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

best vatican tours

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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.

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

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)

what to see on a vatican tour

st peters square - vatican tours tickets rome

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).

best tours of the vatican

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 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.

vatican museums tour

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.

vatican rome tours

Tours start in the Vatican Museums skipping the long lines for tickets and use a special entrance to St Peters 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 Peters here.

What to look for in a tour of the Vatican

By law all guides operating in the Vatican must hold a licence 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

sistine chapel tour

  • Inclusions and itinerary – basic and express tours of the Vatican focus on the highlights of the Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel, Gallery of Maps, Michelangel’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 €20 for large group tours while you can pay between €300 – €500 for a private tour of the Vatican

worth noting

vatican guided tours

  • 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
  • It is possible to tour the Vatican Museums without visiting St Peter’s however these tours are mainly provided by the museums official guides
  • 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 scammers working the crowd. They are not recommended – expensive and basically just entry tickets (if that!)

The best Vatican tour companies

skip the line vatican tour

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.

  • Take Walks – working closely in partnership with the Vatican Museums to create unique and engaging experiences for English speaking visitors, the Take Walks 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’ 
  • Withlocals – very reasonably priced private tours. Choose your own guide and itinerary from the experienced licenses professionals at Withlocals. They offer several different Vatican itineraries you can choose from or adapt – view all Withlocals Vatican tours

Best vatican tours

tour of vatican museums

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 – all tours mentioned include the Vatican Museums and St Peters. If you are visiting on a Wednesday, your tour group will not be able to enter the 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

vatican museum guided tours

Most tour operators offer a standard 2.5 – 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.

Tour operatorDuration
Availability
Group SizePrice
Liv Tours*3 hours
Monday to Saturday
10:00 and 15:30
6 max€94 per person
To book Liv Tours Vatican tour - click here

Don't forget to add code - UntoldItaly - for your 5% discount
Take Walks2.5 hours
Mon, Tue, Thurs, Fri, Sat
15:15
20 max€95.50 per person
To book the Take Walks Vatican tour click here
Vatican Museums*3 hours
Weekdays except Wed
09:00, 10:30, 15:00
Saturdays
08:30. 10:00, 14:00
16 min - up to 40€38 per person
To book the Vatican Museums tour - click here
*Tours also available in Spanish, German, French and Italian

EARLY MORNING vatican tours

early morning vatican tour

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 lead by the wonderful team at Take Walks – more info and booking instructions here. Note – this applies to the museums only and does not include access to St Peter’s.

COmplete vatican tours

best tours of the vatican

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.

Withlocals offer a fun scavenger hunt 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

vatican tours tickets

EVENING vatican MUSEUMS 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

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

 

VATICAN GARDENS TOURS

vatican gardens tour

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.

You can join a 2 hour tour of the gardens on foot – click here for details – or there is a 45 minute bus tour (you can’t get off) for those who would prefer to sit – more info. Children 6 and under may not ride on the bus unfortunately.

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

rome vatican tour

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 Withlocals and Liv Tours for private Vatican tours.

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Useful information for visiting the Vatican

vatican city tour

What is the Vatican dress code?

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.

What are the best days to do a tour of the Vatican?

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.

Will I need to line up for security checks?

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

Is there a cloakroom where I can leave large items?

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

Can I take photos in the Vatican?

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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