The Vatican’s divine frescos and sculptures, from Michelangelo to Raphael and Bernini, draw visitors from around the globe. There’s so much to see while visiting the Vatican that it can be a little overwhelming, and you don’t want to go all that way only to miss its best treasures.
This guide will allow you to explore in a more efficient way than the other 25,000 tourists visiting the holy enclave every day.
Avoid the worst of the crowds with an early-access ticket, and see Vatican Museum highlights that others miss in their scramble to crane their necks at the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling (make sure you do that too!). Wander the Vatican Gardens, and relax at the pope’s summer palace in the afternoon.
There are lots of options, so here’s everything you need to know before visiting the Vatican.
Beat the queues for the holiest of holy places
The best time of day to visit the Vatican is before your fellow culture hounds have woken up. On Saturdays, we can get you access to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums before they open to the public.
This does mean getting up early and arriving at 07:15. But, it also means you’ll avoid most of the infamous queues. There will be less rubbing shoulders with hordes of tourists, and you’ll have a more relaxed time with some of the greatest artworks in human history.
Not only that, but this ticket comes with a fully guided tour and breakfast in the atmospheric Cortile della Pigna – it’s a truly unique experience.
Hidden gems of the Vatican Museum Collection
Believe it or not, some people visiting the Vatican Museums and see only a fraction of the masterpieces on show. For instance, did you know there’s a Van Gogh painting and a version of Rodin’s The Thinker in the Collection of Contemporary Art? A lot of visitors miss them, but armed with the insider knowledge below, you can make the most of your time in the Vatican Museum Collection.
Visiting the Vatican Gardens
After your encounter with the divine Vatican art, it’s time to head out and reflect on all you’ve seen. Popes and cardinals have used the Vatican Gardens for contemplation and prayer since the 13th century. Starting from 10 am, you can linger in their auras during a blooming beautiful one-hour tour.
After your garden stroll, things only get more magical. There’s a private train running between Vatican City and the Pope’s summer palace – and you’re getting on it. Visiting the Vatican extends outside of Rome!
Visiting the Vatican FAQs
What should I wear to the Vatican?
You’re visiting one of the holiest places on Earth, so dressing appropriately is important. The Pope’s not overly concerned about what you wear, but there are some simple rules to follow to make sure you can enjoy your visit without any issues.
- Jeans and sneakers are permitted, so that’s the most common question out of the way
- Avoid revealing or low-cut clothing – sleeveless tops and see-through items are banned
- Shorts are fine, but make sure they’re not too short. Nothing too far above the knee will be permitted – leave your mini skirt at home!
- As with any church, you’ll be asked to take hats off on arrival
- Not that you would want to, but you can’t carry large bags or luggage around the museum. Leave them elsewhere, or use the free cloakroom for day packs
When is the best time to visit the Vatican Museums?
As a rule, the earlier you visit the Vatican Museums the better the experience you’re likely to have. People come from all over the world to see the Sistine Chapel and all the other holy heirlooms, so it can get busy.
October through April is low season, and midweek is generally less busy than weekends. But the best way to experience the Vatican Museums without the crowds is to book yourself an early-access ticket!
How much are tickets to the Vatican Museums?
Ticket prices for the Vatican Museums vary – there are different packages, tours, and inclusions attached to different tickets. For a basic, entry-only ticket you’re looking at around €20. Not so bad, considering it’s one of the most important cultural heritage sites in the world!
Roundtrip to Castel Gandolfo
The popes knew how to enjoy their summer holidays. Seated in the Alban Hills, the charming lakeside village of Castel Gandolfo – widely considered to be one of Italy’s most scenic towns – has been under the jurisdiction of the Vatican since the 16th century.
Arriving at the train station, you’ll hop on an open-top, eco-friendly shuttle bus to tour the Gardens of the Pontifical Villas. With vibrant flowers, well-trimmed bushes, and terraced slopes, this is horticulture at its best.
Visiting the Apostolic Palace
After experiencing the papal equivalent of a zen garden, you can opt to visit the Apostolic Palace. This summer residence was only opened (in a very limited fashion) to the public in 2014, making this a special opportunity for you to see what a papal holiday home looks like.
Explore Castel Gandolfo
Having explored the palatial grounds, you’ll have some free time in Castel Gandolfo, offering you the opportunity to stroll through the lakeside town. Quench your thirst with a glass (or two) of local wine at Antico Ristorante Pagnanelli. Not only is this the best wine bar in town (and a great restaurant!), it also has a lush green interior and stunning views of Lake Albano.
Alternatively, at Il Grottino you’ll find the most delicious mushroom fettuccine available on the slopes of the Alban Hills. Here, too, striking views are on the menu.
If you have time (and energy) left, head into town for a souvenir hunt. The Gandolfinis are an artistic bunch, as you’ll notice from the souvenirs they sell. Their hand-painted ceramics make for a great gift! You’ll be back at Roma San Pietro railway station at around 18:30.