A Visitor's Guide to the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums see over 5 million people per year; and with an estimated worth of over €15 billion it’s no wonder people flock to see it! At an impressive 9 miles in length the museum is bursting with art from floor to ceiling. It’s believed that if you spent just one minute admiring each painting it would take you four years to see the entire collection. And that’s not including the sculptures, tapestries, frescoes... The Vatican Museums are filled with some of the greatest masterpieces of all time; from Michelangelo to Botticelli, Bernini and Raphael. There are 54 rooms, or salas, in total ranging from miniature mosaics, Etruscan artefacts, classical antiquities and much more... But as part of the Holy See in the Vatican City (and the smallest country in the world), needless to say there are rules to be followed and customs to be respected. It’s hard to know where to begin, so we’ll give you some advice from what to see and to what to wear, with our visitor’s guide to the Vatican. Rules Because the Vatican City is a place of worship and the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, any visitor must abide to their rules and regulations - even if its outside of your beliefs. You may not wear short skirts, sleeveless blouses or shorts (cover all knees and shoulders) so make sure you come appropriately dressed in advance or you’ll be sold an overpriced scarf by a lurking tout to drape over yourself. As any important building or museum, you must be respectful of your surroundings. The Vatican Museums date back to the early 1500s so it’s almost an artefact in itself. Don’t try and touch any of the sculptures, or tapestries on display – even though there will be hoards of people inside - please leave enough room around the art pieces. Cameras may be used in the museum with no flash, but not in the Sistine Chapel. This is to protect the fresco from fading – and let’s be honest, it would be a travesty if Michelangelo’s Last Judgement were to peel and discolour. What to see An average visit to the Vatican Museums takes about four hours and from the moment you get in there are works of art, sculptures and architecture to be admired. From the spiral staircase built in 1832 right at the entrance, to the four imposing Raphael Rooms in the public part of the papal apartments, you can explore the great Vatican Museums from top to bottom. Discover the Ancient Egyptian Museum covering nine rooms, or learn about the different Popes in the portraits gallery. If you love statues, you can’t miss the hallway of marble masterpieces. Checkout the Sistine Chapel on your way out to end on a high. Literally. Remember no cameras are allowed, so take a mental picture of the famous 15th century ceiling and while you're in there, admire Botticelli’s long murals, too - something that often gets overlooked. Beat the crowds With the OMNIA and Vatican Card you can get free and fast track entry into the Vatican Museums, saving you hours of queuing in the summer months. Just flash your card and jump straight to the front. To make your experience even more enjoyable, our advice is visit around midday or 1pm when the early birds are leaving to get lunch which means there might be a lull in numbers. Saying that, it’s always pretty busy so make sure you’re good in crowds. There’s an outdoor area and little café in the grassy courtyard, too, if you need a break – and it’s always nice to sit outside and admire the architecture from a different perspective. If you want something a little different, why not try their Night Time Tours, which run in the summer (May-July and Sept-Oct) when the Vatican Museums are open until 11pm. It's the perfect time to go as you’re guaranteed fewer people and a calmer experience - even if it's at an extra cost. St Peter’s Basilica St Peter’s Basilica is part of the Vatican City however it’s not accessible through the Vatican Museums. For this, you’ll have to queue up under the right hand colonnades of St Peter’s Square and enter from the front of the basilica. Like the Vatican Museums, you must have shoulders and knees covered to be allowed entry. As this is a daily place of worship you must be respectful of those around you. With an OMNIA Vatican & Rome Card you can get a free audio guide and skip the lines to St Peter’s Basilica once you’ve visited the Vatican Museums, to complete your exploration of the Vatican City. Discover more of the Rome and the Holy See with the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Card - your indispensable sightseeing pass!

Love this article? Why not share it:

Dreaming of that Rome city break?

Sign up to receive top travel tips

  • Thick check Icon