If you can split it into two days (Saint Peter’s one day, the Vatican Museums another), even better. You could spend a year here, everyday discovering something amazing. One guide told me that as far as the Vatican Museums, if you spent one minute looking at every piece that was there, you’d be in there for TWELVE years!
So you are there for a day–to see the masterpieces that have filled your art history books: Saint Peter’s Square, The Pieta, The Sistine Chapel. Take a deep breath, relax, enjoy.
The key: AFTERNOON!!! The tour groups flood V.C. in the mornings. If you get to the Vatican Museums at 2, there may not even be a line. It happened to me in October.
Though you may want to go to Saint Peter’s on a Wednesday at 10:30 to see Papa if he’s in town.
It’s a rock concert! With free tickets! You can get them in advance, but if you’re last minute, go on Tuesday afternoon, to the right of the main entrance to Saint Peter’s, and up those great steps stand the Swiss Guards.
For some crazy reason, the Guards act totally surprised when you ask them for a ticket. Why else would I be here? Then, with cordial ceremony, they hand you one.
So…the Basilica! The Pieta is to your right. Take your time…
And there you are, in this holiest of places that’s as big as two football fields. It’s worth it to take the steps to the top, at least once in your life.
It takes about 15 minutes to walk from there to the Vatican Museums.
Which is why it’s so great that one of Rome’s best gelato shops is enroute: The Old Bridge…can’t miss it!
Best to make a plan for the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel visit for the AFTERNOON. Or there are those private after-hours visits, which cost much, but if you’re so inclined, you must do to enjoy this splendidly. Otherwise, choose your group. The standard audio tour is okay, but hardly anything is marked, the place is humongous, so it’s best, especially if it’s your first time, to get guidance.
For a group tour, I once again say, Context Travel is my favorite–they never take more than 6 in a group, and their docents are amazing. For a tour that’s less expensive but with a bigger group, I went recently with Viator, lead by Jeanette, who as one of the others in the group put it, is “a bit cheeky!” She absolutely knows her art history and was totally entertaining.
Vatican Museum tips: 1. Be prepared: it is a very long walk to the Sistine Chapel–the last stop on any tour, group or private. 2. Read up on Michelangelo and the chapel before your visit, 3. There are 2 exits from the Sistine Chapel–the one to the right leads into Saint Peter’s–so it’s great to take that one and get into the Basilica without having to wait in line. The Left exit takes you back through the museum, a labyrinth (through a gift shop) to the museum entrance–perfect if you want to stay on the Vatican Museum side of Vatican City. 4. SEE THE PINACOTECA (Picture Gallery) in the Vatican Museums–it’s awesome! With paintings by Giotto and Caravaggio, and tapestries designed by Raphael which originally hung in the Sistine Chapel!
Also: The Vatican Museum gift shops are quite fine, but if you want a good choice of medals and mosaics, check out: Mondo Cattolico, which is to the left of Saint Peter’s as you approach the square.
My friend, the quintessential MOST EXCELLENT Roman Tour Guide, Iris Carulli, recommended this place to relax for lunch or a cocktail after your Vatican City visit: La Veranda dell’ Hotel Columbus, Via della Conciliazone 33, 06 686 5435. It’s a gorgeous frescoed loggia, facing a garden…