Visit The Sistine Chapel - How To Prepare For The Best Experience!
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 just so wonderful, and I feel it every time I visit this beautiful place.
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 (yes I know it's a lot!)
Where is the Sistine Chapel and how can you visit it?
The Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museums in Vatican City.
Click here to view a map of Vatican City (it opens in a new window.)
It’s the last thing you visit in the museums.
You can visit the Sistine Chapel by purchasing a ticket to the Vatican Museums.
What are the Sistine Chapel hours and opening days?
As the Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums, it's open every day Monday-Saturday from 8am-7pm. With extended hours on Saturday and Sunday to 8pm during high season.
Last entry to the museums is at 5pm.
The museums are also open the last Sunday of every month for free, from 9am-2pm.
Last entry is 12pm - expect crowds!
Sistine Chapel costs and discounts
how much are tickets? Are there any discounts?
Starting January 1, 2024 tickets to the Vatican Museums (where the Sistine Chapel is) will increase in price:
- 20€ per person over 18
- 8€ for anyone 6-18
- 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.
There are other passes that can be used - read more about them here.
Can you visit JUST the Sistine Chapel?
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 as soon as you enter the museums.
Skip the Pinacoteca, Pinecone Courtyard, and Octagonal Courtyard.
Make a left at the top of the elevator and walk until you come to a set up stairs going up on your left.
Go straight up two sets of stairs.
Walk through the 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.
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? When is the least crowded time to visit the Sistine Chapel?
The Sistine Chapel is one of the most popular sites in Rome, so 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 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 Rome in low season, like early December, mid-January – mid-February, parts of November and parts of August.
- 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.
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 usually have fewer visitors, like the Etruscan collection, Pinacoteca and 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 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.
In my 3-day itinerary, you'll see all the major must-see Rome attractions like the Vatican, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant'Angelo, and much more.
And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.
Visit my page with the best 3-day itinerary in Rome for first-timers.
What is the difference between Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel? Are they both in the Vatican?
St Peter's Basilica Shortcut
There has been some back and forth recently about whether the shortcut is available or not, but for now, it is once again the case that you can only take the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St Peter's Basilica if you are on a tour that INCLUDES the basilica.
This means that you won't have access to the shortcut during the KeyMaster tour, the Extra Time tour, or any other tour that does not specifically include the basilica.
The Vatican can, and does, change their mind frequently on this matter, so if it is important to you to be able to take this shortcut, I recommend booking a tour that ends in St Peter's Basilica to be on the safe side.
If you book any tour of the Vatican Museums, you can check the details to see if it finishes in the Sistine Chapel or the basilica.
Click here to view a map of Vatican City (it will open in a new page.)
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the most important churches in the Catholic world, one of the four papal basilicas in Rome (the others are Santa Maria Maggiore, St John in Lateran and St Paul Outside the Walls).
It was built on the site of Saint Peter’s tomb (which you can visit if you book in advance.)
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 Saint Peter’s Square.
You can also attend mass there, even mass with the pope if you book in advance.
All this is free.
St. Peter's Square after a visit to the Basilica
The Sistine Chapel is a working chapel.
You will need to visit the Vatican Museums to see the Sistine Chapel, usually you need to pay for this, although there are some 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 typically reserved for the pope, some clergy, residents of Vatican City and their families.
Michelangelo painted the ceiling and back wall of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo had a huge part in the architecture of the basilica and the Sistine Chapel, designing both structural elements and artistic features that make both these places unique.
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, St Peter’s Basilica and its famous dome but it’s Michelangelo who is most famously associated with them both.
One of the things that strikes me the most when I visit 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 for more!
Why is it called the Sistine Chapel?
When the pope is elected, he takes on a papal name.
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.
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 the Pope's private chapel, as well as being a place for visitors like you and me.
There are many liturgical celebrations held here throughout the year.
In fact, the Sistine Chapel has a choir box with 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've heard just about every answer to this question, but I believe I know the truth.
These are incorrect answers:
- 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 images of it. (Those rights have long expired.)
- Because it’s the Pope’s chapel and a holy place
- Because the Vatican wants you to buy their merchandise
I have had the great fortune to visit the Sistine Chapel on several occasions where I was not only allowed, but 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 photos and videos.
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, 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.
You cannot reserve this in advance.
Just ask for it when you arrive.
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.
No matter what season you visit Rome, here are 4 things never to leave at home:
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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.
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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