - When to go

queue at saint peters in summer

  • There really is no "best day" for visiting Vatican City, i.e. when there are fewer people. The Vatican is Rome's most popular tourist destination and is pretty much always busy. You might consider Tuesday or Thursday as your best bets. Dates around a weekend can be a bit busier, and on Wednesday there is (usually) the Papal Audience , meaning even more crowds.
  • In the mornings, many tour groups show up, including those offering early skip-the-line access. Also, people in general come early to try to "beat the line," so you may find the Vatican Museums much more crowded in the early morning than you expect, and  slightly less crowded in mid-afternoon.
  • St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums tend to be even more crowded on Saturdays , when Rome fills up with weekend visitors.
  • The Vatican Museum is closed Sundays, except for the last Sunday of every month , when they are free . This is the most crowded day you can imagine for visiting the Vatican Museums .
  • On Wednesdays (except for  July , when the pope generally takes a break ), the pope holds an audience at St Peter's Basilica . In warmer months, it will be in Saint Peter's Square . In colder months, or if it's raining , it will be in an auditorium-type hall just to the left of the basilica. This means that the whole area will be packed due to all the people who attend the papal audience , many of whom visit the Vatican Museums after the audience.
  • If you do visit Vatican City on a Wednesday , know that St Peter's Basilica will be closed until the papal audience is over (around 12-1pm.)
  • As for time of year, winter low season months are best if you want to be more relaxed and find smaller crowds . This means most of December ( except  December 8 , and Christmas through the Epiphany, January 6 ), January and February . Believe it or not, it's just as crowded at to visit Vatican City between Christmas and January 6 as it is during summer.
  • Here's  how and when to include visiting the Vatican in a 3-day itinerary in Rome .

saint peter's square on january 2


To visit St Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, you must be properly dressed : no bare knees, midriffs or shoulders.

Sandals and jeans are fine.

Be careful when wearing knee-length shorts and skirts; the opinions of the Vatican guards as to what is acceptable may vary.

You may wish to bring a sarong or wear the kinds of shorts that have attachable legs, such as hiking trousers .

In a pinch, you will find plenty of vendors just outside the Vatican, who sell t-shirts or scarves.

No matter what season you visit Rome, here are 4 things never to leave at home:

Hydro Flask 24 oz Standard Mouth with Flex Cap Stainless Steel Reusable Water Bottle Lupine - Vacuum Insulated, Dishwasher Safe, BPA-Free, Non-Toxic

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link on this page, I may receive a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!

Visiting the Vatican - What to see?

The main things to see when visiting the Vatican are  Saint Peter’s Basilica  and the  Vatican Museums .

You can see one and not the other, although v isiting both in a single day is very do-able.

Looking for Michelangelo's masterpieces?

Michelangelo’s Pietà is inside Saint Peter's Basilica.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museums.

Michelangelo's pietà

Just try not to plan any other big visit like another museum or archeological site like the Coloseum  for the day you visit the Vatican, as you will be pretty exhausted.

Do you really want to visit the Vatican and Colosseum in one day? Here's how!

Or take the stress out of it by taking this "Rome in a Day" Tour with Vatican, Colosseum & Historic Center.

To get the most out of your visit to the Colosseum, take a VIP Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill.

St Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter’s Basilica  is a Renaissance-era church and by many standards, the world’s largest. 

The Vatican is a basilica but not a cathedral, as it does not have its own bishop.

st peters basilica central nave

The main cathedral of the “Bishop of Rome”, as the pope is called, is San Giovanni in Laterano , or Saint John in Lateran .

But the pope is head of Vatican City , where he resides.

It's a little confusing isn't it?

Anyway, just think of the Vatican as a huge church, with a lot to see inside.

Click here to read more about what exactly the Vatican is.

Click here to visit my dedicated page all about Saint Peter's Basilica and its history, and things to see and do there.

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St Peter's Dome

It's very much worth  visiting the basilica's dome , but you should know it can get a little crowded up there, and there are a LOT of steps.

dome inside st peters

The first level is 231 steps, but there is an elevator option. ( Someone in a wheelchair or with walking difficulties can take the lift to this first level.)

The second portion is another 320 steps, with no elevator option.

The dome gets narrower as you go up, so you will be climbing this part single file, and with the roof slanting over your head.

I say this as someone with a close relative with vertigo: you may want to avoid climbing the dome at the Vatican if you suffer from vertigo or claustrophobia.

But if none of that is an issue, then do it!

You'll love the views from up there, both of the church and of the surrounding city.

Visit my dedicated page all about Saint Peter's dome and how to climb it.

Michelangelo’s Pieta

My favorite piece of art inside of  St Peter's Basilica  is Michelangelo’s Pietà .

Actually, it may be my favorite piece of art in the world.

An exaggeration?

I can't help it...just look at it:

michelangelo's pietà

It’s on your right as soon as you walk inside Saint Peter's Basilica.

When I visited it with my mom, she cried, saying “look at her face, it’s just about a mother’s love for her child."

Unfortunately, someone wielding an axe once attacked it, and it’s now behind glass.

But you can still see it very well.

And take note of Mary’s face.

It’s really special when you see it in person.

Michelangelo Tidbit :

This was one of Michelangelo’s first major works.

He made it when he was only 22.

He was not sure people would know he did it, so he snuck in late one night and carved his name (Michelangelo Buonarroti) on Mary’s sash.

The Pietà is the only sculpture Michelangelo ever signed (or needed to sign.)

Vatican Grottoes - The Tombs of the Popes

Inside Saint Peter's Basilica, you can go down one level and see the area where some of the popes are buried.

bernini's baldachino (canopy) inside saint peter's basilica

Saint Peter is said to be entombed just underneath the church .

This is why many popes are also buried here. 

It's quite interesting to visit the popes' tombs , called the Vatican Grottoes   - there is a lot of history down there.

Don't worry, it's not dark or claustrophobic.

On the contrary, it's a huge open space full of light and lots to see (no photos allowed.)

To visit the Vatican Grottoes, get up close to Bernini's Baldachin and look for the entrance nearby.

It's free to visit the Vatican Grottoes.

You should make sure you are done visiting the basilica or have a plan to go back up, because the normal route through the grottoes has you exit the basilica entirely.

Not to be confused with St. Peter's tomb

When people talk about visiting the Vatican grottoes, they are referring to a place where you can see the tombs of many popes (as I wrote above.)

But this is not the same as visiting the  Vatican Necropolis , where St. Peter is said to be buried.

A  visit to Saint Peter’s tomb , also referred to as a scavi  visit, is a special and wonderful thing to do, and I highly recommend it. (" Scavi " means "excavations".)

It is a delicate archeological site, and they only take 250 people in per day, in 12-person tours at a time, so you must  book way in advance . (No photos allowed.)

NEW FOR 2024!

The archeological area of the Vatican Necropolis of Via Triumphalis is now open for visitors.

This is an ancient Roman burial site that is within the Vatican walls and before now was very difficult to get access to.

You can only enter as part of an official Vatican tour group, and tickets need to be purchased through the official website .

This is an entirely separate visit, so you will not have access to either St Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museums.

Click here to watch my YouTube video about it and see what it's like!

The Vatican Museums

The second major site to visit at the Vatican is the Vatican Museums.

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican museums

This is the part about Vatican City that will take most of your time and energy.

The Vatican Museum contains the world’s largest private art collection (and just imagine that much of the art they own is not even on display!)

They are called "museums" and not just singular "museum" because the museums were started in 1506 and have been added to many times over the centuries.

They now occupy many different buildings all connected to on another.

That's one reason there is so much to see!

You will see a lot of art inside the Vatican Museums, including paintings, sculptures, ancient artifacts, and much more.

I think the number one thing people want to see when they visit is the Sistine Chapel.

For more about the Vatican Museums and Sistine chapel, visit my dedicated pages:

  • Visiting the Sistine Chapel
  • Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel
  • Visiting the Vatican Museums
  • Vatican Museums Must Sees
  • Vatican Museums Tickets
  • Vatican Museums Tours
  • Vatican Secret Rooms

fennel salad at sorpasso near the vatican

More things you will see at the Vatican:

Besides the two main sites - the museums (Sistine Chapel) and the basilica, there are more things you will see when you visit Vatican City.

Look for these as you walk around:

St. Peter's Square

It would be easy to take Saint Peter's Square, Piazza San Pietro in Italian, for granted.

After all, if you're beelining to get into the basilica, you might be focused on the security queues and wondering how long you will have to wait.

saint peter's square at dusk

But St. Peter's Square, also called Vatican Square, is worth visiting and enjoying by itself.

It's the only part of Vatican City you can visit without any tickets or queuing.

If you have very limited time , you may even decide that this is about as much as you want to see of Vatican City, since everything else involves queues and/or tickets plus an involved visit inside.

Click here to visit my page all about St. Peter's Square, its history, and what to see.

The Swiss Guard

You might spy one or more of the Swiss Guard at the gate to Vatican City.

swiss guard at vatican city

The Swiss Guard wear different outfits depending on their duties, but they are all dressed in costumes originally designed in the early 1500s (although not by Michelangelo, an urban myth.)

swiss guard at the vatican

The Swiss Guard have a specific duty to guard the pope's life and Saint Peter's Basilica.

They are the world's smallest army and they are very well trained.

You will not see the Swiss Guard at the Vatican Museums.

There, you will see Vatican Museums guards who dress in more modern attire.

The Leonine Walls

In the 9th century, Pope Leo IV had defensive walls built around Vatican City following the sacking by raiders of Old St. Peter's Basilica in 846.

You can still see those walls today in and around the Vatican, especially if you visit the Vatican Gardens .

leonine walls at the vatican

You can also see parts of these walls surrounding Saint Peter's Square on the side where the security gates are, and along the way from the Vatican to nearby Castel Sant'Angelo .

Click here to read a more detailed yet brief history of the Vatican.

For more Vatican history, check out these dedicated pages:

saint peter's square

The Vatican Post Office

Don't miss a visit to the Vatican Post Office if you want to mail any postcards. 

vatican post office

It's easier and more efficient than going to the Italian Post Office, and your mail will get there faster!

There is also a Vatican mailbox up on the roof ( Saint Peter's Dome ), and usually another post office in Saint Peter's Square .

More sites you can visit in Vatican City

Besides Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums, there are some more sites you can visit in Vatican City.

You have to pay for these (and for the scavi and gardens, you must book in advance.)

You will find more details about each one on their respective dedicated pages:

  • Saint Peter's Tomb (Vatican Necropolis or Scavi )
  • Saint Peter's Dome
  • Vatican Gardens

Which to see first - The Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, or St. Peter's Basilica?

If you book a tour of the Vatican, usually this means taking a guided tour of the Vatican Museums , which ends with the Sistine Chapel .

Some tours include taking the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel into St Peters Basilica.

There has been some back and forth recently about whether the shortcut is available or not, but for now, it is once again the case that  you can only take the shortcut  from the Sistine Chapel to  St Peter's Basilica  if you are on a tour that  INCLUDES  the basilica.

The Vatican can, and does, change their mind frequently on this matter, so if it is important to you to be able to take this shortcut, I recommend booking a tour that ends in St Peter's Basilica to be on the safe side.

If you are on a tour that ends in the Basilica the decision is made for you.

But if you are taking a Vatican Museums tour that does not include the Basilica, or if you are visiting the Vatican Museums on your own, you'll have to decide what order to visit the museums and the basilica in, assuming you want to visit both on the same day, which many people do.

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How long does it take to visit the Vatican Museums?

vatican museums pinecone courtyard

To  visit the Vatican Museums  (where the Sistine Chapel is),  you need a purchase a ticket  (unless you  come on the Free Sunday .)

Once inside, even if you go quickly, you will need about 2 hours for this this visit.

If you are not able to take the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to Saint Peter's basilica, you will exit the museums where you entered them.

vatican museums entrance and exit

This is about a 15-20 minute walk from Saint Peter's Square and the entrance to the basilica.

Click here to see a map of Vatican City and how far apart the entrances of the Museums and the Basilica are  (it opens in a new window.)

St Peter's Basilica Shortcut

You can only take the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St Peter's Basilica if you are on a tour that INCLUDES the basilica.

The shortcut is open from 9:30 am - 5 or 5:30PM, and it's ONLY accessible to tour companies or private guides that you book OUTSIDE the Vatican Museums website.

The Vatican Museums does not have any ticket or tour that includes the shortcut.

This means that you won't have access to the shortcut during the  KeyMaster tour , the  Extra Time tour , or any other tour that does not specifically include the basilica.

If you book any tour of the Vatican Museums, you can check the details to see if it finishes in the  Sistine Chapel  or the basilica.

Click here to view a map of Vatican City  (it will open in a new page.)

How long does it take to visit Saint Peter's Basilica?

A visit inside Saint Peter's Basilica could take anywhere from 1-2 hours, not including the time you spend in line waiting to go through security (assuming you go through security in the front and do not take the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel.)

To visit Saint Peter's Basilica, you do not need (nor can you buy) tickets, as it's free to go inside.

But you do have to wait in the line for security, which is airport-style - there is an x-ray machine to put your items in and you will walk through a metal detector.

long lines at saint peter's basilica

And that can cause the queues to get pretty long.

Lately, the lines to get into Saint Peter's Basilica have been so long, they are looping back again around the square.

Wondering which tour to take of the Vatican Museums?

Visit my page about Vatican Museum tours to find out all the options!

vatican tour today

If you book a Vatican Museums tour that does not allow you access to the Basilica, and/or you want to visit the Basilica separately, even on a different day, I'd suggest getting to Saint Peter's Basilica when it opens at 7 AM (if you want to avoid the line).

The lines are longest from about 10 AM - 5 PM, and in high season can be long throughout the day, even from 7 AM until closing!

Skipping the lines at Saint Peter's Basilica

The easiest way to skip the lines at Saint Peter's Basilica is to visit it using the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel (which currently is only available on booked museum tours that end in Saint Peter's Basilica).

There has been some back and forth recently about whether the shortcut is available or not, but for now, it is once again the case that  you can only take the shortcut  from  the Sistine Chapel to  St Peter's Basilica  if you are on a tour that  INCLUDES  the basilica.

As of now, you cannot do this  unless you are on a tour .

If you only plan to visit Saint Peter's Basilica , and not the museums, or you decide to visit these two sites separately, you can avoid the queues by following the tips in my video above:

  • Come when it opens at 7 AM
  • Come in Low Season
  • Book a visit to Saint Peter's tomb
  • Use the Pilgrims' entrance - reserved for prayer or attending mass or confession

Wondering where the bathrooms are at the Vatican?

Find out here .

Brief History of Vatican City eBook

The history of the Vatican stretches back thousands of years, and to know everything about this incredible micro-state would take a lifetime to learn.

With this eBook, discover the brief history of Vatican City - where it got its name, who built the basilica, where the Popes are buried and more!

Topics covered include:

  • Details about the Vatican's origin , going back to the time of Ancient Rome
  • The role important artists such as Michelangelo played in the creation of the Vatican as we know it today 
  • How the Vatican came to be an independent city state within the boundaries of Rome

What else is included in this Brief History of Vatican City e-book?

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Skipping the line to get into the Vatican Museums

This may be the number 1 question I get about visiting Rome - How to skip the line for the Vatican Museums?

It's quite simple:

  • You can pre-purchase tickets to the Vatican Museums through the Vatican's website . This means that you will not have to stand in the line waiting to buy tickets. You will, however, have to wait in a very short line of others like you, who have pre-booked tickets and have to pick them up. (The tickets you purchase in advance are more of a voucher, and they must be converted into physical paper tickets to enter the museums.) You also still need to go through security as everyone does. So you do not entirely skip the line, but your line will be much shorter.
  • You can pre-purchase tickets to the Vatican Museums through a ticket reseller . There is usually a small surcharge for this but it can be worth it due to 1) Ease of use and/or 2) the possibility of finding tickets available here when tickets are not available on the Vatican Museums' website.
  • You can purchase an Omnia Pass  or Turbo Pass .  These will also get you a tour with a guide from the Vatican Museums, as above. It’s not as simple as it sounds and you will need to be careful to understand what you are getting into. Click here to go to my page about the Roma Pass and Omnia Pass  or to this page about other Rome City Passes for more details about these passes.
  • You can  book a tour of the Vatican Museums , either with a tour company or with the Vatican Museums themselves.  Your entry tickets are included in the tour, so you only have to go through the security line.
  • If you book a visit to the Vatican Gardens , skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican Museums are included!
  • I do not recommend this at all, but if you have not booked tickets, and they are sold out online, and you find yourself arriving at the Vatican Museums, you will ALWAYS find touts selling you a skip-the-line ticket or tour. I don't recommend it because you cannot be sure they are legit, and if they are, you have no idea what kind of tour you are getting. I also just can't stand, in principle, to be so bombarded by these guys every time I am within a mile of Vatican City. But it can be a good option if it's your last recourse and the lines are crazy long. Just be aware that  only licensed tour guides may give tours inside Vatican City .

vatican tour today

Visiting the Vatican Museums with a Guide

visiting the vatican with a tour

Most Vatican City tourism consists primarily of a visit inside the Vatican Museums, which always includes  the Sistine Chapel .

Some tours also include a visit or even a tour inside Saint Peter's Basilica.

You may expect a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Basilica to last roughly three hours total.

To find out about the many different kinds of tours you can book, visit my page about Vatican Museum Tours , which breaks down your options between group tours, early access tours, semi-private tours and more.

Can you just see the Sistine Chapel?

No, you cannot just see the Sistine Chapel .

To see the Sistine Chapel , you must go through the entire Vatican Museums, which can take at least 2 hours if you tour it and see the highlights .

The Sistine Chapel is at the very end. 

last judgement inside sistine chapel

That said, if you are interested in an "Express Tour" of the Sistine Chapel, you can book this tour that skips the line then beelines to the Sistine Chapel and finishes in Saint Peter's Basilica .

This tour is only 1 hour and 45 minutes and does not include a tour of the rest of the Vatican Museums.

You do still have to walk through them, but the focus of the tour will be the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter's Basilica.

(If you are really pressed for time, you could peel off once you get to the basilica and just not finish the tour.)

is it worth taking the time to explore the museums?

I really do believe that visiting the Vatican museums  is absolutely worth doing in its entirety, even if you really only wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.

The  rest of the museums   are truly wonderful.

You have the Raphael rooms, the maps gallery, the floor-to-ceiling tapestries, papal apartments, Etruscan art, and  so much more.

Click here to visit my page about the top 10 Vatican Museums must-sees.

Raphael's "School of Athens" in the Vatican Museums

I highly suggest  taking a tour  to visit the museums. 

They will take care of getting your tickets.

But if you go your own without a tour, you could get the audio guide, or follow my instructions here for the best way to visit the Vatican Museums .

And you will have to book your tickets on your own .

If you are heading to the Vatican in the morning, as I said above, I suggest you visit Saint Peter’s Basilica first, and the museums later, because the queues for Saint Peter's Basilica have gotten so long (sometimes it's a 1-2 hour wait to get in!)

If you decide to go to the Vatican Museums first, just make sure to leave enough time to stand in line to visit Saint Peter's so that you get inside while there is still some daylight, so you can enjoy the sun coming through all the stained glass.

saint peter's basilica inside with rays of light

Here's a great Vatican Highlights Tour with St. Peter’s Dome Climb

Can you see the Sistine Chapel without the crowds?

Perhaps the easiest way to see the Sistine Chapel with fewer crowds is to come in really low season .

But we hardly have a low season anymore in Rome, and even when we do, somehow the Vatican is always still crowded.

So how can you see the Sistine Chapel without the crowds?

It is possible!

vatican tour today

With the below tours, you will have a VIP, exclusive experience, and you'll get to enjoy the Sistine Chapel almost alone :

Open the Vatican Museums with the Key Master

On this exclusive tour with Walks of Italy , you will have true VIP access to the Vatican museums - literally accompanying the guard who opens all the doors to get the museums ready for visits.

You will accompany the Vatican Museums Key Master as you walk through the museums, turning on the lights, even inside the Sistine Chapel!

Watch my video to see what it's like:

vatican tour today

How to plan all your Vatican trips during your stay

The typical way of visiting the Vatican is to spend half a day seeing the  Vatican Museums  and  Saint Peter's Basilica .

These are both easy to fit into a typical  3-day visit to Rome .

The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome

Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.

In my 3-day itinerary, you'll see all the major must-see Rome attractions like the Vatican , Colosseum , Trevi Fountain , Pantheon , Piazza Navona , Spanish Steps , Castel Sant'Angelo , and much more.

And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.

Visit my page with the best 3-day itinerary in Rome for first-timers .

vatican museums spiral staircase

I have found that often when people can get tickets to special things at the Vatican, like St Peters tomb (the Vatican Necropolis, or scavi ), the Papal Audience , or the Vatican Gardens , they often want to also visit the Vatican Museums on the same day.

Here's my advice for visiting Vatican City when you want to see more than just the Vatican Museums:

Including the Papal Audience

How to visit the vatican museums and attend the papal audience.

Papal Audience tickets  are not difficult to come by, and since it's "in the morning", many visitors assume it would be a good idea to go to the Vatican Museums right after the audience.

pope francis greets the crowds

I don't agree.

If you are really short on time, then, you CAN go to the Vatican Museums after the Papal Audience.

It's just that this is going to make for a pretty exhausting day.

To go to the Papal audience, you need to get there by 8am to get a decent spot, let alone a seat.

The audience begins around 9:30 AM and finishes around noon.

You'll probably want to grab at least a snack or lunch somewhere in there .

This means going inside the museums from about 2 PM once you have made your way to the Vatican Museum entrance.

If you also visit St. Peter's Basilica after the museums (which is typical), that is a 3-4 hour visit.

And a very long day. (Also, if you want to climb the dome , you likely won't get there in time.)

My suggestion?

If you can break these visits up over two days, I would.

Attend the Papal Audience and then go inside Saint Peter's Basilica (and climb the dome if you want.)

Then on a separate day, visit the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel.

rome pantheon

Including a visit to the Scavi (St Peter's tomb)

How to visit the vatican museums and also take a scavi tour.

At the end of the  scavi  tour (St. Peter's tomb), you wind up inside  Saint Peter's basilica .

So you will already see that.

You could also  climb St. Peter's dome  if you have time and energy.

St. Peter's Dome inside

Visiting the Vatican Museums takes easily 2.5 - 3 hours, and that does not include the time it takes GETTING there once you leave the basilica.

If you are coming to the museums from St. Peter's basilica, you need to factor in about 15-20 minutes' walk to the Vatican museums entrance.

This is after you've already done a 1.5 hour scavi tour, and spent time walking around one of the largest churches in the world.

So as you can see, adding the Vatican Museums makes it a pretty exhausting day.

If you need to do it all in one day, make sure to book your scavi tour first, then book your museums visit with at least 4 hours between visits.

Break this up over two days.

Book the scavi tour.

You have no control over when they will grant you tickets, so if you are lucky enough to get them, you can then book other things around that. 

Plan to see St. Peter's basilica (and climb the dome) on this day.

Then, book your Vatican Museums visit for another day. 


You are definitely going to need two days.

First book the scavi visit  which is never on a Wednesday mornings anyway (the Papal Audience is on Wednesdays.)

Plan to  visit St Peter's Basilica  after that, since you will come out into the basilica after the tour anyway.

If you want to  climb St Peter's dome , you will do it on this day.

This is a pretty long and full day by itself.

st peters basilica

Then, once you get your  Papal Audience tickets , book your tickets or tour of the Vatican Museums for after the audience (even if I said above I discourage doing all this in one day, at least if you don't include the basilica it's a little less tiring).

This will be a very full and long day also.

Ready to plan your trip?

book your train

Including a visit to the Vatican Gardens

If you want to visit the vatican gardens and visit the scavi (st. peter's tomb).

TWO Vatican Gardens

On this page, I'm referring to the gardens inside Vatican City , i.e. directly behind Saint Peter's Basilica.

There are ALSO papal gardens at the Pope's summer residence, the Apostolic palace at Castel Gandolfo.

To learn more about the gardens at Castel Gandolfo and how to visit them (it's easy!), visit my dedicated page here.

If you are able to get tickets to St. Peter's tomb ( scavi ) and also the Vatican Gardens , congratulations!

Here's how to include visiting the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's basilica as well.

vatican gardens turtle fountain

First book the scavi visit .

Then book the Vatican Gardens tour on a different day, and plan to visit the Vatican Museums right after the gardens, as it's included in your ticket price with the gardens.

Visit St. Peter's Basilica after the scavi, again, on a different day from the Gardens/Museums.

If you want to do it all - visit the Vatican Museums, vatican gardens, papal audience, scavi tour and st peter's basilica and dome

How you plan your days fitting in these visits will depend on two things  - the Papal audience , which is always Wednesday morning 10am - 12pm (although you need to get there by no later than 8am); and the time of your scavi booking (which depends on the scavi office - you cannot control this).

Once you get those two bookings, the next difficult booking to get is for the Vatican Gardens . 

vatican gardens and vista of st. peter's basilica

So book that one around the Papal Audience and scavi tour.

Note that tours of the Vatican Gardens are at 9am or 11am.

They are also not held on the morning of the Papal Audience.

I'd suggest you spread this over 3 days.

Or, to fit this into two (intense) days, try to do the scavi tour after the Papal audience, if you can get scavi tickets for the afternoon.

Then book the Vatican Gardens, Vatican Museums , and St. Peter's Basilica on a separate day.

(And climb St. Peter's dome once you are inside St. Peter's basilica if you like.)

How to Get to Vatican City

You have several options for how to get to the Vatican.

But the most important factor to consider is what you are visiting first.

Click here to see a Google map showing where the different entrances are for the Vatican Museums, Saint Peter's Square, and the scavi entrance . It will open in a new window.

How to get to the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums entrance is on Viale Vaticano .

If you plan to take a taxi , just tell the driver "Vatican Museums".

Visiting the Vatican Museums and arriving by Metro

Otherwise, the most common way to get there is by Metro.

Rome's metro red line A has two stops, equidistant from the entrance to the museums (about a 10-12 minute walk): Ottaviano and Cipro .

Ottaviano metro stop in rome

The Ottaviano metro stop is the first one you will come to if you are coming from Rome's center.

When you emerge from the metro station, you just need to follow the crowd towards Vatican City.

Once you see Michelangelo's bastions (walls), follow them to the right and you will come to the entrance of the Vatican Museums.

If you are visiting the Vatican museums from the opposite direction, or if you forget to get off at Ottaviano, or, better yet, if you want to get off at the next stop to get some fabulous pizza by the slice from Bonci's Pizzarium, then you will get off at Cipro stop. 

bonci pizza

However, from this stop, you cannot see the same stream of people, nor can you immediately see the Vatican City walls, so you will need to navigate a little bit to find the walls.

Once you see the walls, follow them until you come to the entrance.

Visiting the Vatican Museums and Arriving by Bus

Another option for arriving at the entrance of the Vatican museums is to take a bus or buses.

Many buses will get you pretty close to the entrance of the Vatican museums.

These include the 492, 49, 23, and the 81.

How to Get to Saint Peter's Basilica and Square

The entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is on Saint Peter's Square .

This is about a 15-20 minute walk from the Vatican Museums, so if you are not visiting the Vatican Museums (or not visiting them first), and want to go directly to the basilica, you can still take the metro, but make sure to get off at Ottaviano, not Cipro.

From Ottaviano metro stop, St. Peter's Square is about a 10-15 minute walk .

Follow the crowds, but at the walls, do not make a right towards the museums, just keep going straight. 

Buses that arrive closest to St. Peter's Square include the 40 and the 64.

How to get to the Scavi/St Peter's Tomb

If you are visiting the Vatican for an appointment to see St. Peter's tomb, the fastest and easiest way to arrive is by taxi .

They can drop you right in front of the entrance where you need to go, which is at the Swiss Guard, to the left of the basilica as you face it.

If you take a bus, get the 64, as it drops you about a block away.

To take the metro , make sure to get off at Ottaviano, and give yourself about 20 minutes' walking time from there to get the the entrance of St. Peter's tomb.

Where to Eat Near the Vatican

There is no place to eat inside St Peter's Basilica or in St Peter's Square (there is a tiny snack bar on the roof of the basilica, which you can only access if you climb the dome .)

There are some cafés and fast-food options inside the Vatican Museums.

There are also fun dining options you can book, and combine with your visit to the Museums.

Otherwise, visit my page about lots of options for eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and aperitivo near the Vatican . 

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Top tips for visiting the Vatican, by Romewise

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Top attractions and tours


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The Complete Vatican Tour with St. Peter's Basilica, Sistine Chapel and Skip-the-Line Tickets

vatican tour today

  • Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
  • St. Peter's Basilica

"A wealth of knowledge"

"went above and beyond", "not just informational, but also experiential".

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  • The most comprehensive Context Vatican tour, offering a deeper understanding of the history, art, politics, and religion.
  • Navigate the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica with your expert guide leading the way.


  • You want to hit the three major venues — the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica — with an expert who can help you get the most out of your visit.
  • You’ve been to the Vatican sites before, but it felt overwhelming without an expert to guide you through the venues. This time, you’re looking for a better understanding of the art and history held within each site. 
  • Navigating miles of Vatican hallways on your own sounds daunting. You’d like to go with an expert who already knows the best routes and highlights, allowing you to enjoy the works you’re most interested in while also being shown the hidden gems often missed by others.
  • Vatican Museums
  • Sistine Chapel
  • St. Peter's Basilica

Additional Trip-Planning Resources

  • For more information on planning your tour, take a read through our How to Visit the Vatican Museums resources page.
  • Your comfiest walking shoes and a lightweight outfit, especially if visiting in the spring and summer months. 
  • A little pre-trip prep to help you make the most of this in-depth experience: Vatican Museums: Top 10 Highlights for Curious Travelers
  • An open mind and a readiness to dive deep into history and art.

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Skip the line vatican tickets: see the vatican with a local expert, book a tour.

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The Roman Guy

Italy Travel Experts Tours and Vacations

the roman guy vatican museum tour

BEST Way to Visit the VATICAN: Early Access

Brandon Shaw Last Updated: December 8, 2022

If you’ve never been to Rome or the Vatican, the idea seems simple: buy a ticket to the Vatican Museums, head into the Sistine Chapel, and check it off your list. The reality can be very different—with long lines and large crowds. If you’re willing to get up early, though, you can beat the crowds and have an amazing experience! Here’s the best way to visit the Vatican.

Pro Tip:  Planning your visit to the Vatican in Rome? Bookmark this post in your browser so you can easily find it when you’re in the city. See our  guide to Vatican City  for more planning resources, our  top Vatican tours  for a memorable trip, and  how to visit the Vatican.

What is the Vatican?

The word Vatican is tossed around frequently, so let’s establish exactly what we mean and where you’ll be going when you visit the Vatican . Of the three possible options, the last two you are able to visit.

Vatican City

This refers to the entire Sovereign country, which is ruled by the pope. The land area that constitutes the Vatican City is approximately 100 acres and covers the entire area within the Vatican Walls. It includes the Vatican Radio tower, living quarters for the pope and other residents (around 900), the Swiss Guard, the Vatican Gardens, and the Vatican pharmacy. It also includes multiple buildings that aren’t within the walls and the pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. Most areas of the city are off-limits to tourists and guarded by the Swiss Guard.

Vatican Museums

This is a series of buildings within Vatican City. Inside the museums, you will find countless masterpieces by some of the most famous Renaissance artists the world has ever seen. Included in the Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel, so you’ll have to visit the Vatican Museums to see the Sistine Chapel. You can visit the museums by paying an entrance fee .

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is a church located within the Vatican City, first built in the fourth century over the gravesite of St. Peter. It has been and continues to be one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christianity. The church is free to visit.

Pro Tip : Bear in mind there is a dress code for the Vatican when you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. Your knees and shoulders must be covered.

How Many People Visit the Vatican Museums Per Day?

the roman guy vatican museum tour

According to Statista , in 2019 a whopping 6.9 million people visited the Vatican Museums. This means that on average, 22,000 people visited the museums per day! With that number in mind, you’ll have a better sense of just how many people you could be sharing your Vatican experience with.

This is why one of the best ways to see the Vatican is by taking an early access Vatican tour —to escape the crowds! As an official tour guide of Rome and the Vatican, I ‘ ve been present on days when the actual number topped 30,000 people in one day. Therefore, the chances of you getting into the Sistine Chapel without crowds is almost impossible…or is it?

Popular Vatican Tours

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Best Selling Tour

Privileged Entrance Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel

This our most popular and longest-running Vatican tour to date. It enters the Vatican City & Museums an hour before the public opening and visits the Sistine Chapel as it opens. Admissions are included and our English-speaking guides do a wonderful job bringing the museums to life! Admissions included.

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Exclusive Value

First Entry Vatican Gold Tour with Sistine Chapel

Only a select few tour providers can enter the Vatican Museums a full 90 minutes before the general public. As one of the first to enter the Sistine Chapel that day, enjoy the Vatican with only a few other groups inside. This, combined with your passionate English-speaking guide will make your experience very memorable. Admissions included.

Not ready to book a tour? Find out if a Vatican tour is worth it .

Is There a Line To Get into Vatican City?

There are actually three different lines to enter the museums, and which line you end up in depends on whether you’re entering by yourself or if you’ve decided to do a guided Vatican tour . Here are the three different entrances and who goes in each one.

Individual Line

Individual Line Vatican

This is the entrance you ‘ ll use if you haven’t bought a ticket in advance. This entrance doesn’t open until 9 am, so you won’t be permitted entry a t least until then.

This is the notoriously long line featured in people’s photos. In the high season, it’s possible to wait in this line for up to 3 hours to enter.

Vatican Accredited Line

Vatican guide line

Tour operators who are accredited by the Vatican Museums are allowed to purchase tickets that allow them entry from a different line in front of the museums. These skip-the-line Vatican tours fast-track visitors past the individual line to the security line, which everyone has to go through.

This entrance opens at 8 am. So, tour operators and their groups are allowed to enter the museums one full hour before the public. This is a great way to beat the crowds in the early morning. By the time you get to the Sistine Chapel with an 8 am entrance, you might find around 500 people in the Sistine Chapel, which may sound like a lot but it’s far fewer than an hour or two later.

The Early Sistine Chapel Tour Line

vatican early access vatican gold tour

Taking an early Sistine Chapel tour, you enter 1.5 hours before the main crowds are allowed inside. This is the ultimate experience when visiting the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums — with no crowds at all! At this time, there is also no security line, so you basically enter immediately.

There will be moments on this visit when you won’t see any other groups, and it’s completely possible to have entire galleries to yourself. You get to visit the museums the way the pope does—empty.

Depending on the season, you could appreciate the Sistine Chapel almost entirely empty. And even in the high season, there won’t be more than 200 people in the chapel. Given its size, you will almost feel alone anyway. If your dream is to see the Sistine Chapel without crowds and still get the pricing of a small group tour (versus a private tour), then this is the only way to go.

What’s the Hype Over the Early Sistine Chapel Tour?

the roman guy vatican museums

The Vatican has hand-picked a select number of tour operators (including us) who have been awarded a special privilege — entering the Vatican Museums at 7:30 am. All other skip-the-line Vatican tours enter the Vatican at 8 am.

While this 8 am entrance is still an hour before the general public, getting in at 7:30 am gives you an extremely exclusive experience —it’s the best way to visit the Vatican.

As one of the first groups to enter the Vatican Museums, you will get to admire the iconic works of art without other tour groups. You’ll also be one of the first to enter the Sistine Chapel , the main highlight of your tour.

You’ll get to experience the chapel the way it was meant to be experienced: in a quiet and spiritual manner without the noise and crowds.

Check Out Our Top Early Vatican Tours

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Top Rated Tour

First Entry Detailed Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica

Limited to only a very select amount of tour providers, enter the Vatican Museums 90 minutes before the public and 30 minutes before other pre-opening tours. You will enter with only a handful of others on this truly VIP experience. Your fun, English-speaking guide will help you in creating special memories by telling fascinating anecdotes that will have you smiling and in awe at the same time. Admission Included

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Starting at €99

vatican tour today

Likely to Sell Out

Breakfast at the Vatican: Pre-Opening Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel

A VIP experience only available to a handful of people per day, join our Vatican Breakfast Tour. Start your morning in the Pinecone Courtyard where you can enjoy a meal in the Vatican’s picturesque square. After breakfast, skip the lines and see the Vatican before the public is allowed in. Your Expert English-Speaking guide will lead you through the Galleries and Sistine Chapel telling stories that will immerse you in the history and greatness of the Museums.

Starting at €97

Not ready to book a tour? Check out our  best Vatican tours to take and why.

Where To Stay in Rome

Rome has a rich cultural history and many iconic landmarks to explore. Plan where to stay in the magnificent Eternal City in the best neighborhoods.

ceiling of the sistine chapel at the vatican museums

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Full-Day Combo: Complete Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & Colosseum Tour

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Our Complete Vatican Museums & Colosseum tour is perfect for those who want to pack their day with culture. Thanks to our expert art historian guide will take you through our Faster than Skip the Line access into the Vatican Museums. Save even more time in the afternoon with our Skip the Line Access to the Ancient Roman sites. [+] Ensure you see all that Rome has to offer and save money by combining our two best-selling Rome tours into one day. [+] Listen to enthusiastic commentary about the most important attractions in the Eternal City: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill. [+] With Groups of 25 people or less and dedicated audio headsets so you don’t miss a word you’ll get the most out of your day in Rome.

Tour’s Location

What's included.

  • Palatine Hill
  • Roman Forum
  • Sistine Chapel
  • St. Peter's Basilica
  • Vatican and Museums

Departure & Return

Departure point, departure time, additional info.

  • Public transportation options are available nearby
  • Infants are required to sit on an adult’s lap
  • Suitable for all physical fitness levels
  • Please provide the full names of all travelers when booking. Failure to present a voucher with all travelers' full names at the ticket office prior to entry may result in denied entry to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
  • Each traveler must present a valid passport or ID document that matches the name provided at the time of booking for successful entry to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Cancellation policy

Reviews for full-day combo: complete vatican museums, sistine chapel & colosseum tour, from 379. 64  usd, reserve now & pay later.

Secure your spot while staying flexible


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Special Offers on Vatican Tours

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Roman Colosseum Tour

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48 hour free cancelation & lowest prices guaranteed, vatican tours, by maximus tours, the official vatican tour, 48 hour free cancellation, priority entrance (skip the line), elite english speaking tour guides, free papal audience service with pope francis, promotions till 20% off, small groups & private vatican & rome tours, easy online booking - real time confirmation, popular destinations.

Vatican Tours Sistine Chapel

Vatican City Highlights Tour - Semi-Private

  • Maximum of 10 people per group
  • Skip the Line - Official Priority Entry
  • Vatican Museums
  • Sistine Chapel
  • St. Peter's Basilica
  • St Peter's Square
  • Elite English-speaking Vatican Tour Guide
  • This tour has Instant Booking Confirmation
  • 48 hours Free Cancellation
  • Likely to sell out

The original all-in-one Vatican Tour in English at the best possible price when booking directly online. Consistently rewarded TripAdvisor's "CERTIFICATE OF EXCELLENCE". Official Priority, Skip the Line Access. Our expert tour guides will lead you through the highlights of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel with an introduction to St. Peter's Basilica.

Best price guarantee.

From : €80 all inc..

Vatican City Tours

Private Vatican City Highlights Tour - 3 hours

  • Skip the Line - Official VIP Entry
  • 5 Stars TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Private Vatican Tour Guide (Only for your Group)
  • Vatican Museum Tour
  • Sistine Chapel Tour
  • St. Peter's Basilica Tour
  • St. Peter's Square Overview
  • Highly Recommended Private English Speaking Vatican Guide!
  • Lowest Prices and Promotions
  • This Tour has Instant Booking Confirmation!

Vatican Private Tour just for your party at regular open hours or after hours (night) with special entry. VIP (skip the line) access.

From: €430 all inc.

Vatican Tours

Vatican Semi-Private In-Depth Tour - 5 hours

  • Semi-Private Small Groups
  • Raphael Rooms
  • Full St. Peter's Basilica Tour
  • St. Peter's Crypt & Square Tour
  • English Speaking Vatican Guide with Best Reviews!

The Vatican Tour 5 hours is the perfect choice for those which 3 hour tour is not enough, already have been at the Vatican or those which already have done the Vatican Highlights and want to go in depth. This Tour will be divided with roughly 2 hours at St. Peter's Basilica and 3 hours at the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, you will also have break for a drink and snack.

Adults: €175 all inc. | Youth: €130 all inc.

Vatican tourism

Private Vatican City In-Depth - 5 hours

  • Private Vatican Tour Guide (Only For Your Group)
  • Raphael Rooms Tour
  • Expert Private English Speaking Tour Guide!

The Vatican Private Tour 5 hours is a great way to really get the most out of the Vatican. Your own private guide and 5 hours of touring time you will see much more than the average visitor. This tour is available at regular open hours or before the general public with special entry. VIP (no lines) access.

Till 6 Pax.: €550

Vatican tourism

Breakfast at the Vatican with Private Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica Tour

  • Exclusive Buffet Breakfast in the Vatican Museums
  • Expert Private English Speaking Tour Guide

Enter the Vatican before the general public and enjoy an exclusive Italo Americano buffet breakfast in the beautiful Pigna Courtyard. Then see the Sistine Chapel before the crowds. Visit the Rooms of Raphael, Gallery of the Tapestries, Gallery of the Maps and the Sistine Chapel. Come join us for Breakfast at the Vatican.

From : €500 all inc.

Vatican tourism

Exclusive visit of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel

  • Exclusive visit of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
  • Official English speaking Vatican tour guide
  • Private visit in a group of 20 people, and no one else.
  • Vatican Museum exclusive Tour
  • Sistine Chapel exclusive Tour
  • Once in a lifetime experience

Explore the Vatican in a small group of 20 visitors, and have the Museums and Sistine Chapel all to yourselves. Besides your expert tour guide accompanied by a Vatican Museums custodian, you, and 19 other fortunate visitors will have the rare opportunity to see the greatest collection in the western world in a once in a lifetime experience.

From : €750 all inc.

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Rome Tours

Best Seller Semi Private Tour - Vatican Highlights Tour €80

Private Vatican Tours

Best Seller Private Tour - 3 Hour Vatican City Tour €430

Vatican tours Colosseum

Colosseum + Arena Floor & Roman Forum Tour - Semi-Private

  • Maximum of 15 people per group
  • Skip the Line Priority Entrance
  • Colosseum + Arena Floor Tour
  • Roman Imperial Forum Tour
  • Arch of Titus
  • Temple of Caesar
  • Temple of Vestal Virgins
  • English Speaking Rome guide with best reviews
  • This tour has instant confirmation

The Colosseum Tour is our second most popular selling tour in Rome (next only to our Vatican Tour), and now we have the chance to include a visit to the Arena Floor. Our English speaking Ancient Rome and Colosseum tour guides are the best in business who help you explore and experience the best of Rome's Ancient City. This Colosseum tour is constantly rated 5 stars. Our Colosseum tour group is limited to 15 people so book now!

Book your Vatican tour first and get 10% off this tour with the discount code in your confirmation email.

An absolute must; When In Rome!

From: €75 all inc..

Vatican Tours Trevi Fountain

Rome City Center Evening Tour - Fountains & Piazzas - Semi Private

  • Pantheon Tour
  • Trevi Fountain Tour
  • Piazza Navona Tour
  • Piazza Venezia
  • Night Life of Rome
  • English Speaking Rome Tour Guide!
  • This tour has instant confirmation!

Our Rome City Tour is also known as 'La Dolce Vita Tour'; the Sweet Life Tour. This tour of Rome is a must for first time visitors as our Rome waking tour goes through the heart of the present day city center seeing many of Rome's most famous Fountains, Monuments and Piazzas. We cover Rome's many different time periods such as Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque. Our Rome Fountains and piazzas tour group is limited to 15 people so book now!

Complete your visit to Rome!

From : €25 all inc., papal audience with pope francis, papal audience tickets, schedule 2024, calendar.

Pope Francis in Vatican city

  • Papal Audience Tickets
  • Papal Audience Schedule 2024 - Pope Calendar
  • Papal/Pope Blessing Sunday Angelus
  • Eastern Mass Tickets / Christmas Mass Tickets
  • Papal Audience Hall Pope Paul VI
  • Papal Audience at Castel Gandolfo
  • Pope Francis Events

Fulfil your visit to the Vatican with a Pope Meeting. Every Wednesday Pope Francis offers public audience at the Vatican in St. Peters Square or Hall Paul VI.

Certificate Of Excellence

My family and I booked 3 tours while we were in Rome. All 3 of our guides were very knowledgable and entertaining. The tours were originally for our kids (10 and 12) bud my husband and I learnt just as much!

Our guide through the Vatican was extremely well informed and he did a great job of keeping everyone engaged. We were very happy to have had earphones linked with the guide because the Vatican that day was very crowded that day.

We did the Vatican Tour with Cristiana and we can't speak highly enough about the tour. She was funny, educational and fun!

Our Colosseum tour was one of the highlights of our trip. We never would have been able to experience and see so much if it wasn't for the help of our guide. As a tip for future visitors, make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

The Coliseum tour with Dani and the Vatican tour Pat were both great. We were happy to have found Maximus Tours.

Everything was great. Booking was quick and easy. Lowest cost we found online. Friendly and entertaining tour guide. Skip the long lines. Five Stars!

We booked two private tours with Maximus and had the same guide (Lisa) for both tours. In the Vatican she brought us away from the large groups so that we could fully enjoy the many beautiful works without being trampled over. The Colosseum tour was equally as enjoyable. It was quite a hot day but Lisa made sure that we stayed in the shade as much as possible. My family of 5 really had a wonderful time with her.

We took advantage of the special offer on the Vatican Tour and we were not disappointed. Skipping the lines into the Museums was great but we had to wait about 10min to collect our radios as there was a very big group in front of us also collecting radios. Our group only had around 14 people which was a good size, and the radios helped us hear everything the guide was saying. We learnt a lot and would definitely recommend a tour with Maximus.

My boyfriend and I had a great time on our Colosseum and Vatican tours! We had very friendly and knowledgeable guides. Two thumbs up!

Our family of four visited Rome for the first time and decided to book a couple guided tours with Maximus Tours. We like to travel but we generally do not join tours. Anyhow, we booked the Coliseum and Vatican tours and we were very happy with both. The guides spoke English very well and were fun to be around.

We were gifted a private tour of the Colosseum as wedding / honeymoon gift from some friends. Although we love to travel, we are not the type of people that would normally book a tour (yet alone a private tour) so we didn't know what to expect. We met up with the guide with ease and having them bring us through the Colosseum and all the ruins made a world of difference. It was so enjoyable we decided to treat ourselves to a private tour of the Vatican two days later with Maximus Tours. Our only regret is wondering how much we missed out on our past travels when we did not have a guide. Don't hesitate to book with Maximus!

Thank you all for the Vatican tour this week. Best of our time in Rome.

We Are Always Exploring Italy

Check out our blogs, discover the best of italy and the vatican city with, maximus tours.

Book with confidence knowing that our experienced and entertaining English-speaking tour guides are constantly receiving 5 Star reviews .

VaticanTour.com is operated by Maximus Tours and offer the finest services with official and accredited recognition from the Vatican State ensuring skip the line access to all sites whenever possible.

Maximus Tours and VaticanTour.com also offer the best family tours of the Vatican City and City of Rome with affordable prices and elite guides.

PAPAL AUDIENCE -Free Tickets Reservation Service for Wednesday Papal Audiences. Papal Audience Tickets and Schedule 2024.

Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information or to see how we can best make your trip unforgettable.

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The Holy See

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Basilicas and Papal Chapels

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Peter's Pence

Peter's Pence


Last videos, supreme pontiffs.



Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI


John Paul II

John Paul II


John Paul I

John Paul I

26.VIII, 3.IX.1978

Paul VI




28.X, 4.XI.1958

Pius XII


Pius XI


Benedict XV

Benedict XV


Pius X




20.II, 3.III.1878


Pius IX


Gregory XVI

Gregory XVI



31.III, 5.IV.1829


28.IX, 5.X.1823

Pius VII



Pius VI



Clement XIV

Clement XIV

19,28.V, 4.VI.1769

Clement XIII

Clement XIII


Benedict XIV

Benedict XIV


Clement XII

Clement XII


Benedict XIII

Benedict XIII

29.V, 4.VI.1724

Innocent XIII

Innocent XIII


Clement XI

23,30.XI, 8.XII.1700


Innocent XII

Innocent XII


Alexander VIII

Alexander VIII


Innocent XI

Innocent XI

21.IX, 4.X.1676


Clement X



Clement IX


Alexander VII

Alexander VII


Innocent X


Urban VIII

6.VIII, 29.IX.1623


Gregory XV


Paul V


Leo XI


Clement VIII

Clement VIII


Innocent IX

Innocent IX



Gregory XIV

Gregory XIV


Urban VII

24.IV, 1.V.1585


Gregory XIII

Gregory XIII


Pius V


Pius IV

26.XII.1559, 6.I.1560

Paul IV



Marcellus II

Marcellus II


Julius III



Paul III

13.X, 3.XI.1534

Clement VII

Clement VII


Adrian VI


Leo X


Julius II


Pius III

22.IX, 1,8.X.1503

Alexander VI

Alexander VI



Innocent VIII

Innocent VIII

29.VIII, 12.IX.1484


Sixtus IV



Paul II

30.VIII, 16.IX.1464


Pius II

19.VIII, 3.IX.1458


Callixtus III

Callixtus III



Nicholas V



Eugene IV


Martin V


Gregory XII

Gregory XII


Innocent VII

Innocent VII


Boniface IX

Boniface IX


Urban VI


Gregory XI

30.XII.1370, 3.I.1371


Urban V



Innocent VI

Innocent VI


Clement VI


Benedict XII

Benedict XII

20.XII.1334, 8.I.1335



Clement V

5.VI, 14.XI.1305

Benedict XI

Benedict XI


Boniface VIII

Boniface VIII

24.XII.1294, 23.I.1295

Celestine V

Celestine V

5.VII, 29.VIII.1294


Nicholas IV

Nicholas IV

Honorius IV

Honorius IV

2.IV, 20.V.1285

Martin IV



Nicholas III

Nicholas III

25.XI, 26.XII.1277


John XXI


Adrian V



Innocent V


Gregory X


Clement IV


Urban IV


Alexander IV

Alexander IV


Innocent IV

Innocent IV


Celestine IV

Celestine IV


Gregory IX



Honorius III

Honorius III



Innocent III

Innocent III



Celestine III

Celestine III


Clement III

Clement III



Gregory VIII

Gregory VIII



Urban III


Lucius III

1. 6.IX.1181

Alexander III

Alexander III



Adrian IV


Anastasius IV

Anastasius IV


Eugene III


Lucius II


Celestine II

Celestine II


Innocent II

Innocent II


Honorius II

Honorius II


13 or 14.II.1130

Callixtus II

Callixtus II


13 or 14.XII.1124

Gelasius II

Gelasius II


Paschal II


Urban II



Victor III

24.V.1086, 9.V.1087

Gregory VII

Gregory VII


Alexander II

Alexander II

30.IX, 1.X.1061

Nicholas II

Nicholas II

...XII.1058, 24.I.1059


Stephen IX



Victor II


Leo IX


Damasus II



Benedict IX

Benedict IX

... VIII.1048

Clement II


Gregory VI



Sylvester III

Sylvester III

13 or 20.I.1045


...VIII or IX.1032

John XIX

Benedict VIII

Sergius IV




...VI or VII.1009


Sylvester II

Gregory V

...II or III.999

John XV


John XIV

...XI or XII.983


Benedict VII

Benedict VII

Benedict VI

Benedict VI

...XII.972, 19.I.973


4.VII.964 or 965



John XII

Agapetus II

Marinus II


Stephen VIII

Stephen VIII


Stephen VII

Leo VI

... V or VI.928

... XII.928 or I.929

John X

... III or IV.914


... VII or XI.913

... III.914

Anastasius III

Anastasius III

... VI or IX.911

... VI or VIII or X.913

Sergius III

Sergius III

Leo V

... VII.903

Benedict IV

Benedict IV

John IX

..XII.897 or I.898

Theodore II

Theodore II

...XII.897 or I.898


...VII or VIII.897

Stephen VI

...V or VI.896

Boniface VI

Boniface VI


...VIII or IX.885

Marinus I

... XII.882


...XI or XII.872

Nicholas I

Benedict III

...VII, 29.IX.855

Leo IV


Sergius II

... IX.827, 29.III.828


... VIII.827

Eugene II

... II-V.824


Paschal I


Adrian I

Stephen III


Paul I

... IV, 29.V.757

Stephen II

Gregory III

Gregory II



Benedict II

Leo II

... I.681, 17.VIII.682


Adeodatus II



Martin I

12.X, 24.XI.642

John IV

... VIII, 24.XII.640


... X.638, 28.V.640

Honorius I

Deusdedit or Adeodatus I

Boniface IV

Boniface IV


Boniface III

Boniface III


... III, 13.IX.604

Gregory I

Pelagius II

Benedict  I

31.XII.532, 2.I.533

Boniface II

Boniface II

20 o 22.IX.530

Felix IV

20 or 22.IX.530

John I



Anastasius II

Gelasius I

25.II o 1.III.492



Celestine I

Celestine I

Boniface I



Anastasius I


15 o 22 o 29.XII.384

Damasus I

Sylvester I

Miltiades or Melchiades

Miltiades or Melchiades



Marcellus I

Marcellus I





Felix I


Stephen I

... VI or VII.253


6 or 13.III.251


Callistus I





Sixtus I

Alexander I


Anacletus or Cletus


Stato della Città del Vaticano

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St Peter's Square on sunny day with car parked in the square--checking out this square is a must-see when touring Vatican City!

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Vatican: Tips, Tricks + FAQ!

Planning a trip to Vatican City and not quite sure where to start? Home to several incredible sights, a strict dress code, some of the most famous works of art on the planet, and enormous crowds, visiting the Vatican for the first time can be a bit overwhelming.

In other words, visiting the Vatican packs quite the punch considering that Vatican City is the smallest country in the world!

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Vatican, from the best way to enjoy the museums to when to go to exactly what to wear.

Table of Contents

What to See When Visiting the Vatican

Important tips for visiting the vatican museums, should you take a vatican museums tour, all about visiting st. peter’s basilica, how to get to vatican city, faq about visiting vatican city.

Brightly colored frescoed ceiling in the Vatican Museums

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When visitors talk about visiting the Vatican, they’re most commonly referring to visiting the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, but visiting Vatican City can easily extend beyond those popular sights.

Here are the parts of Vatican City to consider when planning your visit, from the incredibly popular to the fairly niche.

St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter’s Square is the easiest part of the Vatican to visit–you can simply walk in and admire the beautiful oval square and exterior of St. Peter’s Basilica without any advance planning.

Selfie in St Peter's Square, One Day in Rome

The Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are home to some of the most incredible works of art in the entire world, including Raphael’s most famous frescoes and the Sistine Chapel.

You will need a ticket or tour to visit, and when people talk about how long the lines are to get into the Vatican, they’re most commonly referring to the lines for the museums–we’ll cover more on that in the next section of this Vatican City blog post.

Two tickets for the Vatican Museums being held up in front of a colorful wall--pre-booking these tickets is one of the most important Vatican travel tips

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel, with its magnificent ceiling painted by Michelangelo, is one of the most well-known houses of worship on the planet.

It is accessed through the Vatican Museums and cannot be visited separately.

Fresco of the Sistine Chapel as painted by Michelangelo--there's no preparing for seeing this beauty in person when visiting the Vatican!

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church on the planet, and a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture (Michelangelo and Bernini both contributed to its design).

It is free to visit, but you will need to pass through a security checkpoint to enter, and the lines for that can get very long.

You can also visit the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (unlike visiting the basilica itself, climbing the dome does require a ticket–more on that below), and from there you can admire incredible views of St. Peter’s Square.

2 Days in Rome Itinerary: Interior of St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican Necropolis

The Vatican Necropolis (or “scavi”) lies below St. Peter’s Basilica–and even below the “grotto” area that is also under St. Peter’s Basilica.

This area was a cemetery dating back to the first century, and, most importantly to Christian history, it is the presumed resting place of St. Peter himself.

Tours are required and absolutely must be booked in advance. If you’d like to tour directly with the Vatican, there are directions for how to email them (yep, it’s done by email!) here . 

Alternatively, this well-reviewed tour will allow you to visit the Vatican Necropolis and is much more straightforward to arrange.

Check availability and book your Vatican Necropolis tour today!

The Vatican Gardens

The Vatican Gardens are beautiful and exclusive–only a handful of reservations are accepted per day (so like the Necropolis, you absolutely must plan ahead), and therefore they are never crowded.

Like the Vatican Necropolis, the Vatican Gardens must be visited as part of a tour like this .

Book your Vatican Gardens tour today!

Portion of the Vatican Gardens as seen from above

Papal Audience

When the Pope is at home in Vatican City, he gives an audience each Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square that is open to anyone who would like to join.

Tickets are free but must be booked in advance .

The Vatican Museums house the largest private art collection in the world–and despite the enormous amount of art and historical artifacts displayed, only the tiniest sliver of the complete collection is on display to the public!

Beautiful, overwhelming, and one of the most highly sought-after art museums in the world, visiting the Vatican Museums can be a bit of an intense experience.

Here’s what to know before you go.

2 Days in Rome: Vatican Museums Statue

Don’t rush to the Sistine Chapel.

I know on our first visit to the Vatican Museums, we were highly anticipating the Sistine Chapel and always hoping it was coming up soon… but it’s one of the last things you see, so be sure to appreciate everything along the way!

Plan to spend at least two hours in the museums.

Three is even better, but it is hard to visit the Vatican Museums in less than two hours without simply making a beeline for the Sistine Chapel and not paying attention to much else.

Once you add in time to get there, security checks, potentially waiting in line, and maybe visiting St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, it’s best to consider visiting the Vatican at least a half-day commitment if you’re going to be touring the museums.

Large basin as seen when visiting the Vatican Museums, housed underneath a dome. Walls in the background are painted red.

Strongly consider booking a guided tour.

Guided tours add so much context to a Vatican Museums visit, and offer the opportunity to learn so much about the history of the art in the museums. They also make visiting the Vatican far less stressful from start to finish.

We’ve visited the Vatican Museums both independently and with a guided tour, and after experiencing both, strongly recommend a tour.

This is the tour we took and loved, and this is another great option .

Book your Vatican Museums tour today!

Photo of Raphael's frescoes as seen when visiting the Vatican Museums

… and at the very least, absolutely book skip-the-line tickets.

Absolutely don’t want to take a Vatican Museums tour, or just don’t have the budget for it?

That’s completely understandable. In that case, we recommend booking skip-the-line tickets (ideally these early-access ones , but skip-the-line tickets for the normal operating hours are very helpful as well).

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the lines to access the Vatican Museums are the worst we have ever seen at any museum in the world. 

During one of our longer trips to Rome, we stayed just beyond the Vatican Museums for a solid month and walked past the line for the museums almost every day–and as mid-October turned into mid-November, the lines remained incredibly overwhelming.

Grab your first-access skip-the-line tickets or general admission skip-the-line tickets for the Vatican Museums now!

Crowds of tourists visiting the Vatican Museums in Rome, lined up around a barricade

Keep in mind alternative hours.

The typical opening hours for the Vatican Museums are Monday – Saturday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM (with the last entry at 4:00 PM).

However, there are a few ways to access the Vatican Museums outside these hours if you’d like to mix up your visit!

Early Morning VIP Entry

With early-morning entry, either via pre-booked tickets for an independent visit or via a tour, you can enter the Vatican Museums as early as 7:30 AM, therefore avoiding the worst of the crowds (and during warm weather, the worst of the heat).

This incredibly popular tour a tried-and-true early morning option for touring the Vatican Museums!

Book your first-access Vatican Museums tour or skip-the-line tickets today!

Close up of a painting on a map in the Vatican Museums

Friday Nights Between April and October

For seven months out of the year, the Vatican Museums are open on Friday nights until 11:00 PM (last entry at 9:30 PM), and we can personally attest that visiting the Vatican Museums at night is an incredible experience (and far less crowded than general entry hours).

We took this amazing tour on a Friday night and loved it!

Book the Friday night Vatican Museums tour we loved today!

Map room in the Vatican Museums shot at night, with open window on the left. Visiting the Vatican Museums during special hours is one of our favorite travel tips for Rome Italy!

Last Sunday of the Month

The Vatican Museums are typically (and unsurprisingly) closed on Sundays, but on the last Sunday of the month, the museums are open until 2:00 PM (last entry at 12:30 PM).

Like many free museum days around the world, the general rule of thumb with visiting the Vatican Museums on a free Sunday is that it’s a great option for those on a strict budget, and a terrible one for those who want to avoid extremely heavy crowds.

Tapestry with Jesus in the foreground in a red robe, as seen when visiting the Vatican Museums in Rome

Make sure to follow the dress code!

There is a dress code for visiting the Vatican Museums. Essentially, no shorts, no bare shoulders, no cleavage, and no hats. 

In our experience, this is most strongly enforced in the Sistine Chapel, but as a gesture of respect and to avoid the risk of being denied entry, you should absolutely follow the Vatican Museums’ dress code.

We recommend light, loose clothing that will allow you to stay both covered and   cool, because the museums can get very warm.

With limited exceptions, there is no air-conditioning in the museums.

Only a few rooms are air-conditioned, so as you can imagine, during Rome’s hot summer months it can be a bit blistering inside the Vatican Museums.

Avoiding the heat (which is, of course, made even worse due to the heavy crowds that are normally visiting the Vatican) is another good reason to book an early morning or Friday night Vatican tour–not only will there be fewer crowds, the museums will be much cooler!

Statue that inspired The Thinker displayed in the Vatican, with tourists visible in the background.

Don’t take photos in the Sistine Chapel.

Despite this being obviously and clearly banned, complete with repeated announcements every few minutes from the security officers and strict enforcement, you’ll still see people trying to snap photos of the Sistine Chapel. Don’t be one of them!

The photos of the Sistine Chapel I’ve used in this Vatican blog post are stock photos for that reason.

Don’t plan to eat at the Vatican Museums if possible.

There is a cafeteria inside the museums selling basic meals and snacks if you get hungry, but with so much incredible food to eat in Rome, it’s best to plan your meals for before or after your Vatican Museums visit if at all possible.

You won’t see the famous spiral staircase isn’t until the very end of your visit.

It’s one of the absolute last things you’ll see in the Vatican Museums–even after the Sistine Chapel–so don’t expect to see it early on!

2 Days in Rome: Vatican Museums Spiral Staircase

Yes, absolutely!

We think the Vatican Museums are one of the best places to splurge on a tour in Rome–even more than at the Colosseum.

The context gained is incredible, and having a tour guide also makes visiting the enormous museums much less stressful and overwhelming.

We’ve visited the Vatican both independently and with a tour, and absolutely preferred our visit with a tour.

We took this Friday evening tour and loved it, but this tour is another phenomenal option.

Shop excellent, well-reviewed Vatican Museums tours today!

A beautiful mosaic floor in the Vatican Museums, with tourists standing around the edge of it snapping photos

Sprawling and stunning, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world and an absolute must-see sight when visiting the Vatican.

St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter.

You do not need a ticket to enter St. Peter’s Basilica–it is completely free to visit!

Jeremy Storm wearing aviator sunglasses standing in front of St Peter's Basilica when visiting Vatican City Rome

… but you do have to go through a security line first.

This line follows the curve of St. Peter’s Square and tends to grow throughout the day, and is in place for security. You’ll pass through a metal detector and have your bags checked when you reach the front.

The line can get excruciatingly long–if you’re not visiting St. Peter’s Basilica as part of a longer tour, we recommend arriving either very early in the morning (it opens at 7:00 AM every day except Wednesday) or in the early evening–the crowds often start to die off a couple hours before closing (6:00 PM or 7:00 PM depending on the time of year).

You should absolutely visit the dome.

The view overlooking St. Peter’s Square from the cupola is one of our favorite views in all of Rome–and the views of the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica from above are pretty phenomenal, too.

We absolutely recommend climbing the dome when visiting St. Peter’s Basilica unless 1) you have difficulty climbing large amounts of stairs (you must climb a minimum of 320 steps to access the dome), or 2) you’re uncomfortable in tight spaces–there are some very closed-in areas on the way up.

You can buy tickets inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and they’re currently 10 Euro for a ticket that involves a partial elevator ride, or 8 Euro if you’re willing to climb all 551 steps (the elevator ticket lets you bypass 200 or so steps).

The biggest benefit to the cheaper ticket, though, is not the lower price but the fact that it normally has a much shorter line than the elevator option!

Piazzas in Rome: Piazza San Pietro

Vatican City is located in the heart of Rome and is easily accessed by either foot, metro, or bus.

Keep in mind that unless you’re on a special tour that gives you a workaround (more on that in the FAQ section), it’s a 15-minute walk around the edge of the Vatican from St. Peter’s Square to the entrance to the Vatican Museums.

St. Peter’s Square is closer to Centro Storico, so if you’re approaching by foot, you’ll likely come across it first.

We absolutely love walking through Rome, and one of our favorite walks winds from Centro Storico all the way to St. Peter’s Square–in other words, the Vatican is absolutely accessible by foot!

For example, St. Peter’s Square is a 35-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain and a 25-minute walk from the Pantheon.

Those times might sound long, but in addition to all the general beauty of Centro Storico, you’ll find some interesting highlights along the way such as Piazza Navona and Castel Sant’Angelo.

From St. Peter’s Square, it’s another 15 minutes by foot to the entrance to the Vatican Museums. 

View of part of the castle and St. Peter's Basilica from Castel Sant'Angelo, one of the best views in Rome Italy

There are two metro stops close-ish to the Vatican: Ottaviano and Cipro, which are each a short walk from the Vatican Museums entrance.

There are several bus lines that stop near Vatican City, with the most frequent being 40 and 64.

St Peter's Basilica at night with traffic in front, What to do in Rome at night

Have more questions about visiting the Vatican?

Here are the answers to some of the most common Vatican City FAQs!

Can you reach St. Peter’s Basilica from inside the Vatican Museums?

Yes… but only on a tour.

There is a semi-infamous door between the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica links the two together and makes it possible to go right from the museums into the basilica without taking a (long) walk and waiting in line again, but independent visitors cannot use it.

Some guided tours, though, like this one , do give you the opportunity to use this door.

Otherwise, you’ll need to wait in line to enter St. Peter’s .

Photo of a map in as seen when visiting the Vatican Museums map room on a Friday night

What is the Vatican City dress code?

When in the Vatican Museums, Vatican Gardens, St. Peter’s Basilica, or Sistine Chapel, you’ll want to avoid wearing anything sleeveless, any shorts, or showing cleavage.

Hats are also not allowed.

If you’re just visiting St. Peter’s Square, you don’t need to subscribe to the dress code.

You can see the official language of the dress code here .

Lines of people visiting the Vatican Museums climbing a spiral staircase to reach the exhibits

Is Vatican City a country?

Yes, it is–it’s the smallest country in the world, covering only 0.2 miles of land area.

It’s also one of the only absolute monarchies in the world, with the Pope ruling it both as the Pope (overseeing The Holy See, aka the Catholic Church), and the King (overseeing the country of Vatican City).

Vatican City is not part of the UN, but The Holy See (aka the Catholic Church) is a permanent observer of the UN.

Do you need your passport to enter the Vatican?

Even though it is a country, there’s no need to bring your passport when visiting the Vatican.

Vatican Guard standing in front of a large green door in Vatican City

Can you visit Vatican City for free?

If your goal is only to step inside the country of Vatican City, you can enter St. Peter’s Square (for free, and without waiting in line) and St. Peter’s Basilica (for free, but after waiting in line) to pay a quick visit to the country.

Can you get a Vatican City passport stamp?

No, Vatican City doesn’t offer passport stamps.

However, you can buy a postcard in the gift shop and mail it home from Vatican City! 

It will be processed through the Vatican’s mail system, and many people use it as a unique souvenir from their visit to the Vatican in lieu of a stamp.

Beautiful fresco as seen when visiting the Vatican City Museums

Can you see the Pope when visiting the Vatican?

We covered this a bit above, but essentially, every Wednesday morning that the Pope is in Vatican City, he’ll give an audience in St. Peter’s Square.

2 Days in Rome: St. Peter's Square

Can you just visit the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City?

No, you can’t.

The Sistine Chapel is one of the final stops when touring the Vatican Museums and can’t be seen without visiting the museums.

Is St. Peter’s Basilica part of the Vatican Museums?

No, it’s not.

You can visit St. Peter’s Basilica separately from the museums.

4 Day Rome Itinerary: view of St. Peter's Basilica

Should you visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica on the same day?

You can, but be prepared for a long day, as you’ll have to enter both areas separately… unless you book a tour that includes both the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, that is.

In that case, you’ll be able to seamlessly visit both without exiting the Vatican Museums and waiting in an additional line to access St. Peter’s Basilica.

This tour is a popular option that includes both!

Book your Vatican Museums + St. Peter’s Basilica tour today!

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Photo of Vatican City from above on top of a view of St. Peter's Square from above. Black text on a white background reads "the ultimate guide vatican city"

About Kate Storm

Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Vatican: Tips, Tricks + FAQ!”

I am SOOO happy I followed your link for a tour to Vatican City and everything in it! We’re going there 1st week of April and all of the tours through their website were booked or super $$$! I went to your link for TakeWalks Tours and got a great price for the Chapel, Musuems and Basilica! I’m going to keep scouring your site for our perfect Italian vacation!

That is so wonderful to hear, thanks for sharing, Julie! I hope you guys have an incredible trip to Italy! 🙂

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