Vatican Museum, How to visit

Tips, Guidelines and Tour Map of Vatican Museum

Why you might want to visit Vatican City and Vatican Museum

Vatican City is its own country situated in the city of Rome with a little over 900 residents and about 3000 employees. It is enclosed by a wall system and has its own post office and passport. It gained independence from Italy on February 11, 1929 and two days later the Vatican post office began operating from donated equipment and supplies issuing its first stamp on August 1, 1929.  Vatican City contains a number of buildings including administrative offices, post office, St Peters Basilica and St Peters Square, the Vatican museum, Chapels such as the Sistine Chapel plus residences and gardens. It is the only country on the World UNESCO heritage site list.

Entry points to Vatican City for tourists are either by using the St Peters Basilica entrance or the Vatican Museum Entrance. Both entrances require security lines, but there are no passport checks even though you are entering a different country. It does have its own stamps that can be purchased at the Vatican City post office or you can mail a letter home to yourself from the Vatican City post office

The Vatican Museum is the largest private collection in the world with over 9 million pieces including 70,000 works of art ranging from Egyptian Mummies, metallic and bronze works from the region of Etruria and paintings. Of those 20,000 are on display including museums, galleries, chapels and residences of previous popes

When to Visit Vatican Museum

The peak tourist season for Vatican visitors is usually mid-June to end of September. You will find the crowds, the prices and the temperature at their highest level. Vatican visitors peak at 25,000 a day politely jostling for a view of the artifact as they walk along 9 miles of museums, galleries and courtyards

The low season for Vatican visitors tends to be the winter months from October to March, where crowds, prices and temperatures are at their lowest

Shoulder season, just before you hit the peak is from April to Early June, however the shoulder season is starting to see more and more tourists in the Spring time

Vatican Museum Entrance: How to Visit Vatican City

  1. St Peters Basilica entrance is free and allows access to St Peters Square, however it does not allow access to the rest of Vatican City
  2. Vatican Museum Entrance – In order to enter Vatican City using this entrance, you will need to purchase tickets. The museum is closed on Sundays; it is free on the last Sunday of the month when it is really busy:
  3. The lineups can be very long, I recommend you purchase tickets in advance. There are a variety of packages and combinations (with Sistine Chapel and / or St Peters Basilica) that can be purchased online. The best is to purchase a skip the line tickets. Book online here options include combo entrance tickets (some with guided tours), select the one that best suits you. If you want entry tickets and tours of attractions nearby, several options are available here to book in advance.

How to Purchase Vatican Tickets

If you do not buy a ticket online during the peak tourist season, you could be waiting in line 2 hours to purchase a ticket. I suggest you purchase your Vatican tickets online and join the “skip the line” queue.  Keep in mind that if the lineup to get into the museum is at the corner of Viale Vaticano, you will have about 1.5 hours to wait to get to the ticket booth.  There is no signage so ask somebody who works at the museum where that line is, so don’t accidentally join the “purchase a ticket” line. There are several types of Vatican museum tickets you can purchase such as early breakfast, general tickets with a tour guide, etc

What to visit at the Vatican Museum: Vatican City Tour

How to Visit Vatican: Typical Route

Most people visit both the Vatican Museum (and City) and St Peter’s Basilica. The popular Vatican City tour plan is to start early (perhaps purchase early entry) and complete the museum attractions in the morning (with or without a guide). Then go to St Peters Basilica in the afternoon using the shortcut entrance from the Sistine Chapel to St Peters Basilica. This entrance is reserved for tour groups however many tourists that are not part of a tour group use this entrance. This is your typical Vatican City tour route

The typical Vatican City tour solves a number of problems such as lack of time or avoiding the 20 min walk from the Vatican Museum to St Peters Basilica from the outside and re-entering the security line at St Peters Basilica. Hence this is the favored route. However, the favored route means that you are part of the mass group of people on the same route at almost the same time.  The experience of the incredible treasures of the museum and the sheer beauty of the items on display within the Museum is greatly diminished by the immense volume of tourists during the busy tourist season

How to Visit Vatican: Beat the Morning Crowd

The Vatican museum is busiest on weekends and has the least amount of crowds on Tuesday and Thursdays. I would suggest that you start early at St Peters Basilica with the option to visit the Dome. Remember St Peters Basilica is closed the morning of a Papal audience. Once you have completed the tour of St Peters basilica and St Peters Square, exit into the street to go get some lunch.  The walk from St Peters Square to the Vatican Museum is about 20 min.  Aim to arrive at the Museum just before 2pm when the crowds are much less in the afternoon and the morning tour group visitors mostly gone.  You will need to go through a security check before you can enter the museum. Once, inside check at the entrance to see which of the museums, if any, are closed that day.

I would recommend you purchase your tickets online and join the “skip the line” queue to enter the museum with your online ticket. They stop accepting visitors at 4pm and they are open until 6pm. You should aim to be at the Sistine Chapel around 5:30pm, which will give you half hour in the chapel 

When you are done you can exit through the shortcut to St Peters Basilica from the Sistine Chapel or you can walk back about 10 min from where you entered the museum to exit onto the street outside the Vatican Museum. The shortcut is only for registered tour groups, you will be asked to show your registration card before you can enter to use the shortcut. If you had items not allowed into the museum or rented an audio guide, you will have to return to the entrance to pick up our personal belongs or return the audio guide. As such you should not use the short cut passageway from the Sistine Chapel to St Peters Basilica

How to Visit Vatican: plan your route to beat the crowd at the Vatican Museum

The crowds tend to be at the Octagonal Court (Pio-Clemntine Museum), the Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel so I would suggest you go these near the end of the day. To get to the Sistine Chapel you will have to use the one-way only long gallery of the upper floor (Gallery of Candelabra, Tapestry and Maps)

Start at the Pinacoteca Gallery, this is towards the RIGHT at the top of the last escalator when you enter the museum (everybody else is going left). Check the Vatican Museum self guided walking tour and Vatican map  to plan the rest of the route

Vatican Museum Map
Click on the map to access the interactive map for download

General Tips for visiting the Vatican Museum:

  • Winter visits between October and March are best to beat the crowds. You will still have crowds but not to the level you would have during the peak summer months
  • Tour groups for visitors start first thing in the morning, so you may want to go to the museum in the afternoon and go to the basilica in the morning. It will mean you have to go through two security lineups but also that you will be able to enjoy the museum as it will be less crowded
  • More crowded in the weekends, if you can try Tuesday or Thursday – those seem to be the days were the crowds are the least, but still plentyful
  • Closed Sunday, except the last Sunday of every month when it is free and very crowded
  • The papal audience is on Wednesday; check the schedule, this is when the pope holds an audience in St Peters Square, it is very crowded
  • If you come in the low season like November through February, the crowds are very manageable

How long to spend, Vatican Tour tips:

  • If you have 2-3 hours
    • Spend time at the Pio-Clementine Museum, the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel
  • If you have 3-4 hours
    • Spend time at the Pio-Clementine Museum, the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel AND the Pinacoteca Art Gallery, the Tapestry and Maps Galleries
  • If you add St Peters Basilica to your tour, it will take you about an hour. If you want to climb St Peters Dome and visit the tombs or the Scavi/Excavation (Necropolis) than add two hours plus extra time have coffee at the rooftop cafe

Food inside Vatican Museum

There is a self-service style cafeteria in the Museum and a snack bar where you can get reasonably priced pizza. You can bring a snack to eat in the courtyard (not in the exhibition halls), however no big backpacks with lunches as all big backpacks are checked in at the security desk before entering

Vatican Museum Gardens

The garden was first planted during the time of Pope Nicholas II sometime in the early 12th century when he moved his official residence; the area was then enclosed the area with walls. Over the millennium, there have been several upgrades and landscaping including one in the 16th century where the area was split into three courtyards: The Belvedere Courtyard, The Pigna Courtyard and the Library Courtyard. Today the Vatican Garden comprise of 57 acres in French, Italian and English styles with statues, geometric patterns, natural and artificial elements such as caves, trees, streams, shrubs, temples, pergolas and ruins. You can only visit the gardens with a guide. Vatican tickets for the gardens can be booked on line at the Vatican museum website or through private tour companies

Two ways to Tour the Vatican Gardens:

Buy Vatican tickets from the Vatican museum sight for:

  • Vatican Garden Tour for individuals (2 hours)
  • Vatican Gardens tour by bus (Great for those with mobility issues, takes about 45 min)

Ticket to tour the gardens, include the regular day entry fee into the museum, allow you to skip the lineup to enter the museum. A strategy to beat the crowds would be to tour the gardens in the morning and enter the museum in the afternoon when the crowds have decreased and then tour St Peters Basilica later in the day or another day

Keep in mind that once you enter the Vatican Gardens, you cannot exit for lunch and then re-enter the Gardens or the Museum. The ticket is not a re-entry ticket. You will have to go from the gardens into the museum or leave the gardens and line up to pay another entry fee when you return

Friday night or Sunday visit to Vatican Museum

Occasionally the Vatican Museum is open on a Friday night from 6-11pm (they start asking you to leave at 10:30pm) or Sunday Morning (usually its closed on Sundays). The entry fee is the same as the daytime entry however there are hardly any crowds and it’s a good way to see the museum without the crowds.  Check the Vatican museum ticket site for days and times for these special events.  Keep in mind that you have to book in advance so they can adequately staff the tour or venue based on numbers booked, so don’t wait until the last minute as you will not get a ticket

How to get to Vatican Museum and Vatican City

How to get to Vatican: Using the Subway / Metro

Main Metro/Subway lines are Metro A (red line) and Metro B (Blue line). The main train station is Termini

To get to the Vatican using the metro, you would need Line A and get off at either Ottaviano-St. Pietro or Cipro Museui Vatican. As you may have guessed St Pietro is the station closest to St. Peters Basilica and Cipro is closest to the Vatican Museum. It is a 20 min walk between the St Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museum.

When you get off at the appropriate station, it’s about a 5-minute walk; just follow the crowds!

The metro does not run through most of historic Rome and depending on where you are staying it may be easier to take a bus

How to get to Vatican: Using the bus

You are not able to purchase a bus ticket on the bus. You can purchase one at the metro station, or newspaper stands or at tobacco/tabachi shops (Blue sign with a big white T, indicates that metro and bus tickets are sold here). I usually buy tickets from the metro station and keep it with me to validate and use when I need it rather than looking for a shop. Tickets must be validated. There is a yellow validation machine when you board the bus/tram or enter the metro platform. Children under 10 are free

Bus Routes:

Bus #40 (Express) – stops: – Termini – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Piazza Pia (for St Peter’s/Vatican)
Bus #62 – stops: Repubblica – Spanish Steps – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Vatican
Bus #64 – stops: Termini – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Vatican
Bus #64 – stops: Termini – Piazza Venezia – Argentina – Vatican
Bus #81 – stops: Vatican Museums – Piazza Imperatore (Spanish Steps) – Piazza Colonna (Trevi Fountain) – Piazza Venezia – Circo Massimo – Colosseum
Tram # 19– Piazza Risorgimento (Vatican) – Villa Borghese

Other Sites in Italy

  • Visit the Roman Colosseum. Click on the Roman Colosseum attractions map HERE and accompanying Colosseum attractions guide HERE
  • Take the Rome attractions map and self guided tour: It includes the Vatican City attractions map HERE and the Vatican attractions guide HERE
  • Self Guided Walking tour to explore the neighborhood of Trastevere with map of attractions HERE and guide of attractions HERE
  • Visit St Peters Basilica. Explore all the attractions in St Peter’s Basilica with the attractions guide HERE
  • One of my favorite places is the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The map of attractions is HERE and the self guided walking tour is HERE
  • Self Guided Walking Tours – Day Trips from Rome
    • Visit Pompeii with a complete self guided tour map HERE and the attractions guide to the 49 points of interest HERE
    • Spend the day in Florence, this was by far one of my best day trips. The self guided walking tour map is HERE and the attractions guide is HERE