Wondering which of the many Vatican Museum Tours is right for you?
There are so many options, from group tours to early-morning private tours to tours with breakfast.
How do you decide which one to take?
One of the questions I get most often is "How do I decide which Vatican tour to take?"
I know there are a lot of choices.
There are early morning tours, small group tours, tours that include Saint Peter's Basilica, the Necropolis of Via Triumphalis or the Vatican Gardens . . . And even then, there are a lot of different companies that offer the same or similar tours.
So how do you choose?
I'm going to break down the different TYPES of tours, and then give you links to book the best ones of each type.
On this page about Vatican Museums tours, you'll find:
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 often.
I've also taken part in pretty much every Vatican tour out there, and love that experience also.
Now the question is, is it worth taking a tour to visit Vatican Museums?
In my opinion, absolutely yes.
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.
One of the most frequent questions I get is, which Vatican Museum tours do you recommend?
And of course, there is not one right answer: this depends on what you are looking for, how much time you have and want to commit to, and your budget.
All Vatican Museum tours include skip-the-line tickets, a visit to the Sistine Chapel, and a licensed tour guide (someone who is knowledgable and who is legally allowed to take you on this tour.)
Most tours are offered in English or Italian.
You can usually book a guide in other common languages too, such as Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, etc.
There are also a few options for pre-booking special tickets, without a tour.
What happens when you book a tour of the Vatican Museums using the official Vatican Museums website?
First, you will pay less, as there is no tour agency or middle-man.
Second, you will be assigned a tour guide who is directly employed by the Vatican Museums.
All guides who give tours of the Vatican Museums must be licensed guides and they must have permission from the Vatican Museums to give tours there.
The difference between a Vatican Museums employee/guide and an outside guide may simply be in the quality of the guide.
I must say that I have taken tours with Vatican Museum employees/guides, and some of them have been fantastic.
But you just never know.
No matter what tour you book, unless you hire a private guide that you either know or who has been recommended to you, you have no way of knowing what that guide will be like.
Sometimes, tickets and tours may not be available on the Vatican Museums website but you might find more availability for tickets and tours on a certified reseller such as Tiqets, Get your Guide, or Viator.
Or, perhaps you have heard about a specific tours company or tour, such as Walks of Italy, who offer two of the most popular tours of the Vatican Museums, Pristine Sistine (with or without breakfast), and the Vatican Key Master Tour in which you get to open the museums.
Read on to discover more tour options, and the differences between the different types of tours you'll find, both on the Vatican website and on outside tour company sites.
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, usually ending there.
When you take a group tour, you will have what's called "whisper" headphones, so the guides can speak in a normal tone and you can easily hear them.
As of January 1, 2024. All group tours will be limited to 20 people 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.
There are many options even for taking a group tour.
Click the below to book a group tour of the Vatican Museums that includes:
The Vatican Museums open at 8 AM Monday - Saturday. (There are different closing times depending on the time of year.)
However, it is possible to gain early access to the Vatican Museums, and enter before the 8 AM opening time.
There are two things you need to know about this kind of tour:
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.
With this 3-hour tour, you will go with group of around 20 people into the Vatican Museums before they open to the general public.
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 before they open to the general public.
However, at the time of this writing in December 2023, the only way to book this early access ticket without a tour is to book breakfast inside the Pinecone courtyard, which actually is a nice thing to do!
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 an "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 30 minutes just to walk there quickly, without stopping to look at anything.
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.
Normally I would 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 maybe you have really limited time, or who have been to the museums before and want to re-visit just the Sistine Chapel.
So, you to book an Express tour:
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.
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.
It's an amazing experience and I highly recommend it! (More about this below.)
Their small-group tours are max 20 people, but when you go to choose your date, you can see they also offer even smaller groups or private tours (which costs a bit more but may be worth it.)
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.
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.
With this small-group tour, you will first visit the Vatican Gardens.
After visiting the gardens, your group will head inside to tour the Vatican Museums, finishing inside the Sistine Chapel.
And if you take the shortcut to the Basilica from the Sistine Chapel, then you can count on that as an added bonus! (The shortcut is open to everyone whether you are on a tour or not.)
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.
It 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.
(Note this option does not include a visit to Saint Peter's Basilica.)
There are a lot of Vatican Museum tours that offer very early morning entry to the museums (see above.)
This means that although you go in before the normal opening time, you may be in a large group of about 20 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 (which is why it's actually a pretty affordable tour, usually costing less than 100€ per person.)
If you're really looking for an exclusive visit to the Vatican Museums out of hours, here are a couple of options:
Visiting the Vatican Museums after hours and seeing the secret rooms was one of the best tours I ever took.
For a really special experience, book a VIP tour, that features 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.
While I normally don't recommend this, sometimes a day is all you have, and you really want to fit in these two Rome must-sees.
You can try to do this on your own, but if you want to make the most of this day, especially if you are doing this as a shore excursion, I really recommend doing it as a guided tour.
You can also book a night tour of the Colosseum at certain times of the year, so you could see the Vatican Museums during the day and then do this night tour.
If you are still not sure which tour to book, you can visit this tour booking page where you can choose the length of the tour, the time of day, and the maximum group size you want (the smaller the group, the more it costs per person.)
Click the "filters" button and go through and check the boxes you want, and you'll see all the tour options available according to your criteria.
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