If you have never been to Rome or the Vatican, the idea seems simple: buy a ticket to the Vatican Museums and make your way into the Sistine Chapel so you can check it off your list. In reality, the options are many, and if you are willing to get up when the sun does, you can have an amazing experience without the crowds.
What is the Vatican?
The word ” Vatican” is tossed around frequently so let us first establish what people usually mean when they use the word. Our of the three possible options, the last two you are able to visit. Bear in mind there is a dress code for the Vatican when you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. Your knees and shoulders need to be covered.
- Vatican City- This entails the entire Sovereign country which is ruled by the Pope. The land area which 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 guards, the Vatican Gardens, and the Vatican pharmacy. It also includes multiple buildings which are not 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 the Vatican City. Inside the museums you will find countless masterpieces of artwork by some of the most famous Renaissance artists the world has ever seen. Included in the Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel. Therefore, it is impossible to visit the Sistine Chapel without visiting the Vatican Museums. You are allowed to visit the museums by paying an entrance fee.
- St. Peter’s Basilica– This is the church, which is located within the Vatican City, first built in the 4th 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.
How Many People Visit the Vatican Museums Per Day?
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! Now that you have that number in your head, you can better understand the importance of taking an Early Access Vatican Tour to escape the crowds!
As an official tour guide of Rome and the Vatican, I have been present on days when the actual number topped 30,000 people in one day. Therefore, the chance of you getting into the Sistine Chapel without crowds is almost impossible…or is it?
Popular Vatican Tours
Is there a Line to Get into Vatican City?
There are actually 3 different lines to enter the museums. The difference depends on if you are entering by yourself or if you decide to do a guided tour. Below I have outlined the three different entrances and who goes in each one.
This is the entrance you will use if you haven’t bought a ticket in advance. This entrance doesn’t open until 9 a.m. so you won’t be permitted entry until then.
This is the notoriously long line that people take photos of. In high season, it is possible to wait in this line for up to 3 hours to enter.
Vatican Accredited Line
Tour Operators who are accredited by the Vatican Museums are allowed to purchase tickets that allow them to enter from a different line in front of the museums. These Skip-the-line Vatican Tours mean visitors don’t have to wait in the individual line, only in a security line.
This entrance opens at 8 a.m., meaning that tour operators, and therefore group tours, are allowed to enter the museums one full hour before the main crowds. This is a great way to skip crowds in the early morning and by the time you get to the Sistine Chapel with an 8 a.m. entrance, you might find around 500 people in the Sistine Chapel which is much fewer than an hour or 2 hours later.
The Early Sistine Chapel Tour Line
Taking an Early Sistine Chapel Tour, you enter 1.5 hours before the main crowds are allowed inside. This is the ultimate experience to visit the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums with no crowds at all. At this hour, there is also no security line, so you literally enter immediately.
There will be moments on this visit when you won’t see any other groups, and it is completely possible to have entire galleries to yourself. You are literally visiting the museums the way the pope does—empty.
Depending on the season, you could see the Sistine Chapel almost entirely empty and even in high season, there won’t be more than 200 people in the Chapel, which considering the size, you will almost feel alone anyway. If your dream is to see the Sistine Chapel really 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 Vatican has hand-picked a select number of tour operators (including us) who have been awarded a special privilege, allowing them to enter the Vatican Museums at 7:30 a.m. All other skip the line Vatican tours enter the Vatican at 8 a.m.
While this 8 a.m. entrance is still an hour before the general public can enter, entering at 7:30 a.m. provides you with an extremely exclusive experience.
As one of the first groups to enter the Vatican Museums for the entire day, you will get to admire the iconic works of art inside of the Vatican without other tour groups. You will also be one of the first to enter the Sistine Chapel, the main highlight of your tour.
This means that you will be able to experience the Chapel in the way it was meant to be experienced: in a quiet and spiritual manner without the noise and crowds.
I Want More Italy!
- Check out our YouTube video and step-by-step guide about how to visit the Vatican. If you’d rather let us guide you, check out our Vatican tours.
- Not sure where to stay in Rome? Read this guide!
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