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 The Roman Guy. Discount applied at checkout when you click this link

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.

  • 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

 

  • The Roman Guy – the team at The Roman Guy have a long standing reputation for fun guides and well designed tours. With a focus on stories and anecdotes, rather than facts and events, they make sure your experience is memorable for years to come – plus if you click our link below a 5% discount will be applied at checkout – view all Vatican tours by the Roman Guy

 

  • City Wonders (formerly Dark Rome) have a longstanding partnership with the Vatican Museums which allows them to offer exclusive experiences not available to other tour companies. They run well organized and consistently highly rated tours of Vatican highlights and special areas – view available City Wonders Vatican tours

 

  • Context Travel – well known for their focus on highly qualified guides, Context Travel offer in depth and expert level tours that those with a keen interest in art and history will particularly enjoy

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
The Roman Guy3 hours
Monday to Saturday
10:30*, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30
[* not available on Wed]
18 max€59.95 per person
To book the Roman Guy Vatican tour - click here
Don't forget to add code - UntoldItaly - for your 5% discount
City Wonders*2.5 hours
Mon, Tue, Thurs, Fri, Sat
08:50, 10:20, 14:40
20 max€67 per person
To book the City Wonders tour on GetYourGuide - click here
Vatican Museums*3 hours
Weekdays except Wed
09:00, 11:00
Saturdays
08:30. 10:00, 11:00
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 Roman Guy lead fully guided tours at two time slots in the early morning however City Wonders has one main tour that includes a tour of the fascinating crypts under the basilica. Or you can purchase VIP access escorted tour tickets (with minimal commentary) to enter at this early time – more information here.

Tour operatorDeparture
Group Size
Availability
Group sizePrice
The Roman Guy - first access07:10 am
2 hours
Monday to Saturday
13 max€99.95 per person
The Roman Guy - early access07:30 am
2.5 hours
Monday to Saturday
16 max€74.95 per person
To book the Roman Guy first access Vatican tour - click here
OR the early access Vatican tour - click here
Don't forget to add code - UntoldItaly - for your 5% discount
City Wonders2 hours
Monday to Saturday
07:20
16 max€75 per person
To book the City Wonders tour on GetYourGuide - click here

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 – 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 and Pinacoteca Vaticana.

The City Wonders tour has exclusive access to view the original 16th century double helix Bramante staircase which inspired the modern version of the same name.

OperatorDuration
Availability
Group SizePrice
The Roman Guy5 hours
Monday to Saturday
07:30*, 11:00
[* not available on Wed]
13 max€99.95 per person
To book the Roman Guy complete Vatican tour - click here
Don't forget to add code - UntoldItaly - for your 5% discount
City Wonders4.5 hours
Monday to Saturday
08:00
20 max€92 per person
To book the City Wonders tour on GetYourGuide - click here
Context Travel4 hours
Monday to Saturday
08:30*, 13:30
[* not available on Wed]
3 - 6 people€157 per person
To book the Context Travel tour - click here

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.

City Wonders runs a popular 2 hour family highlights tour of St Peter’s and the Vatican Museums from 10.15am for families with children aged between 7 and 12 years. With a group size of up to 20 and lots of activities to keep the whole family engaged, you can tick the Vatican off your family bucket list with ease.

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 The Roman Guy. Discount applied at checkout when you click this link

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 as a group of 6 or more people.

CityWonders, Context and the Roman Guy offer private tours of the Vatican. The CityWonders private tours depart at 14:30pm are the most cost effective – click here for details

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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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