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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Statue of god Anubis from Italian’s pomp Pamphili Palazzo.
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.
Sala degli Animali / sculpted creatures, dogs, birds, reptiles, floor mosaics 4BC, I liked a tiny bunny statue best
Sala delle Buste / hundreds of Roman busts
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.
Sala Rotunda / Nero’s huge basin made of one mega piece of red stone, surrounded by colossal statues
Hercules in bronze.
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.
Right next to Hadrian. His lover and inspiration for many poets to come, one was Oscar Wilde. The dandy boy’s name is Antinous.
Sala della Biga/ marble Roman chariot with horses 1 AD from Adrian’s Villa in Tivoli
3. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco / artefacts from Etruscan tombs, Greek vases
Highlight. Mars of Todi bronze warrior 4BC.
The swastika could have stayed a lucky sign. Hut urns from 9BC.
4. Galleria dei Candelabri / candelabra from 2AD, vaulted ceiling from 1883
5. Galleria dei Arazzi (Tapestry Gallery) / Huge resurrection of Christ on tapestry
6. Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Maps Gallery) / corridor full of 16th century maps but ceiling is the real gem
I was in fact much distracted from the maps.
7. Apartamento di San Pio V
Sala Sobieski / enormous painting of the king of Poland who frees Wien in 1683 from the Ottoman invasion
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.
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.
Stanza d’Eliodoro / 13th century miracle of Bolsena and pretty ceiling
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.
Raphael’s ‘secret’ self portrait wearing a black hat in the right corner.
Pretty ceiling. Again. But looks different. I vaguely remember it being symbolic images of the School’s curriculum. Philosophy, poetry, religion and… forgot.
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
Modern exhibition is not the most impressive.
Or maybe it is. In a weird kind of way.
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…
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 flag that travelled to moon, also brought back four tiny moon stones.
Not much folk around these quarters.
Next room, next souvenir stand. The Vatican rooms are full of it.
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.
Huge pine sculpture is well, really big.
13. Museo Chiaramonti / long corridor with thousands of Roman busts, statues, cherubs, rich patriarchs
Real picture. Just as touristless as any tourist dreams of.
((Braccio Nuovo (New Wing) – was closed))
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.
15. Post Office of the Vatican / send postcard with a unique stamp from Vatican State
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.
16. Winding Staircase / photo and exit at around 15.30
Spiral stairs, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932.
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.
St. Peter’s Square is a very photogenic place at sunset.
Then, we were in and wow, that is one big church.
Look up and be prepared to develop neck pains. St. Peter’s has incredibly many domes.
At this point the neck pain gave way to fatigue. Speaking of miracles.
La Pieta / Michelangelo’s sculpted masterpiece of Mary holding Jesus
And everybody goes crazy.
Totally ignoring the much funnier looking chubby baby angels.
Or the graceful and gorgeous grown-up angels.
No one paid much attention to this engagingly sculpted lady either. Who is she?
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.
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.
Vaticaned out! Going home for fresh made pasta.
On the cobbled Square of St. Peter. Looks even pretty in the rain.
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.
It is not hard to find entertainment at the Vatican. The cute bug at the Vatican’s Courtyard.
Tomek had work to do, too. His temporary office at the Vatican.
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.
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?
If you do know the answers, please share!
Funny Things at the Vatican
Vatican ATM has Latin language option! Not kidding.
John Paul II with koala.
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.
And there you go. Man with ear cut off.
More mystery at the room with empty shelves. Not even Vatican souvenirs.
Some souvenirs are better than others. If I had to pick one, it would be this.
The Vatican’s newspaper. Only the Polish section gets super thick versions.
Tomek insisted I take this picture. Then he took it himself. The gender of ships. Fine, there is a nice ship at the Vatican.
Football enjoys a special place at the Vatican, too.
Best find ever. The two faced painted shell.
A grotesque pouring vessel from 4BC.
And creepiest find. Flying Angel heads.
All in all a worthwhile hassle free visit to the Vatican. The tiny country with big treasures!