Did you know that approximately 19,000 people visit the Vatican every day?
It can get pretty hectic but there are some ways around the crowds. All you have to do is plan ahead or hire a local expert.
In this post, we’ll give our insider views on the best way to visit the Vatican.
Last Updated: Sept 1, 2020
Sean’s Pro Tip
Planning can be tough. You read a bunch, forget it, then read more. I like to bookmark helpful posts in a folder so I can circle back prior to or during my trip. Consider bookmarking this post and a few other great reads:
- Visiting the Rome Catacombs: Everything You Need to Know
- Visiting the Colosseum at Night after Close: Everything You Need to Know
- Visiting the Borghese Gallery: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Climb the St. Peter’s Basilica for Rome’s Best Views
Doing a tour of the Vatican is by far the best way to visit the structure. They are our most popular experiences and really make visiting the museums more comfortable and fun. Check out our Vatican Tours.
There is also a great video about visiting the Vatican at the bottom of this post.
What This Article Covers
- Vatican City Facts & History
- Hours, Ticket Prices and RSVP
- How Long to Budget for Your Visit
- Vatican Tour Options
- 60 Paintings & Statues You Should See
- Where to Eat Nearby & Inside
- How to Get to the Vatican City
Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel Facts & History
Constantine’s Vatican – The early start of the Vatican being established was with Constantine’s St. Peter’s Basilica which stood where the current Basilica stands today. Jesus gave Simon the name Peter when he first met him and said, “You’re the stone upon which I will build my church.” After Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan he got started quickly on building the church Jesus referred to. For Constantine, Jesus would have been as old as George Washington in relative history to us.
Vatican Name – I have read many versions of “why Vatican” and the most likely is that the Etruscan society living in this area referred to it as Vatica prior to it being settled by Romans. It was a marshy area referred to as Ager Vaticanus. There are a lot of other theories which may be correct. It is an old word with many possible routes.
The Leonine City – In 846 AD Pope Leo IV commissioned a 39 foot wall to be constructed around the St. Peter’s Basilia (old) and other areas that were used by the clergy as a protective measure. The Saracens, attacked Rome and caused significant damage to the St. Peter’s Basilica which motivated the Pope to build out defenses. The area, which was larger than the current Vatican City, was proclaimed the Leonine City and stayed that way for some time.
Sottopassagio – In 1277 there is a half mile long underground passage way and wall that connects the papale residence, adjacent to the St. Peter’s Basilica, to the Castel Sant’Angelo which was major fortification for the Pope in case of attack.
Vatican Museums – The Vatican Museums are a living museun with residents. You won’t see the Pope walking around as you visit, but he’s there. The collection of art is a mix of Ancient and Rennaissance / Baroque. There is even a modern religious art section.
St. Peter’s Basilica & Tomb – The Basilica of St. Peter is basically the largest and most beautiful gravestone ever built. According to Vatican dogma, it was built on the grave of St. Peter which you can visit with special scavi tickets. The Basilica was built over 16th & 17th century, completed in 1626, by almost every great Italian artist.
Sovereignty – In 1870 Italy was unified under the leadership of Italian-American Giuseppe Garibaldi. The government of the newly defined Italy allowed the Pope to keep a small track of area under sovereignty. Pope Pius IX would not agree to terms until 1929 when the Lateran Treaty was signed under Benito Mussolini which granted the Vatican sovereignty. The sovereignty extends past the Vatican City to other churches including the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.
The Vatican Ticket Prices, Hours & RSVP
Vatican Museums Ticket Prices
- Adult (18+): 17€
- Children (ages 6 – 18): 8€.
- Students (ages 19 – 26): 8€
- Members of the clergy: 8€
Be prepared to show proof of eligibility at the door. Without that, they’ll either make you pay more or disallow entrance without a refund.
Tickets include access the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.
St Peter’s Basilica Ticket Prices
Free for all.
Climbing the dome costs 7€ (stairs) or 10€ (elevator). I recommend the elevator. This article explains everything.
The Basilica of St. Peter is free to enter but does not include entrance to the Sistine Chapel.
Hours & Best Time to Visit
Special Covid-19 Hours
The Vatican Museums are the following highlighted hours for the unforeseen future due to COVID-19/Coronavirus Pandemic. We will update this section when hours change back to normal hours which are not highlighted.
- Monday – Thursday 10 am to 8 pm (Last entrance 6 pm)
- Friday & Saturday 10 am to 10 pm (Final entry at 8 pm)
- You can only enter with an RSVP or a Tour
St. Peter’s Basilica and Dome are following normal opening hours. Below Vatican hours reflect normal openings but are not currently being used.
The last Sunday of the month is not currently free.
The Vatican Museum Hours
- Monday to Saturday: 9 am to 6 pm (Last entrance at 4 pm)
- Friday Evening Entrance:
- Closed: Every Sunday, June 11 & 29, Aug 14 & 15, Dec 8, 25 & 26
- Most tour companies can enter at 8 am, an hour before the open.
- The Tour Guy/The Roman Guy can enter as early as 7:30 am prior to most tour companies
- Free the last Sunday of every month (I do not recommend this if you don’t like crowds)
St. Peter’s Basilica Hours
- From April to September: 7a.m. – 7p.m.
- From October to March: 7a.m. – 6p.m.
- Closed Wednesday Morning for Papal Audience
St. Peter’s Dome Climb Hours
- From April to September: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- From October to March: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Closed Wednesday Morning for Papal Audience
Tickets: If you are looking for solo-visit Vatican tickets you can check our website for all types of entrance times.
Tours: We sell Vatican tours which are rated five stars by thousands of customers. The Vatican Museums is one of those places you absolutely should visit at least once with a tour guide.
Vatican Dress Code
To gain access you’ll have to abide by the Vatican dress code.
Cover your shoulders and avoid shorts and short dresses and skirts. We know that Rome gets hot in the summer, we suggest bringing a light scarf to wrap around yourself when you need to.
Hats, food, and metal tools like knives and scissors are also not allowed.
How Long to Budget for Your Visit?
Short Answer: 3 to 5 hours
Great question! The Vatican is an immense complex of artwork. You could spend a few hours inside and “see” a lot of art or you could spend 3 to 5 hours and really learn history. It depends on your level of interest.
Most persons visiting the Vatican for the first time, without an art-history background, will follow the signs for the “Capella Sistina” or Sistine Chapel until they get there, snap their photo and go. This article is aimed at helping you avoid that type of empty experience.
- Spiral Staircase
- Pinecone Courtyard
- Pio Clementino Gallery
- Gallery of Candelabra, Tapestries & Maps
- Raphael Rooms
- Sistine Chapel
- St. Peter’s Basilica
If you are an art aficionado, also enter the Pinacoteca. Below, you’ll see our full list of Vatican must-see artwork. It also links to an article of the best artwork in the Vatican with descriptions.
If you are going to go it alone, be well prepared by reading our top things to see at the Vatican.
Vatican Tour Options
Detailed Itinerary Vatican Tour (5 hours)
For the art-history buff. This tour visits the majority of the Vatican museums including Pinacoteca, Sistine Chapel, and more. Basically everything but the Egyptian Gallery.
Privileged Entrance Vatican Tour(3.5 hours)
This is our most popular Vatican tour. It covers all the main must-see sights for visitors including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s good for art lovers and lovers of life that want to see a ton but not be too mentally exhausted at the end of your visit. A major benefit of this tour is that we have an 8 am entrance time which an hour prior to general admission which means the museums are less crowded.
Skip the Line Vatican Tour(3 hours)
This is a great low-price Vatican tour that covers most of the main attractions including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. It features a ton of start times throughout the day which can fit well into your schedule. The price is also hard to beat from a top-quality tour company.
First Entry Vatican Gold Tour (2 hours)
By far our shortest Vatican tour, this visit takes advantage of 7:30 access! Our only tour that enters this early and beats general admission and most tour companies which cannot enter until 8 am. It’s a great way to see the main sights of the Vatican, skip the lines, skip the crowds and be outside the St. Peter’s Basilica by 9:30 am ready for the next attraction!
Vatican Highlights Tour (2.5 hours)
If you want to see the main sites and understand them but don’t want to get caught up in every detail, this may be perfect for you. We have an 8 am option that beats the crowds along with other start-times. It’s a small group and great value.
Major Advantage of a Tour: Beyond the explanations and local insight, it provides you special access to many sites like the St. Peter’s Basilica. Going alone, you have to exit the Vatican Museums from the same entrance you come in on which means about a mile of additional walking. Going with a guide means direct access from the Sistine Chapel to the St. Peter’s Basilica!
60 Paintings, Statues & Things You Should See
This is a literal list of what you should see at the Vatican since we didn’t have room in this post for full descriptions. We have a dedicated article explaining each item on this list with photos and descriptions. Check our article 61 things to see at the Vatican Museums.
- Spiral Staircase- The staircase was built by the famous architect Giuseppe Momo in 1932. It was commissioned by Pope Pius XI and was to be created in order to be the new entrance to the Vatican Museums.
- The Terrace with a view of the Basilica and Vatican Gardens
- The Pinacoteca (For art lovers)- Pinacoteca in Italian means a painting gallery and considering that the Popes in the Vatican, historically, were the main Patron of the arts for centuries, they don’t disappoint.
- Transfiguration (Raphael)
- The Annunciation (Raphael)
- Crowning of the Virgin (Raphael)
- St. Jerome (Da Vinci)
- St Matthew (Guido Reni)
- Deposition (Caravaggio)
- The crucifixion of Saint Peter (Guido Reni)
- Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (Nicolas Poussin)
- Astronomical Observations (Donato Creti)
- Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden (Wenzel Peter)
- The Pinecone Courtyard- The pinecone courtyard is a massive courtyard that connects the main galleries leading to the Sistine Chapel with the Pio Clementino and Braccio Nuovo Galleries. Reports have been written of jousting tournaments and bullfights under the Borgia Pope AlexanderVI in the 15th century and supposedly Pope Leo X housed his pet elephant, Hanno, here in the 16th century.
- Colossal Statue of Augustus
- Sphere within a Sphere
- The Pinecone
- The Pio Clementino Gallery- The collection of classical statues you will see in these galleries were started back at the beginning of the 16th century by Pope Julius II. The name of the gallery is due however to a much later date for popes Clement XIV(1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799 who created the current galleries you will walkthrough. Much of the artwork here was taken by Napoleon, but after his defeat was brought back to the Museum.
- Apollo Belvedere
- Laocoön Group
- The Belvedere Torso
- The Bath of Nero
- Statue of Hercules in Bronze
- Sarcophagus of Saint Helena
- The Candelabra Gallery- As the name suggests, this Gallery is called so due to the enormous candlesticks in marble that you can find in each section as you walk down the hallway. The gallery was completely renovated during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII Pecci (1878-1903) and that is what you see today. It was meant to be built so that each piece is like a furnishing for the house.
- Artemis of Ephesus
- Lapus Lazuli Mosaic
- The Persian Warrior
- The Gallery of Tapestries– As you walk down the Gallery you will see Tapestries on the right-hand side dedicated to stories of the life of the Barberini Pope Urban VIII ( 17th century). On the left-hand side, are stories from the bible whose original drawings were executed by the school of Raphael, then woven in Flanders.
- Resurrection of Christ
- The Gallery of the Maps- By far one of the most over the top Galleries as far as decoration goes, this room is literally a gigantic mural with frescoes on both sides of maps depicting Italy. Pope Gregory XIII, also known as the calendar pope, commissioned this room to be painted so he could accurately study the lands in which he lived and the surrounding areas.
- The Grotesques
- The Ceiling
- Map of Sicily
- Map of Lazio
- Vatican Radio Station (Out the window to your right)
- Raphael Rooms- The four rooms known as the Raphael rooms were painted by Raphael and his students between 1508 and 1524. They were commissioned first by Pope Julius II (1503 to 1513) supposedly because he refused to live in the Borgia apartments on the floor below due to his hatred for the man. These rooms were also used by his successors, specifically Leo X the Medici Pope (1512-1521).
- Room of Constantine
- Vision of the Cross
- Battle of Constantine against Maxentius
- The Victory of Christianity over Paganism (Ceiling)
- Room of Heliodorus
- Liberation of St.Peter
- Encounter of Leo the Great with Attila
- Room of the Segnatura
- The School of Athens
- Room of the Fire in the Borgo
- Fire in the Borgo
- Room of Constantine
- The Sistine Chapel- This chapel needs no introduction. Originally named Capella Magna ( Great Chapel) it was restored by Pope Sixtus IV (pontiff from 1471 to 1484) in 1480. Sixtus IV had famous early Renaissance artists who lived a generation before Michelangelo and Raphael to paint the fake draperies, the life of Moses and Christ ( side walls), and the popes ( above the windows) Sixtus’ nephew, Julius II had Michelangelo in turn paint the ceiling in 1508.
- The Ceiling
- The Central Panels
- The Side Panels
- The Stories of Moses
- The Stories of Jesus
- The Last Judgment
- The Ceiling
- St. Peter’s Basilica– For me personally there is no church that compares in beauty. It is the ultimate expression of space, beauty, and monumental grandeur. It also happens to have an amazing history behind it as well, so let’s get into it.
- La Pieta
- La Baldacchino
- St. Peter’s Square
For photos and descriptions for this list, check out our article on the top things to see at the Vatican Museums.
Where to Eat Inside & Nearby the Vatican
Like all great Italian Museums, you can get coffee and food inside the Vatican Museums.
Inside the Vatican
Caffetteria Centrale – With sub-par reviews that you would expect in a cafeteria-style eatery, this coffee shop, and light eatery will get the job done if you want to spend more than 4 or 5 hours inside the Vatican Museums. Hours: 8:15 am – 5:15 pm. Location: Look for signs near the Pinacoteca.
Bar – There is a small bar for coffee and pastries located right near the Sistine Chapel. Look for signs as you get close.
St. Peter’s Dome Bar – Yep, you can get coffee on top of St. Pete’s dome. There is a little bar open basically whenever they want to be open. If its open, stop for a coffee and enjoy the view.
Near the Vatican
Hostaria Dino e Toni – Somehow this owner-operated super-Roman and authentic restaurant have yet to get touristy. They make good food with relatively friendly service. They may just order for you. Pizza, pasta, and apps.
Address: Via Leone IV, 60
200 Gradi – Have a big day of sightseeing planned after your Vatican visit? This sandwich shop is perfect. You can get really tasty to-go sandwiches or sit down inside. Super reasonably priced.
Address: Piazza del Risorgimento 3
La Zanzara – More of a cool and trendy with a modern spin on Italian classics. Feels like a french bistro but definitely Italian food. Great for a cocktail and sit-down lunch.
Address: Via Crescenzio, 84
How to Get to the Vatican City
Luckily, Vatican City is super easy to reach. Depending on your preferences, you can either take the Metro, a bus, a cab or just walk.
How to Take the Metro to the Vatican
About 20 minutes
Metro directions: There are two metro stops located near the Vatican Museums entrance: Ottaviano and Cipro. These stops are located on the A line (orange line).
Therefore, if you jump on near the Spanish Steps (Spagna) or Termini Train Station, make sure you catch the A line going towards Battistini and get off at either Ottaviano or Cipro.
The entrance to the Vatican Museums is a five-minute walk away from either of those stops. Of course, you can also catch the A line from many other stops, just check the Rome Metro schedule.
You can buy tickets at the metro station or a corner store, but not from the driver.
Pro Tip: Always budget an extra 10 to 20 minutes if you have a scheduled event like a Vatican Tour. This way you don’t have to rush and give you time for that quintessential morning espresso.
How to Take the Bus to the Vatican
About 20 minutes
Bus directions: From the Termini train station, head outside and get on bus #64. The bus ride will take about 20 minutes, your stop is the last one on the route: P.za Stazione S. Pietro.
To get to the Vatican Museums entrance, it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the bus station.
You can also take the #81 bus from the Colosseum area (the bus stop is located right outside of the metro station – B line).
The 81 bus route ends in Piazza Risorgimento which is a five-minute walk to the Vatican Museums entrance.
How to Take a Taxi to the Vatican
Depends from the leaving point
A taxi ride should cost no more than 20 euros if you’re staying in the historic center of Rome.
When you get in, tell the driver to take you to the Vatican Museums entrance, otherwise, they’ll take you to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The most typical way to get a taxi in Rome is to go to a taxi stand. These are located near every major tourist attraction.
If you aren’t located near one, you can always order a coffee and pastry at a café and ask the people working there to call you one.
Walking to the Vatican
About 20 minutes
Walk to Vatican City: You can walk if you’re staying near Piazza Navona or in Campo de’ Fiori and the weather’s right. Prati is also easily walkable to the Vatican.
If you love exhausting yourself by exercising prior to being on your feet for 3+ hours, you can walk to the Vatican from basically anywhere in Rome, but I would recommend taking mass-transit. You’ll be on your feet plenty in Rome!
Pro Tip: A neat trick for using your phone map is to set your course when you are in wifi on airplane mode.
GPS will still show your location while on airplane mode. It won’t reroute you but it will show you where you are.
It’s the most useful tool for travel in terms of getting directions.
Visiting the Vatican with Kids
If you’re visiting the Vatican Museums with your kids, you’re in luck. The museums are happy to welcome families with children and strollers in tow.
In addition, as you explore the collections, there are plenty of restrooms with changing tables and places to sit and take a rest. There’s even a private room for mothers to nurse in complete privacy.
For a more private experience truly geared toward a younger audience, consider our Family-Friendly Vatican tour.