We could spend years in Rome and never finish discovering its nooks and crannies. The Eternal City, as its name suggests, always has something new to offer. But since, unfortunately, our vacations and travel times don't last forever, I'll tell you how much time you'll need to visit each of its key points - I'm sure it will help you organize your visit!
How long does it take to visit the Vatican Museums?
The Vatican Museums are infinite: there are thousands of works, frescoes, busts, statues and galleries where you could get lost for days. But it is recommended to spend two to three hours to discover the essential works.
If you buy tickets for the Vatican to discover the museums on your own, first organize which rooms you are most interested in so as not to wander aimlessly through the museums. You can also ask for an audio guide at the door to help you find your way around. Personally, I recommend stopping at the map room, the busts room and, above all, the Sistine Chapel.
If you join a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, it will usually last between two and three hours. The guide will stop to explain the main rooms and will give you a summary of the main artists who participated in the creation of the most important works of the museums.
How much time do I need to discover the Sistine Chapel?
It is a diaphanous room full of details and if you want to appreciate them well, I recommend that you buy your ticket to the Sistine Chapel and spend at least 20 to 30 minutes there. If you join a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel (which I recommend 100% to contextualize well the works you will see), the guide will make a previous explanation of the most popular Michelangelo's frescoes of the vault of the Chapel.
Please note that inside the Chapel you can not talk (or take pictures) and must maintain strict silence, so the guides make the relevant explanations before accessing the tour, in front of explanatory panels at the doors of the museum. This helps you to better concentrate on the details and appreciate the grandeur of the place.
How long does it take to climb St. Peter's Dome?
To climb St. Peter's Dome you will need at least an hour and a half. To this you will also have to add the waiting time, whether you walk up or use the elevator for the section where it is available. Keep in mind that there are many visitors wanting to make the ascent to the Dome every day and the lines can be long.
Keep in mind that the way up is quite narrow and that once at the top you will want to stop (to rest) and enjoy the wonderful views of Rome, so calculate about 90 minutes to go up, stop at the top for a while and come back down. Take it easy and think that this is a unique experience that you have to do at least once in your life. I tell you more details here: Climbing St. Peter's Dome in Rome.
How much time will I need to tour St. Peter's Basilica?
To tour St. Peter's Basilica you will need between 60 and 90 minutes, whether you do it on your own or join a guided tour. In addition to the enormous dimensions of the nave of the Basilica, as you walk through the temple you will find small chapels, images and real works of art such as Michelangelo's Pietà, a sculpture carved in marble to which you will undoubtedly dedicate several minutes, because it is worth it.
When you visit St. Peter's Basilica, stop also to contemplate the huge dome and its details from the inside, as well as the giant bronze Baldachinus (or atrium) that you will find in the middle of the Basilica. Depending on the number of visitors that day, they may set up "lanes" to form a circuit, but if there are not many people, you can move around at your own pace. Also note that the long queues for access, if you have not booked a guided tour, can last up to two hours.
How long does the visit to the Vatican Necropolis and crypts last?
The visit to the Necropolis must always be accompanied by an official Vatican guide and always lasts 90 minutes. It is the perfect time to discover the galleries and to understand the history and the rituals of the Popes' burials.
The site is quite narrow and is considered a very delicate sacred place whose preservation is fundamental for the Vatican officials, so you will not have the opportunity to walk around the area at your leisure and you will not have free time during this visit to the Vatican Necropolis and Crypts.
How long will it take me to explore St. Peter's Square?
Access to St. Peter's Square is free and there is no time limit to be in there. Personally, I recommend that you spend an hour there, walk around the circular colonnade, admire the details of the central obelisk and the fountains that guard it.
Nor would I rule out buying an ice cream and take it sitting under the spectacular columns while contemplating the facade of San Pedro. It will also be a good place to rest before or after an intense visit to the Basilica or the Museums.
Keep in mind that if you have not booked a tour of St. Peter's Basilica, you will have to wait in line to enter the temple in the middle of the square, which usually lasts up to two hours, so you will have time to see it (even if it is from your place in line!).
How long is the Papal Audience on Sundays?
The Papal Audience usually lasts less than an hour. The Pope will come out to greet the pilgrims from the various congregations who gather in St. Peter's Square to hear his blessing. During the Audience he usually reads the Gospel and greets the religious groups that are there that day.
Normally, even if you reserve your ticket for the papal audience, you will have to arrive well in advance to get a good spot (although there are usually screens where you can see it bigger), so you will need to spend a couple of hours on Sunday morning. If you want to know more details, you can check my guide on how to watch the Papal Audience at the Vatican.
How much time should I spend in total in Vatican City?
If this is your first time in the Vatican and you want to visit at least the Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, you will need at least half a day (you can visit in the morning or in the afternoon). To avoid unnecessarily long visits, plan ahead and book your tickets in advance: you will skip long lines and enter the Museums and the Basilica more rested.
If in addition to the basic visits you want to complete the experience in Vatican City with the climb to the Dome or the guided tour of the Necropolis, I recommend you to block a whole day in Vatican City so you don't have to rush and enjoy every visit to the fullest.