Visiting Vatican City and it’s museums for the first time can seem a little overwhelming, even for the more seasoned traveller. However, do not fret, follow my simple pointers and you’ll come away with a truly memorable experience which is like no other.
#1 Where to start
My recommendation would be to do the museums first and then the Basilica and St. Peters square afterwards. If you’re getting the metro in, then Ottaviano and Cipro stations are equally placed, I prefer Ottaviano as you don’t have 60 or so steps to climb on route, and believe me, in the hot Roman sun, it can ruffle your feathers a little and it’s just a little more tricky to get from.
Grab some water on the way too, although there are coffee shops and eateries inside, you don’t want to be delaying things further by having to find these places before even seeing the goodies.
Also a great thing I’ve learned is that cash is king! The museum does take cards, however, machines are limited and can hold things up quite considerably, so be prepared!
#2 Allow some time
It’s said that the Vatican museums alone span over 9 miles worth of art, sculptures and precious artefact, which is pretty mind blowing and would certainly take more than one trip to take it all in. The last thing you want to do is add to the chaos and feel the need to whizz through.
To get the most out of your trip I’d generally recommend around 5-6 hrs and this should give you plenty of time to see the main attractions and explore the glorious St. Peters too.
#3 Dress accordingly
Like any church in Rome, it’s compulsory for ladies to cover their shoulders and knees. I’ve found that if you’re wearing a sleeveless top, a sufficient scarf wrapped around the shoulders will do just fine. And for the guys, long trousers are a must and the dress code will be enforced.
Bear in mind there will be a fair amount of walking to do, so be kind to your feet and wear comfy shoes. If you’re thinking of taking a backpack in with you it’d be wise to rethink.
It’s easy enough to arrange storage whilst you’re there, but trust me; you could do without having to pick it back up.
#4 Know when to go
Early morning is by far the most sensible time to visit. Official Museum opening times are 9am-6pm Mon-Sat. Should you get there at say 8am and there’s already a cue, don’t be alarmed, you’ll find things will get moving pretty quickly and once inside you should be able to glide through a lot easier.
In my experience, a cue reaching the corner of Via Leone-IV will take about 30mins to reach the museum entrance. For some, a visit to the Holy See is a once in a life time experience and is the main reason for visiting Italy, the Vatican allows a limited number of visitors to peruse the museums, including the Sistine chapel, from 8am with an official guide, if you want to get the most out of your experience I can’t recommend this enough.
Of course you’ll also have the added benefit of an experienced guide, ensuring that you don’t miss a trick.
#5 Getting from the museums to St. Peters
Now, the Sistine chapel generally being the last stop in the museum, you have two choices. Once you’re done marvelling the works of Michelangelo, all in silence of course, there are two exits.
With the Last Judgment behind you, the door on your left will take you back into the museum, ending up where you started at the entrance on Viale Vaticano, which is all great but you then have a 15 or so minute walk around the city walls to St. Peters square and the entrance to the basilica.
Good idea if you’re wanting a cheeky refreshment on the way; if not then the right hand door is for you! Generally this is reserved for guided tours and will take you right through, into the basilica. Having been here many times, I recall 2 times where I’ve been forbidden entry, so I’d say ‘Go For It’!