Cheap tickets are often not the best skip-the-queues deals to see the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Buy online but compare offers.
The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are amongst the most popular sights to see in Rome and Italy. Advance purchase online skip-the-line tickets or guided tours are the only sensible way to enter the Vatican museum. Early morning or evening tours are the only way to see the Sistine Chapel without unpleasant crowds. Waking Up the Vatican is the best choice, but also very expensive, while other morning tours before official opening hours are also good options. Buying tickets online in advance are almost – queuing at the museum is a waste of time.
The Best Tours to See the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
The best time to see the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum is early morning, especially before the museum open to the general public. Of course, seeing the museum early morning cost more than the standard museum admission.
If money is no factor, the following are the best options to see the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel:
- Waking Up the Vatican Tour – starts at 6 am and see the Sistine Chapel when it really is empty.
- Early Morning Tours – enter the Vatican around an hour before the general public.
- Friday Evenings – the Vatican Museum 7 to 11 pm, only some summer Fridays.
- Guided Tours – a huge variety is available, compare details before booking.
- Combination Tickets – offers some savings and often timed-admission tickets when online skip-the-line tickets are no longer sold.
- Skip-the-Line Tickets – cheapest time-slot admission option, works well for solo travelers especially during quieter periods.
- Buy Tickets at the Museum – cheapest but queues could be very long.
The same ticket covers the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – separate tickets are not available.
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 short cuts out.
The modesty dress code is strictly enforced: All visitors must have knees and shoulders covered – this rule is not open to interpretation or debate. The guards are always right (and they know it).
Waking Up the Vatican Tour – Sistine Chapel without Crowds
The best way to experience the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel is on the small group tour with the key holder of the museum early in the morning. This Waking Up the Vatican Tour is unfortunately not only limited to 20 per day but rather expensive too (but absolutely worth the expense for those able to afford it).
The Waking Up the Vatican tour allows a small group into the museum and more importantly the Sistine Chapel at least an hour earlier than other early access group tours. This group follows the clavigero (key keeper) as he unlocks the various doors of the Vatican Museum from his bunch of around 3,000 keys.
During the tour, the Vatican Museum is still empty with no other visitors and only personnel preparing for the day present. Visitors have a rare opportunity to see the Raphael Rooms and Gallery of Maps without crowds.
The highlight is the Sistine Chapel – tour members are not only the first to enter the chapel but on the only guided tour that may give commentary while inside the chapel.
The tour ends with a buffet breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard but tour members are allowed to remain inside the Vatican Museum for the rest of the day. However, revisiting any of the rooms later will never be as quiet and special as on the Waking Up the Vatican Tour.
Online reservations are essential for the Waking Up the Vatican tour and likely to sell out on many days despite the high price, as the group size is not to exceed 20.
VIP Access Early Morning Vatican Tours
A further good option is to join an early morning tour that gives access to the museum and Sistine Chapel just over an hour before the official opening for general visitors. These tours are not as exclusive as the Waking Up the Vatican tour but still far more pleasant and quiet than during normal opening hours.
It is important to double check what is on offer before signing up for one of the early morning Vatican tours. The cheapest 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.
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 in the Pinecone Courtyard.
The guided tours of the museum and Sistine chapel may be more expensive but adds more value than the cheaper admission and limited assistance tours. The guided tours often starts at the Sistine chapel while it is quiet and then take visitors to the highlights of the museum. These tours commonly passes through the Sistine chapel again around two hours later, as a handy reminder how much more pleasant early admission is. Small groups are often worth the extra expense.
Also note how the tour ends. Some include a tour of St Peter, which offers a handy short cut from the Sistine Chapel but does not allow a further visit of the Vatican Museum. Alternatively, tour members may stay inside the museum at the end of the tour to revisit galleries or seeing other parts of the museum.
Night Time Tours of the Vatican Museum
On many summer Friday evenings, the Vatican Museum is open after normal opening hours. On these nights, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are open from 19:00 to 23:00 – final admissions at 21:30. Advance online purchase is essential, night tickets are not sold at the museum.
These 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 are only available on summer Fridays so 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 weathers.
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 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 and family tours are also available.
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 (8:30) 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.
Only buy skip-the-line tickets that allow the email printout or mobile code to be shown directly at security – exchanging these elsewhere outside the museum for a printed ticket offers no real added value.
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 saving. 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.
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 options 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 acural 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 add 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.