Things to do in Rome
Visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
So you want to start your trip by visiting the Vatican Museums? We highly recommend a guided tour.
Here are three options to book a guided tour at the Vatican Museums and skip all the lines.
Option 1: Early morning guided tour at 8 am. With Eden Walks, you’re able to skip the line and get inside the museums before general entrance, while they are still mostly empty.
Option 2: Book a guided tour in advance. This way, you don't have to stand in line for two hours outside the Vatican walls. Instead, you’ll get special entrance with our guide, who will show you the best art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods and keep you from getting lost in the Vatican Museums, which are seven miles long.
Option 3: Book a guided tour that includes St. Peter’s Basilica. You will be able to visit the museums, including the Sistine Chapel, plus take a shortcut through the right side door of the chapel and enter directly into St. Peter’s Basilica. This lets you avoid another two-hour line, because the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica have two different entrances.
You may be thinking, which tour should I book? The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, or the museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, including St. Peter’s Square?
Or should I book the St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour? This tour visits the papal tombs and the tomb of St. Peter, and at the end of the guided tour we will climb to the basilica’s dome for the best possible view of Rome, since by law no-one is allowed to build anything higher than St. Peter’s Dome.
How about visiting the Vatican Gardens? Do I need to book in advance, and are the Gardens worth visiting?
Can I see the residence where Pope Francis lives, or is that inside the Vatican City State where only Vatican citizens are allowed to visit?
What if I want to book a guided tour of the Scavi? Do I book directly through the Vatican?
Can I visit the train station inside the Vatican Museums?
Can I go to the Pope’s summer residence of Castel Gandolfo from the Vatican City State, and how much would that cost?
If I want to visit the Bramante Staircase, which guided tour should I book?
I’ve never visited the Capella Niccolina – is it easy to book this tour from the Vatican Museum’s website?
What about visiting the Pinacoteca in the Vatican Museums? Is it on the itinerary of the regular guided tour?
And what happens if I arrive late at the Vatican Museums and my ticket is about to expire? Do the Vatican guards allow people inside the museums if they are 30 minutes late?
If this is your first time in Rome and you decide to visit the Vatican Museums, the best thing to do is check out tour companies that offer guided tours. During the busy season, the Vatican Museums can be pretty hectic if you don't know your way around. And with more than 14 museums incorporated inside, it will take weeks to see everything. It’s a huge challenge when you have only a weekend to spend in Rome and you’re trying to fit in as many museums as possible.
Of course, you don't want to miss out the best art collections, like the Raphael Rooms, which are at the end of the Vatican Museums next to the Sobieski Room. If you visit the Vatican on your own and end up in the Sistine Chapel without visiting the Raphael Rooms, you won’t be able to find them again unless you go back to the Vatican Museums entrance and visit the entire place again. Be aware that the Vatican Museums have a huge collection of modern and contemporary art, including works from Van Gogh, Picasso, Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Auguste Rodin, and Henri Matisse.
After visiting the Raphael Rooms and the Borgia Apartments, you will find the Collezione d'art conteporanea (Collection of Contemporary Art). Then you’ll have a chance for a break at the small bar next to the Sistine Chapel. Choose a strong Italian espresso to stay focused while you admire the chapel’s famous ceiling, painted by Michelangelo.
When you finish your visit to the Vatican Museums, you can stay inside as long as you want. Your ticket is good for the whole day, but you won’t be able to use it again the next day.
Especially on holidays, the Vatican Museums can be packed. Make sure to show up 30 minutes early, because sometimes a lot of tour groups will arrive at the same time, and if you are five minutes late, the Vatican Guard may get angry and leave you to stand outside for another 20 minutes until the big tour groups are all inside.
The Vatican Museums open at 9 am and close at 4 pm, but you are allowed to stay inside and look around until 6:30 pm.
The museums are also open on Friday nights, 7 pm to 11 pm, from April 26th to October 25th. These nighttime hours are a better experience. You’ll get to sip a glass of wine in the Pinecone Courtyard and relax for 20 minutes with amazing classical music from the Vatican band or new Italian opera singers, who come and perform in the Vatican Museums almost every Friday night.
The Vatican Museums have an incredible atmosphere at night. The colors are much different, the statues have a different vibe, and when it’s lit up properly, you will be amazed by the frescoes, paintings, and the Renaissance architecture, created by the most influential artists from all over Italy, who worked on the Vatican Museums from the 1400s to the 1700s. You’re sure to have an awe-inspiring experience that you will never forget.
When it comes to souvenirs, keep in in mind that there are many gift shops inside the Vatican Museums, and not all the things they sell are blessed by the Pope. However, there is a great shop right before you enter St. Peter’s Basilica, on the right side of the basilica near the entrance to the tombs of the popes.
After you’re finished with your shopping, here are five things not to be missed in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the first chapel, as you enter from the center of the basilica on the right side, you will find a great masterpiece sculpted by Michelangelo Buonarroti. He made it over the course of three years, when he was only 23 years old, and it is still considered one of the most important statues in the world.
The second chapel on the right side of the basilica is the tomb of Pope John Paul II, made a saint in 2014 by Pope Francis.
Keep going straight in the center of the basilica to visit the Baldachin of Bernini, a nine-year project. Underneath the baldachin is the tomb of St. Peter, and that is what you are going to visit. To the left of the baldachin’s center, you will find an entrance leading you down to visit the tombs of the popes and St. Peter.
But before doing that, we highly recommend that you take a look at the treasures of the Vatican, for which there is an entrance fee of 8 euro. Here you can see the most important relics and gifts that have been donated over the centuries by patriarchs and nobles, kings and queens from all over the world.
Last but not least, you have the option to visit the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The price is 8 euro, or 5 euro if you take the stairs. There are about 551 stairs, so it does take about 30/ 40 minutes to go to the top, or you can just use the elevator and be there in five minutes. From the top, you’ll get the best view of Rome and Vatican City. Enjoy it with a coffee or a glass of wine, which can be purchased at the small bar used by tourists and Vatican employees, located just before the stairs.
On the way down, make sure to send postcards to your friends back home, which you will find at the exit of St. Peter’s Basilica on the right side. You can get stamps from the Vatican post office, and outside you can use the yellow box for international mail or the red box for mail inside Italy.
If you’re there at 5 pm, you may be lucky enough to see the Swiss Guard when they change shifts, with those beautiful Renaissance outfits rumored to have been designed by Michelangelo.
If you have enough energy left, you can walk all the way to the Castel Sant’ Angelo using the Passetto, the elevated walkway that connects it to the Vatican. Used as a fortress for the popes in the 1500s, the Castel Sant’ Angelo was originally the mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian. We will talk more about that in our next article, so make sure to check out the Eden Walks blog for more information.
But if you are really tired and hungry and looking for some pizza in Rome, just head a few blocks away from the Vatican Museums, right next to Piazza Risorgimento. Here you will find the best restaurant in the neighborhood, a family-run business called La Sofitta Renevatio. All you have to do is ask for Mary or Stefano and tell them that Alfredo, the tour guide of the Vatican, recommended this restaurant. You will absolutely love the food there.
Don't forget to leave some space for gelato. Ten minutes’ walk from La Sofitta is the Gelateria la Romana, which is considered by locals to have the best gelato in Rome. So when in Rome, do as the Romans do!
Afterwards, if you’re looking for the night life, you should head down to Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. There you will find live music, the best aperitivos in Rome, and delicious food.
I hope you’ve enjoyed all this information. For more details, check out www.edenwalks.com or visit our YouTube channel, Eden Walks, and watch our videos for more of the historical sights of Rome, including food and culture.