Your Guide to Beating the Crowds at the Vatican Museums (and Having the Sistine Chapel to Yourself!)
The Sistine Chapel is the single greatest artistic, cultural, and spiritual accomplishment of the Western world. Faced with the perils of the Vatican Museums — long lines, thick crowds, labyrinthine passageways — spending quality alone time with Michelangelo’s frescoes can be the the greatest accomplishment of your trip to the Vatican.
Without further ado, here is a semi fool-proof method of soaking up maximum Michelangelo with minimal tourist B.O.:
Visit in the Off-Season
Your aim is to visit one of the most densely-populated tourist attractions in the world. Don’t go when every else is trying to do the same thing! April/September are perfectly wonderful months in Rome. You may stumble across a bit of rain, but what perfect way to enjoy a rainy day than to spend all day among the great treasures of the Vatican Museums?
Book in Advance and Book Early
You’re going to want to buy your ticket online way before you step foot on Italian soil. Not only does this save you the hassle of the long general admission line, but it also sets you up for the power-play to follow.
Book Wednesday at 9am Specifically
Follow me on this one. Booking a ticket for right when they open at 9am makes plenty of sense. Early-risers who have pre-booked will skip the line and walk through security before the crowds are able to inundate the Museums. Duh, right?
But why Wednesday? The Pope typically hosts public Papal Audiences in St. Peter’s on Wednesday mornings. For many visiting the Vatican, they plan on attending this morning audience first before exploring St. Peter’s Basilica and ultimately the Vatican Museums. Use the Pope as a distraction — get in and get going while everyone is wrapping up their morning prayers!
Fly, You Fool
The Vatican Museums are spread across a massive complex. Around each corner, you will find a priceless piece of history that you will surely recognize from your Middle School history textbook: the Augustus of Prima Porta, Raphael’s Transfiguration, the School of Athens, the Laocoön, to name but a few. You must remain focused.
The Sistine Chapel concludes many people’s visit to the Vatican Museums. They are chumps. Why wait until the building fills up with tourists?
From the entrance, you will notice signs pointing toward a short or brief itinerary to the Cappella Sistina. Follow those signs. Head upstairs, pass through the Gallery of Maps, pass the Raphael rooms, and enter the Sistine Chapel.
Congratulations! You likely have the Chapel to yourself. Take pride in your accomplishment and spend as much time as you like with the Creation of Adam and The Last Judgement.
Bonus pro-tip: if you can get away with it, lay flat on your back in the middle of the floor to fully take in the majesty.