The Best Way to See the Sistine Chapel? Undoubtedly!

3 people stood in front of Michelangelo's Last Judgement

by Sandra Robbins

I just went on Roma Experience’s Sistine Chapel Closed-Doors Experience. Not only is it, undeniably, the best way to see the Sistine Chapel – it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  

Nothing compares to standing in the Sistine Chapel with only ten other people. All of Michelangelo’s frescoes appear more beautiful – even the colors are better.  

As a lover of Rome and art history, I’ve visited the Sistine Chapel many times. The Sistine Chapel may always be beautiful – but nothing compares to standing in an empty Sistine Chapel. The experience brought a tear to my eye.  

In this blog, I’ll describe the highlights of this After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour – and you can decide for yourself if the best way to see the Sistine Chapel is for you. 

What I Did on The After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour 

The best part of Roma Experience’s Sistine Chapel tour is that you don’t only visit the Sistine Chapel. You get to see rooms in the Vatican Museums that are normally closed. Our guide knew everything about the secret history of Vatican City; it was a real revelation.  

The artwork in these hidden rooms is of equal (or better quality!) than the works in the Vatican Museums. And the best bit? I was in these astonishing rooms, full of spectacular artwork, with only 10 other people! 

This tour isn’t only the best way to see the Sistine Chapel – but the best way to see the Vatican.  

16th Century Bramante Staircase

The original 16th century Bramante Staircase as seen from above
The original 16th century Bramante Staircase as seen from above

I was really looking forward to the Bramante Staircase, because I admire the work of the architect so much. It was originally built so carriages could drive up to the Pope’s apartment – that’s the life. 

Honestly, it was as good as I hoped. The staircase was strange to walk up, because it was so unusually steep and wide – and a cobbled floor inside feels weird. 

From the top, there was an astonishing view of Rome. I felt like royalty. 

The Cabinet of Masks 

The Vatican Museums Salon of Animals - with a sculpture of a lion attacking goat, front central
The Vatican Museums Salon of Animals – normally closed to the public!

The Cabinet of Masks was a highlight – it was way more special than I’d imagined it could be. We went through three different rooms in the area that’s called the Cabinet of Masks.  

First, we went through the Hall of Animals. It had an amazing collection of ancient sculptures of animals. The room was absolutely full to the brim with boars, bears, bulls… marble animals everywhere.  

Among the sculptures was a preserved lobster and crab, which were quite the weird highlight for me! 

Next, we went through the Gallery of Statues. It was so nice to see this corridor full of ancient statues, without a living soul in it, just me and the group looking down at it.  

After that, we went through to the Cabinet of Masks itself. Honestly, the only way I can describe this room is elegant. The statues in it were so gorgeous, and the Roman mosaics on the floor were so detailed.  

Most of the stuff here was taken from the Villa of Emperor Hadrian – and these artefacts are clearly worthy of an Emperor! 

The Niccoline Chapel  

Frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Vatican's Niccoline Chapel
The frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Niccoline Chapel were spectacular!

The Niccoline Chapel was built as a private chapel for the Pope, and when you walk in you get a sense of it as a really holy place.  

Fra Angelico’s frescoes look a million times better than they ever do on pictures. The colors were so vibrant. The pinks and blues positively sparkled, like it was painted yesterday. My personal favorite was the gold detail – it really shimmered.  

The Raphael Rooms 

An image of Raphael's School of Athens in the Vatican's Raphael Rooms
By the time we got to the Raphael Rooms, they were empty!

We did pass through ‘normal parts’ of the Vatican Museums on this After-Hours Sistine Chapel tour. Lots of it I’d seen before, and although all of it never ceases to impress, something truly special happened at the end of the day. 

The Raphael Rooms were totally empty by the time our group got there. The School of Athens has always been one of my favorite works of art, but I’ve often had trouble seeing it properly with the crowds. Now, I got to take the time to properly look at this gorgeous painting, with no one else around. Seeing The School of Athens like that makes for an experience I’ll never forget. 

The Sistine Chapel 

The Sistine Chapel, with Last Judgement in the altar wall, empty, with our figures in the foreground
Nothing compares to seeing the Sistine Chapel empty

The whole after-hours Sistine Chapel tour lasted half an hour – and I had to pinch myself for the first 10 minutes.  

The majesty of an empty Sistine Chapel is hard to describe. At first, it feels like you’re in a picture in an artbook – like you’re standing in reproduction of Michelangelo’s great works. Slowly, it sinks in that you’re really there – in the Sistine Chapel. An empty Sistine Chapel! 

I had the time to really admire the masterpieces. I noticed details on The Last Judgement like I’d never seen before. Honestly, it was the first time that I’d seen the Botticelli paintings on the side wall. Everything was brighter and more dignified when the chapel was empty of the days crowds. 

It was a sublime experience of one of the world’s greatest masterpieces – and an experience I’ll treasure forever.  

Why I Chose an After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour 

I am fascinated with the art of the High Renaissance and love all the Great Masters; Raphael, Da Vinci, Michelangelo.  

Because of my passion for Renaissance art, I’ve visited Italy many times, and have been to all the main cities. However, I kept returning to Rome, and in particular, to the Sistine Chapel.  

There’s something about Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes that never fail to inspire me. However, often the Sistine Chapel is so busy. The guards ‘shhh’ you and tell you to move along. Truth be told, it’s not the most relaxing experience of one of the greatest artworks the world has ever produced. Which is why I decided to take this After-Hours Sistine Chapel tour.   

It was the best decision I could have made. I had an incredible time – and it really is the best way to see the Sistine Chapel.  

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *