The Vatican Museums can get extremely crowded, especially during high season in Rome.
Unlike other attractions in Rome, the Vatican does not impose a maximum number of visitors at any one time, so the many miles of museums corridors can become extremely packed – sometimes to a scary degree.
Not just that but the experience many have of the Sistine Chapel can be ruined by the swollen crowds of people shuffling along craning their necks up to the ceiling.
It is therefore a good idea to time your visit so you can avoid such concerns, and have as peaceful and undisturbed view of the museums as possible.
The best time of day is therefore as early as possible. See Vatican opening hours below.
There is a “pre-entry” ticket that gets you in to the museums at 7.30am – a full hour and a half before the crowds arrive. It’s more expensive than the regular skip-the-lines ticket but the chance to view the marvels of ancient and Renaissance Rome – and the peerless Sistine – without being shoved and crowded makes it worth it. It also includes an audio guide.
Another alternative is – if you’re in Rome on a Friday between April and October – to book an evening, after-hours visit. This remarkable opportunity allows you to roam the halls and the Sistine Chapel almost alone, something that many might consider priceless. It also includes an evening visit to St Peter’s.
However if you do just want a regular Vatican ticket (also available with audio guide) then when you book your Vatican ticket you will be offered a choice of time slots. Choose the earliest one possible – 9am is the offical opening time.
Allow around 3 hours minimum for your visit. There are cafes inside the museums for a drink and a sandwich if you get tired. Add another hour if you want to visit St Peter’s too.
Note that because it is a religious institution the Vatican is closed most Sundays, and on other holy days (full list below). It’s free on the last Sunday of the month – but we recommend avoiding it then as it becomes even more crowded.
Vatican museums key info
Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 6 pm (last entrance at 4 pm)
Sunday: closed (except the last Sunday of every month, when the museums are free)
Museum closed on the following days
In addition to most Sundays: 1 January, 11 February 19 March, 22 April, 1 May, 29 June, 14 and 15 August, 1 November, 25 and 26 December
Nearest metro: Ottaviano (Linea A)