10 Tips to Visit Vatican Museums - Sail through like a pro!

What's the best time to visit Vatican Museums?

How can you avoid the crowds at the Vatican Museums? 

Can you JUST visit the Sistine Chapel? (Hint: NO)

empty maps gallery in vatican museumsWhat's the best way to visit the Vatican Museums? Find out the best times and how to avoid crowds and lines!

Find out the answers to these questions, and more!

Visit Vatican Museums - Top tips from a local!

Don't let your visit to the Vatican be exhausting, confusing, or disappointing.

If you plan it right, you will have a fabulous time visiting one of the most beautiful and important sites in Rome.

sistine chapel ceilingWhen you visit the Vatican Museums, the last room you enter will be the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's ceiling is one of the highlights in the museums, if not in all of Rome.

Here are my Top 10 Tips to Visiting the Vatican Museums:

  1. Know when to go
  2. Don't over-plan your day - allow more time (and energy) than you think to your visit to the Vatican
  3. Dress appropriately, or you risk being turned away
  4. Wear really comfortable shoes
  5. Make a food plan
  6. Bring your camera or smart phone, but leave the tripod and selfie-stick at home!
  7. Don't bring a large backpack
  8. Be ridiculously vigilant of pickpockets
  9. Don't get stuck waiting in the long lines
  10. Don't come on the free Sunday

Want my tips on How to Visit Vatican Museums on your own, without a tour?

Jump down to this section.

1. When is the best time to visit the Vatican Museums?

Want to know how to avoid the lines, and how to avoid the crowds at the Vatican Museums?

crowds in the vatican museumsCrowds and tour groups in the Vatican Museums - and this is not even the Sistine Chapel!

If you are here from February through November, it's difficult (but not impossible) to avoid crowds almost any time of day.

But avoiding the lines is another story.

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Vatican Museums?

You can visit the Vatican Museums year-round.

But the busiest time of year in Rome is from about mid-March through early November.

Which means visiting with thousands of other people.

From late November to early February (other than at Christmas and New Years) Rome, and the Vatican Museums, are quiet and wonderful to visit.

No lines.

No crowds.

wall of the vatican museums in winter - no linesThis is what the wall around the Vatican Museums looks like in winter - no lines at all (although it's no longer a given that in winter there are no lines.)

There may be times during low season that the Vatican Museums will be more crowded than you expect.

This may include moments right on the edge of the season, like early March, or mid November; unusual events in Rome like a beatification or canonization of a popular figure; or a popular weekend in Rome such as during Valentine's Day or Six Nations Rugby matches.

Another relatively busy week/weekend in Rome during normally low season is wherever December 6-8 falls. December 8 is the Immacolata, or Immaculate Conception, which is a holiday here. And December 6 is a national holiday in Spain (which means we see a lot of visitors from there).

What is the Best Day of the Week to Visit Vatican Museums?

Starting January 1st, 2024, the Vatican Museums are open Monday - Saturday, 8am - 7pm.

For the high tourist season in spring and summer, beginning March 2024, the museums will also extend their opening hours on Fridays and Saturdays to 8pm.

On Sundays and Catholic holidays like Easter Monday and Christmas Day, the Museums are closed.

On Wednesdays (except in July) when there is a Papal Audience in Saint Peter's Basilica, the basilica is closed until the crowd clears, usually around noon or 12:30 pm.

Many people think that this is a good time to visit the Vatican Museums, because the "crowds" will be attending the audience, but in fact, because the basilica is closed during the audience, the Vatican museums are more likely to be crowded.

So you may wish to avoid Wednesdays.

You'll also have to skip Sundays because the museums are closed, although they ARE open on the last Sunday of the month for FREE, but with shorter hours.

And if you go then, expect huge crowds.

Saturdays and Mondays, being close to the weekend might be a little busier than Tuesday and Thursday.

But really, in high season, there is not a quiet day of the week to visit Vatican Museums.

How to visit Vatican Museums on a Sunday

The Vatican Museums are open the last Sunday of the month, and it's free to visit this day.

The hours are limited: 9am - 2pm, with last entry at 12:30.

I would avoid this at all costs unless you have no choice or are on a really tight budget.

Free Sunday is the most crowded day of the month to visit the Vatican Museums.

What is the Best Time of Day to Visit Vatican Museums?

If you come in low season, this is less of an issue if it's about avoiding crowds and lines.

But if you are coming in high season, or even mid season, you can count on the Vatican Museums as being pretty crowded all day long.

And this includes early morning.

Want to beat the crowds and lines when you visit the Vatican Museums in the morning?

Take this small-group Pristine Sistine tour with Walks of Italy.

There is a misconception that if you go early, you will "beat the line."

But that is what everyone thinks, so guess what?

You are going to run into a LOT of people with this idea, and it will be packed right when it opens.

Also, many tour groups go early, also for this reason.

Believe it or not, the later in the day you go, the less crowded it MAY be.

So I'd say sometime between 1:30-3:30 is a good time to arrive.


Do you want to visit Vatican Museums with the key-master and open all the rooms and turn on the lights?

Including inside the Sistine Chapel?

You can!

Book this amazing tour to open the Vatican museums with the keymaster!

It is an experience you will never forget!

I love to go right before the ticket office closes, two hours before the museums close.

But if you do this, you have to be careful since you will be kicked out of the Sistine Chapel half an hour before the official closure time (so 6:30PM when closing at 7PM).

Just make sure you know what you are doing, know what you want to see, and make sure to keep a good pace.

vatican museums entry at 3:30pmThis is the entry to the Vatican Museums in spring, a busy season. It's 3:30pm, half hour before the ticket office closes. No lines.


I used to advise people to take the secret passageway from the Sistine Chapel into Saint Peter's Basilica, so you avoid queuing again. 

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.

As of now, you cannot do this unless you are on a tour.

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.

So either visit Saint Peter's Basilica before the museums or go on a tour that ends in the Basilica.

Having said all that, if you do not plan to visit Saint Peter's Basilica, or do not need at least 2 hours in the museums, then you can do what I love doing: arrive 15 minutes before the ticket office closes and breeze right in.

Then I head for the Pinacoteca where there is next to nobody, especially at that hour.

This kind of visit is of course ideal if you've been to the Vatican museums before, or simply have very limited time and don't mind having a quick/shorter visit.

2. Allow for more time than you think

Take a look at Vatican City on a map of Rome.

It's vast.

It's its own state!

And a large part of that vastness is the Vatican Museums.

If you walk through all of them, it's 7.5 km, or 4.5 miles.

Maybe you won't walk through all of that but you will walk A LOT. 

Most tours of the Vatican Museums are about 3 hours long.

Some are shorter, for those with limited time, or who just want to fast-track to the Sistine Chapel. But even then, it's doubtful you can spend less than 2 hours total, between getting there, getting in, visiting, and getting back out.

Even if you go on your own, you still have a lot of walking to do.

Considering that to visit Vatican Museums is only part of your visit to the Vatican, and that you may also include visiting Saint Peter's Basilica (half hr or more), and climb the dome (another half hr at least), and then check out St. Peter's Square, even if it's just to walk through it, is another 15-30 minutes.

All told, I'd say the average time it takes to spend visiting Vatican City is 3-4 hours.

But it can easily become a full day.

Even if you decide to only dedicate a half-day to this, try to avoid planning another major site or museum visit on the same day (skip Colosseum and Borghese Gallery, and do those another day!)

3. Dress appropriately

Clothing rules signRemember to respect the dress code. The rules at the entrance to the Vatican Museums and Basilica are very strict

Dressing appropriately to visit the Vatican Museums (and any other site in Vatican City, including Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Gardens, The Necropolis etc), means not showing a lot of bare skin.

Specifically this means

  • NO Bare knees - skirts and shorts should cover your knees. If they just come to the top of your knees, you may risk being told you cannot enter if you get a strict guard. 
  • NO Bare midriffs
  • NO Bare shoulders - this is easy, just carry a light sweater or scarf when you sightsee in hot weather.

It is perfectly fine to wear jeans, t-shirts and open-toed sandals. 

You do not have to be dressed UP

You just have to be dressed modestly.

Visit my page about What to Pack for Rome for ideas about what to wear in Rome

And beyond that, my strong advice to you is to dress comfortably.

Which brings us to:

4. Wear comfortable shoes

I said above that it's fine to wear sandals.

But I'd urge you to forego flip flops and any other flimsy shoes.

This is in fact true for most Rome sightseeing.

You will do more walking than you think.

Shoes that are not sturdy, and not broken in, will do more to kill your sightseeing joy in Rome than just about anything else.

Comfortable sightseeing shoesYou cannot go wrong wearing sturdy, comfortable, broken-in walking shoes when you visit Rome.

When you visit Vatican Museums, you are faced with nearly 7.5 kilometers (4.5 miles) of rooms full of art.

Of course, many people do not visit all the rooms, but believe me, you will be doing a LOT of walking

A typical time-frame to allow yourself to visit Vatican Museums is 2-3 hours

Even if you do the bare minimum and fast-track to the Sistine Chapel, you will still have at least one hour's worth of walking to do.

Just in the museums.

And this does not include the walking you may do to get there. And, a visit to Saint Peter's Basilica. And then perhaps some more walking around Vatican Square afterwards. And then there is the walking you might to do find food, and get a taxi, bus or metro back to your hotel.

So comfortable, sturdy walking shoes are absolutely key. I cannot stress this enough.

NEW FOR 2024!

The archeological area of the Vatican Necropolis of Via Triumphalis is now open for visitors.

This is an ancient Roman burial site that is within the Vatican walls and before now was very difficult to get access to.

You can only enter as part of an official Vatican tour group, and tickets need to be purchased through the official website.

This is an entirely separate visit, so you will not have access to either St Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museums.

Click here to watch my YouTube video about it and see what it's like!

5. Make a food plan

Click here to book an evening food near near the Vatican with our trusted partner Get Your Guide.

In my family, we are always thinking about food (maybe you can tell how much I love thinking and talking about food on my pages about food in Rome!)

I am a big believer in avoiding low blood sugar and debilitating hunger pangs in the middle of sightseeing.

First, you should decide if you are eating a meal before or after your visit, or both.

Second, bring some kind of snack with you: a bar, a piece of fruit or candy, or even small tramezzino (little sandwich).

You could also stop at a pharmacy and pick up some power / energy bars.

My suggestion is to arrive at the museums well-fed (unless you are actually having breakfast, lunch, or happy hour inside the museums.)

Even if you spend the least time possible, you are likely to still be at least 2 hours without any food or drink, unless you visit one of the Vatican Museums cafeterias (I've tried it and it's blah, but at least it's there just in case.)

Cafeteria at the MuseumsYes, the Vatican museums has a cafeteria. But it's pretty meh. Arrive well-fed or bring some bars with you!

Want to know where the bathrooms are in the Vatican Museums?

Find out here.

6. Taking pictures inside Vatican Museums

elyssa with cameraYours truly with my trusty Canon SLR

You may take photos without flash and also video just about everywhere at the Vatican, including inside Saint Peter's Basilica (although not inside the treasury or the papal grottoes.)

The main exception is the Sistine Chapel, where NO photos are allowed.

Tripods and selfie-sticks are not allowed anywhere in the Vatican Museums or St. Peter's Basilica.

If you bring either of these, you will have to check it at the coat-check area right at the entry to the Vatican museums.

This is not a big deal unless you are planning to visit St. Peter's Basilica directly from the Sistine Chapel (which, again, you can only do on a guided tour that includes the basilica), because you have to go back to the museums entrance to collect your belongings.

Why aren't you allowed to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel?

Many theories abound but I believe I know the answer!

The short answer is that in 1980, to finance a huge restoration of the Sistine Chapel and in particular Michelangelo's frescoes, the Vatican accepted a bid by Nippon Television Network Corporation of Japan, in which they would pay for the restoration, in exchange for exclusive image rights.

And the short followup to that is that those rights have expired.

A Vatican guard I spoke with told me that the Vatican still enforces this no-photos rule, in part because it is a CHAPEL, a holy place, where sometimes (private) services are held for the Pope.

Also, this is where the Conclave is held to decide on a new pope.

So for the Vatican, this holy place should not be desecrated by picture-taking. 

HOWEVER, Saint Peter's Basilica is also a holy place where the pope often holds services but photos are allowed there.

And, I have been allowed to take photos and video many times over the years, when I've been inside for special after hours tours or events.

So my theory is that they don't allow photos for crowd control.

They'd never get people to leave and new visitors would not be able to get in.

You may or may not see a lot of people flouting this rule.

Sometimes the guards are more lenient, or more strict.

And so it is up to you if you want to abide by their rules.

7. Don't bring a large backpack

If you bring any large bags or backpacks, you will have to check them.

Same with large umbrellas. Wheelchairs are of course permitted inside the Vatican Museums.

For a complete list of items allowed/not allowed inside the Vatican Museums, visit their website.

No matter what season you visit Rome, here are 4 things never to leave at home:

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link on this page, I may receive a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!

8. Watch out for pickpockets

Click here to visit my page about how to stay safe in Rome, and how to avoid being pickpocketed.

If you were a pickpocket, wouldn't you choose the easiest targets?

The people not paying any attention to their surroundings, and to their own belongings?

And can you imagine what easy pickings they have in very crowded places, like the Sistine Chapel, when everyone is jostling each other, and just concentrating on looking UP?

Sadly, I know of many instances where people have been pickpocketed without realizing it at all, until they get back to their hotel room.

Your belongings should be secured on your body or in a locked purse or backpack that you can keep control of.

I don't want to scare you, but I want you to avoid being a pickpocket victim.

It puts a huge damper on the whole experience.

So be vigilant.

9. Avoid the long lines

The best way to avoid waiting in line to visit Vatican Museums is to buy your tickets in advance.

And the only way to do this is online.

You can do it through the Vatican website, or through an online vendor.

Vatican Museums EntranceNo lines, no waiting at the Vatican Museums! How? It's late January. Otherwise, assume massive, 2-hour lines.

This does not mean you won't find crowds inside.

It also does not pertain to entry into Saint Peter's Basilica, which is a different building altogether.

10. Don't come on the Free Sunday

It sounds like a great idea to be able to visit Vatican Museums for free.

And you can, on the last Sunday of the month (unless this falls on a major holiday like Christmas.)

But should you?

Since visiting anything free is a popular thing to do, you can imagine how long the lines can get.

So you will need to show up long before they open at 8 AM if you can.

The museums on this day have limited hours, closing at 2pm, with last entry at 12:30.

This means you are pretty limited in when you can go, and how long you will have to see them.

I strongly recommend not visiting the Vatican Museums on the free Sunday unless it's the only time you can go, and/or you are on a tight budget.

And if you do go on the free Sunday, get there by 8 AM.

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.

Best Way to Visit Vatican Museums on Your Own

Having visited the museums often, in the past as a tourist, and many times since I live here, my recommendation if you are a first-time visitor to Rome is to take a Vatican Museums tour.

There is just so much to see and absorb, and a lot to navigate, and doing it all on your own is a bit daunting . . . plus I think you will miss a lot.

But if you have a lot of time in Rome, or have visited the museums before, or really just want to go on your own, because you are not a tour person, this is my advice:

See the Spiral Staircase first

The first thing you do when you visit Vatican Museums is come up an escalator (after scanning your ticket).

When you get to the top of the escalator, you will see in front of you a lot of options for things to see and places to go (Sistine Chapel this way!) So exciting!

spiral staircase in vatican museumsDon't miss taking a photo of this famous staircase!

If you turn around 180 degrees, you will see one of the Vatican Museums gift shops.

In the middle of this bookshop is the staircase everyone wants to photograph when they visit the Vatican Museums.

This is the exit of the Vatican Museums IF you don't take the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel (the shortcut currently is only available on tours of the museum that end in the Basilica) to Saint Peter's Basilica.

St Peter's Basilica Shortcut

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.

The shortcut is open from 9:30 am - 5 or 5:30PM, and it's ONLY accessible to tour companies or private guides that you book OUTSIDE the Vatican Museums website.

The Vatican Museums does not have any ticket or tour that includes the shortcut.

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.

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.)

But by the time you exit after 2+ hours of sightseeing and walking, you will be tired and might not even pay much attention to the staircase.

So I suggest making a quick stop here first, take a peek, take your shot, and do NOT go down the staircase (you cannot come back up).

Then continue your Vatican Museums visit.


By the way, right at this spot you will find clean bathrooms, and a Vatican post office. 

But don't worry, there are plenty more bathrooms throughout the museums.

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link on this page, I may receive a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!

Do you want to beeline to the Sistine Chapel?

If you are in a hurry when you visit the Vatican Museums, have been before, or simply just want to see the Sistine Chapel and nothing else, you can follow the signs, and go straight through the museums.

shortcut to sistine chapelThis sign showing the shortcut to the Sistine Chapel to get there as quickly as possible always makes me laugh - it looks like they are telling you to fall down the stairs!

You WILL see a lot of other art and rooms on the way.

And it will take you nearly an hour to get to the Sistine Chapel but if you truly beeline and do not stop at all, you could probably make it there in about half an hour.

Decide if you have half an hour or so to visit the Pinacoteca

Most people who visit Vatican Museums skip the Pinacoteca.

I think it's because it's off to the right, not in the same direction as all the signs pointing the way to the Sistine Chapel.

Most tours skip this gallery too, as there is just not usually enough time to fit it all in.

Vatican Pinacoteca EntranceThe portrait gallery known as the "Pinacoteca". One of the most complete collections of paintings in the world

But if you are on your own, or decide to go with a tour that includes it, the Pinacoteca offers the chance to see some of the most extraordinary paintings in Rome.

Oil on board. Leonardo da Vinci St. JeromeSt. Jerome in the wilderness. The only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the whole museum is in this gallery.

Raphael " La trasfigurazione"Raphael's Transfiguration is one of his most important works and one of the most important pieces of art of the time.

Caravaggio's "Deposition"The Deposition. One of the most important paintings by Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, is alone worth visiting this gallery for.

To visit the pinacoteca, walk straight towards the outside space right when you come off the escalator that brings you to the Vatican Museums.

Look to your right and you will see a sign for it.

Decide if you want to visit the New Wing / braccio nuovo

The Braccio Nuovo, or "New Wing" of the museums was actually there before.

But it was closed for years and was only re-opened in 2016, completely re-done.

It's truly spectacular but many people miss it when they visit the Vatican Museums, because, again, it's not directly on the route to the Sistine Chapel.

Vatican Museums braccio nuovoThe recently re-opened "New Wing", or Braccio Nuovo, of the Vatican Museums, is well worth a visit, and often un-crowded, as so many people have no idea it's there.

To see this beautiful section when you visit Vatican Museums, walk past the Pinecone courtyard, and take a right.

You will walk down a long corridor of neo-classic design, with statue after statue (many of which are worth a closer look!)

vatican museums new wing corridorThis neo-classic corridor leads you to the stunning "New Wing", pictured above

You will see the Braccio Nuovo on the right.

If you time it right, you can sometimes have this wing, or parts of it, all to yourself!

Nile river statue in the Vatican MuseumsOne of the amazing ancient sculptures you can see in the Vatican Museums' Braccio Nuovo is this one, of the river Nile.
augustus of prima portaThis original statue of Rome's first Emperor, Augustus, is one of the most important of all antiquity. It was made when he was alive!

pin visit vatican museums

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