Photo: Charlie Wagner-Chazalon / LuxuryEurope


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Vatican City is not just the home of the Pope: it’s also home to world-class museums holding many well-known works of art. Of course, this means that it’s also one of the busiest tourist sites in Rome with long lines, sold-out tickets, and crowds.

The answer? I decided to take the Vatican’s guided museum tour to see if it was worth the price to beat the crowds.


Voicu Horațiu -Unsplash -Bramante Staircase Vatican Museums Tour
The Bramante Staircase is a must-climb at the Vatican Museums (Photo: Voicu Horațiu / Unsplash)


A self-guided Vatican Museums ticket is €20 online, which includes a €5 online booking fee. This ticket will grant you access to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and will get you past the massive line of people waiting for ‘day-of’ tickets. However, the Vatican only sells these tickets two months in advance, and they typically sell out as soon as they’re released. So, if you don’t manage to nab one of the coveted online tickets, you’ll be stuck under the Italian sun waiting to try your luck at securing a same-day ticket.


The Vatican Museums Tour


This is exactly what happened to me when I, naively, thought I would be able to book my ticket a few days out from my time in Rome. Upon discovering my mistake, I was left with a few options: wait in the seemingly never-ending line for a same-day ticket, try out one of the many tour services around advertising ‘skip-the-line tickets’, or book a tour directly with the Vatican Museums… bingo!

The guided tour of the Museums and Sistine Chapel is double the price of the regular online ticket, coming in at €40, but they can typically be booked just a few days out from when you want to visit. This allows for a lot more flexibility, although you do have to book a specific time slot in the day.


Vatican Museums Tour underway with guide - Photo Charlie Wagner Chazalon
Vatican tours are well organized (Photo: Charlie Wagner-Chazalon / LuxuryEurope)


With my online tour ticket secured, I breathed easy while walking past the crowded ticket booth and headed through security (which was extensive but fairly streamlined). When I arrived at the Vatican tour meet-up area, I received a radio headset and joined a group of around 20 people with our guide for the afternoon.


Expert-led Guided Tours


The tour started with a brief overview of Vatican City, which gave a lot of key context to a non-Catholic like myself about the political and religious history of the institution. Once we were all up to speed, we headed out into the grounds to get our first view of St. Peter’s Basilica and the immense gardens. The gardens are only open for visitors as part of the garden-specific tour, but our guide led us to a part of the courtyard that offered sweeping views of the grounds as a sort of sneak peek.


St Peter's Basilica Vatican Museums ceiling painted Photo Charlie Wagner Chazalon
Some Vatican Museums tours will include a visit to St Peter’s Basilica (Photo: Charlie Wagner-Chazalon / LuxuryEurope)


From there, we moved into the Vatican Museums themselves, which are a series of galleries and courtyards full of incredible busts, mosaics, and sculptures. These pieces spoke for themselves, both because of their beauty and because of the lack of informational plaques or signage. It was immediately obvious that, without a guide, I would have been stuck observing these pieces at surface level only, so I was very grateful to have a guide coming through my earpiece to explain the history and artistic significance of the amazing collection.

As we moved through the courtyards, another benefit of the tour quickly became clear; the guides are experts at moving through the crowds. The Vatican operates at maximum capacity practically every day, which makes for some extremely tight squeezes in the smaller galleries. My guide staked out spots near interesting artifacts and worked with the other guides to take turns in the prime locations, guaranteeing our group got a look at all the high-interest pieces. Plus, with the headsets, we were able to mosey through areas without missing any information.


The Raphael Rooms


In all the hubbub of the masses, I enjoyed the relief of following someone else’s route. Although the galleries themselves are straightforward, there are lots of offshoot rooms and intersections, with plenty of opportunities to be blown off course by the crowd. It eliminated a lot of planning and decision-making to have a guide who was guaranteed to show me the good stuff, without having to find it for myself.


Mural at Vatican Museums Raphael Room Photo by Charlie Wagner Chazalon
The Raphael Rooms are a highlight of an already excellent tour Photo: Charlie Wagner-Chazalon / LuxuryEurope)


This is how I found myself in the Raphael Rooms. Commissioned by Pope Julius II for his private apartment in the Pontifical Palace, these four rooms are adorned with some of the master’s most famous works.

Chief among them is The School of Athens, a piece that is notoriously detailed and referential. The guide quickly came to the rescue of my sub-par art history knowledge, though, and gave an elegant breakdown of the work, even pointing out the figure supposedly modelled after Michelangelo while he was working on the Sistine Chapel.


The Perfect Tour Experience


Before leading us into the Chapel itself where she would leave the group, the guide gave us information about the artwork inside and made sure to impart to us the code of conduct for the space. There are no phones, photography, or speaking in the Chapel, and all visitors are also required to remove their hats and cover any exposed shoulders before entering. Breaking these rules will get you called out by a security guard on a loudspeaker, as I witnessed for some of the groups not briefed by a guide.


Sistine Chapel ceiling by SnapSaga - Unslash - Vatican Museums tour
The Sistine Chapel’s spectacular ceiling is a sight to behold (Photo: SnapSaga / Unsplash)


Inside the Chapel, we were left to contemplate the space. This was a perfect end to the tour, with unlimited time to take in the main attraction – and what an attraction it is! Again, I found myself grateful for the guide’s rundown on the history and points of interest as I took in the 500+ meters of paintings on the ceiling alone. And, I’ll admit, I was grateful to take a seat on one of the benches too.

All in all, my planning blunder turned out to be a stroke of good luck, pushing me to try out the guided tour of the Vatican Museums, and having a far better experience for it. Of course, there are some drawbacks, like being constrained to a specific time and route, and the radio headsets could admittedly be a bit glitchy, but overall, the guided tour was a great value for the expense… and the art wasn’t half bad either.


When in Rome…


To find out more about Vatican City and to book Vatican Museums tours of your own, visit their website here.

Here for a night or two? Check out these great accommodation options close to the Vatican Museums for ideas, inspiration, pricing, and reservations.

And if you enjoyed this article, we know you’ll be interested in reading about a pilgrimage of a different sort… the bucket list Camino de Santiago. Check out this story: Finding Peace on Spain’s Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage.




Contributor Charlie Wagner-Chazalon is a freelance writer and travel enthusiast based in Toronto, Ontario. Find more of his work at


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