The Vatican—formally known as the Vatican Museums—is an enormous complex of galleries holding some of Italy’s most important art, from paintings and sculptures to tapestries and classical antiquities. Adjoining St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican's miles of corridors connect buildings and courtyards housing the Pinacoteca, Egyptian Museum, Gallery of Tapestries, Pius-Clementine Museum, and Gallery of Maps. But the crown jewels are the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo's ceiling and The Last Judgment, and the 16th-century frescoes in the Raphael Rooms.
The Vatican is the most popular attraction in Rome, hosting millions of visitors each year. Booking a small-group guided tour or skip-the-line access in advance is highly recommended. A private tour offering early access in the morning, before the museums are open to the general public, is an excellent way to enjoy the Vatican’s treasures in relative peace. Many group tours include visits to the museums and Sistine Chapel along with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Gardens. There is a tremendous amount to take in here, so if you are traveling as a family with young children who may get overwhelmed, consider a guided kid-friendly tour that focuses on the Vatican highlights.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Entry lines often stretch for blocks, and wait times can be two or three hours, especially in summer. Book in advance.
- Vatican Museums tickets include entrance to the Sistine Chapel, and the same opening hours apply.
- Appropriate behavior and attire (shoulders, knees, and abdomen covered) are required to enter the Sistine Chapel.
- Security for entering the museum complex includes a metal detector.
- There is a free cloakroom where you can check large bags, umbrellas, and luggage.
How to Get There
The Vatican Museums complex is adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The Ottaviano station, on metro Line A, is about a five-minute walk away.
When to Get There
The Vatican sees crowds of travelers year-round. It is busiest in summer, when skip-the-line tickets or a private tour guide are essential; the museums are relatively less crowded during winter. At any time of year, the museums are most crowded at midday, so aim to visit in the early morning or late afternoon if you’re looking for a quieter experience.
Seeing the Pope at the Vatican
Each week, usually on Wednesday mornings, the pope and cardinals give a papal address in St. Peter’s Square. Throngs descend for the papal audience, so be sure to book official tickets in advance if you want to be assured a chance to see the pope deliver his weekly message.