Visiting the Vatican Museum? It’ll be the most nerve wracking thing you do in Rome.
This complex of galleries is one of the most visited museums in the world. But don’t fret! It’ll also be the most rewarding and culturally enriching part of your Roman Holiday.
So taking some time to plan it right is of utmost importance.
To help you optimize time (and save money) here’s my article with useful, practical information and tips to help you make the most of your visit.
- The Sistine Chapel
- What to see + itineraries
- Prices + types of visits
- Opening hours
- How to get to the Vatican
- Where to eat in the area
The History of the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museum was founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II della Rovere.
It has grown over the centuries into a vast complex of museums and galleries home to the most important collections of art and antiquities in the world.
Simply put: it should be at the top of any Rome itinerary.
The idea of such a huge labyrinth packed with world famous must sees can be intimidating even for the most veteran of tourist but don’t worry – just follow your maps and the streams of tourists.
Here I’m going to give you an idea of the most significant exhibition spaces to save time.
PIO CLEMENTINO MUSEUM
The centerpiece of this museum is certainly the Octagonal Courtyard where the original nucleus of the collection of Julius II is located.
Among the most important sculptures harboured here are the Lacon and the Belvedere Apollo on which have been on display here since the 1500s.
With around 460 paintings in eighteen rooms the Pinacoteca boasts a collection of masterpieces by Italy’s greatest artists of all times like Giotto, Raffaello, Leonardo, Tiziano, and Caravaggio.
Here you will be able to admire some of the most world’s most famous works of art like Caravaggio’s Deposition.
Gregorian Egyptian Museum
Divided into nine rooms, this collection exemplifies a link between Roman history and ancient Egypt.
Here you’ll find Roman manufactured works in Egyptian style as well original works from Egypt which had been brought over and used in antiquity to embellish Roman monuments.
The exotic wall decorations here really stand out.
Gregorian Etruscan Museum
These rooms are home to a collection of finds from the most important Etruscan cities in Lazio that were part of the Pontifical Domain. It was founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1837.
You’ll follow this interesting civilization from the Bronze Age (9th Century BC) up to its union with the Roman Empire.
Bramante’s double-helix staircase from 1512 is a highlight.
Vatican Gallery of Maps
On your way to the Sistine Chapel you will eventually find yourself in this 120-meter-long gallery displaying 40 maps of Italian regions and Italy’s most important cities.
Created between 1581 and 1583, these maps represent a precious testimony of how the perception of geography can change over time.
These four rooms (Sala di Costantino, Stanza di Eliodoro, Stanza della Segnatura, and Stanza dell’Incendio di Borgo) are located on the second floor of the Papal Palace.
They were decorated by Raffaello between 1503 and 1513 under commission of Pope Julius II.
The indisputable artistic value of those rooms and the incredibly powerful impact on visitors, make them an absolutely unmissable part of your visit to the Vatican Museum.
Among the most famous works featured here, you will see the School of Athens: one of Raffaello’s most iconic works in which an attentive observer can spot the author’s self-portrait and a tribute to Michelangelo.
Contemporary Art Museum
This part of the museum doesn’t always get the credit it deserves but it is definitely worth a bit of your time provided that you have any left.
This space was created to establish a connection between the Church and contemporary culture and displays a collection of sacred works by great artists of the twentieth century.
These artists include Van Gogh, Bacon, Carrà, Manzù, Chagall, Capogrossi, and an entire room dedicated to Matisse
The Sistine Chapel
Despite being an incredibly popular tourist attraction the Sistine Chapel remains a sacred place and as such it requires from visitors to keep absolute silence and to abstain from taking photos.
So forget about social media, we’re here for the real beauty!
The history of the Sistine Chapel as it is today is linked to Pope Sixtus IV who in the 1400s commissioned its reconstruction and hired the most important artists of the time to decorate the walls with images representing biblical episodes.
The vault was initially a simple starry sky but then repainted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 at the behest of Pope Julius II.
The artist decided to paint the vault with scenes from the Old and New Testament and ended up creating one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of Italian and world art.
Michelangelo depicts the stories of Genesis in nine frames starting from the Creation of the world until the fall of man and its rebirth with the family of Noah.
The bad tempered Michelangelo did not allow anybody to help him and worked on the chapel completely by himself – spending so much time with his head tilted that he had spinal trouble for the rest of his life.
Michelangelo loved sculpture and looked down on painting as a minor art and Pope Julius II had a hard time convincing him to paint the chapel.
Over 20 years later Michelangelo was asked to do another fresco this time on the alter wall. So between 1536 and 1541 he painted the Last Judgment.
In this grandiose, incredibly powerful scene from the Book of Revelations the artist painted Christ in the top centre surrounded by saints and below him the separation of the blessed going to heaven and the damned going to hell.
Like the fresco in the vault, this work is a hymn to the beauty of human body represented by Michelangelo as being very strong, muscular, and powerful.
FUN FACT: In the original painting all the bodies were naked. The Church, however, considered this indecent so another artist named Daniele da Volterra was hired to cover up the nudity.
FYI: There is no special ticket to enter the chapel. It’s included in the normal Vatican ticket.
What to See at the Vatican: Routes and Visit Times
The Vatican Museum covers a surface of over 7 km.
It’s the biggest of all the museums in Rome and the 5th biggest in the world. Don’t expect to see every nook and cranny in one visit unless you are planning on torturing yourself.
I suggest taking one of three possible itineraries of 2, 3, or 4 hours all covering the most unmissable works displayed.
2 Hour Route
If you can’t dedicate a lot of time you can always chose to take the shortest path that leads to the Sistine Chapel and that still allows you to see a few masterpieces like Lacoonte, the Torso del Belvedere, and the Sarcophagus of Helena.
Once you reach the end of the Monumental Staircase follow the signs for the Pigna courtyard and the Pio Clementino Museum. Following the stream of people from there you will find yourself at the Gallery of Tapestries immediately followed by the Gallery of Maps.
Continuing straight ahead you will find the entrance to the Chapel marking the end of the itinerary.
3 Hour Route
If you have an extra hour to spend on the Vatican Museum you can follow this itinerary that allows you to see everything mentioned above plus the four marevelous Raphael rooms.
Like in the previous itinerary, follow the directions to get to the Pigna Courtyard and C the Pio Clementino Museum.
The route is the same as before except that after the Gallery of Maps you will follow the directions to Raphael’s rooms.
From there you will have to pass through the Borgia Apartament and the Contemporary Art Collection and you fill finally end up at the Sistine Chapel.
4+ Hour Route
If you are lucky enough to have more time, you should definitely use it to visit the Pinacoteca.
To get there you have to turn right at the top of the monumental staircase or you can follow the signs that from Sistine Chapel lead to the Chapel of San Pietro Martire and the Christian Museum.
This way you can be sure to have covered the most essential parts of the museum including the pictorial masterpieces of some of the greatest Italian artists of all times.
Vatican Museum Tickets
|Museum + Sistine Chapel||Skip the Line Online||Ticket Windows|
|Youth (6-18) + Students (<25)||€12.00||€8.00|
|Kids (o-5) + Disabled**||Gratis||Gratis|
|Families||Free after the second child||Free after the second child|
*Languages: English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian.
There is also a special audio guide for kids and children for €5.00 (1 hour).
Only for disabled visitors with certified invalidity of more than 74%.
For visitors who are not self-sufficient, free entry is extended also to a companion.
Free tickets for disabled visitors and their companions cannot be booked online but are instead issued, upon presentation of certification of invalidity, directly at the “Special Permits” and/or “Reception” desks situated in the entrance hall of the Vatican Museums.
Vatican Guided Tour Tickets
For groups of up to 15 people you’ll be able to get a two hour tour from a licensed guide.
Route: Pio Clementino Museum, Gallery of the Candelabra, Arazzi Gallery, Vatican Gallery of Maps, Raphael’s Rooms, Sistine Chapel.
Careful: this guided visit is not suitable for persons with limited mobility.
|Guided Tour||Exclusively Online|
|Personal guide (up to 15 people)||€260.00|
|Kids (6 -18 ) + Students (up to 25)||€12.00|
Why Buy Vatican Museum Tickets Online?
I listed the ticket window prices above simply for completeness of information.
The truth is nobody who values their time would queue up for tickets to the Vatican. In high season it can be several hours waiting in the sun, burning up valuable tourist time.
If your time is worth €4.00 an hour (who’s isn’t?) then buy them online.
Buying online allows you to skip the lines.
If you’re traveling on a budget and looking to save the €4.00 I’ll give you one suggestion: always make sure you’re in the right line (there is one of individuals and one for groups.
If you’re queueing up in the wrong line that’s more time wasted.
Practical Information for Buying Tickets Online
If you’re booking online you must do it through the official Vatican Museum website.
Each booking is in your name though it can be changed up to an hour beforehand.
Once you’ve bought simply head to the main entrance and the area for prepaid tickets. There you’ll have to present the voucher that was emailed to you to get your ticket. This can be done on your mobile.
Online booking saves time but still expect a standard security check.
It’s at this point that you’ll be given a one over by the security staff. Since this is a place of worship please ensure you are dressed modestly.
No beachwear, short skirts or pants, or bare shoulders.
Free Entrance to the Vatican Museum
There is free admission to the Vatican the last Sunday of every month.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword though. You’ll save one the ticket price but keep in mind that times are reduced and the lines back up forever.
If you want to take advantage I advise going really early – at least a couple of hours before opening.
It is not possible to book online.
Vatican Opening Hours
- Monday to Saturday: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm (last entrance 4:00 pm)
- Last Sunday of the month: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm (last entrance 12.30 pm)
- May to October Evenings: Friday from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm (last entrance 9:30 pm)
- April 18th to May 4th: Until 7:00 pm (last entrance 5:00 pm)
- Closed Every Sunday except the last one of the month (except holidays)
- Closed: January 6th, February 11th, March 19th, April 2nd, May 1st, June 29th, August 14th and 15th, November 1st, December 8th, 25th, and 26th.
How to Get to the Vatican Museums
Taking the Rome metro is the simplest solution for travelers.
Take Line A and get off at the Ottaviano stop.
The museum entrance is about 5-10 minutes on foot from the exit of the metro. It’ll be well indicated by the signs so it’s impossible to miss.
If by chance you’ve accidentally gotten off the next stop Cipro no worries! It’ll be exactly the same walking distance from there. With the same convenient indications.
From the Colosseum: grab line B from the Colosseo stop and then change for line A at the Termini stop until you get to Ottaviano.
As explained earlier in my article on Rome transport I can only say that the Rome bus network is vast and sometimes difficult to understand.
If however you’re in the area of bus #49 this will take you right to Museum Square.
You can also take bus #32 and #982 to reach Piazza del Risorgimento – just a few minutes’ walk to the entrance.
Bus from the Colosseum to the Vatican: grab bus #81 from the stop in Via Claudia toward Risorgimento and get off at the last stop.
Bus from Termini to the Vatican: grab bus #40 toward Borgo Sant’Angelo and get off at the last stop.
Bus from Piazza Venezia to the Vatican: grab bus #492 from Plebiscito toward Metro Cipro and get off at the Bastioni di Michelangelo stop.
Another common method of transport is tram 19.
This line is very convenient if you start from the university area or if you want to take a historic ride on one of the oldest vehicles in Rome.
The line terminates at Piazza del Risorgimento.
You can get to the Vatican by car but finding a parking space in the area will be a real challenge, not to mention super expensive.
This is not recommended.
If you have a public transport phobia or don’t mind spending the extra money there’s a taxi stand right in front of the Vatican.
And remember: if you’ve got any specific questions or concerns about transport or anything else leave me a comment and I will reply ASAP!
Where to Eat Near the Vatican Museums
We’ve all seen the classic Rome horror stories like €81.00 for two burgers and some coffee.
When looking for restaurants near the Vatican it’s tourist trap central!
Allow us at Rome Hacks to save the day.
Flavio al Velavevodetto ai Quiriti
This historic restaurant from the Testaccio neighbourhood has put its hat in the ring with a new location near the Vatican. Here you’ll find all the Roman classics including their signature pasta dish: rigatoni all’amatriciana (tube shaped pasta with a spicy tomato sauce made with guanciale).
It’s cute and rustic here with a real italian atmosphere.
The pasta here is made fresh and goes best with a half liter of home made wine.
TRATTORIA GALLO BRILLO
Viale delle Milizie 116 | Metro: Ottaviano (A) | Price: €€-€€€
Want Italian authenticity? They don’t even have English menus here. But not to worry: their staff will help you with translating their small chalkboard menu of local Roman dishes.
This restaurant is packed with young locals chomping down on pasta cacio e pepe (a pecorino cheese and cracked black pepper sauce) and homemade gnocchi.
Some of the best value in the city.
L’OSTERIA DI BIRRA DEL BORGO
Via Silla 26a | Metro: Ottaviano (A) | Price: €€
This place is a dream for craft beer lovers.
This super modern birreria can barely contain its large variety of draft beers. Here folks go for its deconstructed focaccia, epic Italian meat and cheese platters, and a pizza that’d turn heads even in Naples.
The €10.00 happy hour special is a big hit.
Piazza del Risorgimento 3 | Metro: Ottaviano (A) | Price: €
If you’re looking for a quick and cheap bite look no further.
This paninoteca specializes in both Italian and more creative international sandwiches. Their claim to fame is their homemade bread made at 200 degrees (200 gradi) and focus on local ingredients.
I recommend the spicy salami and rucola version: campo dei fiori.
Remember that Rome is full of pizza by the slice places.
Alice Pizza is a reliable chain of restaurants around the city that has never let me down. If you go there make sure you get a suppli: a deep fried rice ball filled with mozzarella and dipped in tomato sauce.
- Do I skip lines buying online? Yes, though you will still be subject to the same security checks regardless.
- Is there a ticket for the Sistine Chapel only? No.
- Will the tickets be in my name or are they open? Tickets are nominative.
- Can I change my online tickets? Yes, as long as there is availability for the change.
- Is the email I receive when buying the real ticket? No, this is simply a voucher with which you’ll redeem the actual ticket.
- Can I show the voucher on my smartphone? Yes.
- Is there a special line for online bookings? No, there is only a line for all pre-booked tickets.
- Can I visit the vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel for free? Yes, on the last friday of each month as long as they don’t fall on a national or regional holiday.
- Can I book my free visit online? No, you’ll have to wait in line.
- How long does my Vatican Museum visit last with the audio guide? About 3 hours.
- Where do I pick up my audio guide? Nel Cortile delle Carrozze.
- Is there an audio guide for children? Yes, it costs €5.00 and lasts one hour.
- What’s the best time to visit the Vatican Museums?
If you’re looking to avoid crowds the best time is to visit between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm.
- Is there a dress code for the Vatican? Yes, it is necessary to dress modestly without any beachwear, short shorts and pants, or uncovered shoulders.
Keep the Information Flowing
I’m done with the Vatican Museum but that doesn’t mean we stop there.
If you’ve got any questions about it or anything else related to your Rome holiday please get at me in the comments ASAP.
And don’t be afraid to join the Rome holiday discussion by first giving me a like on Facebook and then joining my group I’m Off to Rome – here you can ask any questions, air out grievances, and chat with fellow travellers.