Visiting the Vatican Museums has always been on my list of “things to do in Rome” since I moved here in 2010. It took me a while to bring myself to go, especially because I know how much time you have to wait in line and the amount of people inside. Can you believe that the Vatican Museums are among the most attended museums in the world with about 6 million visits every year? If there’s one thing that bothers me is having to see an exhibition or a museum among thousands of other people and how probably many of you already do, I always try to choose the best time to avoid having to run into waves of tourists. But this isn’t always possible and in the case of the Vatican Museums seems to be a really complicated undertaking. Expecting to find the Sistine Chapel empty is insane (although I will give you a little advice about it), but there’s a a way to avoid those kilometric lines. Today, after facing this beautiful, but also challenging visit to the Vatican Museums, I am ready to give you some practical advice on how to best prepare yourself when you decide to go there.
Buy the ticket
Let’s start from the beginning. When and how to make the ticket. This is the most precious tip I can give you. If you wake up in the morning and think “ok, I’ll go visit the Vatican Museums today” well, keep in mind that it won’t go as you expect. Best case scenario, you will stand an hour in line before you can see the museum entrance from a distance. Worst, you decide to give up and probably never come back, thinking it’s madness to do all that queue to visit a museum. You might even run into a resounding stroke of luck: getting there, not finding anyone and entering without problems, but the chances are poor. So, follow this simple advice: buy the ticket online. I know it sounds trivial, but it works. Buying the ticket in advance, you will skip the line and you will enter directly.
How to do it? All you have to do is go to the official website of the Vatican Museums and choose the ticket you want. There are so many possibilities depending of what kind of visitor you are (individuals, families, groups…) and what kind of visit you want to do (with or without a guide, private, at night, with breakfast, etc…). Once you’ve chosen the ticket that’s right for you, click on link at the top right “Skip the line and book online”.
At this point you must enter the day and time of the visit and conclude with the payment.
If you book your ticket online you will spend 4€ more than the cost of the basic ticket, but you will have the option to change the date and time of the ticket up to one hour before the visit already booked.
With the voucher you will receive via email, you can enter the museum directly skipping the line. You can print or show it by phone or tablet. Before passing the last turnstile to access the museum remember to change the voucher at the cash desk, where you will be handed the actual ticket.
Timetables and prices
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm (last admission at 4pm) and the last Sunday of each month from 9am to 2pm (last admission at 12.30pm). Here you can consult the closing days.
The full ticket, if bought at the museum, costs 17€, online booking costs 21€ while on the first Sunday of the month admission is free (but not bookable online). All the ticket prices are available here.
A vast collection is contained within the Vatican Museums. The visit is long and challenging and almost certainly it will be impossible to see everything. In my opinion, it’s important to decide what you want to see before visiting, so as to arrive already prepared. A quick visit will take a minimum of 3 hours; if you wish to make a more detailed visit, you will probably spend the whole day there, so you factor in the closing time.
Inside the Museums you will find various cafes, toilets, a wardrobe, bookshop and souvenir shops.
The collection is monumental and contains works of every age and genre. Inside, a collection of finds from ancient Egypt and of Etruscan, Greek and Roman art. There is an art gallery with works ranging from the Middle Ages to the 1800s. There are also frescoes by Raphael. But not only that: there is also a section dedicated to modern and contemporary art with works by Matisse, Chagall and Dalì, to name a few.
Every part of the museum contains something precious and even just walking in the long corridors, admiring the structure of the Museum, is a special experience. The choice of what to see and not to see is personal and depends on your tastes, but I want to give you some advice.
Anyone entering the Vatican Museums wants to see the Sistine Chapel. I won’t write a lot about it because I’m sure you already know what awaits you by entering a place where one of the most famous works of art in the world is exposed.
Know that the Sistine Chapel is always so full of people that at times it’s almost difficult to cross it. If your biggest wish is to see it less crowded, the only useful advice I can give you is the following: make it so to be the first to enter the Museum. Go to the entrance (with the ticket previously purchased) a little before the opening and once inside, go straight to the Sistine Chapel following the short path. Then calmly go back to see what you left behind.
Gallery of Geographical Maps
One of the most spectacular room is the so-called Geographical Maps. A corridor 120 meters long and 6 meters wide, frescoed with 40 geographical maps created between 1581 and 1583 by Ignazio Danti at the behest of Pope Gregory XIII.
Walking around this gallery (according to the will of the author of the frescoes) is like walking on the crest of the Apennines, looking east towards the Adriatic sea and west towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, to admire Italy from above. The brightness of the ceiling and its gold decorations make this gallery wonderful.
Look down, look up and look out
Here’s a very personal advice for you. The works of art contained in this museum are of exceptional value and interest, but don’t forget to always look around. The ceilings, floors and views are an equally precious treasure that you must not miss.
Cortile della Pigna
Surely a break during your visit can only do you good.
Take advantage of the Cortile della Pigna where you can admire two sculptures so incredibly distant in time, but equally astonishing. From one side the huge pinecone made in the 2nd century AD in bronze and on the other the Sfera con Sfera by Arnoldo Pomodoro given in 1990 from the artist to the Museum.
At the end of the visit, try to save some energy to admire one last great beauty: the Helicoidal Staircase by Giuseppe Momo that will lead you to the exit of the Museum. In fact, it will be impossible for you not to see it because you will have to follow it to exit the museum. This monumental staircase (probably one of the most photographed in the world!) was built in 1932 and it’s a double spiral staircase: one ramp is used to climb and one to go down. Today, the staircase is accessible only downhill and marks the end of the museum itinerary. In 1999, a new entrance to the Museum was opened, and the one that originally was the main one today serves as the exit.
Being the Vatican Museums one of the most visited museums in the world, it is also subject to a series of rules to be followed. I would like to end this post by giving you some tips for the visit.
Pay attention to your clothing especially in summer: no loose clothing, shorts or miniskirts are allowed.
Large backpacks and bags, as well as umbrellas, should be stored in the wardrobe.
Photographs are allowed throughout the Museum, but without flash and without a tripod. Only within the Sistine Chapel is it forbidden to take photos.
For those visiting with small children, it’s permitted to bring a stroller.
At the entrance there is a check with a metal detector, try to speed up the operation by depositing objects not allowed in advance.
One last, very useful tip: the whole museum route is 7 km so wear comfortable shoes!
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