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Our guide to the Vatican – Walk yourself – Get cheap tickets

Our guide to the Vatican – Walk yourself – Get cheap tickets

Today, we toured the Vatican. On our own.

We visited the Vatican Museums, the Raphael Galleries and the Sistine Chapel with Raphael’s masterpiece ceiling frescoes. Three hours passed in a breeze.

Then we took a short walk to Saint Peter’s Basilica, visited the crypt, saw Michelangelo’s Pieta and even managed to sneak into a sermon at 5pm.

We did not rush and had a great day. Starting our DIY tour at the Vatican Museums at noon, we finished exactly five hours later at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Touring the Vatican by yourself is easy. Here is how.

 

How to buy cheap Vatican tickets and avoid tour agencies

As I searched for tickets online, I noticed that apart from the Vatican’s official ticket website, many ticket sellers offer tours and tickets. Those middleman charge at least 30-40 Euros per person, but I have seen prices of 100 Euros for a ticket or guided tour.  

We bought the entrance tickets for the Vatican Museums for 16 Euros per person straight from the official Vatican Website  (add an annoying 4 Euros service fee per head).

The tickets include everything, that is: the Sistine Chapel, all Galleries, all Museums and Raphael Frescoes. St. Peter’s Basilica is always free, the dome (for the view over St. Peter’s Square) is 7 Euros.

Contrary to what tour guides may claim or write on their websites, it is easily possible to tour the Vatican on your own. The route is simple. Most signs I saw, had English translations. There are big information panels in the centre of the main galleries. The Museums provide enough toilet stops, as well as benches to rest.

Snack stops can be taken at a bar selling sandwiches, yoghurt, cakes and drinks. The big restaurant area in the basement sells fresh pizza!

The bar isn’t oriented towards extravaganza. I spotted the cheapest multi-pack yoghurt from our Simply supermarket.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets 

 

How to Skip the Line and avoid Ticket Scams

The agencies with their colourful tour websites make it look like you will get way more out of a tour than on your own.

  • Tour offers go like this: “Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Skip-The-Line Ticket” for 30 Euros.

A ticket to the Vatican. No guide. And you get to skip the line.

Wait what?

I don’t think that most people know that when you buy tickets online through the official Vatican website, you automatically skip the line!

  • Beware of pricey offers: “No Wait: Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s, Sistine Chapel” for 59 Euros.

Often, tour agencies make it look like the Sistine Chapel has another entrance line. It does NOT. The Museums and Sistine Chapel are linked. You only need one ticket, it is ONE smooth walk.

There is a passage that links Sistine Chapel with St. Peter’s Basilica that only guided tours may use. We chose to walk 1km from the Museums to the main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica. That 10 minute walk saved us 80 Euros.

And St. Peter’s Basilica is free anyway. So are the sermons, anyone can attend, if you manage to sneak in before the crowds.

Guided tours do NOT include St. Peter’s dome. Climbing up the stairs to enjoy the view over St. Peter’s Square is 7 Euros. 

  • To avoid crowds, come in the afternoon. Organised tours are in the mornings, starting at 9 and lasting 1,5-3 hours.

We bought a ticket for 12.00 and there was no queue at all in front of the Museum’s ticket counters. So, in the end, we could have just bought our tickets on the spot, saving on Vatican-online service fee. After we picked up our tickets, we went straight through the security/bag scan points (with absolutely uninterested stuff playing on their mobiles rather than watching the screens).

Depending on the time of your visit, the late afternoon line to St. Peter’s Basilica might be nothing in comparison to a morning visit. We got in very quickly (waited about 10 minutes in line) at around 4 pm.

Do not go on Wednesday. Due to the papal audience, St. Peter’s Square gets super crowded.

The Vatican Museums close at 5.30 and St. Peter’s Basilica at 5.

We enjoyed exhibition rooms and museums with very little people. We passed the occasional group but it was totally hassle free. 

 

How to see the Pope at the Vatican 

The papal audience is an entirely FREE event, organised every Wednesday at noon. Just pick up tickets without a reservation from the Swiss Guards at the Bronze Doors located just after security at St. Peter’s Basilica. They hand them out for free but you can only get a maximum of 10 free tickets at a time.

Should you be unable to get tickets for an audience, you can always attend the Sunday Angelus, held at noon in St. Peter’s Square and presided over by the Pope. Tickets are not required for this event.

Which brings us to another tourist rip off. Some online travel agencies sell tickets for the papal audience! There is no such thing as travel agents having reserved seats for you either! If you want to sit, come early.

 

Vatican rules

You must be properly dressed. (But you knew that already.)

You can leave bags at the cloakroom or carry along your bag and camera. (Neat!)

You can take as many pictures as you like, except in the Sistine Chapel. (Which is strange.)

The Vatican Post Office does not take 1 and 2 cent coins. (That is just not right.)

You can (and should) bring your own drinks and snacks. (Which is nice.) We brought apples and water in a bottle.

Cans are not allowed.

 

How to Visit the Vatican and the Museums – Our Walking Guide

All the Vatican Museums, various Galleries, including the Sistine Chapel are essentially ONE event.

Once you are at the Museum Entrance of the Vatican, there is only ONE way to go. If you follow the arrows towards the Sistine Chapel, it is one long loop that takes you through the Museums, Galleries, Rooms, Halls, the Chapel and whatever there is to see.

You will inevitably walk through them.

The Museums and Galleries and the Sistine Chapel are linked in such a convenient way.

Pick up the Vatican Map (for free) at the entrance ticket counters, so that you can trace the walking route.

We paired that with the Vatican Museum descriptions, as well as the Lonely Planet short guide to the Vatican Museums and found it to be just enough to keep us entertained for the day.

 

Our Walk-Yourself-Vatican-Tour

Duration: 3 hours – started at 12.00, finished at 15.30

Length: 1.5 km Vatican Museums and 2km for the Basilica (getting there and touring around)

We simply followed the arrows in the Vatican and on the map, guiding us through all chambers to the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel is located at the end of the Vatican Museums.

 

Where we went  /  What to see

1. Museo Gregoriano Egizio (Egyptian Museum) / sacrophagi, mummies 1000BC, Roman statues of Egyptian gods

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Statue of god Anubis from Italian’s pomp Pamphili Palazzo.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Creepy mummy!

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

2. Museo Pio Clementino

Octagonal Courtyard / classical statuary, sun god Apollo, Trojan priest Laocoon with his sons 2BC

Eros has pretty wings. The lady is just gorgeous. Maybe Aphrodite but archaeologists disagree.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

Sala degli Animali / sculpted creatures, dogs, birds, reptiles, floor mosaics 4BC, I liked a tiny bunny statue best

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

Sala delle Buste / hundreds of Roman busts

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

Sala delle Muse / Torso Belvedere (in very centre) 1BC

I didn’t take a picture because everyone else did but then I liked this postcard and took a picture of it.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

Sala Rotunda / Nero’s huge basin made of one mega piece of red stone, surrounded by colossal statues

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Hercules in bronze.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Hadrian. Remember this name. A Roman emperor and rich bastard. You will see many artefacts in Rome stemming from his domicile, the Villa Adriana in Tivoli.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Right next to Hadrian. His lover and inspiration for many poets to come, one was Oscar Wilde. The dandy boy’s name is Antinous.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

Sala della Biga/ marble Roman chariot with horses 1 AD from Adrian’s Villa in Tivoli

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

3. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco / artefacts from Etruscan tombs, Greek vases

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Highlight. Mars of Todi bronze warrior 4BC.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

The swastika could have stayed a lucky sign. Hut urns from 9BC.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

4. Galleria dei Candelabri / candelabra from 2AD, vaulted ceiling from 1883

Candelabra Room Vatican by Dasza Traveler

5. Galleria dei Arazzi (Tapestry Gallery) / Huge resurrection of Christ on tapestry

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

6. Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Maps Gallery) / corridor full of 16th century maps but ceiling is the real gem

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

I was in fact much distracted from the maps.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

7. Apartamento di San Pio V

Sala Sobieski / enormous painting of the king of Poland who frees Wien in 1683 from the Ottoman invasion

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

Sala dell’Immacolata / Virgin Mary statue, frescos

Mary was a normal women until the Vatican’s Dogma of Immaculate Concepction, defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Free of sin and always a virgin. I love mushy Mary statues.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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 8. Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) / 4 frescoed chambers painted by Raphael, once Pope Julius II private apartment

Sala di Constantino / frescoes of the battle between the Roman emperors – Constantin’s defeat of Maxentius, marks the end of paganism and beginning of Christianity

Roman statue dethroned.

Vatican Museum Room Christianity wins over paganism by Dasza Traveler

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Stanza d’Eliodoro / 13th century miracle of Bolsena and pretty ceiling

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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Stanza della Segnatura / La Scuola di Atene (School of Athens) and Raphael’s hidden portraits

Seated man is said to be portrait of Michelangelo, Plato (walking down the stairs) is said to really be Leonardo Da Vinci. 

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Raphael’s ‘secret’ self portrait wearing a black hat in the right corner.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Pretty ceiling. Again. But looks different. I vaguely remember it being symbolic images of the School’s curriculum. Philosophy, poetry, religion and… forgot.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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Stanza dell’Incendio di Borgo (Room of fire in the Borgo) / fresco of Pope Leo IV miracle who extinguished fire through sign of cross (under construction)

9. Collezione Arte Contemporanea (Collection of Modern Religious Art) / Dali, Matisse, Beckmann, Dix, Bacon, Picasso, Kokoschka, Rodin, Chagll, Gaugin, Gogh

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Modern exhibition is not the most impressive.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Or maybe it is. In a weird kind of way.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

10. Capella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) / Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes, many male athlete nudes, the Last Judgement, the Creation of Adam and Eve, überfamous God pointing finger at Adam and bringing him to life, Christ sending people to heaven and hell, St. Bartholomew holding his flayed skin (ugh)

Yes, I took a secret picture. Who is going to throw the first stone…

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

This is were (most) organised tours finish.

We walked the back loop towards the entrance, strolling through never ending corridor of chambers (with many closed closets):

11. Sala degli Indirizzi, Sala delle Nozze Aldobrandine, Sala dei Papiri, Museo Cristiano / globes, vases, ancient oil lamps, cluttered artefacts (probably not cluttered)

Vatican Museums corridors of closets by Dasza Traveler

 

Vatican flag that travelled to moon, also brought back four tiny moon stones.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Not much folk around these quarters.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Next room, next souvenir stand. The Vatican rooms are full of it.

Vatican Museums

12. Cortile della Pigna (Courtyard of the Pine Cone) / sit on a bench, enjoy some fresh air

To the left, you can see the long corridor that is Museo Chiaramonti. To the right, the dome of the Sistine Chapel.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Huge pine sculpture is well, really big.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

13. Museo Chiaramonti / long corridor with thousands of Roman busts, statues, cherubs, rich patriarchs

Postcard picture.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Real picture.  Just as touristless as any tourist dreams of.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

((Braccio Nuovo (New Wing) – was closed))

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14. Pinacoteca, Museo Missionario Etnologica, Padiglione delle Carrozze (was closed), Museo Pio Cristiano (also closed), Museo Geografico Profano, Museo Filatelico e Numismatico / we walked through, getting a feel for various parts of the Vatican but truthfully these exhibitions were not very engaging.

However, if you enjoy Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Giotto, Perugino, Lippi and peer artists, you will love the Pinacoteca.

Myself was satisfied with this vase that reminded me of delicately pink Sakua in Japan.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

15. Post Office of the Vatican / send postcard with a unique stamp from Vatican State

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

At the waiting area I unexpectedly found my favourite picture at the Vatican. This mosaic. My kind of art is by far not as popular as the frescoes.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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16. Winding Staircase / photo and exit at around 15.30

Spiral stairs, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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17. We turned right around the corner exiting the Vatican Museum and walked along the massive Vatican Walls to arrive at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The line was moving on fast track and within 10 minutes we were in. Good we had brought an umbrella, because it started raining right about after I took the pic.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

St. Peter’s Square is a very photogenic place at sunset.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Then, we were in and wow, that is one big church.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Look up and be prepared to develop neck pains. St. Peter’s has incredibly many domes.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

At this point the neck pain gave way to fatigue. Speaking of miracles.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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La Pieta / Michelangelo’s sculpted masterpiece of Mary holding Jesus

And everybody goes crazy.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Totally ignoring the much funnier looking chubby baby angels.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Or the graceful and gorgeous grown-up angels.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

No one paid much attention to this engagingly sculpted lady either. Who is she?

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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Crypt

Okay, I don’t have a picture of the crypt but many Popes are buried all over the Basilica. Like this one. And John Paul II, the magnet tomb.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

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Sermon at 5 pm

They are throwing people out of the Basilica at 5 but you can prolong your stay by attending mass. Go up to a guard, they will let you through the barriers, if there is enough room.

Parade of men in elegant dresses, surrounded by a mist of mystique, incense and dramatic music. The live choir and organs were mesmerizing. I think I had a spiritual moment and then they spoiled it by preaching and kneeling.

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Vaticaned out! Going home for fresh made pasta.

 Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

On the cobbled Square of St. Peter. Looks even pretty in the rain.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Personal impressions

By the time we visited the Vatican, we had seen most of Rome’s Palazzos, housing collected or commissioned pieces by the wealthiest Italian families.

My impression of the Vatican is that it is mostly large, cluttered with many art pieces. Sort of lacking the fine tuning of tastefully arranged interiors of Italian private estates. Although in all fairness, the power and wealth came when a family member was made Pope. So circle of life back to the Vatican.

However, the art at the Vatican is presented in an old fashioned way. The accumulated pieces have been commissioned or collected, many are donations. A status booster for the Vatican, in return for safekeeping.

Much of the art actually went to Paris with Napoleon in 1797. But the majority of masterpieces have since been recovered.

I noticed that I wasn’t as fazed with the super famous art pieces as I hoped to be. The Vatican is full of overused images and people looking in same directions.

There are two copies of Raphael’s Pieta at the Vatican Museum. This one is the reproduction.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

 

It is not hard to find entertainment at the Vatican. The cute bug at the Vatican’s Courtyard.

Cute bug Italy by Dasza Traveler

 

Tomek had work to do, too. His temporary office at the Vatican.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets


Despite being right inside the Vatican, a visit does not give any insights to what life in the Vatican is like.

For tourists, the Vatican is an art museum with aged exhibition methods. 

Souvenir overload. Gift shops are right smack in many galleries and museums. For the unexpected need of rosaries, angels, crosses, watches, jewellery or puzzles.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

The Vatican Museums did not answer any of my question:

How did this Institution emerge? How does the Vatican work? What does the colour code of dresses mean or is it a fashion statement?

Who lives here? What are their functions? Where is the Papamobile?

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

If you do know the answers, please share!

 

Funny Things at the Vatican

Vatican ATM has Latin language option! Not kidding.

Latin ATM Vatican with Romans by Dasza Traveler

 

John Paul II with koala.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Interactive screens.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

As we had just watched a movie about Vlad Dracula the night before, I knew that the dragon crest was probably not a good sign. But we entered.

Dragon crest emblem at Vatican by Dasza Traveler

 

And there you go. Man with ear cut off.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

More mystery at the room with empty shelves. Not even Vatican souvenirs.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Some souvenirs are better than others. If I had to pick one, it would be this.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets 

 

The Vatican’s newspaper. Only the Polish section gets super thick versions.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Tomek insisted I take this picture. Then he took it himself. The gender of ships. Fine, there is a nice ship at the Vatican.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Football enjoys a special place at the Vatican, too.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

Best find ever. The two faced painted shell.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

A grotesque pouring vessel from 4BC.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

And creepiest find. Flying Angel heads.

Guide to Vatican - Cheap tickets

 

All in all a worthwhile hassle free visit to the Vatican.  The tiny country with big treasures!

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