Buy skip-the-line tickets to visit the Vatican Museum and see the Sistine Chapel or book tours online with early timeslot reservations to avoid crowds and endless queues. Evening tours, if available, are also more pleasant.
Advance purchase online skip-the-line tickets or guided tours are the only sensible way to visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, which are among the most popular sights to see in Rome and Italy. Early morning or evening tours are the best way to see the Sistine Chapel without unpleasant crowds. Buying tickets online in advance is almost essential – queuing at the museum is a waste of time and may take hours. The Vatican Museum gets very full and tickets sell out often several weeks in advance — book time-slot admissions or tours as early as possible.
Best Times to See the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
The best times to see the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum are early morning before the museum opens to the general public, or evening tours on some summer weekends. Of course, seeing the museum in the quieter periods costs more than the standard museum admission. Even admission-only tickets get more expensive if high demand is expected.
Failing to secure a very early morning or evening time-slot reservation, the best time to visit the Vatican Museum is probably in the afternoon after 14:00 or two to three hours before standard closing time. The museum will be crowded but mornings at opening time are often worse.
If money is no factor, the following are the best options to see the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel:
- Waking Up the Vatican Tour – the tour starts at 6 am to see the Sistine Chapel when it really is empty. Unfortunately, this tour for 20 only hasn’t been available for some time but it is worth checking if it comes back. It was very expensive though.
- Early Morning Tours – enter the Vatican Museum around an hour before the general public.
- Friday Evening Tours – the Vatican Museum is open 7 pm to 11 pm on many Friday and Saturday evenings (usually 8 pm on Saturday) from April to October.
- Guided Tours – a huge variety is available, compare details before booking. The museum is physically big so even short tours are at least two hours with three hours or more common, especially if St Peter’s Basilica is included, and nearly five hours if climbing the dome too.
- Combination Tickets – offers some savings and often timed-admission tickets when online skip-the-line tickets are no longer available.
- Skip-the-Line Tickets – the cheapest time-slot admission option, although admission-only tickets are hard to actually buy online from the museum. Legitimate resellers (including Tiqets, Get Your Guide, Viator) may have tickets available but add a surcharge to the surcharge. Compare offers as availability differs and prices go up in peak periods — sometimes a standard tour will be hardly more expensive and it is possible to stay in the museum afterward.
- Buy Tickets at the Museum in person – cheapest but queues are usually very long and slow-moving even in the off-season. Arriving at the Vatican without tickets for the museum is trying to save at the wrong end.
Avoid backpacks or other bags – these must be left at the entrance and retrieved at the same point. Tours often end elsewhere in the museum with shortcuts out — often allowing visitors to skip the endless security line to access St Peter’s Cathedral.
Being on time for tours is essential — visitors on group tickets may only enter the museum with the tour guide and cannot catch up later.
The modesty dress code is strictly enforced: All visitors, including children, must have knees and shoulders covered – this rule is not open to interpretation or debate and is applied in high summer too. The guards are always right (and they know it).
Early Morning Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel Tours
Early morning tours that give access to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel around an hour before the official opening for general visitors are a good choice to see the art in relative peace and quiet. However, note that many tours are possible at this hour — tours do not give exclusive access but this early, the museum and especially the Sistine Chapel will be much quieter than the scrum that follows right after normal opening hours.
These early morning tours should start at least an hour before the official opening time of the museum, otherwise, the early tour is simply entering at the normal opening time when it is very busy.
It is important to double-check what is on offer before signing up for one of the early morning Vatican tours. The cheapest tours simply get individual visitors into the museum and pointed in the right direction – fine for travelers not interested in guided tours but a surprise for those expecting to be guided through the museum. Admission-only tickets are not sold but visitors may abandon the tour at any time if desired.
Other tours accompany visitors to the Sistine Chapel with a very brief introduction while full accompanied guided tours are also popular. Some tours include a breakfast buffet (mixed reviews) in the Pinecone Courtyard.
The guided tours of the museum and Sistine Chapel may be more expensive but add more value than the cheaper admission and limited assistance tours. Longer guided tours often rush to the Sistine Chapel while it is quiet before taking visitors back to the other highlights of the museum. Due to the one-way system, these tours commonly pass through the Sistine Chapel again around two hours later, as a handy reminder of how much more pleasant early admission is. Small groups are often worth the extra expense.
Also, note where the tour ends. Some include a tour of St Peter’s, which offers a handy shortcut from the Sistine Chapel but does not allow a further visit to the Vatican Museum. Alternatively, tour members may stay inside the museum at the end of the tour to revisit galleries or to see other parts of the museum.
Night Time Tours of the Vatican Museum
On most Friday and Saturday evenings from April to October, the Vatican Museum is open after normal opening hours. On these nights, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are open from 19:00 to 22:30 (usually only 20:00 on Saturday) with final admissions around two hours before closing time.
Advance online purchase is essential for these evening visits as night tickets are not sold at the museum and many are in combination with tours, a drink, or small meals (generally better rated than the breakfasts). Sistine Chapel by Night admission-only tickets are often easier to buy than regular day-time tickets but the price is hardly cheaper than tickets including at least a drink.
Evening tours are a good option for travelers not keen on crowds but unable to be at the Vatican for an early morning start. The nighttime tours often sell out – book well in advance.
Other Skip-the-Line Options for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Many further options are available to beat the queues outside the Vatican Museum but once inside, the museum may well be very busy. Still being inside the busy museum is better than being outside in a queue in all weather.
Guided Tours of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Standard guided tours of the Vatican Museum and a visit to the Sistine Chapel are also a good skip-the-line option but once the museums are crowded, the galleries and especially the Sistine Chapel will be crowded no matter how seamless the admissions have been.
However, groups often use different entrances and doorways not open to individual travelers to cut out the long walk back to the museum entrance after seeing the Sistine Chapel. A huge variety of tours are on offer with prices depending on the size of the group and the duration of the tour. Private tours, some specifically aimed at families with children, are also available.
Tours follow a set route and usually involve some stairs. Wheelchair users, strollers, and visitors needing more time or assistance should consider private tours and contact the provider in advance so the route may be adapted to use elevators, which are too far from the set route for individuals to catch up with the tour guide again on regular tours.
Standard Skip-the-Line Tickets for the Vatican Museum
The standard skip-the-line online tickets for the Vatican Museum remain a good option for individual travelers especially when traveling during quieter periods.
These tickets give admission at specific times of the day – early morning (9:00) or afternoon (15:00) are the better options. Buy online – availability may also give an indication of certain days in a specific period being less busy than others.
In 2023, the standard Vatican Museum admission ticket is €17 but a surcharge for online purchases brings it up to €22 if bought directly from the museum. These cheapest tickets are very rarely available — even months in advance — while resellers legitimately sell entry-only museum tickets online. (Short-notice availability differs from the museum site and the various resellers, so compare if dates are sold out.)
Reputable resellers such as Tiqets, Viator, and Get Your Guide usually have much better cancelation conditions but they add their own surcharges. Getting a Vatican Museum ticket for around €30 from resellers is very good going. Many sell for €40 and claim it is at a 20% discount. The higher the demand for tickets, the higher the price.
Buying Tickets at the Vatican Museum
The cheapest tickets for the Vatican Museum are sold on-site at the museum but the queues are usually enormous – this really is a bad way of trying to save. Rather skip a gelato or beer later in the day and pay the surcharge for an online, time-slot ticket. However, if planning on trying to buy a ticket at the museum itself, it is generally a better option to arrive after lunch rather than early morning.
Admission to the Vatican Museum is free on the first Sunday of the month between 9:00 and 14:00. The crowds are generally worse than on a normal day. This is a good option for people who cannot afford to buy a ticket, or planning on visiting the less popular galleries, but a very bad savings option for anybody else. Queueing up on the Sunday is the only way to enter for free — no tickets or time-slot reservations are available in advance.
Combining the Vatican Museum with Other Sights Tours
Combining the Vatican Museum with other sights or seeing the museum as part of a more comprehensive Rome all-day tour are also options worth considering. Many tours are available but read the small print to ensure what exactly is included. Cheaper options may be no more than just the admission tickets and a map – a simple skip-the-line ticket with an audio guide may not only be cheaper but offer better value.
For travelers interested in just the Sistine Chapel and the top highlights of the Vatican Museum, a longer tour of Rome is often a good option – such tours use special entrances and get groups in and out of the museum fast and only visiting the chapel.
The Vatican Museum as part of a hop-on hop-off bus tour or other city pass deals is often a good option and may get time-slot admission tickets for the museum even on the same day. However, read the fine print on where to collect the actual museum ticket – changing an online booking for a paper ticket on the bus is a breeze, having to get it at a specific office during limited opening hours is a drag.
Combining the Vatican Museum with other Vatican sights is a good option for skip-the-line admission with deals often available on the same day or short notice. Options include early entry to the museum followed by a tour of the Vatican gardens not open to the general public. A Pontifical Villas day trip further adds a train ride and visit of the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo – a great option for early admission to the museum often available when other tours are sold out.
Whatever option appeals, plan and book ahead when visiting the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.
An increasing number of sights in Rome require time-slot reservations but these are always sensible when offered even when not obligatory. The high season in Rome is increasingly long and tickets for top sights such as the Borghese Gallery and Colosseum are best secured well before travel. Guided tours are great skip-the-line options at the Colosseum, Forum, St Peter’s Basilica, climbing St Peter’s church cupola, and the Vatican Museum.