So I have been tour guiding for 9 years now, almost daily at the Vatican Museums. Alas, is where the greatest art of the world is concentrated. When you are a guide in Rome, you are either there or at the Colosseum, or both! After doing tour after tour at the Vatican Museums, I noticed there is a patterned question at some point of the tour, coming from my curious clients, who are trying to enjoy every word I say…but cannot stop wondering: “Is it always this crowded? what is the Best time to visit the Vatican Museums?”. I laugh and my first initial answer is a smile, my shoulders go up and then I say “never?”. Aside from joking around, here are my answers about the Best time to visit the Vatican Museums.
People generally think like this: The Museums open at 9 am, so I’ll be there at 8-8,30 (some think even earlier) and we’ll stand in front of the door until it opens. WRONG! That is exactly because most people think like you! It is not true that the earlier you go, the better it is. You will have to stand in line, and between going through security, taking a break for the toilet and getting a bit oriented, the crowds will be walking over you invading the far fetched second of tranquility you tried to gain waking up early and standing for hours in front of the door.
What is the Best time to visit the Vatican Museums?
My whole point is to avoid the Vatican Museums anywhere between 9 am and 2 pm. 5 reasons why:
- everybody thinks like most people (proven above)
- all the large tour operators that take groups into Rome most likely start with the Vatican Museums. So there will be enormous groups trying to navigate through.
- All school groups do the Vatican Museums in the morning (and yes, there can be school groups in the summer too). This means chaos, noise, etc.
- Most group tours sold on most websites that sell tours of the Vatican (or most other places) sell tours at 10, 10,30 am, max 11,30 am. This is because they have studied the market (good for them!) and know that tourists generally like to do cultural things in the AM and enjoy free-time in the PM. I can argue this point, but maybe I’ll do it on another post.
- Most tours organized by the Vatican Museums run in the morning. So add those groups too.
When should I visit the Vatican Museums?
Here are your two options, and this is why I came to the conclusion that LivItaly Tours should offer these times for the small group tours:
- Early Morning Entrance. Yes, I know, you have to wake up at 6,30 am on your vacation. Yes, you may have to pay a bit extra than a normal group tour…but this is truly one of the most memorable ways to do it. Sacrifice that one morning, pay a bit extra (if you can) and see the gorgeous frescoes of the Michelangelo as soon as they wake up with our Early Morning Entrance Tour. Before those crowds start walking over you and invading the space. We have it set up so that our guide meets you at 7,30 am, stands with you explaining the Sistine Chapel with our iPads and when the doors open…. run run run to the Sistine to see it before anyone else. You’ll never forget it!
- See it in the afternoon. It is so much quieter, tranquil and beautiful. With our afternoon Vatican small group tour, we enter at 2,30 pm which gives us just enough time to get to the Sistine Chapel and enter Saint Peter’s Basilica before it closes and allows our clients to also climb the dome. The Museums are far less crowded…the people visiting are generally less chaotic, more educated, calm, relaxed…and the sun-light coming through those beautiful windows as you walk in the Gallery of Maps…or Saint Peter’s Basilica… is absolutely gorgeous!
- Anywhere between May and October…Vatican Museums at night! In the summer months, every Friday the Vatican Museums has allowed access from 7 pm to 11 pm. In this case, the Museums are generally more comfortable, people visiting are doing it like if they were going to a classical concert. That is exactly how it feels…as if you are going to see a beautiful Opera at La Scala! What we do is give you a beautiful 3 hrs of the Museums and then walk you around the walls and show you Saint Peter’s Basilica lit at night! Stupenda!!!!