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What you need to know before buying tickets for the Vatican Museums

by Paola Bertoni
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The Vatican Museums in Rome are a must-visit for art and culture enthusiasts. The collection is vast and beautiful, offering a complete journey through history. However, before buying tickets, you must know a few things to ensure you get the most out of your experience.

What to know about the Vatican Museums

To get started, don’t assume that the Vatican Museums only consist of the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s rooms. The Vatican museums are enormous and house various art collections spread across approximately 1,400 rooms, covering a distance of over 7 kilometres. You can find more information in my article about The Definitive Guide to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Therefore, it’s crucial to know beforehand what to expect to make the most of your visit and cater to your interests.

Vatican City is an independent state within Rome. For this reason, to save on entrance fees, you need to buy an integrated pass such as the Go City Explorer Pass, which includes entrance to the Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel. In alternative you can choose the Vatican City Card dedicated to the Vatican Museums and includes the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus.
To stay connected in Italy, remember to buy an Airalo eSim online, with data and phone coverage for your trip to Rome.

When to buy Vatican Museum tickets

If you want to guarantee your entry into the Vatican Museums, I highly recommend purchasing your tickets in advance. Some guidebooks suggest buying tickets at the entrance is better, but this is not true. Tickets sell out rapidly, making it nearly impossible to find available tickets on the day of your visit.

The people queuing up at the entrance have already purchased their tickets and are waiting to enter. As thousands of visitors pass through the Vatican Museums’ entrance gate each day, it’s necessary to regulate the flow of visitors. Even if your ticket has an entry time, you may still have to wait in line.

To avoid queueing, specialised operators, like GetYourGuide, sell Vatican Museums skip-the-line tickets. These tickets often provide a dedicated entrance that can save you a lot of time. However, security checks are still in place, which slows down the entry process for everyone.

Paola Bertoni in the gardens of Vatican City
In the gardens of Vatican City before entering the Vatican Museums

Where to buy tickets for the Vatican Museums

On the official website of the Vatican Museums, you can buy tickets at the best price. Only here can you find them at the official price (€17 + €5 for online booking), which is the cheapest. However, the available tickets sell out quickly, and you often cannot even book for the following week. 

If you aren’t able to buy your tickets on the official Vatican Museums website, you have two options. First, you choose to book, again from the official website, a guided group tour. For a price difference of around €20, you can participate in a group tour with a guide, lasting about two hours, and then have time to visit the museums on your own. Unfortunately, these guided groups are too big to be valid, up to 30 people. So, in my opinion, it isn’t worth the price. I visited the museum with a guide in a small group, which is totally different.

Alternatively, you can buy a skip-the-line ticket for the Vatican Museums from a specialised operator such as GetYourGuide. These operators purchase large quantities of tickets daily and then resell them on their website at a charge of about €5. So, it is often possible to find available tickets on these operators’ websites, even if they are sold out on the official website, as you can check in the calendar below.

If you cannot get an entrance ticket in any way, change your plans. Never buy tickets from unauthorised sellers around the Vatican Museums because it is a common scam in Rome. They can promise you some skip-the-line tickets or unforgettable guided tours, but they only sell worthless pieces of paper.

Which ticket to buy to visit the Vatican Museums

There are different types of tickets for the Vatican Museums. You can check their price and availability on the official website. The best-selling ticket is undoubtedly the single ticket, which allows you to enter at a pre-arranged time for €22 (€17 for the ticket + €5 for the online booking).

On the other hand, if you prefer to have an introduction to the Vatican Museums by a professional guide, you can opt for a ticket with a group guided tour for €35. After the entrance, you will reach the meeting point, where you will find your guide and your group and begin the guided tour. This tour lasts approximately 2 hours and will allow you to visit the Pio Clementino Museum, the Candelabra, Maps and Tapestries Galleries, the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. From here, you will have the freedom to continue your visit independently. Remember, these guided tours always have huge groups, usually around 30 people per group.

You can choose the Prime Experience ticket to enjoy a unique experience and enter the Vatican Museums one hour before public opening hours. The two-hour guided tour will visit the Candelabra, Maps and Tapestries Galleries, the Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel. At the end of the tour, you can enjoy an American breakfast. After breakfast, you can continue the visit independently. This ticket costs €68.

Last, if you want the unique experience of an exclusive entrance to the Sistine Chapel after it has been closed to the general public, you should opt for the Extra Time ticket. The guided tour follows the classic route, starting at the Pio Clementino Museum and ending at the Sistine Chapel. At the end, you can enjoy an aperitif in the evocative atmosphere of the Vatican Museums. The price of this ticket is €78.

When to visit the Vatican Museums

As a traveller, you may dream of visiting the Vatican Museums without the hassle of dealing with crowds. I’m pretty sure you would want to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere, delve into history, and appreciate every detail of the artwork on display. However, the reality is quite different.

Being one of the most visited museums in the world, the Vatican Museums are always crowded. Even during the low season, November, January, and February, they are always full, although with fewer large groups.

To plan your visit, choose a weekday between Tuesday and Thursday, as weekends are more crowded, and Mondays are busy after being closed on Sunday. On the last Sunday of every month, entrance to the Vatican Museums is free from 9 am to 2 pm. However, the queue to enter is kilometres long, so consider whether it’s worth spending more time waiting in line than exploring the museum.

Gallery of statues in the Chiaramonti Museum of the Vatican Museums
Gallery of statues in the Chiaramonti Museum of the Vatican Museums

How to dress within the walls of Vatican City

The Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are within Vatican City, and visitors should dress appropriately inside its walls. You may be refused entry if you wear tank tops, miniskirts, or shorts that are too short. Before visiting the Vatican Museums, checking the official website for information on the dress code rules is a good idea.

Vatican Museums Visit Time

The Vatican Museums are huge and can take considerable time to explore. Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours to appreciate the breathtaking artworks on display. Some visitors may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of artwork, but taking the time to explore the museum at a comfortable pace is well worth the effort.

The Vatican Museums exhibit paintings, frescoes, tapestries, and sculptures rich in symbolism and hidden meanings. To appreciate these works of art entirely, one needs to understand classical and Italian art history deeply. Private guided tours are available to help visitors gain such knowledge. These tours last at least two hours, and afterwards, visitors can explore the Vatican Museums independently.

Where to stay in Rome

I have tried several hotels in Rome during my travels and I recommend staying in the city centre to avoid the chaotic traffic of the capital. Among the hotels I suggest, the charming Roma Suites Navona has family rooms and is in a great location just a few steps from Piazza Navona.

If you prefer a hotel with a buffet breakfast, you can choose the Bloom Hotel Rome, very close to St Peter’s Basilica, while if you arrive by train, the best choice near Termini station is the DoubleTree By Hilton Rome Monti hotel with double and family rooms.

To make the most of your visit to the Vatican Museums, I suggest preparing beforehand. Visit the official website and look at the spaces and collections. The Pinacoteca occupies 18 rooms and exhibits over 400 paintings by artists such as Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael and Caravaggio. Note what you absolutely want to see and what you are not interested in.

Choosing in advance what to see can optimise your time. Feel free to share your experience in the comments, about what kind of tickets you bought for the Vatican Museums and how your visit was.

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