The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are one of the few artistic ensembles in the world that seem out of time and space: when you look up to admire them you have the sensation of seeing something both ancient and modern, and the feeling of awe is so great that you can only wonder how something so impressive could have been created.
The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums, so to visit it you will need to purchase a ticket or take a guided tour of this museum. Read on and I'll tell you what options you have to visit one of the greatest artistic treasures in the world and some tips to make the most of your visit.
How to buy tickets to visit the Sistine Chapel
To access the Sistine Chapel you will need to have a ticket to the Vatican Museums: it is best to book online and in advance, to avoid queues and make sure you get availability at the best price. In Hellotickets you will find the cheapest guided tours in English and you will have the option to cancel the ticket or the tour if you have an unforeseen event. Choose here the option that best suits you:
Buy tickets at the box office for the Sistine Chapel
You can buy tickets at the Vatican Museums ticket office, but it is something that I do not recommend at all. The queue is so long that it literally goes around the Vatican walls (you will see it if you ever walk around there and it will really catch your attention to see such a long queue). My advice is to buy them online and in advance to make sure you have a slot on the day and time you decide.
Tickets to the Vatican Museums
To make a visit on your own, buying your ticket online to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel is the best option. You will avoid waiting in line to enter this busy tourist attraction, whose crowds are the only thing that can certainly ruin your experience.
You will have priority access to the Vatican Museums, at the entrance of which you will receive a map and a short orientation on the recommended tour, and you will be able to enter the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms.
With these tickets, you can stay in the Vatican Museums as long as you want to visit the rooms at your own pace.
I recommend it if...
If you avoid tour groups and don't need a guide to visit the Vatican Museums.
Visit the Vatican with an Early Access Premium Ticket
If you're looking for the premium experience to visit the Sistine Chapel, this is it. This is a small group tour of the Vatican, with the particularity that you will enter the Vatican at dawn, avoiding the crowds and exploring this impressive place in the exclusive company of your group.
As you can imagine, the Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, so avoiding the crowds and admiring it in peace will completely change your experience.
I recommend it if...
If you are looking for the perfect Sistine Chapel experience, by avoiding the crowds of tourists and tour the Vatican first thing in the morning.
How to skip the lines to enter the Sistine Chapel
The queues to get into the Vatican Museums and the popular Sistine Chapel can last several hours, something that undoubtedly complicates the enjoyment of the experience. Therefore, it is best to buy tickets online, avoid going through the ticket office and when booking, take an option that guarantees that you will skip the queues. For example with this guided tour of the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's you will have direct access without having to wait.
Sistine Chapel opening hours and best time to visit the Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel can be visited Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. The last entrance is at 4:30 pm and around 5:30 pm all visitors to the Vatican begin to leave.
The best time to visit the Sistine Chapel is early morning, either with an Early Bird tour or at the first entrance after opening. It is usually less crowded on Thursdays and Fridays. You can also visit the Vatican Museums just before closing to avoid the crowds, but you risk being closed before completing your visit.
On the last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums, and Sistine Chapel are open from 9 am to 2:30 pm, with the last entry at noon. On this day, the entrance to the Sistine Chapel is free, so it can be a good option if you are on a tight budget, but I do not recommend it as the queues to enter and the crowds are monstrous.
A very nice experience can be to visit the Vatican Museums at night; they are open on Friday nights from 7 pm to 11 pm, from mid-April to the end of October.
Tips for visiting the Sistine Chapel
Here are some tips I learned on my visit to the Sistine Chapel that will help you save time and tour the vastness of the Vatican as if you've already been there.
How to find the Sistine Chapel
To reach the Sistine Chapel as soon as you enter the Vatican, go up the escalators and turn left and you will reach the courtyard of the Pineapple Courtyard. Go through the courtyard and turn left, where you will find a flight of stairs.
Go through the octagonal courtyard, and into the Round Room, where you will see Nero's bathtub. Now turn left, go through the room of Constantine's tomb, go up the stairs, head to the Hall of Tapestries and go straight ahead until you find the Sistine Chapel.
Clothing and photographs
To visit a place whose nickname is the Holy See, you know you have to wear appropriate attire (as you do for so many other places of worship in Rome, so for your visit to the Sistine Chapel you'll be used to it by now). You have to wear knees and shoulders fully covered, even in summer. My advice is to wear a light sweater that you can easily put on, or pack a big scarf or foulard.
And no, you can't take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel for several reasons, especially to avoid a possible flash spoiling the frescoes that decorate it. The guards are very attentive to this, and will yell at you if they see you taking pictures either with a camera or with your cell phone, and if they catch you several times they can even get you out of the room. So enjoy your visit and admire with your own eyes the breathtaking beauty that you will have in front of you.
What you should know before booking
- When you book your tickets or tour, you will receive a confirmation email at the address you provided. My advice is to open it to check that everything is correct and keep it in prominent emails, to have it handy at Vatican access or at the meeting point with your guide.
- You can get a 100% refund if you want to cancel the experience, but be careful because only if you make the return 24 hours before the day of the experience. To return your tickets or cancel the tour, go to the email and look for the instructions.
- On Wednesdays you cannot enter St. Peter's Basilica because it is the day of the papal audience. My advice is to book for any day other than Wednesday so you can include this visit in your tour of the Vatican.
- If you have purchased or plan to purchase the Omnia Card, keep in mind that it includes admission to the Vatican Museums, so you can save yourself from having to buy it separately. That said, if you want to take a tour you'll have to book it separately.
What else to see at the Vatican Museums
Here are the rooms that impressed me the most during my visit to the Vatican Museums in no particular order, just for your reference. In total, seeing everything first thing in the morning and at my own pace, it took me about 3 hours.
- Vatican Picture Gallery: This palace houses more than 400 works of art by painters such as Giotto and Fra Angelico, leading exponents of the earliest Renaissance, and Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio.
- Collection of contemporary religious art: Throughout 55 rooms you can find about 800 works by artists such as Chagall, Dali, Gauguin, Kandinsky and Van Gogh, something I definitely did not expect to find in the Vatican.
- Pio-Clementine Museum: There are several rooms dedicated to the exhibition of Greek and Roman sculptures, some of them very famous like the Apollo of Belvedere, the Apoxymene or the Aphrodite of Cnido. I especially recommend you to take a walk here.
- Gregorian Egyptian Museum: Here are kept archaeological remains and works of art from Egyptian, Assyrian, Mesopotamian, and other ancient cultures, mainly from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli.
- Raphael's Rooms: The most important visit of the Vatican Museums after the Sistine Chapel. There are 4 rooms displaying frescoes by Raphael and members of his school.
- Hall of the Immaculate Conception: A room entirely decorated with frescoes dedicated to the life of the Virgin Mary.
- Gallery of Maps: Here is housed what is probably the largest cartographic collection in the world, displayed on the walls of an impressive gallery.
- Sistine Chapel: I don't think you'll forget to visit the Sistine Chapel on your visit to the Vatican Museums, but since stranger things have been seen here I'll leave it here to close the list just in case.
Other worthwhile experiences in Rome
Not everything in Rome is about visiting its monuments and historic buildings. Many people focus on all the places they must enter and all the must-see attractions, only to realize at the end of their trip that they missed what really mattered: getting to know the city. So that you don't miss anything, I leave you with an article that will guide you in choosing the best tour of Rome, an experience I highly recommend: Best Rome Tours.
And although they don't have the splendor and immensity of the Vatican's exhibition halls, the Capitoline Museums is a worthwhile visit that is usually not included in the more typical tourist circuits. If you want to read more about this museum, I have written a guide that will help you when planning a visit: Capitoline Museums tickets.