Are you looking for the best Vatican Museums tours? In this article, you will find a detailed travel guide about the different kinds of tours available to visit the Vatican Museums.
Here you will find all the details you need about private tours, group tours, family-friendly tours, at-night tours, early access tours, themed tours and more. Find out which Vatican Museums guided tour matches your needs, and how to find the best price.
If you already know which Vatican Museums tour you want, go ahead and book your Vatican Museums guided tour. Otherwise, read on to learn more about all the possibilities you have to discover the Vatican.
Is it worth taking a Vatican Museums tour?
Yes! A Vatican Museums guided tour is certainly worth it. The Vatican Museums house one of the largest art collections in the world. To see everything, you would need to walk about 7.5 kilometers!
There are 22 different galleries with over 20,000 paintings and sculptures on display, so it is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed. A guided tour helps you make the best of your time at the Vatican Museums.
Besides those 22 galleries, you also have the chance to visit the Sistine Chapel — a must-see sight on nearly every tour. Michelangelo’s enormous frescoes are impressive on their own, but they only truly come alive when put into their historical and cultural context, which the expert guide will explain in detail.
You should now decide how you want to explore the Vatican Museums — on your own or with a guide.
If you prefer to explore the Vatican Museums on your own, you can book a single entry ticket to visit the museums at your own pace. Your best option is to book skip-the-line Vatican Museums tickets online ahead of time, otherwise, you can check our guide about Vatican Museums last minute tickets.
There are also tickets that allow you to add on breakfast, lunch or entry to other attractions. You can read more about these options in our in-depth guide to Vatican Museums tickets.
Please note that these tickets give you entry to the Vatican Museums, but you will not have a guide to accompany you during the visit.
If you prefer to have an expert accompany you to provide context and ensure you don’t miss anything important, then you can book a guided tour to get the most from your visit to the Vatican Museums.
Read on to learn more about all the different types of tours available, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs and interests.
Why book a Vatican Museums tour?
It’s easy and convenient! – You will only need to show up at the meeting point at the right time, and the guide will take care of everything, including the skip-the-line tickets, which are always included in the tour packages.
Save time and don’t miss anything – You will have so little time, yet so much to see. How to decide where to focus your attention? No need to fear, your guide will be there to help.
They know the Vatican Museums like the back of their hand. They’ll take you on the quickest and most scenic routes to the must-see masterpieces and the hidden gems easily overlooked by the average tourist.
Get to the heart of each museum – The guided tour allows you to ask your guide all the questions you want. The expert guides are very knowledgeable about the paintings and sculptures on display. They’ll be there to share historical anecdotes and engaging details about the stories behind the masterworks, and the geniuses who painted and sculpted them.
Which Vatican Museums tour is best for you?
Each tour is unique. You should consider which type of tour best suits your needs and interests. The tours differ in several ways.
- Group size. You can choose from semi-private or private tours to small or larger group tours.
- Duration. Some tours last only 2 or 3 hours, while others are half-day or full-day experiences.
- Number of sights. Some tours focus only on the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, while others include visits to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Gardens or even other sights in Rome, such as the Colosseum.
- Special focus. Some tours are specially designed to be family-friendly for those with young children. There are also early access and evening tours to visit at special times and Hidden Vatican Museums tours to see sections closed to the general public.
Whichever tour you choose, they all include skip-the-line Vatican Museums tickets and an expert tour guide.
Vatican Museums Group tours
These are the most popular choice for a guided visit of the Vatican Museums. In fact, group tours are typically the cheapest option among the tours of the Vatican Museums, because you share the cost of the guide with many others.
Group tours allow you to meet people from around the world, as the groups generally have around 25 people each. However, there are also options for smaller groups of 6 to 12 people, which are more private and a little more expensive.
There’s no need to worry about not hearing the guide if you are at the back of a large group. Everyone is given whisper headphones so that you can clearly hear what the guide is saying, even at a normal speaking volume.
Among the group tours, there are also several different options, such as tours with early entrance or evening tours. You can find below an explanation of these options.
Vatican Museums Private tours
If you’re looking for a more personalized experience, then Vatican Museums private tours with your very own guide are just the thing. The tour can focus on what you’re most interested in, from specific works of art and architecture to the rich cultural and religious history hidden around every corner.
You can choose from small group tours of up to 10 people, semi-private tours of up to 6 people or private tours exclusively for your own group. With a small group, you will have a more personal experience and be able to appreciate the Vatican Museums at your own pace.
You will have the guide’s full attention for any questions you might have, just not inside the Sistine Chapel, where everyone must remain silent. Make sure to switch that phone to vibrate!
Private tours can be combined with visits to other sites, such as the Vatican Gardens, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. You can also choose from tours lasting only a few hours or half-day and full-day tours with pickup directly from your hotel.
Vatican Museums Family-Friendly tours
If you’re hoping to keep your kids entertained while they learn a bit about the history of the Vatican and the artworks in the museums, then you can book a tour that has been specially designed for kids.
Specially-trained guides will uncover the mysteries hidden in the paintings and sculptures of the Vatican through stories that are engaging for children of all ages (and the curious child inside each one of us).
These are generally private tours, which allows the guide to design the tour specifically for the needs and interests of your family.
Scavenger hunts, trivia and iPad games are some of the fun activities in store for your little ones to get the most out of their time at the Vatican Museums (and so the parents can take a break from figuring out how to keep them from getting bored and restless!).
Vatican Museums Audioguided tours
You can add an audioguide to any of the Vatican Museums tickets for €7, or €5 for children under 12. The audioguides are available in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, German, Chinese and Korean.
This is a budget-friendly option that allows you more freedom to explore the Vatican Museums at your own pace. However, there’s no way to ask questions if you have any doubts and an audioguide is generally less engaging than having a real person guide you around the museums.
Avoid the Crowds – Early Access & At-Night Vatican Museums tours
Remember that the Vatican Museums are some of the most visited museums in the world and are busy year-round, especially during the summertime when over 30,000 visitors will arrive every day.
Vatican Museums Early Access tours
Avoid the bulk of the crowds at midday and enjoy a more leisurely tour experience. Early birds can take an early access tour of the Vatican Museums to beat the heat and the crowds of tourists.
Tours start before 8 AM, and you enter just as the Vatican Museums are opening for the day. Tours are generally small groups of less than 15 people or private tours. Some even guarantee a highly-qualified tour guide, who has a Ph.D. degree in either archaeology or art history.
For more details, check out our guide on Vatican Museums Early Access Tours.
Vatican Museums At-Night tours
Your visit to the Vatican Museums doesn’t have to be one where you’re jostling with sweaty tourists under a sweltering sun. Vatican Museums at night tours allow you to avoid the heat and the largest crowds.
Only available on Fridays and Saturdays from May to October, at-night tours are a good way to avoid the crowds that pack into the Vatican Museums during the day. This way, you will be able to take your time admiring each work of art without someone bumping into you.
Typically, these tours are private or offered to small groups of up to 12 or 18 people. Since they are only available to a limited number of visitors on weekends, it’s important to book your tour well in advance as they often sell out weeks or even months ahead of time.
Is the Sistine Chapel included in the Vatican Museums tours?
Yes! The Sistine Chapel is always included in your ticket.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds at the Sistine Chapel, consider booking an early access tour that lets you enter before the general public. With this option, you can head straight to the chapel first thing in the morning, before it opens to the public.
Early access tours offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the peace and serenity of the Sistine Chapel, allowing you to fully appreciate Michelangelo’s masterpieces on the altar walls and ceiling. It’s an unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss.
Early Access guided tours start at €55, which includes both the early access ticket and a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. For a deeper dive into early access tours, see our guide on Sistine Chapel Early Access tickets & tours.
Is St. Peter’s Basilica included in the Vatican Museums tours?
Yes! St. Peter’s Basilica is included in most Vatican Museums tours. St. Peter’s Basilica is an active church and is free for all to enter.
Normally, you have to wait in line for a security check, but if you book a guided tour, you can go right in. The guide will lead you through a special side door connecting the Sistine Chapel directly to St. Peter’s Basilica after visiting the museums.
Are the Vatican Gardens included in the Vatican Museums tours?
Yes, as long as you book a tour that includes the gardens. This is actually the only way to visit the Vatican Gardens, as you cannot explore the gardens on your own, but only as part of a guided tour.
The standard tour covers only the Vatican Gardens and the Sistine Chapel, but there are other tour options available that cover additional areas of the Vatican Museums.
Are the Pontifical Gardens in Castel Gandolfo included in the Vatican Museums tours?
Yes, as long as you choose a tour that includes the Pontifical Gardens. This type of tour allows you to step into the Pope’s shoes, specifically how he spends his summer vacation.
The Gardens of the Pontifical Villas are not actually part of the Vatican and are located at Castel Gandolfo — 25 kilometers southeast of Rome, so keep in mind that you will need to budget time to travel there and back.
What are the Hidden Vatican Museums tours?
Some areas of the Vatican Museums are closed to the general public and can only be accessed as part of a guided tour with an exclusive Hidden Vatican Museums tour.
This is the only way you can see the Chapel of Nicolas V, the Bramante Staircase and the Cabinet of Masks. These are premium tours with a hefty price tag because the Vatican charges a substantial fee to open these sections. However, this is a very exclusive experience in rarely seen areas of the Vatican.
Can you take a tour of both the Vatican Museums and other attractions?
Combined guided tours are a great way to save time and money if you plan to visit multiple attractions in Rome. You can visit some of the must-see experiences, like exploring the Colosseum and receiving the Pope’s blessing in person at a Papal audience.
You can choose from various combined guided tours, such as:
- Vatican Museums and the Colosseum: Explore the two most important attractions in Rome, the Vatican and the Colosseum & Roman Forum.
- Vatican Museums and a Papal Audience: Witness the Pope in person at a Papal Audience in St. Peter’s Square, available only on Wednesdays.
- Vatican Museums and the Vatican Gardens: Discover half of the Vatican City that is composed of the Vatican Gardens, which are only accessible as part of a guided tour.
- Vatican Museums and a hop-on hop-off bus tour: Get skip-the-line access to the Vatican Museums and enjoy a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour in Rome.
Are there any free Vatican Museums tours?
There are no free tours of the Vatican Museums. However, some visitors do qualify for free admission.
All children under 6, disabled visitors plus one companion, the priest of a pilgrimage group and university professors of certain disciplines always have free admission.
How to cancel/modify your Vatican Museums Tour?
When booking a tour through an online provider, it’s important to be aware that their cancellation policies may vary. While some providers offer a full refund if canceled 24 hours prior to the visit, others may have a no cancellation policy.
To avoid any inconvenience in case you need to change or cancel your booking, it’s recommended to choose an online provider with a flexible cancellation policy. However, it’s crucial to carefully read the terms and conditions to avoid unexpected complications.
Are there any Vatican Museums tours included in the Roma Pass or Omnia Card?
No. Neither pass includes any Vatican Museums tours. The Omnia Card only gives you entry to the Vatican Museums, plus many other attractions in Rome, but a tour of the Vatican Museums is not included. The Roma Pass doesn’t include tours or entry into the Vatican Museums.
Why is it called the Vatican Museums and not the Vatican Museum?
That’s because the Vatican Museums, as the name suggests, is actually composed of a number of different museums. All of which can be included on a guided tour. Upon entering the Vatican Museums, you are actually entering a collection of different buildings and museums full of priceless masterpieces to appreciate. You will be able to explore the following.
- Sistine Chapel
- Raphael Rooms
- Pinacoteca Vaticana
- Gregorian Egyptian Museum
- Gregorian Etruscan Museum
- Pio-Clementino Museum
- Chiaramonti Museum
- Lapidary Gallery
- New Wing
- Gregoriano Profano Museum
- Lapidario Profano ex Lateranense
- Pio Cristiano Museum
- Christian Lapidarium
- Jewish Lapidarium
- Ethnological Museum
- Carriage Pavilion
- Christian Museum
- Profane Museum
- Room of the Aldobrandini Wedding
- Chapel of St. Peter Martyr
- Collection of Contemporary Art
- Borgia Apartment
- Niccoline Chapel
- Chapel of Urban VIII
- Room of the Immaculate Conception
- Room of the Chiaroscuri
There are also some special sections that are closed to the general public and open only for group tours.
- The Vatican Gardens
- The Villa Barberini and its gardens
- The Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo
- The Hidden Pontifical Villas
- The Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis
- The Carriage Pavilion
It’s important to keep in mind that the Vatican Museums house one of the world’s most extensive art collections. In fact, if you were to view every painting and sculpture in the collection, you would need to walk over 7 kilometers!
There are a number of renowned masterpieces exhibited that you don’t want to overlook.
- Michelangelo’s masterpieces “The Creation of Adam” and “The Last Judgement” are unmissable, spanning dozens of meters on the ceiling and main altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.
- In the Raphael Rooms, the highlight is Raphael’s “School of Athens.” Try to spot the famous faces from the Renaissance and antiquity, including a self-portrait of the painter himself!
- One of the most coveted paintings in the Pinacoteca Vaticana is Caravaggio’s “The Entombment of Christ.”
- Another notable piece in the Pinacoteca Vaticana is Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished painting “St. Jerome in the Wilderness,” which is his only artwork in the Vatican.
Nevertheless, these four are just a few of the many popular examples of what you can find in this vast collection.
What will you see inside the Vatican Museums?
The Vatican Museums are home to an unparalleled collection of more than 70,000 paintings and sculptures, of which only 20,000 are currently on display. Its origins date back to the 16th century when Pope Julius II conceived the idea and began to contribute artworks to the legendary exhibitions.
The two biggest highlights of Vatican City are the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. The Sistine Chapel boasts Michelangelo’s world-renowned ceiling mural, while St. Peter’s Basilica is a remarkable example of Renaissance architecture and stands as the largest church on the planet.
In addition to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, there are dozens of museums in the Vatican to explore. Here, you can marvel at both contemporary and classical works of art created by some of the finest painters and sculptors to have ever lived.
With over 6 million visitors annually, the Vatican Museums rank among the most visited art museums in the world. It would take weeks, if not months, to fully explore the collection. However, if you have only one day, make sure you do not miss the masterpieces described below.
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel holds some of Michelangelo’s most timeless works of art. One of these works is “The Creation of Adam,” a panel from a series of murals that stretches 40 meters across the ceiling. In this panel, you can see God reaching out his finger to mankind, creating a powerful and iconic image.
As you stand in front of the altar wall, you will see Michelangelo’s incomparable fresco, “The Last Judgement,” covering the entirety of the wall. This piece of art is 14 meters high and stretches 12 meters across, with over 300 figures depicting the Second Coming of Christ. It is an awe-inspiring work that captures the power and majesty of this important religious event.
Despite its historical and artistic significance, the chapel still serves as the site of the papal conclave, a centuries-old tradition where the cardinals gather to choose a new pope. Visitors can gather outside the chapel to observe the color of the smoke leaving the chimney, eagerly awaiting the announcement of a new pontiff.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, stands tall and wide, covering over 23,000 square meters. Its dome, which is the tallest building in Rome by law, reaches a height of 136 meters, making it a remarkable feat of Renaissance architecture.
Apart from the grandeur of its architecture, you can also appreciate the frescoes and sculptures inside the Basilica, including Michelangelo’s renowned “La Pietà,” which he sculpted at the age of 24. Bernini’s baldachino is another highlight, a canopy beneath the dome that marks the burial site of Saint Peter, where Christians can reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18: “you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.”
Bernini’s baldachino features four bronze columns on marble plinths that reach a height of 20 meters, serving to mediate the vastness of the church to a human scale, similar to how Jesus mediated the glory of God for humanity.
It’s important to note that St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica are inaccessible on Wednesdays as part of a Vatican Museums tour due to the weekly Papal Audience. However, if you plan to visit on a Wednesday, you can purchase separate tickets to attend the Papal Audience. You can find more information on Papal Audience Tickets, Tips & Schedule in our complete guide.
The Raphael Rooms
Divided into four magnificent chambers, the masterpieces of the great Renaissance artist Raphael await you. Each room is adorned with giant frescoes that depict mythological and historical events on the walls and ceilings.
The most celebrated of these paintings is The School of Athens. If you look carefully, you can see that Raphael included a self-portrait, as well as portraits of some of the brightest minds of his own time and antiquity, including Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Plato, and Aristotle.
Pio Clementino Museum
One of the most significant historical pieces in the Vatican Museums is the Belvedere Torso, a fragment of a marble statue of a male nude that dates back to the first century BC.
The influence of this piece can be seen in the works of Renaissance artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo, particularly in their depictions of male figures in paintings and sculptures.
For instance, Saint Bartholomew in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” bears a striking resemblance to the Belvedere Torso.
The Pinacoteca, or Art Gallery, features numerous timeless paintings, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s only work in the Vatican Museums, which is an unfinished painting called “St. Jerome in the Wilderness,” located in Room IX.
Alongside Da Vinci’s masterpiece, you can also appreciate other masterpieces in the Pinacoteca Vaticano. Bellini’s “Pietà,” Raphael’s “Madonna of Foligno” and Carvaggio’s “The Entombment of Christ” are just a few of the other outstanding artworks you will find in this gallery.
Bernardino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio due to his small stature, was responsible for the frescoes that decorate the six rooms of the apartments once inhabited by Pope Alexander VI, or Rodrigo de Borja.
Today, most of the rooms house the Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, which includes Vincent Van Gogh’s “Pieta,” Salvador Dalí’s “The Announcement,” and August Rodin’s “The Thinker.”
The Belvedere and Pine Courtyards
This area may seem like a single courtyard, but it is actually divided into two distinct sections: the lower terrace, known as Cortile del Belvedere, and the upper terrace, called Cortile della Pigna.
The latter takes its name from the four-meter bronze pinecone situated in a large niche in the Vatican wall, which once served as a Roman fountain and dates back to the first century AD. Dante even mentioned this pinecone in his Divine Comedy, describing a giant’s head as “long and large as is at Rome the pine-cone of Saint Peter’s”.
On the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard, you will find the Gallery of Maps. Unlike other galleries in the Vatican, which feature frescoes depicting religious and historical events, this gallery has a more geographical theme, with maps painted on the walls outlining regions of the Italian peninsula.
Although the Vatican Gardens are not part of the Vatican Museums, visitors can book guided tours that include the gardens with their visit to the rest of the Vatican. The only way to visit the Vatican Gardens is by joining a guided tour, as exploring the gardens on your own is not permitted.
Covering about half of the entire Vatican’s area, the Vatican Gardens span 23 hectares. Legend has it that the gardens were founded with soil transported from Mount Calvary, the site where Jesus Christ and thousands of early Christians were crucified.
Pope Francis opened the gardens to the public in 2014, making it a relatively new opportunity for visitors to explore this secluded area of the Vatican. The gardens feature statues, fountains, and a remarkable collection of Blessed Virgin Mary shrines, which have been contributed by countries from around the world since the early 20th century.
We hope this guide helps you make the most of your visit to the Vatican Museums and the Gardens. Divertiti! 😊⛪
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