With the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Square and dome as main landmarks, the Vatican is a must-see among the things to see and do in Rome. The history behind its walls is not read in textbooks and that is one of the main reasons to visit them.
The experience of visiting the Vatican Museums on your own is totally different from visiting them with a specialized guide who explains and contextualizes the centuries of art of these museums. Choosing a tour among the many options can be overwhelming, but these are the best options:
When selecting the best guided tours of the Vatican, I suggest you consider options like the small group Vatican tour includes virtually the same as the general tour with a slightly higher price.
The big difference is that you will go in a group of 12-14 people maximum. This also allows you to be closer to the guide, which will make it easier for you to ask him all your questions.
Why this option is recommended: In other places it is not so important, but the Vatican Museums are crowded (unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks of the place is the noise despite being in a museum) and the guide can not raise his voice, so if he addresses a small group it will be much better.
Private tour of the Vatican
If you want to avoid groups, go at your own pace and have a personalized explanation, this is the best private tour of the Vatican.
This option of a private tour of the Vatican allows you to tailor the tour according to the areas of the museums you are most interested in (most of the time the guides have no problem in modifying the tour and are even happy to go off the official itinerary) and, of course, to receive personalized explanations that you will get much more out of.
The time in the Sistine Chapel (the star of the Vatican Museums) will be enough to perfectly explain the frescoes there and not to get lost in the amount of information behind the paintings.
In addition to explanations about specific works, this private tour of the Vatican also includes interesting information about what to see and do in the Vatican such as observing the architecture of the area, learning about the political and religious life of the Vatican (worthy of a series and in fact there are several) and anecdotes that most tourists do not know.
Why this option is recommended: Having a private guide for you and your group is a luxury. You will be able to ask him all your questions and curiosities and of course, he will put more emphasis on the explanations of the points that interest you the most.
Why book skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican?
When you arrive at the gates of St. Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museums you will be infinitely grateful to carry your tickets in your pocket or on your phone and not have to wait to go through the ticket office. At Hellotickets, all the tickets for the Vatican and the guided tours you book for the Vatican include the option to skip the line, which is essential to enter the Museum fresh and not have to wait in line for several hours and enter already tired.
Keep this in mind if you are considering buying tickets at the ticket office once you arrive in Rome, because in that case the waits will be long and could spoil your experience visiting the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter's Basilica.
What you should know about guided tours of the Vatican
By hiring a guided tour (and this works in virtually all cases) you can stop worrying about times, routes and waits (the vast majority of Vatican tours are queue-free). Although it may seem paradoxical, you feel less like a tourist with guided tours because the only concern is the stories the guide is telling.
There are refund options if you cancel 24 hours in advance. This allows you, in case of unforeseen circumstances, to adapt your plans without losing your money. When making your reservation, make sure that tickets are included and ensure queue-free access: although it may seem basic, nothing should be taken for granted.
Organize your guided tour of the Vatican
Although there are several times to visit the Vatican with a guided tour, it is recommended that you choose the early morning to avoid coinciding with the peak hours of the Vatican Museums.
What to bring
One of the main tips to keep in mind when visiting the Vatican is to wear a jacket or scarf to cover shoulders and necklines at the entrance and during the visit, as the Vatican is very strict with the dress code. As for the receipt of the visit, you can present it to the guide from your cell phone and he will provide you with the tickets if they have not been previously sent to you in digital format.
How to get to the Vatican
The Vatican is far from the historic center of Rome, but, unlike what many people think, you can reach the Vatican from the center of Rome walking from tourist spots such as Piazza Navona or Campo di Fiori. In any case, the easiest way to get there is to take metro line A to Ottaviano S. Pietro.
Once there, the guide will explain where the meeting point of the guided tour is depending on the tour you choose: all of them are usually easy to find and the guide will have a clearly recognizable object for you to spot in the crowd.
The Vatican tour lasts about three hours, although the total time can vary and lengthen (it will rarely be less). If you want to see the most important parts of the Vatican Museums in depth, without rushing around and soaking up the guide's explanations, a tour of less than this time is not recommended. If you are going to visit the Vatican on your own, you might be interested in this post about the duration of Vatican tours.
Lunch in the area
Leave the area for lunch unless your guide gives you a specific recommendation for eating near the Vatican. Keep in mind that most places near St. Peter's Square will be expensive and some may commit the grave sin of offering you a reheated plate of pasta or pizza.
If you are going to continue touring the area after your visit, it will be sufficient to stay away from the central areas or ask your guide for a recommendation. Fortunately, Italy is one of the easiest European countries to eat well and cheaply.
Tour with children
It is not recommended that you take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums with children unless it is specifically adapted for them. The tour is long for the little ones, the museums are crowded and neither they nor you will enjoy the advantages of a guided tour of the Vatican. As for strollers, they can be a real chaos at peak times.
If you have a special interest in art and painting, you may find the general tour short; after all, the Vatican has one of the largest art collections in the world. If you are an art history enthusiast, I would say don't rule out coming back another day to explore the collection in depth or book a private individual tour.
Ana's Traveller Tip
Avoid hiring the "guides" who will approach you in St. Peter's Square. Many are unofficial and are not qualified to give a quality guided tour.
Frequently asked questions by travelers interested in the Vatican guided tour of Rome
How should I dress in the Vatican?
Because of the particular idiosyncrasies of the place, one of the main rules of the Vatican is to wear "decorous" clothing. That means no hats, suspenders, necklines, pants or short skirts. If it is summer when you visit the Vatican you can wear a long-sleeved shirt or scarf for when you have to enter St. Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museums.
Is it hot in Vatican City?
Not as much as at the Colosseum or the Forum, but yes. The museums are under cover, but in St. Peter's Square there is no shade. So, even if you are not going to stand in line to enter the Vatican Museums, since you are going on a guided tour, bring water and sunscreen.
Can I enter the Vatican Museums with a backpack?
If it's not a large backpack or luggage, yes. Otherwise, you will have to leave it at the ticket office. In any case it is not advisable to go loaded to any of the excursions you do in Rome; this is a city to walk around and any extra weight will make it difficult for you to enjoy it.
Can I bring food into the Vatican Museums?
Eating and drinking is not allowed in the exhibition halls, so if you have provisions in your backpack or purse, do not take them out while visiting the exhibition.
Can I take pictures inside the Vatican?
In the Vatican Museums, flash and selfie sticks are not allowed. You may take photos with your cell phone and with a camera that does not involve professional accessories (for the latter you must ask for a special permit).
In the case of St. Peter's Basilica, remember that you are in a place of worship; although many tourists do not respect it, it is not appropriate to be taking pictures while visitors are trying to enjoy the seclusion that the place should transmit. Reserve your memory card for the rest of the wonders you will see in Rome or for the views of St. Peter's Square from the dome.
Is it worth climbing St. Peter's Dome?
Although the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is free and you will surely see it during the guided tour of the Vatican, the climb to the dome of St. Peter's is charged separately. If you are fit and do not suffer from claustrophobia it is worth doing. Otherwise from the Gianicolo hill you will have a very similar view of St. Peter's Square.
Can I visit the Vatican Museums at night?
Some Fridays of the year the Vatican Museums are open during the afternoon-evening (although there are usually no tours at this time). Find out when they are and take the opportunity to visit them if you are in Rome, as they are usually much less crowded.
What if I only want tickets for the Vatican?
Of course, there is also the option of buying tickets to the Vatican without any kind of guided tour. It is true that this will allow you to know the whole area at your own pace without having to be attentive to the explanations of a guide, but on the other hand, you will miss the charm of knowing in detail the explanation of all the art, the way of life and the curiosities that hides the Vatican. The price of tickets to the Vatican without a guided tour, however, will be lower and you can benefit from discounts on tickets to the Vatican if you meet certain age or profession requirements.
Other guided tours in Rome
Another guided tour that may also interest you if you go to the Vatican is the visit to the Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica. This visit requires a special permit because it gives access to the place where the apostle is buried, but there are some specialized tours that offer this visit.
As for other worthwhile guided tours in Rome, without hesitation the favorite is the visit of the Colosseum and the Forum of Rome. The area has nothing to do with the Vatican, but it is the other must-see of the eternal city and the history it carries with it is fascinating, which is why there are combined tickets for the Vatican and the Colosseum.
Frequently asked questions
Is there a dress code for the Vatican Museums?
Yes, it is best to avoid shorts and skirts that do not cover the knee, as well as sleeveless clothing and sandals. The best advice is to wear a long, cool dress, accompanied by a shawl or jacket, or simply jeans and a T-shirt.
Is there a guided tour that will allow me to enter the Sistine Chapel directly?
The Sistine Chapel is one of the many rooms of the Vatican Museums. However, if you are not too interested in getting to know the Museums in depth, you can choose the express guided tour that will take you quickly to the Chapel.
Do the tours include St. Peter's Basilica and when is the best time to visit?
If the guided tour you choose does not include a visit to the Basilica, you can do it before or after visiting the Vatican Museums.