March 26, 2015

5 Top Tips For Visiting The Vatican

The Vatican City is one of Rome’s most loved attractions. It may be the world’s smallest state, but it sure is mighty. When it comes to art history, there’s few places in the world that compare to the Vatican. A walk around the Vatican Museums puts you in front of some of the world’s greatest art. From astonishing examples of classical statuary to works by some of the Great Masters of the High Renaissance, the Vatican has it all.

At Roma Experience, it’s our mission to make your experience of Rome a magical one. So when it comes to the city’s biggest attractions, we believe it’s very important to be well-researched. If you’re planning on visiting the Vatican during your next trip to wonderful Rome, be sure to read our tips below in order to easily avoid negligences that could lead to trouble. When it comes to seamless travel ask advice to expert locals. It’s the small things that make a huge difference to your holiday.

Here are 5 top tips for visiting the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel:

TIP #1 | Don’t Go to the Vatican Without a Guide

Tour Guide Explaining a Fresco on a Vatican TourThe Vatican is much more than just a tourist attraction. It’s a city within a city, and when it comes to its sheer size (which is frighteningly vast) and the amount of artwork on display, it truly is an unbelievable place. For newcomers, it’s also incredibly overwhelming so we would always recommend take a guided tour, even better with a private guide, to walk you through the magnificent works of artists of the caliber of Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and many many more.

An expert guide won’t only help you navigate the expansive 1,200 rooms of the Vatican Museums’ collection — they’ll help reveal the hidden histories behind some of the world’s greatest artworks. Many people visit the Vatican Museums to see Michelangelo’s astonishing Sistine Chapel ceiling, but few people know that Michelangelo never wanted to do it. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, and was resentful of the commission when it was first offered. Needless to say, he proved himself wrong. Stories like this bring these classic artworks to life before your very eyes — allow an expert guide to share their wisdom with you, by choosing a guided tour.

TIP #2 | Plan Ahead  

View of St. Peter's Basilica across the TiberThe biggest mistake most tourists make when visiting Vatican City is simply turning up on the day. Without an advanced booking or designated tour guide, you could be waiting up to 4 or 5 hours in the colossal queue. If the blistering heat of summer isn’t enough to put you off the long queuing times, the unofficial ticket sellers who persistently approach you might be.

Booking a tour with Roma Experience Tours will allow you to skip the lines for queues at all the entry points, from the museums to the Basilica—beware: if you visit them separately you will have to stand in line twice! However, if you visit in the winter low season then crowds are smaller too so you will not be as badly affected by those things.

Skip-the-line admission makes a visit to the Vatican so much easier. As does choosing to skip the crowds altogether; and there are a couple of ways you can do that. An early access Vatican tour will get you in the Museums a whole hour before they open to anybody else. This means you’ll get to enjoy your experience of the Vatican in relative peace and quiet — with a complementary breakfast in an incomparable location.

Another way to beat the crowds is by choosing to go for a Closed-Door Sistine Chapel Experience. This option will put you in one of the most iconic rooms in the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, in a tour group that’ll never exceed 15. Stand under Michalengelo’s frescoes in perfect peace and quiet that you’ll never experience during normal opening hours.

TIP #3 | Set Aside Enough Time  

View of the Dome of St. Peter's as seen from inside the BasilicaThe Vatican is vast; it’s actually classed as a country in its own right. Although the Vatican may be the world’s smallest state, it’s still a state, and so, it isn’t the size of your average museum.

Astonishingly, the Vatican spans over 110 acres and has a population of 1,000. There’s a lot going on inside these seemingly small walls. Don’t be fooled by the fact it is the world’s smallest state; there’s a whole treasure-trove of things to see inside.

Sites to see within Vatican City include the Vatican Museums, The Gallery of Maps and the Hall of Tapestries, Raphael’s Rooms, The Sistine Chapel and the Cupola. Not to mention St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza, with the stunning, breathtaking Bernini’s colonnade. Take your time, soak it all in, and let the incomparable atmosphere wash over you. Make sure you stop when you need to and look at what you want to look at. A private tour is a great way to ensure you won’t get lost within the labyrinthian walls of the Vatican Museums. Instead, you’ll be lead by an expert guide straight to some of the greatest sights within the Vatican City. Be sure to make time to refuel too as it will be a long (and tiring) day.

Just north of the Vatican, you will find the Prati and Trionfale districts where you can grab a bite to eat any time of day. We found out that for most people three hours inside the Vatican is about the right balance, but when booking a private tour of the Vatican you will always be able to add extra hours to your tour with Roma Experience.

TIP #4 | Understand the Dress Code  

La Pieta by MichelangeloIt’s wise to remember that the Vatican City is the home of the Catholic Church. The Vatican is a religious state, not a secular art gallery, so don’t wear anything your Gran would disapprove of you putting on before a Sunday Service.

Dressing appropriately is extremely important before visiting the Vatican – so make sure you have considered this before packing your suitcases for Rome. Sleeveless blouses and sleeveless shirts for men, miniskirts, shorts and hats are not permitted. If in doubt, wear layers so you can cover up when inside. When you’re getting dressed in the AM before heading to the Vatican, if you look in the mirror and think too much skin is on show, it probably is, so get changed.

However, the Vatican guards are often lenient with little boys and guys — but don’t bank on having a lenient guard on the day. Make sure your kids are covered up before you head to the Vatican. It’s not unheard of for a guard to turn a family away before their son or daughter is in shorts.

If the idea of wearing long sleeves in summer is particularly horrifying for you, don’t panic. One thing the guards allow anyone one to wear without batting an eyelid is a shawl that covers your upper arm and shoulder. This way, you can stay cool in the heat and be appropriately covered in a religious setting.

Large bags or backpacks are not to be carried into the museums so do travel lightly if possible. Otherwise, there are cloakrooms upon entry where you can check in your belongings. To this, we should also add that the Vatican corridors are huge and the rooms endless: some have air conditioning, some have not, so it is a good idea to have an adjustable attire.

TIP #5 | Visit the Cupola  

Dome of St. Peter's at SunsetAt the end of your Vatican Tour with Roma Experience, you will have the chance to climb up to the cupola – the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. Between you and one of the most spectacular panoramic of Rome there only stand 537 steps. But you will have the chance not only to admire a stunning view of the city but you will also be able to stop halfway to look down on the nave of the Basilica, and inside at the main altar, before continuing to the top of the Dome to look down on Rome and see the iconic view of St Peter’s Square.

Our guide will give you the option to do this at the close of anyone of our tours. Climbing the dome makes for an incomparable experience, not least when you think who made the cupola. Michelangelo – the genius who painted the Sistine Chapel – also designed the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo may have died before the dome was completed, but his genius lives on, and its become one of the most iconic symbols of Rome. Ascending the cupola gets you up close and personal with the work of the great man himself. You’ll notice fantastic details of the design that it’s easy to miss at ground-level. This dome is second largest free-standing one in the world, after the Pantheon. You don’t need a guide to do this, so it should be a must when you visit the Vatican!

The Vatican City is a Must-See

There you have it. No visit to Rome is truly complete without touring the Vatican City and Vatican Museums. Inside, you’ll find some of the world’s most impressive artworks. From the eternal evocative Lacoön and His Sons and the statuary of Ancient Rome to the majestic triumph of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes. There’s no better way to experience the best of high culture than by visiting the Vatican.

One of our expert guides will bring the experience of the Vatican Museums to life, and whatever tour you choose, private, small-group or a VIP Experience, you’ll hear all the stories that made these masterpieces the great works that stand before you.