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Best Vatican tours: Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica

This article may contain compensated links. See our full disclosure here

Touring the Vatican is one of the top things to do in Rome. But deciding which tour to choose can be overwhelming. We’re here to help you find the best Vatican tour for your trip.

Article contents

Summary of recommended tours

We’ve provided a complete analysis of the best Vatican tours available in this article. This includes dates and times available, duration and other useful information. Here is a summary if you’re the kind of person who wants quick answers.

Best standard tours

  • Walks of Italy – Complete Vatican Tour  (small groups up to 20 people)
  • Liv Tours – Skip the line Highlights of the Vatican tour (small groups up to 6 people – 5% off with code – UntoldItaly)
  • CityWonders – Skip the line tour of the Vatican (larger groups)
  • Vatican official – Standard Vatican tour (provided by the museums – historic focus)

5% discount on small group tours with Liv Tours. Discount applied at checkout when you click this link  or use code ‘UntoldItaly’

Best early access tours (beat the crowds).

  • Walks of Italy – VIP Key Masters Tour (open the Sistine Chapel at 6.00am – small group tour) – this is the earliest and most exclusive tour
  • Walks of Italy – Alone in the Vatican (small group and early access from 6.30am)
  • Liv Tours – Alone in the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums (small group with early access from 6.30am, includes breakfast in the Pine Cone Courtyard)
  • Walks of Italy – Pristine Sistine – best first access with the general public tour

*Note, in 2024 the Vatican Museums changed it’s early entry policy to allow only a handful of visitors access prior to 8am when doors are open to the general public. Places on these exclusive tours are extremely limited

What to see on a Vatican tour

First, let’s clear up exactly what ‘the Vatican’ is so you can decide which parts you wish to tour. The Vatican is in fact an independent city state within Rome ruled by the Pope – the head of the Catholic church. It is the smallest country on Earth with an area of 0.44 square kilometers and population of just 1,000.

The main areas to visit inside the Vatican City are:

  • St Peter’s Basilica including cupola (dome), tombs and square – more info
  • Vatican Museums including the Sistine Chapel – the world’s greatest art collection with works by Raphael, Giotto, Caravaggio and of course Michelangelo
  • Vatican Gardens – arguably the most beautiful gardens in Rome with stunning views of St Peters, grottoes and lawns

Most Vatican tours will include visiting both St Peters and the Vatican Museums as part of their package. The gardens can only be accessed by a separate tour usually combined with a tour of the Vatican Museums (but not St Peters).

Why take a tour of the Vatican Museums and St Peters

There are two main reasons to join a tour of the Vatican – experience and convenience.

With over 6 million visitors a year, the Vatican Museums and St Peters are among the most popular attractions in Rome and the world. And rightly so. Their collection of art is mind boggling in scale and value. And the historical importance of the buildings is almost unparalleled.

Unless you are a highly educated art historian, there is no way you will know what to look for among all the glitz and walls dripping with priceless paintings. And unfortunately, the information provided by the museums is disappointing.

Visit with a guide and they will be able to point out the most important pieces and their symbolism and significance. Not to mention the major events that have taken place between those walls.

You will spend at least 2 – 3 hours visiting the Vatican no matter how you approach your visit. This is because it takes that amount of time to move through the buildings. That being the case, it makes sense to have an expert guide you through the highlights.

Tours start in the Vatican Museums skipping the long lines for tickets and use a special entrance to St Peter’s from the Sistine Chapel to avoid the separate lines for the Basilica. So if you are not on a tour or have not pre-purchased tickets you will need to line up twice to see both main areas of the Vatican.

Prefer to visit without a guide?

Make sure you buy skip the line tickets prior to your visit to avoid waiting in lines – around 2-3 hours during peak periods.

You can buy tickets for the Vatican Museums on the official site here or if you are having trouble using the site or they are sold out you can buy Vatican  Museums skip the line tickets with authorized ticket seller GetYourGuide here .

St Peter’s is a separate entrance. Buy tickets to skip the line at St Peter’s here .

What to look for in a tour of the Vatican

By law, all guides operating in the Vatican must hold a license that can only be obtained by a very strict examination process. So you know that any guide you tour with will have a thorough knowledge of the details, dates, and facts of the art and buildings you visit.

Your choice really comes down to timing, group size, inclusions, length and style and price of tour. Generally, the size and length of tour will determine the price, however, you also pay extra for exclusive experiences.

  • Timing – early morning and evening tours are available and are strictly limited so you will have fewer crowds to contend with
  • Group size – if budget allows, try to book a tour with a group size less than 20. Any more than this and you’ll be struggling to hear (despite headsets) or engage with your guide
  • Inclusions and itinerary  – basic and express tours of the Vatican focus on the highlights of the Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel, Gallery of Maps, Michelangelo’s masterpieces, Pinacoteca Courtyard) plus St Peter’s interior. Longer tours will take you to the Underground Crypts, the Carriage Pavilion and Nero’s bath
  • Length – the shortest tours available are around 2 hours and you can also join full day tours of the Vatican.
  • Budget – basic tours start at around €40 for large group tours while you can pay between €300 – €500 per person for a private tour of the Vatican

Worth Noting

  • We have not found a tour that includes visiting St Peter’s dome. If you want to ascend the dome you will need to buy a ticket at the basilica office at the conclusion of your tour
  • If you find yourself waiting in line for tickets and wishing you had booked a tour, please do not join one of those offered by the scammers that work the crowd. They are not recommended – expensive and basically just entry tickets (if that!)

The best Vatican tour companies

Here are some of the most popular operators and our assessment of how they differ. There are literally hundreds of tour operators working in the Vatican so we have chosen the best for different types of travelers.

  • Walks of Italy – working closely in partnership with the Vatican Museums to create unique and engaging experiences for English speaking visitors, the Walks of Italy offerings Pristine Sistine and VIP Key Masters tours are outstanding 
  • Vatican official tours – The Vatican Museums tours are generally the least expensive option but note that group sizes start at 16 people. Expect a focus on religious history and the church. Their Art and Faith tours are focused on the relationship between art and religion in the context of the history of the Catholic Church in Rome – view all official Vatican tours
  • Liv Tours – this Rome based company is known for their very small group and private tours and knowledgeable guides who are expert at adjusting tours for their guests’ interest and knowledge level – view all Liv Tours Vatican tours PLUS 5% off with code ‘UntoldItaly’ 

Best Vatican tours

We chose the best small and larger group tours of the Vatican offered by the tour companies mentioned above. We used our own experience and cross checked this with ratings on tours on TripAdvisor, GetYourGuide and other media. This is updated on an ongoing basis so we can bring you the best tours available.

Please note – If you are visiting on a Wednesday, your tour group will not be able to enter St Peter’s basilica due to the weekly Papal Address. In this case, the tour will include additional galleries of the museums.

If you are looking for a private Vatican tour please skip forward to the section below.

Standard tours of the Vatican

Most tour operators offer a standard 2 – 3 hour Vatican tour that includes highlights of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s. These tours start at the same time the museums are open to the general public.

Your tour includes skip the line for tickets and have a dedicated guide escorting you and explaining the art and history.  But, there is no escaping the crowds, unfortunately. You will however be able to use the group entrance into St Peter’s avoiding a half hour walk back to the main entrance and line for the basilica.

Early morning Vatican tours

We think that early access tours are the best way to experience the Vatican. You can see the priceless artwork in relative solitude as you pay a premium to enter without the crowds. If these tours are within budget then we strongly suggest choosing the earliest tour available.

The Vatican Museums allow a very limited number of people each day in to the galleries at 6:00am with the “ clavigero ” or key keeper of the Museums. You can join this unforgettable tour led by the wonderful team at Walks of Italy – more info and booking instructions here . Note – this applies to the museums only and does not include access to St Peter’s. If you would like to read our complete review of this experience – visit this page

LISTEN: to our Vatican Museums Tips and   Highlights podcast episode with Walks of Italy co-founder Stephen Oddo

Complete Vatican tours

If you’re an art and history lover it is fair to say that 2-3 hours will barely scratch the surface of the 54 galleries and 20,000 works on display. These early start tours ensure you see the highlights as well as some of the lesser known treasures in the museums such as Nero’s bath, the Borgia apartments, Pinacoteca Vaticana and 16th century double helix Bramante staircase which inspired the modern version of the same name. Visit the Vatican Museums ticket office to learn about openings of special galleries and sections of the Museums.

Family friendly tour of the Vatican

Do you want to take the whole family to tour the Vatican Museums? We suggest giving this a lot of consideration especially if you have very young children. They will need to do a lot of walking, often in hot and stuffy rooms and remain silent in the Sistine Chapel.

If you do decide to go, booking a family friendly tour is a great idea. Your tour will be tailored to the interests of children and your guide will assist in keeping your kids entertained so you can enjoy the experience too.

Liv Tours offer a fun family friendly interactive tour in the Vatican designed especially for families. This is a great way to introduce your children to the history and stories behind this precious art collection.

Special Vatican tours

Evening vatican museum tours.

During the summer months the Vatican Museums open from 19:00pm to 23:00pm on Friday evenings. With limited numbers allowed into the galleries you can enjoy them without the crowds and in the cooler night air. This exclusive experience will no doubt be a highlight of your trip to Rome.

Note – this experience does not include visiting St Peter’s basilica so you would need to go there separately

Recommended night Vatican tours

  • Vatican Museums official [group size up to 30]  – click for info
  • Walks of Italy [group size max 15] at 19:30pm – click for details

Claim your 5% discount on small group tours with Liv Tours.   Click here and use code ‘UntoldItaly’

Vatican Garden Tours

The Papal gardens are among the finest in Europe that are centuries old. A stroll through the gardens reveals sculptures, fountains and stunning views of the basilica. They are an oasis away from the chaos of the city beyond.

A tour of the gardens will help you appreciate the history and stories behind the many works of art within the gardens and their significance to the Catholic church. There is a replica of the sacred Lourdes grotto in France as well as monuments and statues collected by and dedicated to former popes.

An advantage of doing a tour of the gardens is that it also includes admission to the Vatican Museums. And yes, you skip the lines. No tour is provided in the museums, however.

Vatican Scavi tours

If you have a particular interest in Christianity and history, there could be no bigger thrill to see what is said to be the tomb of St Peter the apostle, deep below the basilica that bears his name. Only 250 people per day are allowed into this sacred area as part of escorted 90 minute tours run by the Vatican. Tour groups are small with only 12 people visiting the excavation site and tomb.

You need to book this tour months in advance by following the instructions on the official Vatican excavations office page . Please note – children under 15 years may not go on this tour. You may not take photos on the tour.

Private Vatican tours

Would you prefer a fully private tour of the Vatican Museums? Private tours are a great way to enjoy the Vatican at your own pace and to see those things you really want to see. Starting at around €350, they can also be more cost effective if you are traveling in a larger group. We recommend  Liv Tours for private Vatican tours.

DISCOVER: The Best hotels near the Vatican City .

Useful information for visiting the Vatican

Both the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s basilica are religious sites. Men and women should cover knees and shoulders as a sign of respect. You may be refused entry if you are not suitably attired.

During the hot Roman summers you might like to bring a light shawl or scarf as an alternative to wearing clothing that covers your shoulders.

Tours are not offered on Sundays when the museums are either closed or open to the public for free admission.

Tour itineraries do not include St Peter’s basilica on Wednesday due to the usual Papal audience in the piazza.

The best day to do a standard Vatican tour is probably Tuesday when you avoid the extended long weekend European visitors.

If you want to do an early morning tour choose from Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.

Night tours of the Vatican are only available on Fridays from April to October.

Yes, it is a condition of entry that all people entering the Vatican Museums and St Peters pass security checks. Don’t worry, these lines move quickly

Yes, cloakroom facilities are found near the entrance to the Vatican Museums and there is a separate cloakroom for St Peters. Both are free of charge

Yes, you can take photos (without flash) in most areas except the Sistine Chapel where photography of any kind is not allowed. Flash photography is forbidden in all areas as it may damage the artwork

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Take Amazing 360° Tour of St. Peter’s in Vatican City From Your Chair

Use your computer to see the inside of the basilica and its splendid artwork; zoom in for a closer look.

This 360-degree view allows you to see the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica on your computer, tablet, or mobile device. Use the toolbar to shift your view or zoom in. On a tablet or mobile device, just hold it up or turn it around to pan.

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most spectacular churches in the world. Although some may confuse it for the “mother church” of Roman Catholics, it isn't even a cathedral because it's not the seat of the pope, who is also the bishop of Rome. That distinction belongs to the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. But because of its size, grandeur, and location within Vatican City, papal authorities use the church for numerous ceremonies. Its capacity is enormous—it can hold 20,000 seated worshippers or 60,000 standing.

Start your tour with the baldachin , the great canopy over the papal altar and St. Peter’s tomb, crafted by master artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The canopy took nine years to build and was completed in 1633. It is made of 90 tons of bronze, most of it from the portico of Rome’s Pantheon. It is over 95 feet tall, almost as tall as a ten-story building.

St. Peter’s tomb is directly below it. You can see two wings of the ornate balustrade separated by a gate that opens to the sunken, semicircular area in front of the papal altar, known as the Confessio, or Chapel of the Confession. This refers to the confession of faith by St. Peter, which led to his martyrdom. The tomb itself is not visible, as it is down a set of stairs and tucked into a niche at the back of the Confessio. You can only view it on a special tour of the Scavi, or excavations, in the ancient necropolis.

Directly above is Michelangelo’s dome, rising 448 feet to the top of the cross on the lantern tower outside. You can see the inner hemispherical layer of its double shell; a slightly more pointed one is visible outdoors. It is 140 feet in diameter—one of the largest domes in the world. The colorful mosaics around the dome depict Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St. John the Baptist, and the Twelve Apostles. You can just make out the image of God bestowing his blessing upon mankind through the oculus, the round opening at the crown of the dome.

Around the drum of the dome in blue letters standing almost seven feet tall is the inscription TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. ET TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM. The biblical citation, from Matthew 16:18-19, translates as: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and to you I will give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.”  

If you look through the baldachin toward the apse at the end of the central nave , you will see the glowing light of the alabaster window depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove (the dove is six feet tall). Below that is the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter, a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It contains the relics of an ancient chair, reputedly from which St. Peter preached. The altar symbolizes the teaching authority of the pope.

Immediately behind you, you will find the statue of St. Peter Enthroned, set in front of a maroon-and-gold mosaic curtain. This 13th-century bronze sculpture is attributed to Arnolfo di Campio. St. Peter’s hands are raised in the act of blessing, and over the course of seven centuries of devotion, the custom of kissing or touching the right foot has almost completely worn away the toes.

Gaze at the boldly patterned marble floor of the nave. If you're facing the barricade and row of chairs in the direction of the atrium, you'll see a glare on a maroon rectangle. That tile shows the keys of heaven, a symbol found throughout Vatican City. There are also plaques commemorating popes, as well as markers that indicate the comparative length of several of the largest churches in the world. You can also see a glimpse of what look like lavishly decorated manhole covers (for example, in front of the rows of chairs). These are portals to the tombs of popes below the floor, including that of John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 to 2005.

All around you are spectacular works of art that look like paintings but aren’t. They are mosaics made of tiny tiles, or tesserae, each about the size of a fingernail. Mosaics were chosen over paintings to decorate the basilica so that they wouldn’t be vulnerable to the ravages of time, smoke, and humidity—eternal art for the eternal church. Four marvelous examples are the mosaic medallions that decorate the area between the main cupola of the basilica and the enormous piers underneath. These medallions represent the four evangelists who composed the Gospels. We can see St. Matthew on the left above the baldachin, and St. John on the right.

Set into the great piers that support the dome are four colossal marble statues. These statues embody crucial moments of Christ’s Passion. Starting from the right of the altar you see the statue of St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, holding the True Cross (by Bolgi). Continuing clockwise, you'll note the statue of St. Longinus gripping the sacred lance used to pierce Christ’s side (by Bernini). Continuing toward the right, the next statue you see is that of St. Andrew, Peter’s brother, representing the moment of his crucifixion in Greece (by Duquesnoy). And turning back toward the baldachin, the last statue is of St. Veronica displaying the veil she used to wipe Jesus’s face on the road to Calvary (by Mochi).

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When in Rome Tours


Quick Details

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Our Flagship Tour of the Vatican and Vatacombs

Meet your expert guide by the Vatican Museum entrance and after brief introductions enjoy skip-the-line entry to what is arguably the most important and largest art collection in the world.

The Vatican Museums weren’t always as we know them today. For over five hundred years, celebrated Popes slowly gathered and commissioned works of art from the most talented painters, architects and sculptors in Italy and brought them to the Vatican to showcase them for their own personal enjoyment and that of a carefully chosen circle of clerics, artists, nobles, and scholars. Each new Pope sought to leave a legacy, commissioning chapels, frescoes, sculptures, libraries, paintings, courtyards – one masterpiece after another until the Papal Collection finally grew to more than 70,000 works of art spread over 1400 galleries.

In 1771 Pope Clement XIV finally opened the doors to the public, making it possible for us to enter the Holy See and walk in the footsteps of Popes and the most celebrated artists from Renaissance and Baroque Italy.

On this epic Vatican Tour you’ll walk in the footsteps of Popes and Renaissance Masters as you take in the Rooms of Raphael and of course the Sistine Chapel from its commissioning to the finishing touches by none other than Michelangelo Buonarroti. With an expert guide, learn to discern between myth, fact, and popular Hollywood fiction regarding this epic work of art.

Enjoy fast-track access to St. Peter’s Basilica to view masterpieces by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini among others before descending to the Papal crypts below. We conclude on the portico with an overview of Bernini’s magnificent piazza (St. Peter’s Square), the central obelisk, and of course the Swiss Guard.

  • Stand just feet away from Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
  • Take in the beauty of the extraordinary rooms of Raphael
  • Skip all lines with priority tour operator access
  • Visit the “Vatacombs,” the eerie resting place of former Popes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Expert local guide
  • Skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican Museums
  • Room of the Muses and Belvedere Torso
  • Pinecone Courtyard
  • Octagonal Courtyard
  • Rooms of Raphael
  • Gallery of Maps
  • Laocoonte Sculpture 1st Century AD
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Vatacombs (papal tombs beneath St. Peter’s)
  • Visit to the Necropolis / Scavi
  • Transport to and from meeting point


  • Tour departs rain or shine
  • Unfortunately, wheelchairs and strollers cannot be accommodated on this tour. Contact us for private tour options for your group.


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Vatican Ticket & St. Peter's Dome Climb

Visit St. Peter’s Dome in the Vatican. Meet your guide on St. Peter’s Square and stroll across the piazza into the Vatican City, where your climb begins.

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See the best of the Vatican Museums, then have the rest of the day free to enjoy Rome after booking this, the ORIGINAL Vatican highlights tour!

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Vatican Tour & St. Peter's Dome Climb

The original all-inclusive Vatican City experience featuring a climb to the top of St. Peter’s Dome for an incredible view of Rome followed by our award-winning tour of the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel.

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  • Charles D 1 contribution 0 5.0 of 5 bubbles Vatican and the Sistine Chapel Our Guide Marle was very knowledgeable and informative and passionate about the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. Skipping the entry line and the insight Marle was able to give certainly made the extra cost of the visit worth it Read more Review of: Early Morning Vatican: Small Group Tour Max 6 People or Private Written March 31, 2024 This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.


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Rome Actually

Visiting Vatican City in Rome – An Easy and Complete Guide

One of the most popular landmarks in Rome , visiting the Vatican City is a priority for most first-time travelers. The world’s smallest state, it’s located in the heart of the Italian capital and has been shrouded in mystery since its very inception. Small but boasting an overwhelming wealth of artwork, undertaking a complete tour of Vatican City can be intimidating.

Here is an extensive and complete guide to the Holy See, what to visit, opening hours, how to get there, how and where to buy the tickets and how to skip the lines. All are peppered with tales and anecdotes about what has been going on in the Vatican for centuries.

INSIDER’S TIP: Do you want to dig deeper into Christianity’s most important place? Check out the current prices for Take Walks’  private t our to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Crypt, and the Dome, and that will also make you skip the line .

Table of Contents

What to see and do in the Vatican in Rome

Visit saint peter’s basilica and crypt.

The main and most famous landmark in the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica is also one of the first places you will probably visit and one of the most famous churches in Rome .

Packed with artwork and boasting a fascinating history, here you can also visit several popes’ tombs. It’s roughly 190 meters long and can accommodate approximately 20,000 people.

Entrance is free of charge and very likely you will need to queue to enter. More so in the high seasons, mainly summer and close to Christmas. You will need to go through the metal detector and a police check but it goes pretty quickly. In summer, make sure you have a bottle of water, a hat and some sunscreen.

Admission: Free, audio guides can be rented at the entrance Cameras: Allowed, no flash Dress code: Modest, shoulders covered, no mini-skirts, no shorts that are too short, both men and women Visiting hours: The Basilica is open every day 7 am-7 pm from April to September, 7 am-6 pm from October to March Location: Piazza San Pietro, inside the Vatican City How to get to St. Peter’s Basilica:  The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, line A (red). Buses that get close are 64 and 40 from Termini Station which goes through the main places in the city center. The nearest train station is Stazione Roma San Pietro in Piazza della Stazione di San Pietro, some 15 minutes walking from the Vatican or two stops with the 64 bus.

READ MORE: To know more, check out our article on the most interesting facts about St. Peter’s Basilica and what you need to know to visit.

Visiting the Vatican City, Michelangelo's La Pietà

Go down to Saint Peter’s Tomb and ancient Roman Cemetery

When visiting Vatican City, trust me, you don’t want to miss this. Located underneath the main basilica, some 11 meters beneath today’s street level, there is Nero’s Circus where Saint Peter Apostle was martyred and next to it an ancient Roman cemetery .

To visit this ancient graveyard, you need to book in advance by getting in touch with the Ufficio Scavi (Excavations Office). This is hands-down one of the most beguiling places you can visit in the Vatican and one of Rome’s top archaeological sites but you can only book via the official website. Otherwise, you can also book a tour with a certified professional guide to visit the grottoes below the Renaissance basilica.

Admission:  13€ per person includes a guide from the Vatican Cameras: Not allowed to take pictures in the ancient necropolis. Dress code: Modest, it’s still a graveyard and where is Saint Peter’s tomb. Men should wear long trousers, women long skirts or trousers, all covering the shoulders. Visiting hours: The Ufficio Scavi is open every day except Sunday and holidays 9 am-5 pm. The last entry is at 3.30 pm (4.15 pm from April through September). How to book: By fax (+39 06 69873017) or directly at the ticket booth on the left side of Bernini’s Colonnade. You can also try to book before you arrive by email writing to [email protected] or [email protected]. The booking must be made directly by the person who is actually taking part in the tour, if someone else books for you, they need to provide your details. In order to book, these are the required info: – Exact number of participants; – Names of the participants; – Language required during the visit; – Range of available days (month to be written in letters), the ticket office can arrange your visit, timings decided by the office; – The way you would like to be reached (email, fax, phone, house address). Location: Piazza San Pietro, entrance on the left of the Colonnade, access from Via Paolo VI. How to access the visit: Visitors need to arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the arranged visit time. Show the Swiss Guards the confirmation of your booking or the email received from the Ufficio Scavi with the time of your visit. Items not allowed items: large bags, backpacks, and cameras. A deposit area free of charge for these objects is available to the right of the façade of the Basilica on the ground floor level of the Basilica’s premises. How to get there:  The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, line A (red). Buses that get close are 64 and 40 from Termini Station which goes through the main places in the city center. The nearest train station is Stazione Roma San Pietro in Piazza della Stazione di San Pietro, some 15 minutes walking from the Vatican or two stops with the 64 bus.

Visiting the Vatican City, Saint Peter's Dome

Climb Saint Peter’s Dome (Cupola di San Pietro)

The dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica stands 136 meters tall and can be spotted from afar, making it always an iconic photography subject.

Once you visit the basilica, you have the option to climb up to its Cupola (Dome) and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city center. You can go either with the lift from the ground level to the terrace or climb all the way up (551 steps).

Even if you take the lift, you still need to walk 320 narrow steps to the top of the Dome because the lift gets only to the terrace. Here, you will find toilets and a cafeteria to freshen up and refuel before enjoying a view of the interior of the basilica. If you feel like it, climb the extra 320 steps and go to the top to admire the astonishing view of the city and St. Peter’s Piazza.

Admission fee: 8€ with the lift and then you climb 320 steps or 6€ all the way up to 551 steps. Camera: allowed without extra charge. Opening hours: Every day from 7.30 am to 6 pm April through September; from 7.30 am to 5 pm October through March. The last admission for climbing on foot is an hour before closing time. Note : I recommend you not to do the 331 narrow stairs if you are not in good shape, scared of heights, or have heart issues because once you start the stairs, you will have to go all the way to the top of the dome. Location: Piazza San Pietro, inside Vatican City. The entrance is at the portico of the Basilica How to get to St. Peter’s Basilica: The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, line A (red). Buses that get close are 64 and 40 from Termini Station which goes through the main places in the city center. The nearest train station is Stazione Roma San Pietro in Piazza della Stazione di San Pietro, some 15 minutes walking from the Vatican or two stops with the 64 bus.

READ MORE: To delve deeper into the Holy See’s history and art, check out our guide to the best tours to the Vatican .

Image: Visiting the Vatican City, the basilica facade

Visit Saint Peter’s Square

Saint Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) is an astonishing 17th-century piazza designed by Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1656 and 1667 under the rule of Pope Alexander VII.

One of the most famous squares in Italy , the piazza is huge: 320 meters deep, 240 meters in diameter and surrounded by four rows of 284 columns and 88 pillars. The impressive balustrade garnishing the columns is crowned all along by 140 3.20-meter-tall statues representing the saints, completed around 1670 by Bernini’s pupils.

Right in the middle of the elliptic part of the piazza stands tall an ancient Roman obelisk dating back to the first century BC. Originally, the obelisk was in the Circus of Caligula where the martyrdom of Peter took place and where the basilica was built, and it was moved by Domenico Fontana in 1585 at the behest of Pope Sixtus V.

Located on the sides of the central obelisk are two fountains, one by Bernini (1675) and one by Maderno (1614), while at the bottom of the wide staircase, there are the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul as if to welcome pilgrims and worshippers.

Image: St peter square fountain in the Vatican

From the piazza, you can better admire the beautiful facade of the basilica, a masterpiece of Italian architect Carlo Maderno who built it in 1614.

114.69 meters wide and 48 meters tall, the facade displays a series of columns and Corinthian lesenes on which a massive frame is crowned by thirteen 6-meter-tall sculptures with the Redeemer in the middle and an inscription to acknowledge that the work had been made under the rule of Pope Paul V Borghese.

The lower part counts five entrances on top of which are nine windows, three complete with balconies. The window in the middle is the so-called “Loggia of the Blessings”, from where the pope grants the Urbi et Orbi blessing right after his nomination and for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.

Admission: Free. Address: Piazza San Pietro. How to get there: Bus 64 from Termini (stop in front of Borgo Santo Spirito Hospital then walk down Via della Conciliazione), Stazione San Pietro train station then bus 64 for two stops, Ottaviano metro station, tram 19 (stop at Piazza Risorgimento).

Image: Vatican Museums in Rome

Visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

Visiting the Vatican City is by no means complete without a tour of the Vatican Museums . On display are some five centuries of artwork commissioned by the popes or received as gifts from kings, presidents, and leaders from all over the world.

Within the Vatican Museums, there are many important monuments such as the Chapel of Beato Angelico, sometimes spelled Fra Angelico, Raphael’s Loggia, the Borgia Apartments, and the world-famous Sistine Chapel, ordered by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. Here you will admire Michelangelo’s fresco all over the ceiling realized between 1508 and 1512, and his stunning Universal Judgement painting on the main wall completed between 1536 and 1541.

The Vatican Museums get super crowded. If you want to fully enjoy the artworks and the Sistine Chapel in silence and take your time, you should book a private tour . For early birds, Take Walks organizes a great tour early morning with access to the museums before opening hours, while if you don’t feel like waking up too early, you can take part in their tour to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel where you can skip the line or their fascinating night tour to the museums and the Sistine Chapel after closing time .

Admission fee: 20€ for adults, 8€ for children (6 to 18 years old), 8€ for students (19 to 26 years old). If you book online to skip the link, there is an extra 5€. Audio guides can be rented at the entrance. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9 am-6 pm (last entrance 4 pm). From January 1st, 2024, visiting time will be from 8 am to 7 pm, adding two extra hours. From the beginning of March, on Fridays and Saturdays, the museums will be open until 8 pm. On Sundays, the Vatican Museums are closed except the last Sunday of the month, when they can be visited free of charge from 9 am to 2 pm (last entrance 12.30 pm). Photos:  Allowed in the Museums but not in the Sistine Chapel. Address:  Viale Vaticano. How to get there: Metro stations Cipro-Musei Vaticani or Ottaviano  (line A). Bus 49 (stop in front of the museum’s square), 32/81/982 (stop in Piazza Risorgimento), 492/990 (stop in Via Leone IV and Via degli Scipioni). Tram 19 stops in Piazza Risorgimento. Contacts: Phone numbers +39 06 6988 4676; +39 06 6988 3145. Email [email protected]; help desk for online booking [email protected]

See the Vatican Gardens

If you are thinking about visiting Vatican City, do reserve some time for the beautiful gardens. Vatican Gardens have been a place of peace and meditation for the popes since 1279 when Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back here from the Lateran Palace. Larger and more recent gardens have been planted, covering, together with the original garden, about half of the 44 hectares of Vatican City State.

The Vatican Gardens can be visited only through guided tours organized by the Guided Tours of Vatican Museums. Tours depart from the Vatican Museums.

Admission fee: From 32€ depending on the tour. Opening hours:  Daily except for Wednesdays and Sundays. How to book: Tours of the Vatican Gardens are available in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and German. You can request another language when booking. Bookings can be made by fax (+39 06 6988 5100), by email ([email protected] or [email protected]), through the online form on the Vatican website at least two days in advance, or by phone (+39 06 6988 3145 or +39 06 6988 4676). Please note: show up on time, not too early nor late. Cameras: Allowed. Vatican Garden dress code: Modest like in all other areas.

READ MORE: See our post to discover more beautiful and least-visited churches in Rome .

Image: Visiting the Vatican City, Saint Peter's Basilica

Appointments with the Pope

When visiting the Vatican City, you might get the chance to see the pope: he comes out in public twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday.

The Papal Audience takes place every Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square in the summer and in the Audience Hall during winter. The audience starts at 10.30 am, but to secure a good seat you need to arrive early, the security check for the square starts at 8 am. The audience normally lasts between 1 to 2 hours.

A ticket is required, even if always free of charge, and you can request it by phone (+39.06.69883114 or +39.06.69884631), or by fax (+39.06.69885863). Tickets are issued by the Papal Prefecture at the Bronze Door on Monday 9 am-1 pm or Tuesday 9 am-6 pm.

You can also see the Pope on Sunday at noon. He appears from the window of his apartment, greets the crowds in various languages, and gives a short speech and blessings to the people. It normally lasts around 20-30 minutes. No charge.

Gift shopping in the Vatican

When visiting Vatican City, you might want to do some shopping. Close to the basilica, you will find a couple of shops selling souvenirs such as rosaries, postcards, calendars, photos, t-shirts, crucifixes, medals, posters and obviously, photos of the popes.

Inside the Vatican Museums, you will also find some shops selling books and religious souvenirs.

All around the Vatican, Borgo Pio quarter, Via della Conciliazione and the streets towards Piazza Risorgimento, you will find plenty of shops with religious souvenirs, themed jewelry, calendars, books, posters, etc.

Visiting the Vatican – FAQ

When is the best time to visit the vatican.

Weather-wise, it’s always a great time to visit the Vatican. Rome boasts a pretty mild climate, and even if you happen on a rainy day, most places to visit in the Vatican are indoors.

Date-wise, the best time to visit the Vatican really depends on your preferences and religious needs. For example, if you are a fervent believer and practicing Catholic, you might want to go to the Vatican during important days in the Catholic calendar such as Christmas, Easter, or even the spectacular Via Crucis performed by the Pope usually at the Colosseum.

Clock-wise, the best time to visit the Vatican is probably early morning or late afternoon, even though you always need to check the closing time and in the afternoon you might only have the time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica.

For sure, visiting the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel before opening hours or after closing time to enjoy them without being surrounded by the crowds is an absolutely unforgettable experience. You can do this with Walks of Italy’s Early-Entry Sistine Chapel Tour where you can access the Sistine Chapel 30 minutes before they open to everyone, and Vatican Museums Night Tour , where you access the Vatican Museums at 7.30 pm.

Can you visit the Vatican without a tour?

Absolutely yes. You don’t need a tour to visit any of the Vatican highlights, except for the ancient necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Gardens. Both these sights can be visited only accompanied by guides working in the Vatican and needs booking.

All other highlights can be visited on your own, including the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and the Basilica of Saint Peter. I recommend taking a tour if you are short on time and need to speed things up. Private tours, in fact, include skip-the-line entrance and a tour leader who takes you to the most important sights saving you the time to look for them.

What are the rules for visiting the Vatican?

  • Dress code. The Vatican dress code applies to both men and women. Covering knees and shoulders is a must for men and women. Men need to take off their hats while women can enter with their heads covered.
  • Prior booking. Vatican Gardens and the ancient Roman cemetery below the Vatican Basilica need prior booking. Also if you want to attend an official celebration in the Vatican, you need to book your spot except for the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square every Sunday.
  • Check Mass times. When there are official functions and holy mass, the Vatican Basilica is closed to cultural visitors and tours.
  • Photography rules. Inside the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Necropolis, it’s not allowed to take pictures.

Can you walk into Vatican City for free?

Located in the heart of Rome, you can always cross the Vatican City for free. For example, if you are coming from either San Pietro train station towards the river or Via della Conciliazione towards the station or Via di Porta Cavalleggeri, you are likely going to cross Saint Peter’s Square and that’s obviously free of charge.

In fact, two of the major landmarks in the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Square and Saint Peter’s Basilica, are free to enter, while the others are ticketed monuments.

Does the Vatican take a whole day?

It’s really up to you how long you want to spend visiting Vatican City.

If you are thinking about visiting the Vatican and want a full-immersion experience, I suggest you carve out a whole day of your Roman trip. This is going to be difficult if you are in Rome for only a day or two , but if you are staying longer, planning a full day to visit Vatican City is definitely worth it.

Consider that only in the Vatican Museums you are going to spend two to three hours if you are hitting only the main masterpieces or up to five hours for a more complete experience. Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica will also take a couple of hours, and if in the middle you want to have lunch, a day will easily pass. You are likely to finish your Vatican visit early in the afternoon so for the rest of the evening, you can hit the city center or the quaint Trastevere neighborhood .

Where to stay near the Vatican

Staying immediately close to the Vatican might be a little more expensive but it’s obviously handier as you don’t need to take public transport to get to Saint Peter’s Basilica.

  • Hotel Emmaus . This is a no-frill 3-star accommodation in Via delle Fornaci 25. Very close to the Vatican and Stazione San Pietro, it offers basic facilities such as free WIFI, 24h room service, reception, and a bar.
  • San Peter’s Corner . This is a lovely bed and breakfast near Vatican City in Via delle Fornaci 1. Rooms have free WiFi, a private bathroom with a hairdryer and complimentary courtesy set, and an Italian-style breakfast every morning.
  • Le Scalette al Vaticano B&B . Another favorite B&B near the Vatican Museums and Cipro metro station on line A. This B&B offers free WiFi, Smart TV, air conditioning, and in some rooms also a terrace.

READ MORE: If you want to stay in the area, check out our guide to the best hotels near the Vatican .

Where to eat near the Vatican

If you are looking for a place where to eat near the Vatican , my best tip is to go a little far from the Vatican itself to quarters like Trionfale and Prati .

Visiting the Vatican takes some time because there are several sights so you are likely to stay around for the main part of your day. This is especially true if you are staying in Rome for 4 days or a week and want to explore Vatican City in depth.

This is why we are giving you some suggestions of great restaurants in the area where locals go so where you won’t find tourist menus and quality.

  • Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43). Bonci is the king of pizza in Rome , truly one of my favorite places for pizza by the slice street food style . Unfortunately, it seems like everybody knows that and the queue is a constant there. Unsurprisingly so, given the light and easy-to-digest dough and the high-quality, seasonal ingredients used for the frequently-changing toppings.
  • Romanè (Via Cipro 106). This is a delicious restaurant to hit for traditional Roman dishes. One of the best carbonaras in Rome , here you can enjoy other known fares like amatriciana , pollo alla cacciatora, and tripes Roman style.
  • I Quattro Mori Hostaria (Via Santa Maria delle Fornaci 8). Good fish and seafood dishes and affordable prices, plus a stone’s throw away from the Holy See. If you go on Wednesday or weekends, you might need to book to find a table: phone +39 06 639 0195.
  • Porto Fish & Chips (Via Crescenzio 56). Fish restaurant decorated as if on a ship serving traditional dishes with a contemporary twist and new recipes. On weekdays, you can choose between menu à la carte or buffet all-you-can-eat, while on weekends, only menu à la carte.

READ MORE: Learn more about some fascinating and interesting facts about the Vatican !


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About The Author: Angela Corrias

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How to Visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in Rome

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TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums ( Musei Vaticani) , located in the Vatican City , are one of the attractions you must see on a visit to Rome . Here you will find priceless artworks, from Egyptian and Roman antiquities to paintings by the most important artists of the Renaissance.

A visit to the Vatican Museums also includes the Sistine Chapel , where you can see Michelangelo's most famous frescoes.

Top Attractions in the Vatican Museums

The Sistine Chapel. Renowned for its inspirational frescoed ceiling by Michelangelo between 1505 and 1512, the Sistine Chapel is also the gathering place of the Sacred College of Cardinals when they meet to elect a new pope. Portrayals of "The Last Judgment," "The Creation of Adam," and "The Fall of Man" and the "Expulsion from Paradise" are among Michelangelo's masterworks here, although he always considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter. The chapel contains what is considered by many to be the greatest achievements of the Renaissance. 

Tip:  Go to one side of the chapel and wait for a spot to open up on one of the benches lining the wall. You can sit down and admire the ceiling without straining your neck or getting dizzy.

The Raphael Rooms. Among the artistic treasures of the Vatican Museums, the   four opulent suites that make up the Raphael Rooms are second in importance only to the Sistine Chapel. Painstakingly created by artist Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) and his students between 1508 and 1524, these galleries, located on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace contain huge frescoes—foremost among them "The School of Athens," which depicts the great philosophers of the Classical world. Raphael snuck in a self-portrait, in the guise of the Greek painter Apelles of Kos. 

The Gallery of Maps.  One of the most popular exhibits in the Museums , the Gallery of Maps ( Galleria delle Carte Geografiche ) measures a whopping 394 feet and is plastered end-to-end with more than 40 full-size geographical paintings by the 16th-century Dominican monk and cosmographer, Ignazio Danti. Visitors to the museums pass through the gallery on their way to the Sistine Chapel.

The Chiaramonti Museum.  Set in a long loggia (hall) lined with thousands of ancient marble portrait busts, idealistic and funerary sculptures, as well as a rare 1st-century statue of Augustus, the Chiaramonti Museum is named after Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti (1800-1823).

Pio-Clementino Museum.  Housed within the smaller Belvedere Palace of Innocent VIII (1484-1492), the marble halls of Museo Pio-Clementino exhibit one of the world's most comprehensive collections of Classical Greek and Roman statues. A few examples are the Roman copy in marble of Apollo, originally cast in bronze in the 4th century BC, and a pontifical collection of sculptures housed in the crimson-hued Cortile delle Statue  (today called the Octagonal Court). 

The Gregorian Etruscan Museum.  Commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI in the middle of the 19th century, the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco has eight galleries that hold a fascinating selection of artifacts related to the mysterious Etruscan civilization, which predated Rome by at least hundreds of years. The Etruscans left behind rich grave goods, including bronze, glass, ivory, and ceramics found in ancient Latium and in cities across central Italy.

The Gregorian Egyptian Museums.  Founded in 1839, exhibitions in the Museo Gregoriano Egiziano demonstrate the importance and influence of the pharaonic culture in Roman history. See ancient mummies, delicate papyruses, and captivating pieces from the Near East, many of which were added to the museum's collections in the 1970s.

The Gallery of Tapestries.  At around 246 feet long, the Gallery of Tapestries ( Galleria degli Arazzi ) is just slightly smaller than its maps counterpart. Featuring beautiful vaulted ceilings decorated in delightful trompe l'oeil , the textiles were woven in Rome by the Barberini workshop during the reign of Pope Urban VIII. Pay attention to "The Resurrection," which is a wonderful example of a technique called "moving perspective." Look at Jesus' eyes as you walk by and you will notice that they seem to follow you as you pass.

The Borgia Apartment.  Another exhibit really worth seeing is the Borgia Apartment. Here Pinturicchio (formal name, Bernardino di Betto) labored for nearly three years (1492-1495) to fresco the private residence of the notorious Borgia pope, Alexander VI. During cleaning of one of his frescoes, "The Resurrection," a scene was revealed that is believed to be the earliest known European painting of Native Americans—the fresco was completed just two years after Christopher Columbus had returned from his travels to the New World.

The Spiral Staircase.  It's hard to visit the Vatican Museums without taking a photo of the elegant spiral staircase leading down from the museums was designed by Giuseppe Momo. Completed in 1932, the double helix flight of steps allows patrons to simultaneously walk up one side and down the other.

History of the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums collection "officially" began in 1506, when Pope Julius II purchased the "Laocoön," an ancient Greek sculpture depicting a Trojan priest and his sons being strangled by sea serpents, their punishment for trying to warn Troy about the Trojan Horse. The sculpture was put on public display, and the tradition of sharing Papal artistic treasures with the public was born. Over the years, the Vatican collections grew to more than 70,000 works of art, fewer than half of which are on display in the museums' more than 1,400 galleries, halls and chapels. It is one of the oldest and most-visited museums in the world and is also considered the world's largest museum.

Vatican Museums Visitor Information

Location:  Viale Vaticano, 00165 Rome

Hours:  Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Sundays, January 1, January 6, February 11, March 19, Easter Sunday and Monday, May 1, June 29, August 14, August 15, November 1, December 8, December 25, December 26.

From mid-April to late October, the Vatican Museums are open on Friday evenings too.

Free admission:  The Vatican Museums are open for free on the last Sunday of every month. Exceptions include Easter Sunday, as well as June 29, December 25, or December 26 if they fall on a Sunday. Free admission to the Vatican Museums is also available on September 27 (World Tourism Day). While free admission to the Vatican Museums may be easy on your budget, be prepared for long lines for admission and crowds around all the famous artworks.

Visiting Tip:  Avoid the (very) long entrance line by buying your ticket in advance, within 60 days of your visit. You can buy tickets on the  Vatican Museums website .

Admission:  €17 if purchased on-site; €21 if pre-purchased online (highly recommended). Check current prices on the above website.

Admission is included in the combination  Vatican Rome Card .

Guided Tours

With its crowds, miles of galleries and mind-boggling volume of artwork, there's no way to rush a visit to the Vatican Museums. Even the most fast-paced visit requires a minimum of 2-3 hours, and that's still not enough to do justice to these amazing collections.

If you have a limited amount of time to spend in the museums or want to make the most of your visit, a guided tour is a great option. Guided tours can be booked through the Vatican Museums website, and some tours allow you to see parts of Vatican City not usually open to tourists. Generally speaking, the more you are willing to pay for your tour, the more privacy and exclusivity you obtain.

Several private tour companies are licensed to offer small group tours inside the museums, which can include before- or after-hours access, skip-the-line options and behind the scenes access. Some well-respected tour operators include The Roman Guy , Context Travel , Select Italy  and Italy With Us , all of which offer expert guides and exclusive access. For a really special experience, consider a  before or after hours tour  so you can see the Sistine Chapel without the crowds—truly a magnificent encounter.

Other Things to See in Vatican City

The Vatican Gardens.  The Vatican Gardens, the most exclusive backyard in the city, can only be visited by booking a separate guided tour, either through the Vatican Museums website or with a private tour operator. It may take some extra planning, but it's well worth the effort, as access to the gardens is quite limited, leaving lucky visitors with little crowds for strolling the 57 acres of gardens in relative seclusion. Not only that, the well-curated gardens have the best views of St. Peter's dome in all of Rome.

Vatican Post Office.  Like the Vatican Gardens, the Vatican Post Office is not officially part of the Museums, however, if you have the opportunity we highly recommend you stop in to have a letter postmarked here. Given the Vatican City's unique status as its own tiny country, it posts more mail than any other post office in the world. Opened in 1929, it has its own stamps, along with a reputation for being so reliable that many Romans go out of their way to use it, too.

Of course, most visitors the Vatican Museums combine it with a same-day visit to St. Peter's Basilica, one of the most important churches in all Christendom. Find out more about visiting St. Peter's with this visitors' guide .

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Vatican City evening tours are great for skipping the busier hours of the day

11 Top-Rated Vatican City Tours from Rome in 2024

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Which Vatican City tours are best? Is it worth getting a guided tour of the Vatican?

Situated just 3 miles (4.7km) outside of Rome, Vatican City is a must-visit destination for any traveler heading to Italy’s charming capital! Home to some of the world’s most iconic and significant religious landmarks, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, this small city-state has a rich history and cultural heritage that attracts millions of visitors every year.

And, of course, with those millions of annual visitors comes lines… long, long lines. Which brings me to my point – guided tours of Vatican City are unquestionably worth the time and investment since many of them include skip-the-line entry, saving you hours! Plus, they provide you with a unique opportunity to learn all about the Vatican’s history, art, architecture, and get insider information from knowledgeable guides.

vatican tour pictures

Don’t have time to scour the entire post for the best tour? No worries!

The Early Morning Vatican: Small Group Tour Max 6 People or Private is undoubtedly the #1 tour on this list!

⭐ 2,300+ 5-Star Reviews ⭐ Viator’s Badge of Excellence ⭐ Skip-the-Line Entry ⭐ Visit the Sistine Chapel before it opens to the public!

But with so many different tours available, how do you know which ones are worth your time? That’s where I come in!

When it comes to visiting the Vatican City, there are endless options for tours available. From private tours to small group tours, walking tours to bus tours, it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one is best for you.

That’s why I’ve compiled this list of the top-rated tours led by local companies in Rome so you don’t have to do all the digging. As someone with a whole lot of Italian heritage (my last name is a province in Northern Italy) and a lot of experience in finding the right tours in Italy, I can attest to the quality and value of these tours.

From comprehensive tours to Vatican City that cover all the must-see sights to more specialized tours focused on specific aspects of the city, here are the top-rated options in Italy!

11 BEST Vatican City Tours

1. early morning vatican: small group tour max 6 people or private.

The early morning Vatican city tours are the best for beating the crowds

Undoubtedly the #1 tour on this list thanks to its unparalleled opportunity to experience the Vatican’s majestic beauty without the bustling throngs of tourists is this Early Morning Vatican Tour !

This exclusive tour offers an intimate view of the Vatican’s treasures, including the world-renowned Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. With a maximum of six people per group, you’ll have a near-private viewing of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, letting the profound art and architecture resonate with no distractions.

The early morning slot not only means cooler temperatures, but also entry into the Sistine Chapel before it opens to the public . That’s about as “quiet” in Italy’s peak season as you’re going to get! Your knowledgeable guide will also provide captivating insights into the history and secrets of the Vatican while ensuring a personalized experience.

Whether you choose the small group option or decide to go private, this 3.5-hour tour promises an unforgettable, serene exploration of one of Italy’s most sacred sites.

2. Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St Peter’s Basilica Guided Tour

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Another fantastic tour with over 2,400 5-star reviews, the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica Guided Tour is designed for those who seek comprehensive insights into Vatican City’s art and history.

With skip-the-line access, you can avoid the lengthy queues and delve straight into the cultural heart of the Vatican’s opulent galleries. On this 3-hour tour, you are accompanied by an expert guide who brings to life the stories behind the masterpieces housed within the Vatican walls. Plus, you won’t need to worry about hearing your guide even if it’s majorly crowded since every guest gets their own personal headset!

With all entrance fees included, this is a great option for those looking for a hassle-free, all-inclusive tour of the Vatican City.

3. VIP Small Group Vatican, Sistine Chapel & Basilica Tour

Most Vatican City tours provide access to the Sistine Chapel

Short on time but want to get the most out of your visit to the Vatican? I’ve got you covered! The VIP Small Group Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and Basilica Tour offers an exclusive, 2-hour experience for those eager to discover the Vatican without having to set aside an entire day for the excursion.

Perfect for those who aren’t as, we’ll say enthusiastic , about art and history, but still want to experience the highlights of Vatican City, this tour includes skip-the-line access and a

4. Skip the Line Vatican, Sistine Chapel & St Peter Small Group Tour

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Another great option for those seeking a small group tour limited to just six people , the Skip the Line: Vatican, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s Small Group Tour is a meticulously crafted experience designed to cover the Vatican highlights while providing a deep dive into the history, stories, and secrets held within its iconic walls.

This 3-hour journey is led by a professional guide whose passion and knowledge of the Vatican’s art, history, and architecture are second to none. Ideal for couples or friends traveling together who want a more intimate and personalized tour, this option offers plenty of time for questions and reflection.

Plus, with skip-the-line access, you’ll avoid wasting precious vacation time in the queue!

5. The Original Entire Vatican Tour & St. Peter’s Dome Climb

Some Vatican City tours allow you to climb the stairs of St. Peter's Basilica

Discover the Vatican like never before with The Original Entire Vatican Tour & St. Peter’s Dome Climb ! This comprehensive, 5-hour adventure combines the essential Vatican City tour with the rare opportunity to ascend to the top of the famous dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Starting with the Vatican Museums, your knowledgeable guide will escort you through a plethora of art and historical artifacts, leading to the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo’s ceiling will leave you spellbound.

After the chapel, you’ll make your way through the elegant halls to visit St. Peter’s Basilica itself. Unlike other tours, this experience doesn’t end there. Prepare to climb up to the terrace of St. Peter’s Dome — a challenge met with a rewarding panoramic view of Rome perfect for the ultimate photos!

With all entrance fees and a professional guide included, this tour offers an in-depth journey through the heart of the Vatican’s majesty, complete with the breathtaking cityscape that is often missed by most other tourists.

6. Private Early Bird Vatican Museums Tour

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Possibly even better than the first early bird Vatican tour I mentioned in this list, the Private Early Bird Vatican Museums Tour guarantees that only your group will participate, making it the perfect choice for family or friend groups who want an exclusive tour!

As the sun begins to rise, you’ll accompany your personal guide through the tranquil corridors of the Vatican Museums on a journey tailored to your interests. This immersive 3.5-hour tour allows you to relish the art and splendor at a leisurely pace, free from the pressure of daytime crowds.

Starting early means you’ll witness the Vatican’s masterpieces, like the Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, in a quiet setting. Ideal for aficionados and first-time visitors alike, this tour pledges a unique and introspective Vatican experience.

All entrance fees are included in every package on offer, however, those seeking hotel pick-up and drop-off should choose the “comfort” or “luxury” option to ensure a seamless start to their day at the Vatican.

7. Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums & St Peter’s Semi Private Tour

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Did you know that most “small group tours” departing from Rome actually have a maximum head count of 20 people ? Doesn’t sound very “small”, now does it? Well, for those looking for a cohesive exploration of Roman Catholic splendor with 10 or fewer people, this Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums & St Peter’s Semi Private Tour offers a comprehensive glimpse into the art and architecture of the Vatican.

Over the course of 3 hours, your guide will lead you through the halls of Michelangelo’s most famous work, the Sistine Chapel, as well as the Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

With skip-the-line access and an intimate group size, you’ll have plenty of time to ask questions and soak in all that this holy city has to offer. Plus, with a complimentary headset and audio system included, you’ll never miss a detail along the way!

8. After Hours Private Tour of Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Ever wanted to visit the Vatican after dark when most of the other tourists have left? Well, the After Hours Private Tour of Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel does just that!

Accompanied by a personal guide, delve into the Vatican’s art collections, marvel at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel without interruption, and gain special access to sections that are usually closed to the public during the day.

With the personal touch of a private tour, tailor the experience to your preferences and examine the treasures of the Vatican under the tranquil cover of night! Easily one of the best Vatican City evening tours available, this opportunity is surely a unique one.

9. Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St Peter’s Basilica Guided Tour

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Easily one of the most popular choices on this list, the Skip-the-Line Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Guided Tour offers a seamless journey into the cultural heart of the Holy See.

With priority access, you’ll be ahead of the crowd, exploring the exquisite tapestries, classical sculptures, and historical artifacts alongside a knowledgeable guide. In this 3-hour tour, you’ll also get access to the Cortile della Pigna, the Sphere within a Sphere, and the Gallery of the Maps in addition to the chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

With a maximum group size of 20 people, you’ll have access to personal headsets you have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and listen to the knowledge of your expert guide!

10. Skip-the-Line Tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s | Small Group

Small group Vatican City tours are ideal for tourists wanting a more personalized experience

One of the top-rated Vatican city tours on this list, the Skip-the-Line Tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s | Small Group promises a valuable and intimate experience with a maximum group size of 12 people.

In just 3 hours, explore the world-renowned collections of art and architecture found within the Vatican walls, including Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. With special access to the Raphael Rooms, you’ll have plenty of time to take photos and admire the beauty of this holy city.

Plus, with a professional guide and personal headsets provided, you’ll have access to all the fascinating information and history along the way!

11. Complete Early Morning Vatican Tour | Small Group

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Rise early and beat the crowds with this 3.5-hour Complete Early Morning Vatican Tour ! With a maximum group size of 12, you’ll have a personal and insightful tour through the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica before they open to the general public.

Skip-the-line access allows you to make the most of your time as you learn about the Vatican’s rich history and iconic art while an expert guide by your side provides historical and cultural context.

Perfect for early risers and anyone looking to make the most of their time in Vatican City!

Vatican Museum Hours

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In 2024, the Vatican Museums have arranged to be open between 8:00AM and 7:00PM Monday through Saturday, with Fridays and Saturdays planning to extend their hours to 8:00PM starting March 1st. The museums are closed on most Sundays.

The last Sunday of every month, the museums will be open from 9:00AM to 2:00PM. If you’re looking for a hours on a specific day that you’ll be visiting, be sure to check out their 2024 Official Openings and Closings Calendar !

FAQ: Vatican City Tours

In this last section, I’ve provided some additional information surrounding Vatican City including the best day of the week to visit, what you should bring with you on a guided tour, if you need your passport, and more!

Which Vatican City Tour is Best?

Tourists should aim to go on a Vatican City tour mid-week

The Early Morning Vatican: Small Group Tour Max 6 People or Private is arguably the best tour option for those looking to have a more intimate and personalized experience. With a small group size, you’re guaranteed a level of attention and interaction with your guide that larger groups simply can’t offer.

This tour is ideal for visitors who want to explore the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica without the usual crowds pressing in. By starting early, you also enjoy the serenity of the city before most tourists are awake, making this tour a top choice for both first-time visitors and seasoned Vatican explorers alike.

Plus, with entry to the Sistine Chapel before it opens to the public, you’ll have time to soak in the stunning artwork without being jostled by crowds. You’ll also get to enjoy skip-the-line entry to the other areas, so even if they do start getting busy, you won’t have to wait!

Is It Worth Getting a Guided Tour of the Vatican?

A guided tour of the Vatican is undoubtedly a worthwhile investment ! The Vatican is not only rich with art and history, but it is also extensive and complex. A knowledgeable guide offers invaluable insight into the vast collection of art, the stories behind the frescoes, and the historical significance of each site within the city-state.

Furthermore, a guide can help navigate the labyrinthine corridors and point out details that you might miss on your own. With their expertise, you can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Vatican treasures.

And let’s not forget the practical benefits – guided tours often come with skip-the-line access, which is a huge advantage, considering the long queues that are the norm at popular attractions like St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel.

Can a Tourist Just Walk into Vatican City?

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While anyone can walk into the main areas of Vatican City during its opening hours, entry into the landmark sites like the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica requires official Vatican City tickets. These can be purchased directly from the Vatican Official Website for those not interested in a tour, or they are included in the price of a guided tour when you book with a local company.

The public areas that one can freely access include St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Post Office, among a few other minor sites. However, for a more immersive experience that allows access to some of the most famous art and historical sites in the world, securing a ticket, preferably as part of a guided tour, is necessary.

Moreover, security checks similar to airport screenings are a prerequisite for entry to these attractions, so be prepared to queue for this process if traveling independently.

How Much is a Tour of the Vatican?

General admission to the Vatican Museums starts at about 20 euros for an adult ticket if purchased online from the Vatican’s official website, not including the 5 euro online booking fee.

Guided tours, on the other hand, can range from $45 for a basic group tour to upwards of $150 or more for private or semi-private tours with added perks such as early access or after-hours entry.

When considering a tour, remember that many options include added benefits like skip-the-line access and expert guidance, which can significantly enhance your visit.

What are the Top 2 Must-Sees if You Come to Vatican City?

Vatican City tours provide unparalleled opportunities to learn about art and history

When visiting Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica are the two must-see attractions that top the list . The Sistine Chapel is world-renowned for Michelangelo’s breathtaking ceiling frescoes and The Last Judgment.

St. Peter’s Basilica, on the other hand, is not only an architectural masterpiece but also an important religious site, home to significant works such as Michelangelo’s Pietà and Bernini’s Baldacchino. Both these sites encapsulate the artistic and spiritual heritage that Vatican City is famous for.

How Much Time is Enough for the Vatican?

A comprehensive visit to the Vatican typically requires at least half a day to fully appreciate the rich historical and artistic significance of its many treasures .

For those intent on a more detailed exploration, especially if attending with a guided tour, allocating a full day would allow enough time to absorb the grandeur of the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica without rushing. That way, even when the guided portion of your exploration reaches its end, you have still allotted enough time to check out the other areas of the Vatican.

Remember, this duration includes time for security checks, potential queues, and leisurely paced walks through the extensive collections and corridors.

What is the Best Day of the Week to Visit the Vatican?

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The best day of the week to visit the Vatican is often considered to be Tuesday or Thursday . These days tend to be less crowded compared to Mondays, which can be busier due to other museums in Rome being closed, and Wednesdays, when Papal Audiences are held attracting additional visitors.

Weekends, especially Saturdays, typically see a massive influx of tourists, so it’s advisable to visit mid-week if you’re looking for a quieter experience. Additionally, being aware of the Vatican holiday calendar can help in planning your visit, as religious events and celebrations can significantly affect crowd levels and availability.

Pro Tip: please remember that if you’re visiting the Vatican in Italy’s peak summer months, it will be busy regardless of when you go. If you’re hoping for the least amount of other tourists, then an early morning Vatican tour like this one is usually going to be your best bet! Just don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a major attraction all to yourself since it’s very unlikely that will happen during the busy season.

How Long Does a Vatican Tour Take?

Most tours of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica can take anywhere between 2 to 4 hours . If you opt for a more in-depth tour that includes the Vatican Gardens or the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, it can extend to a full-day outing of approximately 5 to 7 hours.

For an independent visit without a tour guide, you can expect to spend as much or as little time as your schedule allows, keeping in mind the Vatican’s opening hours.

What Should I Pack for Tours of the Vatican City?

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When preparing for a tour of the Vatican City, it’s important to pack accordingly to ensure you’re comfortable and respectful of the venue’s dress code. Essentials to include in your prep are:

  • Modest Clothing : Shoulders and knees must be covered, as the Vatican enforces a strict dress code in places of worship. Shorts, mini skirts, sleeveless dresses, and lowcut tops are forbidden and entry will be refused.
  • Comfortable Footwear : You’ll be walking a lot, so wearing comfortable shoes is key. Leave the heels at your hotel for this one!
  • Reusable Water Bottle : It’s essential to stay hydrated, especially in the hot summer months. There are several water fountains where you can refill your bottle which saves on single-use plastic. I always bring this LifeStraw bottle with me to Europe and I absolutely love it!
  • Snacks : a protein bar and small bag of pretzels or other light snacks can be a savior if you booked a half or full-day tour.
  • Sun Protection : If you’re visiting in the summer, sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat are advisable.
  • Small Backpack or Bag : To carry your essentials, but be aware that large backpacks may not be allowed in. Always check beforehand with your tour operator what you’ll be allowed to bring.
  • Camera (without flash) : Flash photography and selfie sticks are typically prohibited inside the museums.
  • Copy of Your Ticket : Either a printed copy or a digital version on your mobile device, to avoid any issues at the entrance.

Remember to pack light, as you might need to go through security checks, and heavy, bulky items can be an inconvenience.

Do You Need a Passport for a Vatican Tour?

While the Vatican City is indeed a sovereign state, you do not need to present a passport to enter the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, or St. Peter’s Basilica .

However, you must have a valid ticket to enter the attractions inside the Vatican. It’s important to keep your ticket with you at all times during your visit, as security may ask to see it at any point. Be sure to have a form of government identification with you, just in case, especially if your ticket is for a reduced category – such as student or senior discounts – as you may need to prove your eligibility.

It’s always best to check with your tour operator for any specific requirements before your visit.

Jump to the bottom of the post looking for the best tour? No worries!

Other Helpful Italy Resources

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Visiting the Vatican City is a must for anyone interested in history, art, or religion. With careful planning and preparation, you can make the most out of your visit and create unforgettable memories on your trip to Italy.

Remember to pack appropriately, have proper identification, and enjoy every moment of these unique Vatican city tours !

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Hey there! I'm Emily Concannon, a seasoned globetrotter who has backpacked her way across over a dozen European countries, immersing myself in the diverse cultures, languages, and cuisines of the region.

My passion for travel transcends personal experiences; I've spent years learning how to transform my globetrotting knowledge into personalized itineraries for fellow travelers worldwide.

With a tally of 26 countries (and counting!) under my belt, my day job involves extensive research on different countries which often leads me to booking a new adventure every chance I get!

  • Rome Attractions
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  • Sistine Chapel
  • Castel Gandolfo Papal Palace
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  • Apostolic Palace
  • Papal Audience
  • Vatican Grottoes
  • Vatican City
  • Castle Gondolfo

Vatican Necropolis

  • Vatican Archives
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  • Vatican Easter Mass
  • Christmas Tree
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  • Secrets of Vatican
  • Plan Your Visit
  • Skip the Line Tours
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  • Things to do in Vatican
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Visiting Vatican Grottoes | What to expect, Tickets, Timings, Location

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St. Peter’s Basilica, Square, and Papal Tombs Guided Tour

  • You can cancel these tickets up to 24 hours before the experience begins and get a full refund.
  • Immerse in an enlightening guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica, the world's largest Basilica, and Vatican City's captivating Papal Grottoes.
  • Marvel at the breathtaking interiors of the Basilica, a spectacular showcase of art by Michelangelo and Bernini. Choose between an English or Italian-speaking guide.
  • Experience the convergence of art, history, and religion at the Basilica, and walk the hallowed ground where numerous popes rest in the Papal Grottoes.
  • This tour also includes a visit to the iconic St. Peter’s Square, ending on a high note with directions to the mesmerizing St. Peter's Dome.
  • Tour of St. Peter's Basilica, Square and Grottoes
  • Expert English or Italian-speaking guide
  • Entrance to the St. Peter's Basilica
  • Assistance from a local staff
  • Entry to St. Peter's Dome
  • Tip: Keep an eye out for Bernini's Baldachin - it's a massive bronze canopy made from bronze stripped from the Pantheon!
  • Shoulders and knees must be covered. No low-cut, sleeveless tops or shorts will be permitted. You may risk being denied entry if you fail to comply with these dress requirements.
  • Note that the following items are not allowed inside the venue: tripods and flash photography.

small-group guided tour of vatican museums & sistine chapel-1

Small-Group Guided Tour of Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

  • Enjoy the beautiful Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with a semi-private and informative guided tour of the Vatican City.
  • You get a chance to learn all about the history and rich culture of the Vatican in an intimate group of 8 to 12 people or less.
  • Take a stroll and admire the wonderful interiors, and frescos of the pristine Sistine Chapel, the official residence of the pope.
  • Witness the largest collections of art and classical sculptures and gain knowledge about them from your private tour guide.
  • Enjoy a hassle-free entry in a small group with your personal tour guide.
  • Entry to Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
  • Expert tour guide (English, German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Russian)
  • Small-group tour (up to 12 people)
  • Headsets (if required)
  • Entrance to the Dome
  • Guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica
  • Pick-up & drop-off
  • Food & drink

This ticket has the following options that you can choose from:

  • English Guided Tour
  • German Guided Tour
  • Italian Guided Tour
  • French Guided Tour
  • Portuguese Guided Tour
  • Russian Guided Tour
  • These tickets can't be cancelled or rescheduled.

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What is Vatican Grottoes?

Vatican Grottoes is a massive spread of papal tombs situated right below St. Peter’s Basilica . Aside from the many artifacts, this area is the final resting place of over 90 popes, royalty, and other dignitaries. 

Every year millions of tourists make their way to the tombs to pay their respects and get a close look at the papal tombs. We’ve put together a detailed guide to help you plan your visit to the Vatican Grottoes including its history, what’s inside, visitor tips, & more. 

Why Visit the Vatican Grottoes?

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Inside the Grottoes are the tombs of over 90 popes, a few monarchs, and other church dignitaries, which date back to the 10th century. Other than the tombs, the Grottoes also contain rooms, chapels, and structures, including the marble statue of St. Peter Enthroned, the funerary monument of Calixtus III, the sepulcher of St. Peter, remains of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica, and more. Vatican Grottoes is the most visited place in Vatican City and should absolutely be on your must-see list!

Note: Your ticket to St.Peter’s Basilica/Vatican Museums includes access to Vatican Grottoes.

Plan Your Visit to Vatican Grottoes

Vatican Grottoes

Where is Vatican Grottoes Located?

The Vatican Grottoes under the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The Vatican Grottoes can be accessed through the main church of St. Peter’s Basilica. Make your way through the doorway near the statues of St. Helen and St. Andrew and head down towards the papal tombs.

Vatican Grottoes

Vatican Grottoes Timings

The  opening hours  of the Vatican Grottoes are the same as St. Peter’s Basilica, which is open between 7 AM to 7 PM from April to September and 7 AM to 6 PM from October to March. 

Make sure to complete your visit at least half an hour before closing time.

Origin of Vatican Grottoes

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The origin of the Vatican Grottoes dates back to the construction of the current St. Peter’s Basilica in the 17th century. This cathedral is built on the same site as the Old St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Necropolis, and Saint Peter’s tomb. 

It took about 120 years to complete the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, which included the papal tombs and necropolis below the structure. There are over 100 tombs inside the cathedral, most of which can be found inside the Vatican Grottoes. 

What’s Inside Vatican Grottoes?

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Clementine Chapel (Chapel of St. Peter)

Clementine Chapel is the precious gem of the Vatican Grottoes, holding the chest that protects the sepulcher of Peter the Apostle. It makes up the center of the peribolos and is the only part of the cathedral to maintain its original purpose and function. Just like back in the day, people of faith make their way to the chapel to pay their respects. It is believed that the head of St. Peter lay above the tomb towards the back of the monument. The chapel gets its name from Clement VIII, who modified the ancient chapel in 1592.

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Tomb of John Paul II (previous)

After the funeral of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005, his first tomb was placed towards the north end of the Grottoes, less than 100 feet from the tomb of St. Peter. He was placed in the spot where Pope John XXII previously lay, until he was moved to the St. Jerome Altar on June 3, 2001. A few years later in 2011, John Paul II was declared blessed and moved under the Altar of St. Sebastian. His body was placed in a cypress coffin as part of three traditional coffins that lay together. The outermost zinc casket was encrypted with three bronze plaques and a cross and placed in a larger casket which was shut using nails made of pure gold.

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Chapel of the Madonna of Bocciata

The Chapel of Madonna of Bocciata is the oldest in the area around St. Peter’s sepulcher, commissioned by Gregory XIII in 1580. Inside the chapel is an elegant fresco painted by Pietro Cavallini, a renowned 14th-century artist. He called it the “Madonna della Bocciata” because Mary’s face is swollen in the painting. It is believed that a drunken soldier once threw a bowl at the image after losing a game, which made her face bleed. 

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Icon of the Madonna Dolorosa & Reliefs of the Doctors of the Church

A massive depiction of the Holy Madonna is present in one corner of the Vatican Grottoes towards the south end. Here you can see Madonna painted in red and black clothes, slightly raising her arms, with an orange halo above her head. This image is surrounded by reliefs of the Doctors of the Church, preserved for many centuries.

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Archaeological Rooms of Vatican Grottoes

Although the Old St. Peter’s Basilica was gravely destroyed, some parts of it remain buried below the new cathedral. Paul V extended the Vatican Grottoes in the 16th century with parts of the old basilica placed on its walls. There are six Archeological Rooms in total containing tombs, frescoes, and other structures from the old cathedral.

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Funerary Monument of Calixtus III

A funerary monument of Pope Calixtus III lies at the south end of the grottoes, before the exit. Calixtus was the head of the Church and Papal States in the 14th century until his death. Although his remains were kept at Santa Maria in Monserrato, a funerary monument was built in his honor at St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Marble Statue of St. Peter Enthroned

The marble statue of St. Peter is a famous image throughout the world. Located right before the exit of the grottoes, the statue shows the apostle sitting with his arms crossed and his feet adorned with sandals. Almost everyone who visits the Vatican Grottoes is known to perform the gesture of kissing feet of the Apostle.

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Clementinian Peribolos

In between the Chapel with the Tomb of Pius XII and the Chapel of St. Veronica is the beautiful Clementinian Peribolos. The roof of the area is adorned with bright and colorful holy images that stretch along the corridor.

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Georgian Peribolos

The Georgian Peribolos, unlike the Clementinian one, is worn down with many parts of its walls having fallen off. However, the structure still holds strong even centuries later.

Who is Buried in the Vatican Grottoes? 

Although not all popes are buried at the Vatican Grottoes, there are over 90 papal tombs inside. Some of them include Pius VI Braschi, who was captured by the French and died a prisoner in 1799, John Paul I Luciani, whose reign lasted for just 33 days, Adrian IV, the only English pope, and many more. 

Other than the papal tombs, the Grottoes are also home to people of historical significance such as the Stuarts, who were pretenders to the English throne and remained in exile since 1717, and the famous emperor Otto II, who passed in Rome at an early age of 28. 

Another noteworthy burial is that of the Czech Cardinal Josef Beran, who was arrested in Prague after having worked at the Dachau concentration camp. He went on to become the archbishop of Prague until he was imprisoned once again for being an opposer of communism. After his final release, he became a cardinal in 1965. 

Many more significant tombs lie within the Grottoes, each with a unique history.

Map of the Vatican Grottoes

Vatican Grottoes

1. Chapel with Tomb of Pius XII

2. Chapel of St Veronica

3. Clementinian Peribolos

4. Chapel of St Helen

5. Clementine Chapel (Chapel of St Peter)

6. Gregorian Peribolos

7. Chapel of the Madonna of Bocciata

8. Opening onto the Archeological Remains of the Confessio (ex Chapel of Salvatorello)

9. Irish Chapel of St Columbanus

10. Chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti

11. Southern Corridor of the Confessio

12. The Confessio - Pallium Niche

13. Northern Corridor of the Confessio

14. Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa

15. Lithuanian Chapel of Mater Misericordiae

16. Peribolos - Last Section

17. Mexican Chapel of Our Lady of Guadeloupe

18. Tomb of Pius VI

19. Chapel of the Madonna between Peter and Paul

20. Peribolos - First Section

21. Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe

22. Chapel of St. Andrew (Grottoes Entrance)

23. Opening in front of the Confessio

24. Chapel of St Longinus

25. Tomb of Pius XI

26. Central Altar

27. Tomb of John Paul II (previous)

28. Tomb of Cardinal Merry del Val

29. Tomb of Queen Charlotte of Cyprus

30. Queen Christina of Sweden

31. Tomb of the Stuarts

32. Tomb of Cardinal Francesco Tedeschini

33. Tomb of Benedict XV

34. Tomb of Innocent IX

35. Archeological Room VI

36. Archeological Room V

37. Archeological Room IV

38. Tomb of Innocent XIII

39. Tomb of John Paul I

40. Tomb of Marcellus II

41. Tomb of Urban VI

42. Tomb of Paul VI

43. Chapel of Our Lady, Queen of the Hungarians

44. Entrance to Scavi from Piazza Braschi

45. Archeological Room I

46. Archeological Room II

47. Archeological Room III

48. Early Christian Sarcophagus

49. Mosaic of John VII

50. Gallery of Clement VIII

51. Sarcophagus of Pius III

52. Sarcophagus of Paul II

53. Polyandrium under the floor

54. Tomb of Hadrian IV

55. Tomb of Innocent VII

56. Tomb of Nicholas V

57. Tomb of Monsignor Ludvig Kaas

58. Tomb of Gregory V

59. Tomb of Emperor Otto II

60. Tomb of Julius III

61. Statue of Pius VI

62. Tomb of Nicholas III

63. Tomb of Boniface VIII

64. Icon of the Madonna Dolorosa and Reliefs of the Doctors of the Church

65. Dividing wall of Paul III and the Remains of two Columns from the Old Basilica

66. Funerary Monument of Calixtus III

67. Marble Statue of St Peter Enthroned

68. Exit from the Grottoes to the Patio

Visitor Tips

  • The Vatican Grottoes is not the same as the Vatican Necropolis. It is a separate section with several papal tombs. Don’t miss out on visiting either.
  • The area around the tombs is actually quite spacious and light, so you don’t have to worry about being claustrophobic. 
  • Read up about the grottoes before you head there for a more insightful experience. 
  • Keep in mind that photography is strictly prohibited at the Vatican Grottoes and all guests are required to maintain silence in the area.
  • Finish your tour of St. Peter’s Basilica before you head to the Vatican Grottoes otherwise you’ll have to wait in line all over again.  

All Your Questions About Vatican Grottoes Answered

Under St. Peter’s Basilica is a massive papal burial ground (separate from the Vatican Necropolis) referred to as the Vatican Grottoes.

Yes. The papal tombs are free to visit during the opening hours of St. Peter’s Basilica.

You can plan your visit to the Vatican Grottoes as part of your visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. It is located below the cathedral, so make sure you head there towards the end of your tour.

No. You do not need separate tickets to enter the Vatican Grottoes. Once you enter St. Peter’s Basilica, you can make your way below towards the papal tombs.

No. Photography is strictly prohibited at the Vatican Grottoes.

Vatican Necropolis

History of Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica


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