When I went to visit the Sistine Chapel for the first time, I don’t think I was prepared for how much I would have to take in.
Michelangelo's ceiling alone can take your breath away. But there's even more to absorb. Let's take a look!
My senses were completely overloaded, and a feeling of true awe washed over me. I wish I could bottle that feeling. It was wonderful.
The best way to visit the Sistine Chapel
At the time of this writing in early 2022, some of the Vatican Museum tours on this page may be suspended and unavailable until further notice.
If you see a tour you want to take and it's not available, but you are planning to visit Rome in 2022 or beyond, please continue to check back closer to your travel dates as these Vatican Museum tours will likely return.
I feel very lucky that I've been able to visit the Sistine Chapel many times since then.
And every time, I feel the same way.
I step inside, my eyes try to take it all in, and I let the overwhelming power of the art, the artists, and the history envelope me.
If you’re planning to visit the Sistine Chapel, here’s everything you need to know:
No, it’s not possible to just visit the Sistine Chapel without visiting the Vatican Museums.
You can, however, take the shortest route possible from the entry of the museums.
There is a "turbo" route to visit the Sistine Chapel. If you skip everything and just walk straight ahead, you can make it to the Sistine Chapel in under 30 minutes from the entrance of the Vatican Museums.
Go up the escalator. Skip the Pinacoteca, Pinecone Courtyard and Octagonal Courtyard.
Go straight up two sets of stairs. Walk throughthe Candelabra room, Tapestries gallery and the Maps hall.
Skip the Raphael rooms, and go directly to the Sistine Chapel.
This will take less than half an hour if you don’t stop to look at anything.
How to go directly to the Sistine Chapel
How to see JUST the Sistine Chapel (sort of), without massive crowds
This is what tour companies offer with their "pre-opening, visit the Sistine Chapel before the crowds come" tours.
They beeline to the Sistine Chapel so you can enjoy it before the doors open to the public.
Then, the tour guide will do a loop back to the exit/entrance of the museums before doing a normal tour through the museums so you don't miss out.
But, you can sign up for one of these early morning tours, and simply leave after you've visited the Sistine Chapel.
And more likely than not, they missed a lot of the beauty because they didn’t feel good, and the crowds can make it hard to take it all in.
But there are times when it’s less crowded, believe it or not. Here’s when you can try to visit the Sistine Chapel without (so many) people:
Take an early-morning (pre-opening) tour. These tours are NOT exclusive, as many tour operators offer them. But you do race to the Sistine Chapel and get to be inside before the main door opens, and you will be with less people than during normal hours. You will then get to go back and have a tour of the museums.
Visit the Vatican Museums as close to closing-time as possible. The crowds are on a kind of bell curve – there are fewer people first thing in the morning and then again at the end of the day. With this, you need to be careful to time it right, or you may miss something you want to see.
Book an exclusive after-hours tour. This type of tour is expensive because it's truly exclusive. These tours are typically not offered in low season as there's not enough demand to make it worthwhile for a tour agency.
My Zen Bubble
Maybe you won't have the chance to visit the Sistine Chapel without the crowds.
I have visited it many times with large crowds. This is what I do.
Throughout my visit to the Vatican Museums on a crowded day, I accept from the beginning that it's crowded. Very crowded. Once I accept it and let it go, it doesn't bother me any more.
Then, I decide what art I want to enjoy and I do my best to see it and get close to it.
I find some art without crowds. This is ALWAYS possible, even on crowded days.
I just decide I am alone with the art. I decide not to let the crowds irritate me, I close off my senses to everything except the art and what's happening inside my heart and mind.
And when it comes time to visit the Sistine Chapel, I keep the zen bubble around me. Michelangelo is there. I can feel him. I want to get close to him. I do not let the crowds take away anything from me.
Mind over matter.
Is there a limit to how much time you have to visit the Sistine Chapel?
If you are visiting alone, when you get to the Sistine Chapel, try to find a seat, sit down and try to block out everyone and everything and just take it all in.
You may want to try to then find a seat on the opposite side so you can see all the paintings on both sides.
The only limits as to how long you can spend in the Sistine Chapel are:
If you're on a tour and your group has a schedule. You could leave the tour if you wanted to stay inside the Sistine Chapel. Just inform your guide you'll be staying there and not completing the tour.
If you are inside close to closing time.
The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome
Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.
Is it worth it to take an early morning tour to visit the Sistine Chapel?
I think the price of this type of tour is reasonable considering what you get.
It’s not super expensive like the after-hours tours, and it’s also not exclusive. But you do get to see the Sistine Chapel without huge crowds and as a bonus, you get to finish your Vatican visit relatively early in the day.
Is it worth getting up that early? I have done it and it’s definitely worth it, at least in my opinion.
Bottom line – if seeing the Sistine Chapel without the crowds is important to you, then bite the bullet and set your alarm.