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Vatican Museum Tours
Which One is Best?

Wondering which of the many Vatican Museum Tours is right for you?

map room ceiling vatican museumsThe ceiling of the map room in the Vatican Museums

There are so many options, from group tours, to early-morning private tours. Find out the differences in the tours of the Vatican Museums, and book your tour now!

Vatican Museum Tours - Is it Worth Taking a Tour?

I love to visit the Vatican Museums on my own, because I can take as long as I want, and linger over a painting or a room if I feel like it. But that is partly because I am lucky enough to live here and be able to visit (sort of) when I want to. 

sitting in the Pinacoteca in vatican museumsIn low season, I love to visit the Vatican Museums and just spend time sitting and enjoying some of these masterpieces in the Pinacoteca

I've also taken part in several Vatican Museum tours, and love that experience also.

Now the question is, is it worth taking a tour to visit Vatican Museums? 

In my opinion, absolutely yes. Here's why:

  • Easy - Your tickets will be bought and ready, nothing for you to do but show up.
  • Focused - With the vast amount of art to see in the Vatican Museums, having a guided tour can help you to focus on just some of the most important sections and pieces.
  • Just the Right Amount of Sight-seeing - On a guided tour, you will keep your visiting time to a limit, and won't overdo or exhaust yourself trying to "see it all."
  • Help with Your Questions - When you have a guide, there is someone to answer your questions as they pop up. This happens to me all the time and I find myself asking museum guards (who may or may not know the answer), or trying to look things up on my phone. It's considerably nicer to have a knowledgable guide who can tell you (correctly, and in person) just what you want to know.
  • Don't Miss a Thing! - On a guided tour, you will no doubt see things you would have overlooked on your own. This also happens to me a lot in Rome, and every time I take a guided tour with an expert, I learn something new. The first time I went to the Vatican Museums on my own (years ago), without a guide, I breezed past the Laocoön sculpture because I didn't even know what it was, let alone to look for it!

And if you take a more special kind of guided Vatican Museums Tour, like a private, small-group, out-of-hours tour, then it can make an even bigger difference.

laocoon group in vatican museumsDon't miss this amazing ancient Laocoon sculpture in the Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums Audio-Guide

You may also decide to skip the Vatican Museum tours, and visit on your own but with an audio-guide. This can be a good compromise, because you will get more information than you can from the little printed info-cards next to some of the pieces in the museums.

--  I still would recommend a human guide because they are better able to bring the whole thing to life for you, and are there to answer questions.  --

If you do decide to use the Vatican Museums Audio-Guide, you can book this when you pre-book your Vatican Museums tickets through the Vatican website, or, you can opt to get the audio-guide once you enter the museum.

Vatican Museum Tours - Which One is Right for You?

One of the most frequent questions I get is, which tour do you recommend for the Vatican? And of course, there is not one right answer: this depends on what you are looking for, and also, your budget.

All Vatican Museum tours include skip-the-line tickets, a visit to the Sistine Chapel, and most include a licensed English-speaking tour guide (someone who is knowledgable and who is legally allowed to take you on this tour.) 

the creation by michelangeloThe Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1508-1512

There are also a few options for pre-booking special tickets, without a tour.

The different types of Vatican Museum Tours include:

Vatican Museum Tours - Skip the Line Group Tours

One of the most popular of the Vatican Museum tours is the group tour. You skip the line of course, and have a knowledgable guide so you don't have to think about what to see or where to go.

All of these tours include the Sistine Chapel, often ending there.

In some cases, the tour will continue on to finish inside St. Peter's Basilica, with a small tour of the basilica.

In other cases, the tour ends inside the Sistine Chapel, although you may still visit St. Peter's Basilica from there, without waiting in line, on your own. The guide can show you how.

Groups are usually around 30 people, and you will have what's called "whisper" headphones, so the guides can speak in a normal tone, and you can easily hear them.

Many of these tours bill themselves as "small-group tours", when in fact, there are usually about 30 people on the tour. Either check the maximum number of participants, or, book a semi-private or private tour for a more intimate experience.

The best part about this kind of group tour is the price. This is the least expensive option of the Vatican Museum tours.

raphael school of athens in vatican museumsThis Raphael masterpiece, The School of Athens, is in the papal apartments in the Vatican Museums, right before you get to the Sistine Chapel

There are many options even for taking a group tour. Click the below to book a group tour of the Vatican Museums that includes:

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Vatican Museum Tours - Early Access

The Vatican Museums open at 9am Monday - Saturday. However, it is possible to gain early access to the Vatican Museums, and enter before the 9am opening time.

There are two things you need to know about this kind of tour:

  • There are a LOT of companies doing this, so you will not have an exclusive visit (although of course there will be a lot FEWER people than during the morning rush)
  • In order to get the advantage of seeing the Sistine Chapel before the crowds arrive, you will need to rush through the rest of the Vatican Museums on your way there, missing most of the major works of art along the way.

That said, it will still feel like a special experience to get in there before the crowds fill in. Also, many people do want to "just" see the Sistine Chapel, so this helps to keep the visit short if you want to.

For a more exclusive experience, jump down to this section.

Before Hours Vatican Museums Sistine Chapel and Basilica Tour

st peters basilica inside earlySt Peter's Basilica in early morning, without the crowds

With this 3-hour tour, you will go with group of around 30 people into the Vatican Museums at 8am, before they open to the general public. 

Click here to book this Early Access Group Tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

Early Access: Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Ticket (Access only, no tour)

If you prefer to go it on your own, you can simply purchase this early access ticket, which will allow you to skip the line and get into the Vatican Museums at 8am, before they open to the general public. You will have headphones but not a guided tour. You may also visit St. Peter's Basilica without waiting in line.

Click here to book Early Access Tickets to the Sistine Chapel, with audioguide and no tour.

Speedy Express Tours of Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Maybe I should have put this one at the top of the page. One of the most common questions I hear about the Vatican Museums is: Can I just go see the Sistine Chapel? I've answered this before (the answer is no) and even with a tour that guarantees this, you really cannot. 

There is a kind of "express route" to the Sistine Chapel from the entrance of the Vatican Museums, which skips the Pinacoteca, the Pio-Clementine Museums, the Egyptian and Etruscan wings. But you still have a lot of museum to get through before you make it to the Sistine Chapel, so even without visiting any of the above, and bee-lining to the chapel, it will still take you at least 45 minutes just to walk there quickly, without stopping to look at anything. 

the tapestries hall in the vatican museumsYou still need to go through the maps rooms and the tapestries room, among others, to get to the Sistine Chapel. But no stopping!

That said, there are tours that help you do this. In the section just before this one, about Early Access Vatican Museum Tours, you have options for going in before opening hours. In theory, these could also be considered as fast tours, since you do go directly to the Sistine Chapel. But with the above, you are also given the chance to go back and take more time in the museums, and the basilica.

Alternatively, and if you don't want to get up so early, you can still book a speedy tour that whisks you through the museums straight to the Sistine Chapel, and then into the basilica.

This is perfect for people with really limited time, or who have been to the museums before and want to re-visit just the Sistine Chapel. Otherwise of course I urge you to visit the rest of the museums, as they are chock full of some of the world's most amazing and beautiful art. But if you do want to skip all that, you may book an Express tour:

Click here to book a 1.5 hour visit to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. (Your guide will provide explanations of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, but as you are sort of speeding through the rest of the Vatican Museums, there is not a tour covering the art you see on your way to the Sistine Chapel.)

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Vatican Museums - Small Group Tours

In the section above, there is a link to a small group, exclusive tour. That tour goes inside the Vatican Museums very early, before they open to the general public.

If you don't feel like being up quite so early, and still want a small group tour, for a more intimate and personal experience, here are two great options for tours during regular hours:

Click here to book a small group (10 people max) tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, mid-morning.

Click here to book a small group (13 people max) tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, early-afternoon.

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Vatican Museums - Private Tours

Taking a private tour is exactly what it sounds like: this is a fantastic option if you want a completely private, personal tour, with the guide focused just on you. Of course, if you are a family or group of 4-6 people, it becomes more affordable.

Click here to book a private tour (minimum 1 person), of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.

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Vatican Museums + Vatican Gardens Combo Tour

The Vatican is home to some amazing gardens, which are beautifully kept and landscaped. But they are in two places: one is just behind St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The other is in the summer residence of the Pope, Castel Gandolfo. These gardens have recently been opened to the public, and the Vatican has a train that takes you directly from there to Castel Gandolfo and back.

Tour of Vatican Museums and Vatican Gardens in Vatican City

With this tour, you will have a small group (max 16 people), and will first visit the Vatican Gardens (I've visited them and it's a lovely experience!) After visiting the gardens, your group will head inside to tour the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

Click here to book a Vatican Gardens + Vatican Museums combo small-group tour.

vatican gardens from aboveView of the Vatican Gardens from the cuppola of St Peter's Basilica

Visit to Vatican Museums and Gardens in Castel Gandolfo

If you have a full day to dedicate to this, and want to experience something really special, a whole world of tranquility, quiet and beauty, away from the hustle and bustle of Rome, this is a wonderful tour that allows you to skip the line and visit the Vatican Museums, then walk through the Vatican Gardens and get on a train that will take you just half-hour outside Rome to the summer residence of the Pope: the stunning Barberini Gardens at Castel Gandolfo, only recently opened to the public.

Click here to book your full day Vatican Museums + Vatican Gardens at Castel Gandolfo tour. Note this option does not include a guided tour of either the Museums or the Gardens, but you will be accompanied.)

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vatican gardens at castel gandolfoThe Barberini Gardens of the Vatican at Castel Gandolfo. Photo Credit: Viator

VIP Vatican Museum Tours with out-of-hours Viewing

There are a lot of tours that offer very early morning entry to the Vatican museums. This means that although you go in before the normal opening time, you may be in a large group of about 30 people, and you will also be going in with all the other tour groups going in before the normal opening time. Which means it is not quite as exclusive as it sounds, even if it's definitely less crowded than going at opening time.

VIP: Vatican Museums Small-Group Tour including Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica

With this tour, you do go in before normal opening hours, and yes, there will be other groups doing this too. But your group is max 12 people, which does give you a more intimate experience.

Also, because this tour company has an exclusive agreement with the Vatican, you will go into a door reserved just for your group, bypassing even the priority lines.

Click here to book your Early Morning Small-Group Vatican Museums VIP Tour

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VIP: Sistine Chapel Private Viewing and Small-Group Tour of the Vatican's Secret Rooms

last judgement by michelangeloLast Judgement by Michelangelo

For a really special experience, book a VIP tour, exclusively through Viator, that features

  • a very small group (maximum 15 people)
  • visits to rooms not normally open to the public
  • after-hours viewing of the Sistine Chapel, without any crowds.

With the after-hours viewing you really do have a much more exclusive experience than the groups going before the Museums open.

Most Vatican Museum tours do not offer this option, so you will have the Sistine Chapel almost entirely to yourselves.

Click here to book your VIP tour of the Vatican Museums with Sistine Chapel Private Viewing

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