Early access Vatican Museums tour: How to see the Sistine Chapel without the crowds
Confession time: I’m not the biggest fan of the Sistine Chapel. There, I said it. It’s indisputably an amazing work of art that has impressed people for centuries with its stunning frescoes BUT its fame is the reason why I haven’t always loved it.
As anyone who has visited it can attest, it’s always crowded and the #1 “thing to see” when people visit the Vatican Museums. Many people skip by the stunning art and architecture that make up the museums and head straight to the Sistine Chapel, only to take a quick look around, lament that they can’t take pictures (or take a sneaky photo anyways) and go on their way.
And I get it. On an average day, the chapel is so crowded that it’s hard to enjoy and I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t think waiting in line and paying for a ticket to the Vatican Museums is worth it if you’re only inside to look at one thing for 10 minutes.
Early access tours, where visitors affiliated with certain tour companies are allowed into the museum earlier than normal hours, are my answer to all of these issues. With The Roman Guy, I sacrificed my eight hours of sleep to make my way to the Vatican at 7:00 for a tour that completely changed my perspective of the Sistine Chapel. Today I’ll be getting into the details of this exclusive tour, who I think would benefit from this tour rather than one of their more comprehensive options and how you can book your own with a 5% discount code.
The Roman Guy’s Early Entrance Vatican Gold Tour is one of eight different small group tours that the company offers within the Vatican, and has the earliest start time possible (allowing entrance to the Vatican Museums 1.5 hours before they open to the general public). Officially, the tour is 2 hours long (starting at 7:10) and covers multiple rooms in the museums (including Galleries of the Tapestries and Maps), the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. For €99.95 ($113) per ticket, you’ll be lead by a knowledgable guide (mine was actually an art history teacher) in groups of no more than 13. A nice perk is that this ticket gives you full access to the rest of the museums, the basilica and papal tombs if you want to spend more time on your own exploring.
Compared to other experiences I’ve had at the Vatican Museums, this was a dream. While the crowds right now in February aren’t bad, the museums and the Sistine Chapel in particular are never empty. The previous 2 times I had visited, there wasn’t space to even move around, let alone enjoy the art in a peaceful atmosphere. As a rule of thumb, booking your tickets as a part of a tour is always a good idea because you can skip the line (also possible by booking ahead of time online if you want to go it alone) but the “early access” component of this specific tour made it invaluable.
My guide, Giulia, did a great job of prepping us for the museum while we were waiting outside for it to open up, sharing both valuable info and funny anecdotes that made art history fun even for someone who knows close to nothing about it. She was friendly and made the experience enjoyable for both myself, having already been there a couple of times and the other two guests on the tour for whom it was their first time.
Once inside, we were able to see the grounds being opened for the day, enjoy almost complete silence in the Sistine Chapel and carefully examine the maps and tapestries as much as we liked. After 30 minutes of personal time in the Sistine Chapel when we could look around and reference our brochure for info on Michelangelo’s work, we left the museums and headed outside.
At this point, Giulia said we could either stay in the museums to explore on our own or head into St. Peter’s and take a look around. Once outside she spent some more time explaining the statues and architecture of the basilica and recommended that we also check out the Cupola for great photos and the papal tombs below if we had time. We didn’t enter St. Peter’s as a group but had the chance to go in alone after the tour concluded. I chose to leave the Sistine Chapel, check out the dome for the first time (taking all 200 steps up!) and finish with a loop around St. Peter’s.
The unfortunate part of tours like this is that there’s no speaking allowed in the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s during mass (mass is held every hour on weekday mornings excepting Wednesdays). This meant that we were told about specific frescoes and paintings beforehand, but weren’t able to have them explained in real time. However, this is an issue with all tours and nothing that can be helped.
My thoughts: Who should take this tour?
Personally I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, but I would caution anyone who wants a more in-depth, guided discussion of the museums and St. Peter’s to choose one of TRG’s other options. There are also 2.5 and 3.5-hour tours available on their site that would be a better fit for anyone who wants more time inside. This earlier option, however, is perfect for people who are primarily interested in the Sistine Chapel, want a more “express” tour option with the ability to explore more on their own if wanted and who want to fit as much as possible into the day.
That said, entering the Vatican Museums a full hour and a half before almost everyone else is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’m so grateful to have had. There’s something magical about seeing priceless works of art that you’ve heard about your whole life almost all to yourself.
How to book your tour
If you’re interested in seeing the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel with a guided tour, TRG has more information on their website. The specific tour I took and reviewed today is called the Early Access Vatican Gold tour. And if you can’t get enough of Italian food and want to see Rome through the eyes of a foodie, I also reviewed their Trastevere Food Tour last summer which was a blast. They have an extensive list of small group tours (over 30) so have fun exploring and choose what speaks to you.
You can use my code LAVITAROMA to take 5% off any of the small group tours on their site (excluding the Colosseum Underground and Colosseum at Night) while also helping to support me and La Vita Roma!
I was offered this tour as part of a collaboration with The Roman Guy, in exchange for my honest opinion about the service. I make a *small* commission on my discount code, all of which goes back into my website and the content I create for the blog. Thank you for supporting La Vita Roma and helping to make what I do possible!