A shocking 20,000 people per day visit the Sistine Chapel and other areas of Vatican City during the high season.
While visiting the Vatican is something you know you want to do when you go to Rome, you want it to be a beautiful experience — not a miserable, crowded one. Avoiding the swarms of other tourists and locals who come to see the Pope speak can certainly be a bit of a challenge.
Don’t worry — this guide is here to help.
Consider it the ultimate list of insider tips and tricks you need to know when learning how to visit Vatican City.
1. Spring for a Guided Tour
The number-one way to beat the crowds when you visit the Vatican is to invest in a guided tour.
It’s not just about getting the most out of your visit by learning lesser-known historical facts and exploring parts of the Vatican that most tourists overlook. It’s also about avoiding the lines that can quickly make visiting Vatican city a complete nightmare.
When you go with a guide, you’re able to avoid the lines completely.
Instead, you’ll meet with a group of about 25 or so people and go in during your appointed time slot. The tour takes about four hours, so you’ll have plenty of time to see everything. (You can view page options for tours and choose the time that works best for you.)
If you’re willing to spend even more to beat the crowds, book an individual tour.
Not only will you be able to avoid waiting in line, but some tour companies allow you early access. This means you get in well before the Vatican is open to the public.
2. Know the Dress Code
The last thing you want to have happen when visiting the Vatican is for the way you’re dressed to cause you to be denied entry.
Use common sense, and dress as you would when attending a normal worship service.
This means avoiding low-cut, tight-fitting clothing, shorts, and hats and caps of any kind. If you’re traveling during the hot summer months, just bring a shawl to cover your shoulders (for men, a windbreaker is a safe bet.)
Remember that both men and women are required to have both their shoulders and knees covered at all times during their visit.
3. Choose Your Timing Wisely
What’s another important thing to consider when you’re trying to figure out the best way to tour the Vatican?
Unless you’re OK losing half a day in line, aim to visit during the offseason, which is usually from February to November. If you can, aim for Tuesday or Thursday, the two least-crowded days. Avoid Saturday visits at all costs.
If at all possible, avoid visiting on Wednesdays, when the Pope is present and usually speaks to believers.
We suggest taking a close look at the Papal Calendar when planning your trip.
Above all, arrive early — the line will form well-before opening hours. If you can’t stand to get up before dawn on vacation, then come at about 3:00 PM, when crowds have thinned out for the day.
4. Prepare as Much as Possible Beforehand
In case you haven’t gotten the message already, know that you simply won’t be able to “zip through” the Vatican.
Instead, you need to make sure you’ve done as much planning ahead as is possible when it comes to how to see the Vatican. While “free entry days” on the last Sunday of every month might seem like a great way to save a few bucks, it’s just not worth it.
We suggest taking a look at the ticket prices online ahead of time and seeing if you qualify for any student, pilgrimage, or senior discounts. You can even buy tickets that allow you to skip parts of the line.
Remember that entering Saint Peter’s Basilica is free.
However, know that you’ll need to pay for entry to the Sistine Chapel (home to the famous Michaelangelo paintings) and the Vatican Museum. The final entry time for the museum is at 4:00 PM each day.
The truth is that visiting the Vatican can be tiring and, for many, also emotionally overwhelming.
It sounds silly, but eating a full meal before your visit is one of the best things you can do. Sure, there are places around the Vatican where you can grab a snack, but they’ree seriously overpriced and certainly not the place to get authentic Italian food.
Many people also become physically exhausted when visiting the Vatican, especially during hotter months. Fainting is not uncommon, so be sure to stay hydrated and go slowly.
While the view from the cupola at Saint Peter’s is unmissable, many feel unable to make the over 500-step climb. (Especially those with claustrophobia.)
Your best bet is to take the elevator halfway to the top.
This Guide Makes Visiting the Vatican Easy
If you’ve long dreamed of visiting the Vatican, using the tips and tricks in this guide will allow you to have the best possible experience.
Remember to do your research, book a guide if possible, and prepare for a physically challenging day. Of course, once you’ve finished the Vatican, we know you’re curious about other things that you just can’t miss in Rome and the surrounding cities.
Need a bit more advice on how to get the most out of your Italian vacation?
Our blog is here to help.
Bookmark our page so you don’t miss out on any other insider tricks when it comes to traveling in Italy and other popular destinations.