Visiting the Vatican

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My visit to Italy was already several weeks into our trip around Europe, and we hadn’t quite gotten around to planning our days the way we should have. This, of course, backfired pretty spectacularly when it came to getting tickets to visit the Vatican with less than a 24 hour’s notice.

Cue the frantic googling montage as we tried to figure out a way to get last minute tickets to see the landmark.

Visitors do not need to pay to visit Vatican City itself, but tickets are mandatory to visit St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums- the things I actually wanted to see!

For those who are smart enough to plan ahead, Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are available for purchase on the official Vatican Museum website for 17€. This is the least expensive option to visit these two must-see attractions, so it typically sells out far in advance.

As I mentioned in my Paris guide, tour companies often buy tickets in bulk and may have tickets to sell when the official website is sold out. With a determination to see the Sistine Chapel and no other option, I spent a whopping 50€ on a guided tour.

Since it was a really last minute booking (I’m talking the night before), I selected the latest possible tour option to give myself the best possible chance of the ticket confirming. Sometimes bookings made so last minute will glitch and confirm despite being sold out so it can be a bit of a gamble.

Luckily, the system was in my favor and I was able to confirm my ticket without issue. After being collected by our guide, the tour group of about 20 people and I were walked over to the Viale Vaticano entrance- much less overwhelming than the Via Della Conciliazione that was absolutely swamped with crowds.

That’s not to say that Viale Vaticano wasn’t crowded- in fact, if you don’t like crowds, I don’t recommend visiting Vatican City at all. Dozens of tour guides and hundreds of individual visitors are all competing to get the best possible view, so be prepared for some jostling.

My tour started in the Vatican Museums after passing through airport-like security and while we were definitely delayed by moving in a large group, it was nice to have someone point out all of the “must see” artworks and rooms, rather than aimlessly wandering around on my own.

For instance, on our way to the Gallery of Maps, the hall was briefly blocked off due to high crowds, and without blinking an eye, our guide immediately walked us through an incredible (and also crowdless) series of rooms dedicated to Etruscan antiques- had I been on my own, I’d have simply waited in line for the hallway to reopen and missed some seriously beautiful art.

The beautiful ceilings of the Vatican Museums were a point of serious distraction for me. I’m lucky I didn’t walk into anyone!

Since many of the main attractions within the museums- like the Sistine Chapel- demand silence from visitors, our guide would gather us around before we went into those areas to explain what we were about to see and to point out specific things to look at. It was definitely helpful to have that background before entering, but I did feel like it took away from how much time we actually got to spend in those locations.

Speaking of the Sistine Chapel, not only is talking not allowed, but neither are photos! Security took this very seriously- I saw multiple people get spoken to, and even a guide or two got an official strike against them for speaking to their group. I was just happy to see the Creation of Adam in person- it’s one of my favorite works by Michelangelo, and the official photos online are better than any I’d be able to sneak for myself.

The Sistine Chapel has an exit towards the back that is apparently exclusive to tour groups- I saw individuals get turned away. Our group on the other hand, was able to make our way through a mostly empty hallway, wave to a few Swiss guards, and exit right next to St. Peter’s Basilica.

We left our guide at this point to explore the Basilica at our own pace. One thing that never gets across in photos of this church is the sheer size of it. According to National Geographic, it can fit 60,000 standing worshippers at one time. There was a service going on at one end of the church and I almost didn’t notice!

While the Vatican is obviously religiously significant for Christianity, my guide did an excellent job of being inclusive of all faiths. The papacy was mostly mentioned in reference to how it related to the artwork on display, which I think some of our tour group appreciated more than others.

It’s important to note that visitors of all genders must have have their shoulders and knees covered for this tour. I also recommend having comfortable walking shoes on- it’s a three hour tour and there’s really nowhere to sit.

Despite kicking myself for not planning ahead, I enjoyed my tour and it was nice to have context for the art and history I was walking past. You can book a similar tour here. I would, however, recommend booking an earlier tour since Vatican City was closing down by the time I was leaving and I did feel a little rushed.

23 thoughts on “Visiting the Vatican

    1. I disagree! I think that for the most part, online ticketing actually speeds up the site seeing process and even limits how much time I’ve spent waiting on lines. Just think- with no tickets we’d have to wait online for ages without knowing if we could get in.

      Tour operators buying tickets in bulk, on the other hand, I don’t love but definitely came in handy for me here!

  1. This is useful information. I spent a few days in Rome before heading further afield but never did bother to go to Vatican City. I kinda wish I would have. I’m really pleased to hear that the guards took the “no talking/no photos” seriously. I hate it when signs are posted but people ignore them and then the officials just let it go unchecked.

    1. Ah I wasn’t sure if I’d be going back to Italy in the future so it was kind of do or die for me to get to Vatican City. It was really nice but there’s definitely a ton to do in Rome without it- I was dead on my feet by the end of my stay!

  2. Glad you were able to see the amazing work of Michelangelo. Planning ahead seems to be key for many aspects of travel but looks like you got some extras by booking late even though you payed more.

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