With the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Square and dome as its main landmarks, the Vatican is a must-see among the things to see and do in Rome. The history behind its walls cannot be read in textbooks and that is one of the main reasons to visit them.
The experience of visiting the Vatican Museums on your own is totally different from visiting them with a specialised guide who explains and contextualises the centuries of art in these museums. Choosing a tour among the many options can be overwhelming, but these are the best options:
Complete tour of the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica
If you want to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica in the same day without missing the papal tombs, saving money and time, this is the best option.
This option of a complete visit to the Vatican with an expert guide is for those who wish to make the most of the day in the Vatican environment and see its main architectural gems. With this 2-hour tour you will save a lot of time queuing and you will also have exclusive access to the Papal Tombs in St. Peter's Basilica.
In addition to explanations of specific works, this complete tour of the Vatican and St. Peter's also includes interesting information such as a look at the architecture of the area, insight into the political and religious life of the Vatican (worthy of a series and in fact there are several) and anecdotes that most tourists don't know.
Recommended if... You want to complete your visit to the Vatican by discovering another of Rome's must-see sites, taking advantage of its proximity.
Other options for guided tours of the Vatican
If you want to forget about queuing and wasting time waiting in line, here are some other suggestions for guided tours of the Vatican:
- Early morning guided tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel: avoid the crowds and enjoy the tour at your leisure.
- Guided tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel for children: a different kind of guided tour, with games and trivia to make the tour more enjoyable for the little ones and more relaxed for the adults.
- Private guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel: enjoy an exclusive experience for you and your group, with an expert guide by your side throughout the visit.
What you should know about your guided tour of the Vatican
By booking a guided tour (and this works in virtually all cases) you can stop worrying about times, routes and waits (the vast majority of Vatican tours are queue-free). Paradoxical though it may seem, you feel less like a tourist on a guided tour because the only concern is the stories the guide is telling.
There are refund options if you cancel 24 hours in advance. This allows you to adjust your plans in case of unforeseen circumstances without losing your money. Make sure when you make your booking that entrance tickets are included and ensure queue-free access: although it may seem basic, nothing should be taken for granted.
Organise your guided tour of the Vatican
Although there are various times to visit the Vatican with a guided tour, it is recommended that you choose the early morning to avoid coinciding with peak times at the Vatican Museums. It is also important to note that tours that include a visit to St. Peter's Basilica after 2:00 pm do not guarantee access to the Basilica.
How to get to the Vatican
Although it is a bit of a distance, the Vatican can be reached from the centre of Rome on foot from tourist spots such as Piazza Navona or Campo di Fiori. In any case, the easiest option is to take metro line A to Ottaviano S. Pietro.
Atour of the Vatican can take approximately three hours, although the total time can vary and can be longer. If you want to see the highlights of the Vatican Museums in depth, a tour of less than this time is not recommended. If you are visiting the Vatican on your own, you may be interested in this post on the length of Vatican tours.
Eating in the area
Leave the area for lunch unless your guide gives you a specific recommendation for eating near the Vatican. Be aware that most places near St Peter's Square will be expensive and some may commit the grave sin of offering you a plate of reheated pasta or pizza.
Tour with children
It is not recommended that you take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums with children unless it is specifically adapted for them. The tour is too long for the little ones, the museums are crowded and they won't enjoy it and you won't enjoy it. As for pushchairs, they can be chaotic at peak times.
Ana's Traveller Tip
Avoid hiring the "guides" who will approach you in St. Peter's Square. Many are unofficial and are not qualified to give a quality guided tour.
Frequently asked questions by travellers interested in a guided tour of the Vatican in Rome
How should I dress in the Vatican?
Due to the particular idiosyncrasy of the place, one of the main rules of the Vatican is to wear "decorous" clothing. To enter, shoulders and knees must be covered. This also means no hats, no braces, no cleavage, no trousers and no short skirts.
Can I take photos inside the Vatican?
In the Vatican Museums, neither flash photography nor selfie sticks are allowed. You may take photos with your mobile phone and with a camera that does not involve professional accessories (for the latter, special permission must be requested).
In the case of St. Peter's Basilica, remember that you are in a place of worship; although many tourists do not respect this, it is not appropriate to be taking photos while visitors are trying to enjoy the seclusion that the place should convey.
Is it worth climbing St. Peter's Dome?
Although entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is free and you will probably see it during your guided tour of the Vatican, there is a separate charge for climbing St. Peter's Dome. If you're fit and don't suffer from claustrophobia, it's worth doing. Otherwise from Gianicolo Hill you will have a very similar view of St. Peter's Square.
Can I visit the Vatican Museums at night?
On some Fridays of the year, the Vatican Museums are open during the evening (although there are usually no tours at this time). Find out when they are and take the opportunity to visit them if you are in Rome, as they are usually much less crowded.
What if I just want tickets for the Vatican?
Of course, there is also the option of buying tickets to the Vatican without any kind of guided tour. It is true that this will allow you to get to know the whole area at your own pace without having to be attentive to the explanations of a guide, but on the other hand, you will miss the charm of knowing in detail the explanation of all the art, the way of life and the curiosities that the Vatican hides. The price of tickets to the Vatican without a guided tour, however, will be lower and you can benefit from discounts on tickets to the Vatican if you meet certain age or professional requirements.
Other guided tours in Rome
Another guided tour that you may be interested in if you visit the Vatican is the visit to the Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica. This visit requires a special permit because it gives access to the place where the apostle is buried, but there are some specialised tours that offer this visit.
As for other worthwhile guided tours in Rome, the favourite is without a doubt the visit to the Colosseum and the Forum of Rome. The area has nothing to do with the Vatican, but it is the other must-see of the eternal city and the history it carries with it is fascinating, which is why there are combined tickets for the Vatican and the Colosseum.