8 Tips for visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistene Chapel

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I will be up front, I am not exactly religious or a practicing Catholic but I do believe in God and the morals passed on to me. I may not be religious but I try to have a relationship with God. Despite not being a practicing Catholic, visiting the Vatican was a non-negotiable for a trip to Rome.

It was surreal being there while having my faith be a work in progress. I was actually teary a few times. Anyway, I’m here to share some tips for visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistene Chapel. 

Buy tickets in advanced 
Save yourself time and lessen your stress by buying your tickets online. You can either (1) avail of the numerous guided tours from legitimate tour operators or (2) buy your own ticket and go on your own. I did my Colosseum tour with When In Rome Tours, they also have Vatican Tours. You can easily purchase your own ticket at the official online ticket sales website for €20 with your credit card. 

By doing any of these 2 options, you get to SKIP the line for buying tickets for the Vatican. That’s the only line you get to skip. You still need to line up when you enter the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica. If you’re not in the mood to visit the Sistine Chapel or the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica doesn’t have an entrance fee.

Go on a weekday 

Like with most tourist attractions, the weekend gets exceptionally crowded. Crowds are still thick during weekdays but oh-my-god can you imagine how much thicker it would get on a weekend or a holiday?!?

Get an audio guide if you’re not taking a tour 

I truly love learning about the places I visit so I try to get a guided tour. Audio guides are available for rent at the Vatican. When I was planning for this trip, my friend Pow suggested downloading free audio guides instead to save money. It was the first time I’ve heard of them and I must say it was helpful. I got the St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel audio tour guides from Rick Steves. I did not have a smartphone on this trip so it was challenging to handle everything. I was listening with my iPod, checking the map with my iPad, and taking photos with my beloved Guido! If you have a smartphone, it will be much easier. You can download the app and have access to the audio guide and map there.

Don't settle for the Free Sunday pass 

The Vatican offers free entrance from 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM every last Sunday of the month. This might be tempting but I strongly suggest skipping this and just pay for your ticket. If you think weekday crowds are thick, wait until you visit on a free day. I’ve read a lot of reviews describing how crazy things get. You’re only at the Vatican once, make the most out of it and enjoy it.

Give yourself ample amount of time to explore 

I sometimes feel rushed when I’m part of a tour group so DIY-ing has worked for me on several occasions. Overwhelming is the perfect word to describe the visit. The opulence, grandeur, and history of The Vatican is a lot to take in. I literally would stop from time to time to absorb everything I was seeing PLUS the fact that I WAS IN THE VATICAN! I allotted 4-6 hours for the whole experience and I budgeted correctly. I came in a little before lunch and left around 5. I was Vatican-ed out I didn’t even reach the top of the Basilica.

So much details!

It’s Pope John Paul

This is the closest I got to Michaelangelo’s Pieta with my Guido’s zoom in powers.

Don’t skip the contemporary gallery 

I love contemporary art and enjoyed this section of the Vatican museums as well. It also served a good break from all the incredible works from centuries ago.

There is more to see 

I described just 3 places in the Vatican. There are more experiences you can enjoy like the Hidden Vatican Museums, Breakfast at the Museum, the Barberini Gardens and a whole lot more. You can check out these options here.

Get tickets to the Papal Mass 

Better pray that the Pope is in town during your visit so you can see him. The tickets for the mass are free and limited. You can get tickets from the Swiss Guards 3 days before the mass if you’re just in need of 1-6 tickets. I unfortunately missed the mass because my friends and I got lost coming from Porta Portese and could not arrive on time. Luckily for me I saw Pope Francis a year and a half after here in Manila! 

Again, I cannot stress enough how overwhelming it was to visit the Vatican. To be in a place with tremendous history is spectacular. It was amazing to be around works of art that I learned in school and read in books that have been around for centuries. 

Be reminded that they are open from Monday-Saturdays only except on Sundays when entrance is free. Ticket offices are open from 9:00 AM-4:00 PM while the museum closes at 6:00 PM.

Are you ready to visit the Vatican now? If you have more tips feel free to drop me a line in the comments below so more people can benefit from it.

The Rome leg is part of the 2013 Birthday Trip. Check out the itinerary here. The rest of my Rome posts are here:
Part 1: Tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palestine Hill
Part 2: Gorgeous view and digs in Rome

Part 3: Campo de Fiori 
Part 5: Porta Portese Flea Market
Part 6: A free tour of Trastevere
Part 7: The Free Rome Walking Tour

Part 8: 14 Free Things to do in Rome
Part 9: Rome Travel Guide

For other hotel options in Rome, click here

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