All you need to know about Vatican tours

Posted on Dec 10, 2019 in Planning Support

[revised August 2022]

A tour at the Vatican is probably the first line in your “to do list” for a trip to Rome (which is ironical, in fact, as the Vatican is not in Rome, neither in Italy… It’s a foreign country! But you already know that, right?)

There is a lot to know about Vatican tours, as this site is overwhelming and you need guidance, at least to chose the right tour for you and your traveling companions (especially if they have special needs, like children, seniors or disabled visitors). Some general info:

  • first of all, you DO NOT necessarily need a guide to skip lines. You  simply book your ticket on the official website of the Vatican Museums, where you can also reserve a group tour or a private tour led by internal guides.
  • best of worst days? After more than 10 years of tour guiding I would say it’s totally unpredictable. Generally speaking Tuesday is better than Monday (as on Sundays the museum is closed) and Friday is better than Saturday for the same reason. Wednesday mornings are usually a quiet moment if you are not interested in visiting the basilica of St. Peter’s as the latter is closed for the weekly Papal Audience, while Wednesday afternoons are a bad idea, since the audience ends and most of the pilgrims flock inside the museum… But there might always be exceptions to these rules,  every period has its own events/ceremonies, so the rule is #trustyourguide and we can suggest the best timing for you, according to the circumstances.
  • best or worst time? Many people ask about the “early entrance” because this is largely advertised. But our reply is always the same: the early entrance is no longer so convenient as there are a lot of group companies buying slots for the  special admissions of 7.30 and 8 a.m. which results in galleries almost as crowded as in the rest of the day, having paid a higher price. We only recommend this early entrance if you need to leave Rome early on the same day (maybe for a cruise). An alternative is the ticket called “breakfast at the Vatican”: you are allowed to enter the museum at 7.45 a.m. and have a buffet breakfast served in the courtyard of the Pinecone during the good days. We do not recommend this option in the cold months, as breakfast is served in the cafeteria and this is not scenic at all. When you buy this ticket, the guide can meet you inside the museum at 8.30 a.m. (not earlier) and you can start visiting the galleries together. Otherwise, if you do not plan to spend a long time in the museum, but just want to hit the “must sees”, an entrance at 3.00 or 3.30 p.m. is probably the smarter idea.
  • night openings: from April to October every Friday and Saturday the museum opens for evening access. We like this option a lot, as it is atmospheric, less crowded, less hot in summer and the price of the ticket is the standard one.  You cannot visit the basilica of St. Peter’s during this evening tour, only the Papal collections and the Sistine Chapel. We can include an explanation of the basilica in the tour and you can then visit this basilica on own during the following days. You do not need tickets nor a reservation for the basilica, just pass security check from St. Peter’s square (recommended time:  before 9 am).
  • St. Peter’s basilica: we understand you expect to visit everything in the Vatican on the same day, but it can be tiring and in the end you do not appreciate it all. We suggest to devote a different day of visit to St. Peter’s basilica, if at all possible. If you decide to visit it with us, we can combine it with a nice orientation in the city centre and you can be sure it will be more relaxing than after the Vatican Museums.
  • you cannot see it all: let us know in advance what you really do not want to miss and we’ll make sure we cover that or inform you if it is not possible for any reason. For instance, keep in mind the Basilica of St Peter’s is an “operating” church and it can be closed to visitors for any liturgical reason, even without pre-notice  (for the funeral of a Cardinal, for example)
  • short or long tour? Our basic tour at the Vatican lasts approx 2,5 to 3 hrs. This is enough to see the  masterpieces, Sistine Chapel and Papal Collections. This is recommended with children and teens. The Vatican tour is tiring for everybody, so do not expect your children to have a longer attention span than this. If you are all adults and  fit (or, on the other side, if you need resting time during the tour) we can plan a longer tour from 3,5 hr onwards. Book this option if you are deeply interested in artistic and religious subjects, if you wish to include St. Peter’s basilica, the Painting Gallery, the Egyptian Section or the Chambers of Raphael. If you are a party of 10 or more, you need the long tour and two guides (we do not take groups in the Vatican, only small parties, so in case of need, we split the group)
  • Kids tour: we can arrange kids tours at the Vatican. These tours are led by guides with a special attitude and preparation with children and are only focused on the Sistine Chapel and the basilica of St. Peter’s. We lighten the tour with little games, quizzes, questions. Remember that, if you book this tour, the attention of the guides will be mostly on your kids, they can surely answer adults questions as well, but they will always give priority to the little ones. A good way to prepare your children to the Vatican tour is booking our fresco lab before: they learn about the art technique and can appreciate the Sistine Chapel much better.
  • If you have any special interest (history of the Church, Renaissance art, Raphael and Michelangelo…) let us know and we can prepare a special tour for you from this angle.
  • The Vatican Gardens: are really interesting, but cannot be visited in a standard tour, only a limited number of visitors per day can drive across them onboard of a “safari minibus” which allows guests to enjoy the landscape and take pictures. This bus tour lasts approx 1 hr and it is an occasion to see the most significant buildings of the Vatican City State. It includes an audioguide in your language on the bus and the Vatican Museum ticket. It can be a perfect introduction to your Vatican tour with us or on own. Not available for kids under the age of 6.
  • The Vatican undergrounds: there are two underground sites in the Vatican City. The most famous is the so called “excavations” (offered by the Vatican “ufficio scavi”) i.e. where the tomb of St. Peter’s is located and you find all infos  and the form to reserve this tour here. Important to know is that you need to book well in advance (6 months ahead are recommended), children under the age of 16 are not allowed and the visit is not available on Sundays and religious holidays. Not expensive at all.  Much easier is usually the access to the necropolis of the Via Triumphalis discovered in 2003 during the construction of the new parking lot of Santa Rosa in the Vatican City State. This tour is led by internal Vatican guides only (approx 90′) and the ticket also enables the access to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. We can meet you inside the museums for your private tour.
  • radio headsets  are mandatory if a group is larger than 9 people in the museums, sometimes we can recommend radios even with smaller groups as the museums can be crowded and it might be difficult to hear your guide. In St. Peter’s basilica they require this device when you are more than 4 people. There is no exception, so allocate an extra 3 euro per person in these occasions.
  • Seeing the Pope: some agencies sell tours for this request, we find it a robbery as you can book and go on own and the Vatican doesn’t ask for any money for this pass: they only require a reservation for audiences and masses with the Pope. You find the calendar and infos here. For the Papal blessing on Sundays at noon in St. Peter’s square no reservation is needed. Just go there. It lasts usually 15 minutes.

If you have any other query about the Vatican, let us know and we will be happy to make researches and improve this post for everybody’s benefit!