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Visit the Sistine Chapel - everything you need to know

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.

Visiting the Sistine Chapel is one of the highlights of any trip to Rome. Find out the best way to visit this stunning place.

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

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:

Where is the Sistine Chapel and how can you visit it?

The Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museums in Vatican City.

It’s the last thing you visit in the museums. You can easily visit the Sistine Chapel by purchasing a ticket to the Vatican Museums.

What are the Sistine Chapel hours and opening days?

  • Monday - Saturday - The Sistine Chapel is open for visits Monday – Saturday from 9am – 6pm. The ticket booths at the entry of the Vatican Museums close at 4pm, and last entry is at 4:30pm. You must be inside the Sistine Chapel by about 5:30, and they begin making everyone leave shortly after that so that they can completely shut the doors by 6pm.
  • Last Sunday of every month - On the last Sunday of the month, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel are open from 9am – 2:30pm. Last entry is at 12 noon. On this day, the museums and the Sistine Chapel are free for everyone. 
  • Friday nights - From mid April – end of October, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are open on Friday nights from 7 – 11pm. Last entry is 9:30 pm.

Sistine Chapel costs and discounts

how much are tickets? Are there any discounts?

Tickets to the Vatican Museums (where the Sistine Chapel is) are 17€ per person over 18, 8€ for anyone 6-18, and free for children 5 and younger.

Tickets are also free for the disabled and their caregiver.

when can you visit The Sistine Chapel for free?

  • On the last Sunday of the month (unless it falls on a Catholic holiday), the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are open and free for everyone.
  • On World Tourism Day, September 27, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are open and free for everyone.

Can you visit the Sistine Chapel with the Roma Pass?

No, you cannot use the Roma Pass to visit the Sistine Chapel.

The Roma Pass does not include anything in Vatican City. You could use the Omnia Pass or the Turbo Pass.

Neither of these are money-savers, but rather time-saving convenience passes. Read more about them here.

Can you visit JUST the Sistine Chapel without visiting the Vatican Museums?

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 Vatican Museums if you like.

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.

Come up the escalator. Skip the following:

  • the Pinacoteca
  • the Pinecone Courtyard
  • the Octagonal Courtyard

Go straight up two sets of stairs. Walk through:

  • the Candelabra room
  • the Tapestries gallery
  • the Maps hall

Skip the Raphael rooms, and go directly to the Sistine Chapel.

This will take less than half an hour of walking if you don’t stop to look at anything.

How to see JUST the Sistine Chapel (sort of), and without massive crowds

This is what the tour companies do when they offer the "pre-opening, skip the lines, visit the Sistine Chapel before the crowds come" tours.

They basically beeline to the Sistine Chapel where you get to enjoy it before the doors open to the public. Then, the tour guide will take you back towards the exit of the Vatican Museums, which is also the entrance. And then they do a normal tour through the museums so that you get the full tour with all the art.

But if what you want it to just see the Sistine Chapel, quickly, and without massive crowds, you can sign up for one of these early morning tours, and simply leave the tour after you've visited the Sistine Chapel.

You can sign up for this Pristine Sistine tour with Walks of Italy. It's a superb tour even if you only visit the Sistine Chapel and leave the tour early.

How can you avoid the crowds inside the Sistine Chapel? When is the least crowded time to visit the Sistine Chapel?

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most popular sites in Rome, and it has visitors every day it’s open, throughout the year.

It can be notoriously crowded in there, to the point where you don’t even want to be there, and can’t deal with the crowds. I have heard so many visitors say they just wanted to get out. 

When you visit the Sistine Chapel you don't want to be so stressed by the crowds that you don't enjoy what you're looking at.

And more likely than not, they missed a lot of the beauty of it, in part because they didn’t feel good, and in part because the crowds 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:

  • Book an early-morning (pre-opening) ticket. This is not a tour. At around 7am you meet a coordinator who explains the procedure. Then you will go into the Vatican Museums before they open to the general public.
  • 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 many fewer people than during normal hours. You will then get to go back and have a tour of the museums.
  • Visit Rome in low season, like early December, mid-January – mid-February, and parts of November and parts of August.
  • Visit the Vatican Museums as close to closing as possible. Like almost all sites in Rome, 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 the bulk of the crowds in the middle of the day. With this kind of visit, you need to be careful to time yourself right, or you may miss something you want to see.
  • Book an exclusive after-hours tour. This type of tour is very expensive because it is truly exclusive. These tours are typically not offered in low season as there is not enough demand to make it worthwhile for a tour agency to buy the expensive ticket.

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.

There are many rooms in the Vatican Museums that often have few visitors, like the Etruscan collection and the Pinacoteca and the New Wing.

I get into my Zen Bubble. 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 can spend inside the Sistine Chapel?

If you are visiting the Vatican Museums on your own, when you get to the Sistine Chapel, try to find a seat, and then 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 are on a tour and your tour group has a schedule, including x amount of time inside the Sistine Chapel before going inside Saint Peter’s basilica. On the other hand, you could also leave the tour if you wanted to stay inside the Sistine Chapel. Just inform your guide you will be staying there and not completing the tour.
  • If you are inside it close to closing time.

What is the difference between Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel? Are they both in the Vatican?

Saint Peter’s Basilica is one of the most important churches in the Catholic world.

It is said to be on the site of Saint Peter’s tomb (which you can visit if you book in advance.)

Saint Peter’s is one of four major basilicas, also sometimes referred to as papal basilicas, as they are under the direct jurisdiction of the pope.

Saint Peter's Basilica is one of the largest, most beautiful churches in the world. It is unrelated to the Sistine Chapel, which is in a completely different part of Vatican City.

You can easily visit Saint Peter’s Basilica by entering from the front in Saint Peter’s Square.

You can also attend mass there if you like. And, you can even attend mass with the pope if you book in advance. All this is free.

The Sistine Chapel is a working chapel and is actually the pope’s private chapel.

It also happens to be one of the most popular tourist draws in Rome. You can easily visit the Sistine Chapel by going inside the Vatican Museums. Usually you need to pay for this although there are free dates (see above.)

This is a view of the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel from the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica. They are two very separate entities.

Unlike Saint Peter’s Basilica, you cannot (easily) attend any liturgical services inside the Sistine Chapel. This is reserved for the pope, some clergy, and residents of Vatican City and their family.

The bottom line is that it’s free and relatively easy to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica and to attend services there, while it’s not free to visit the Sistine Chapel, and it’s relatively difficult to attend any services there.

In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel the back wall with his Last Judgement. 

Michelangelo painted the ceiling and back wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Where Saint Peter’s Basilica is concerned, Michelangelo was the chief architect of its current form, most notedly of the dome.

He also sculpted the Pietà when he was a young man, and you can see this stunning work of art immediately on the right-hand side of the basilica when you enter.

Michelangelo's Pietà is one of the most stunning pieces of art in the world. You can see it for free right when you walk into Saint Peter's Basilica.

Many other artists were involved with both the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica, but it’s Michelangelo who is most famously associated with them both.

One of the things that strikes me the most when I visit both of these holy places is the overwhelming presence of Michelangelo. At least, it’s how I feel, and it’s one reason he is my favorite artist of all.

Click here to visit my page all about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.

Why is it called the Sistine Chapel?

When the pope is elected, he takes on a papal name. So for example, Pope Francis’ actual name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

In the Renaissance, many popes came from noble families. Two popes came from the della Rovere noble family, Pope Sixtus IV, and Pope Julius II. 

The Sistine Chapel is named for Pope Sixtus IV who commissioned its construction as his private chapel. Pope Sixtus IV's nephew Pope Julius II is the one who later had Michelangelo paint the ceiling.

Did Michelangelo lie on his back to paint the ceiling?

One of my favorite books about Michelangelo is Irving Stone's "The Agony and the Ecstasy".

It's not 100% biographical but almost. And it's a fun, fascinating, and easy read.

Yes, Michelangelo laid on his back to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – in the 1965 movie called “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo.

I loved the book this movie was based on by the way.

But the truth is that NO, Michelangelo did not lie on his back to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It’s much more complicated than this.

Find out more over here.


What is the Sistine Chapel used for? Is it really a chapel?

The Sistine Chapel is a working chapel. Besides being a place for visitors, it's the Pope's private chapel. There are many liturgical celebrations there throughout the year. In fact, the Sistine Chapel has a choir box and they have their own choir.

The Sistine Chapel is also where the conclave is held when it's time to select a new pope. The word "conclave" comes from "con clave", which means "with a key".

The cardinals lock themselves into the Sistine Chapel until a new pope is chosen.

Why can’t you take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel?

This is a funny topic. I think I have heard just about every answer to this question, but I believe I know the real answer.

These are not the correct answers to this question:

  • Because the flash would damage the paintings
  • Because a Japanese company paid for the restoration of the Sistine Chapel and they own the rights to the images of it. (That has long expired.)
  • Because it’s the Pope’s chapel and a holy place where the holy spirit is
  • Because the Vatican wants you to buy their books and postcards

I have had the great fortune to be inside the Sistine Chapel on several occasions where I was not only allowed but also encouraged to take all the photos and video I wanted. That’s why I have these images on the website. I did not take them clandestinely, nor would I have.

On those occasions, we were inside the Sistine Chapel for a special reason. 

Once I was graciously invited by a friend to attend Vespers there, and we all had time before and after services to take photos and video.

On a few other occasions I have been alone (with a small group) inside the Sistine Chapel, and then we were allowed plenty of time for photo- and video-taking.

This leads me to believe that the reason they don’t allow you to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel is crowd control. They would never get people out if people could take photos. It’s already a limited space as it is, and it easily fills up to the brim during peak season. Imagine if all those people were snapping away, taking pictures of the art, themselves, and each other. They would not be able to get people IN and it would cause a huge bottleneck and fire hazard.

This is just my opinion, but I believe it makes sense.

Is the Sistine Chapel wheelchair accessible?

Yes, you can visit the Sistine Chapel (and much but not all of the Vatican Museums) in a wheelchair. They also have a few wheelchairs at the Vatican Museums if you need one.

What are the best tours to take of the Sistine Chapel?

You cannot specifically take a tour of JUST the Sistine Chapel.

You need to book a tour of the Vatican Museums. I have a whole page about the different types of Vatican Museums tours here.

Is it worth it to take an early morning tour to visit the Sistine Chapel before it’s open to the general public?

I think the price of this type of tour is reasonable considering what you get.

It’s not super expensive like the exclusive 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.

One of the best early-morning tours to visit the Sistine Chapel before regular opening hours is Pristine Sistine with Walks of Italy.


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