The Vatican Museums
You’re likely to have the Vatican Museums near the top of your Rome things-to-see list. Vatican City is the world’s smallest sovereign state, with its own postal service, newspapers and radio station. The museums go back to the 16th century and have one of the largest art collections in the world, including the Michelangelo’s works in the Sistine Chapel.
There are about 7km of galleries, with some of the finest art in the world on show, so you’ll probably want to choose which pieces you want to see. Allow at least three hours to browse around the highlights, and more if particular installations interest you. If you’d like to see the comings and goings of Vatican City itself, allow a bit of time to have a wander and see if you can spot a Swiss Guard or two.
What to see
If you fancy getting a great view of St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Gardens, pop up the escalator as soon as you get through the main entrance. The view from the terrace is a prime photo spot, and easy to miss if you just follow the crowd.
After you’ve enjoyed the view, you could head to Pinacoteca. You’ll see Raphael’s final work, La Trasfigurazione (The Transfiguration) here, as well as pieces by Fra Angelico, Bellini and Caravaggio. Pinacoteca is often overlooked by a lot of visitors on their way to the Sistine Chapel, so it’s a bit less crowded.
If you fancy a break from paintings, then head to the Egyptian museum, where you can see statues, recreations of sarcophaguses and quite a few mummies. After you’ve explored, follow through to Cortile Ottagono (Octagonal Courtyard), to see the statue of Laocoon, then you can either go to the upper floor to see galleries dedicated to tapestries, maps and more great artworks, or head through Cortile del Belvedere to the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo’s works are the Vatican Museum’s biggest draw. The frescoed ceilings and Giudizio Universale (the Last Judgement) attract over 20,000 people on a busy day.
To get the best view of the ceiling, head to the east wall (opposite the main entrance) and look up. You’ll see nine panels with bible scenes including the Creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the story of Noah. Directly opposite is the Giudizio Universale, which shows Christ passing judgement over the dead. If you can, take a look at the bottom right of the picture where you’ll see a painting of a man with donkey ears, who just happens to look like one of Michelangelo’s fiercest critics.
Prepare for your visit
The Vatican Museums are open from 9am to 6pm (last entry 4pm) Monday to Saturday and 9am to 2pm (last entry 12. 30pm) on Sunday. You’ll be part of a big crowd whenever you go, but Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be quieter.
The museum’s website is useful to help you choose what you want to see, and to find out about any special events or exhibitions.
Buying tickets online is a good way to avoid the worst of the queues. Once you’re on the museum’s website you can buy a basic open tour, add an audio guide, or choose a package with meals included.
Children are well looked after at the Vatican Museums. There’s a special itinerary, which comes in audio guide form along with a colourful map, and there’s no problem with taking a pushchair in.
If you prefer a real-life guide, then there are plenty of options, including the chance to see the museum after hours or visit special areas not usually open to visitors.
Grabbing a bite to eat
There are plenty of places to eat near Vatican City. There’s often better value away from St. Peter’s square itself, and it’s worth having a look online to find where’s best for you. Like the rest of Rome, you’ll find nasoni (water fountains) dotted around, so you can keep your water bottle topped up.
The museums have good accessibility for those with disabilities, with lifts, adapted toilets and wheelchairs for hire, as well as suggested itineraries.
How to get there
If you’re using the Metro, choose Linea A. The nearest stop is Ottaviano-S. Pietro. Trains run every few minutes, and it’s about five minutes’ walk from the main entrance to the Vatican Museums. To get the bus, look for number 40, 60 or 62, which go past all the main sights. Tickets can be bought from news-stands or tobacconists, as well as at Metro stations. Multi-trip travel passes are really good value if you’ll be using public transport a lot during your holiday to Rome.