The Vatican Museums that are part of Vatican City are among the most crowded in the world, sometimes having as many as 20,000 visitors in a day and recently I was one of them! Go early and don’t plan any other activities the day of your visit except aperitifs and dinner afterward. You will end your day tired and hungry but appreciative of all the beautiful art and history you have experienced. Vatican City is definitely a “must see” when in Rome.
Our early morning tour began on the street nearest the main entrance to the Vatican Museums. Our tour guide Fabi was so knowledgeable and fun. She really brought the history of the Vatican to life. I would highly suggest taking the first tour of the day even though it is an early call at 8 am to meet the group. Don’t be late or you will be left behind. Trust me, it gets crazy crowded later. While it’s busy in the morning hours with booked tours getting in early, it’s still manageable. Fabi guided us through the various museum galleries including the Room of the Candelabra, Hall of Tapestries, and Gallery of the Maps. It was nice for Fabi to offer to take pictures of us. We don’t have many pictures of us together other than selfies.
Before reaching the Sistine Chapel, you will receive a reference map you can use once inside, which is a useful resource since visitors to the chapel are expected to be silent as they observe Michelangelo’s masterpieces. Do NOT take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. And don’t use your wife (talking to you Thom!) to screen your efforts to try to take a picture without alerting the very visible security guards who are monitoring everyone’s movements.
After exiting the Sistine Chapel from a side door, we headed straight to the St. Peter’s Basilica, skipping the lines. Fabi took us to see the baroque Baldacchino, La Pieta, and other masterworks. You can go underneath the main floor of the basilica, where hundreds of Popes are buried. We finished our tour in front of the Basilica.
It’s huge-Vatican City consists of :
1) St. Peter’s Basilica – the massive cathedral
2) St. Peter’s Square – the large plaza open space in front of the Basilica. This is where the Pope will come out on Wednesdays and ride around in his Pope cart around the temporary seats that they set up. I wish we had taken the time to experience this, but we were just too tired after our Tuesday tour and our tour guide told us you had to get there very early in the morning to grab a seat. Next time!
3) Vatican Museums – a very large museum complex with many galleries hence called ” museums “. At the very furthest end of Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel, the interior of which represents the pinnacle of the Renaissance. The Sistine Chapel is part of Vatican Museums.
4) Vatican Gardens – the vast green park behind the Basilica which makes up the remainder of Vatican City. These green spaces covers the largest area of the city. You may be too tired to walk the gardens. We were.
Take time to check out the Vatican Post Office-Anyone can walk in and mail a post card here. It’s on the left side of St. Peter’s Square. This is also where the public bathrooms are located. Be prepared for a line.
ENTRY TO THE VATICAN:
Vatican Museums – Official Website (museivaticani.va)-if you don’t want to take a tour, you can go on the official website and get entry tickets 60 days in advance of when you want to visit.
Early entry is only for those with a pre-booked Vatican guided tour, so book online before you travel in order to skip the queues and the crowds in the Vatican Museums. We booked this tour https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionProductReview-g187791-d12631026-Rome_Vatican_Sistine_Chapel_and_St_Peter_s_Basilica_Early_Morning_Express_Tour-Rom.html
VATICAN DRESS CODE:
Ladies: You MUST cover your shoulders and knees.
Men: Same as the ladies. No hats.
VISIT TIPS: Bring water and snacks! Wear comfortable shoes as you will walk miles. There are hardly any places to sit down and rest. By the end of our tour, I was tired, dehydrated and ended up squatting along a wall in St. Peter’s Basilica and the security guard asked me to move, which we did directly to the nearest place that sold water.