Review: VIP Vatican Key Master’s Tour – The Key to Opening the Sistine Chapel

vatican key masters tour review

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If you’ve ever dreamed of standing inside the Sistine Chapel almost alone, or touring the Vatican Museums without going shoulder to shoulder with the crowds, you will love the VIP Vatican Key Master’s Tour by Take Walks (formerly Walks of Italy). We were lucky enough to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, and are excited to share with you what you can expect. This exclusive tour from Take Walks is best for art loving travellers or history buffs wanting to enjoy the beauty of the Sistine Chapel in relative solitude. 

Overview of the Vatican Key Master’s Tour

vatican key masters tour
Rise at dawn and make your way to the Vatican Museums to meet the Key Master and your guide at 5:45am. It will likely be still dark outside, but that just adds to the intriguing atmosphere. With a small group of maximum 20 people, you follow the Key Master and unlock the doors (and turn on the lights) to the galleries inside the Vatican Museums.

The guided tour includes opening the Raphael Rooms, Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of Maps, Gallery of the Tapestries, and Octagonal Courtyard as well as the Sistine Chapel. The tour runs for 2 hours and you can follow it with a well-deserved, delicious breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard afterwards. 

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Vatican Key Master’s Tour Highlights

sistine chapel detail
This tour is like a cross between Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Night at the Museum. There is something seriously magical about walking through the dark hallways of the Vatican and opening up the doors with hundreds of years old keys by torchlight. Don’t miss the mesmerising view as the lights go on in the Gallery of Maps and the gold foil ceiling shimmers to life.

Of course, the biggest highlight is a visit to the Sistine Chapel. Whoever guesses the correct key gets to open the unassuming brown door to the chapel and it is rather indescribable as you enter in darkness and the lights go on to reveal the beauty of Michelangelo’s work. Particularly enjoyable is the opportunity to have your guide explain the paintings to you directly inside the Sistine Chapel- something that is strictly not allowed on other tours.  

About Your Tour Guide

Vatican Museum tour guides must pass rigorous exams before being allowed to offer tours, so you can rest assured that your guide will be an absolute expert when it comes to the museums and the Vatican in general. Our guide (the ‘English Julia’) was not only a licenced Vatican guide, but also worked as a guide for Take Walks. She was friendly and thoroughly entertaining, which we appreciated at 6am in the morning. Julia brought the Vatican and the famous artwork to life for the group and was full of intriguing stories about Michelangelo, Raphael, and more.

click here to book your key masters tour

Stories and Anecdotes of the Vatican Museums

Laocoonte statue Vatican
Our tour guide was full of interesting stories and anecdotes, but particularly interesting was the story of Raphael and Michaelangelo’s rivalry. It’s incredible to imagine these two famous artists working at the Vatican during the same time, just rooms away from each other, but they famously did not get along. 

Raphael was friends with people in high places so was awarded all the ‘interesting’ commissions for a long time until Michelangelo began work on the Sistine Chapel. One day, Raphael snuck into the chapel and when he saw the masterpiece Michelangelo had created, he swallowed his pride and decided to paint his ‘frenemy’ into his own work in the ‘Raphael Rooms’. 

Another fascinating element of the tour was learning about the Laocoonte statue. It was found underground in Rome in 1506 but was missing its right arm. After much debate they attached a new right arm made of the same materials but placed in a position that had the arm reaching to the ceiling. Four hundred years later, in 1906, a German archaeologist found the right arm of the Laocoonte. It was not pointing upwards but arched. The real arm was finally reunited with the statue and reattached. If you visit the statue and go behind it, you can see the fake arm that was part of the sculpture for centuries hidden on the back.

Most Memorable Moment of the Vatican Tour

gallery of maps vatican museums

We’ll never forget the indescribable atmosphere of walking in the steps of Michelangelo through pitch black hallways guided by torch light. It is an incredible experience with so many ‘wow’ moments, but perhaps seeing the lights go on in the Gallery of Maps and being almost blinded by the ornate gold ceilings and splendid maps was one of the most fantastic moments.

That is of course, until you get to the Sistine Chapel at the very end of the tour and find yourself almost alone with the beauty created by Michaelangelo himself in the world’s most famous Chapel. 

click here to book your key masters tour

Who Should Experience the Key Masters Tour

Dedicated lovers of history and art will consider the Key Master’s tour one of the highlights of their trip to Italy and perhaps their lives. The best part of this tour is being relatively alone inside the Vatican museums with a guide to explain the context. This exclusive experience is one of the most expensive Vatican Tours so it is not recommended for the budget traveler. But, if you’re one of those people who knows they would gasp in awe as you walk through each of the galleries it is a truly priceless once-in-a-lifetime experience.

DISCOVER: more about the Vatican Key Master’s Tour? Go to Take Walks to find out more details and book your own tour. Tickets start from €395 per person. This exclusive tour runs on select mornings at 6am and sells out quickly.

Untold Italy attended as a guest of Take Walks on this tour. All opinions are our own – read more about our disclosure policy 

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