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Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

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Marlton, New Jersey
posts: 1,721
reviews: 509
Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

We are seeing the Vatican on a Monday at the end of June. Is it better to go when it opens at 7am or around 3pm in the afternoon? I have seen conflicting reports. Also we have one day to see the major sites of Rome. I think it is best to see the Vatican and Sistine Chapels, the Colosseum, Pantheon, Forum, and Piazza Navona. I know that St. Peter's Basilica opens at 7am. I was thinking of seeing the Vatican in the morning and the sites of Ancient Rome in the afternoon. That night I would see the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain because they are open all day. What is the best way to see these sights in a day and in what order? I think it may be best to buy tickets ahead for the Colisseum. Is there anything else I should be doing to maximize the time that we have in Rome. Thank you.

Latina, Italy
posts: 1,773
1. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

Before you start you should distinguish between St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum (which includes the Sistine Chapel).

The Basilica opens early. The Museum opens at 9 a.m.

End June is going to be very high season. You must book for the Museum on line to avoid ginormous queues.. The Basilica is free but there is still a security queue which I am told moves quickly.

As it will be summer don't forget the dress code.

Sydney, Australia
Destination Expert
for Train Travel
posts: 63,362
reviews: 12
2. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

No need to buy tickets ahead for the Colosseum. One ticket covers entry to the Colosseum and the Forum, and there are seldom big queues for the Forum. If there are ticket queues at the Colosseum, just go to one of the Forum entries for your ticket.

Book your Vatican Museum entry time direct with the Museum: vm.vatican.va

Destination Expert
for Rome
posts: 22,144
reviews: 14
3. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

I would see the ancient sites in the morning to avoid the heat of the afternoon. With only one day to see the sites I would probably skip the Vatican museums as they will be terribly crowded and eat up a lot of your time. You can easily visit the basilica without too much of a wait but once inside the museums you'll move at a snails pace, along with the thousands of other visitors, to get to the Chapel.

I would try to visit the forum first while it's still relatively cool outside, then the palatine hill followed by the colosseum. I would pre-purchase entry tickets online to avoid the lines. You can try buying tickets at the forum or palatine hill entrance but I have encountered long lines at both and I travel in the off season. To be assured of no lines I would just purchase online tickets.

After the colosseum area I would head over to St. Peter's. After that you can finish with the Pantheon and trevi fountain. I would skip the steps as there is nothing there but a set of steps. Not worth the time in my opinion.


Le Marche, Italy
Destination Expert
for Rome, Marche
posts: 34,419
reviews: 22
4. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

I agree with Donna. I wouldn't try to visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel when you have such a short time. I also agree with starting at the ancient Roman sites. In fact, you might want to walk around and see them from the outside only. The Colosseum, in my opinion, is more impressive from the outside than from the inside, and you don't need a ticket to walk all the way around it. You could start very early, before it opens, when it's still cool. You can also see a lot of the Roman Forum from the street (Via dei Fori Imperiali). Afterwards, you can climb up to the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by MIchelangelo, where you can get great views over the Forum by going around to the side of the central building, which is the Rome City Hall. The other two buildings are the home of the Capitoline Museums, which are one of the greatest museum complexes in Rome. If you really want to see a great museum, you might want to spend a little time here, where you can also get a quick light lunch at their bar/cafeteria.

After leaving the ancient Roman area, you could go to the Pantheon, which is open only until 7 PM on weekdays, and it would be a shame not to see the inside, with its great dome. This is the most intact ancient Roman building in the city, although it's now a church. Its dome was the world's largest for over 1000 years, and it's still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. The hole in the center is the only source of light for the interior, and there is a drain in the floor below to carry away rain water.

If it's still early in the afternoon, you could also visit Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona at this time, as they're both within a ten minute's walk of the Pantheon; at least visit Piazza Navona, which is only a few streets away. The Spanish Steps are only a little further past Trevi Fountain, and you can take the metro to St. Peter's Basilica from there. If you don't make it to the Spanish Steps, you can get the metro from Piazza Barberini, near Trevi Fountain, or the number 40 or 64 bus from Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, just south of the Pantheon. Or you can take taxis everywhere if you find the public transportation confusing.

Around four PM, head to the Vatican. By that time, the line to get into St. Peter's Basilica should be manageable.

After the Basilica, you can head to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps, if you didn't see them earlier. I myself would perhaps prefer to go to Trastevere for dinner and a walk around this interesting neighborhood, with lots of tiny streets and little shops. If it's still open, I suggest going into the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere to see the beautiful golden mosaics. You have to use a coin in a light machine to see them lit up.

When one has a very short time in a place, a plan like this, with no reservations and no tickets, lets you maximize your use of time. As Donna says, the Vatican Museums are huge and very hot and crowded. After visiting them, I'm always too tired to do anything else. I never recommend going there on a one-day visit to the city, and I myself will never go there again at all in high season. If you absolutely will fall into a depression unless you see the Sistine Chapel, I would reserve the tickets, go there early, and expect not to be able to see much else that day.

New York City, New...
posts: 104
reviews: 27
5. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

It would be a shame to miss the Sistine Chapel! There is a short cut you can take to get directly to it without the terrible crowds of the Stanze di Raffaello and the long long walk from the Raphaels back to the chapel. After the Hall of Maps, don't make the left turn into the Raphael rooms, but go straight to the end and then down the steps and bingo you are right at the Chapel entrance. So essentially you can walk thru the museum rooms, see a lot (two hours) and then go directly down into the chapel. The Raphaels are so beautiful, but the rooms are so small and the crowds so large, it's very difficult to see the paintings properly.

Le Marche, Italy
Destination Expert
for Rome, Marche
posts: 34,419
reviews: 22
6. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

I've been to the Vatican Museums four or five times, and every time I've seen the Sistine Chapel. Only one of these visits was during high season, and quite honestly, I would never repeat that. It wasn't enjoyable at all, and it was so hot inside that there was actually a haze of humidity hanging below the ceiling. It might be a shame to miss the Sistine Chapel, but to be blunt, 90% of the people shuffling through shoulder to shoulder don't care one whit for art, and are there only to be able to say they saw it.

Another of my visits was on the free Sunday, and that's also an experience I would never repeat. My most recent visit was on a Saturday in March, which should be a little less crowded than a Monday in June. Here is what the corridor leading to the Sistine Chapel was like that day:


If someone is really an art lover, and if they'll be in Rome for more than a day or two, and especially if they're there in the off season and can go on a weekday afternoon, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the visit. (However, I would never go there with a small child or an elderly person.) The very best thing to do would be to go when they have night entries. These are not available right now, but may begin again in the spring. However, the night visits are not easy to combine with a visit to St. Peter's Basilica, so they also are best for people who will be in Rome for a few days.

In the case we're talking about, the person has a single day in Rome, at the height of the high season, on a Monday (one of the busier days there, because of the Sunday closing) and wants to see a lot of other things. I really can't encourage a visit to the Vatican Museums in these circumstances. It takes at least two hours to get through it, and, since you need a reservation to avoid the long lines, you usually have to allow extra time to make sure you get there on time. All in all, it's likely to eat up three hours of your very short time.

posts: 1,119
reviews: 7
7. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

Not sure how old you are, whether closer to 35 than 49, nor whether you are used to heat but I do hope you are very fit and have lots of stamina. Quite frankly doing all that in one day would have killed me LOL.

Marlton, New Jersey
posts: 1,721
reviews: 509
8. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

Thank you so much for all the very informative and very honest thoughtful suggestions. I will ask my husband if he is totally set on seeing the Sistine Chapel. I was there 23 years ago as a teen so I have seen it. I know that is important to have a game plan. Last summer we went on a bus tour of England with my two late teens. My daughter wanted to go to Paris and we had 2 days in the beginning in London so I shortened it to one so we could do a Eurostar trip to Paris for the day. In one day in London, we saw St Paul Cathedral, rode a double decker bus to the Tower, then a tour of Tower of London, took a Thames clipper ride to Westminster for Westminster Abbey and then London Eye. In Paris, we first went to Notre Dame, then inside St Chappell , then a Seine boat ride from Notre Dame area, then metro to Louvre where we went in a seldom used entrance and saw Mona Lisa and a couple more things, then walked through the Tuilleries, and then saw the outside of Arc de Triumph and Eiffel Tower. We did get to eat at a cafe in Paris, but skipped going up the Eiffel Tower. When you have a short period of time, you have to prioritize and be realistic and be disciplined. If Vatican museums will eat up too much time, then we will have to skip them, get takeaway lunch and buy tickets ahead of time to make it work. We actually are getting into Rome the night before around 5pm or 6pm so we have part of that night although I would imagine By the time we get to the hotel, we won't have much time. I greatly appreciate your help.

9. Re: Best Time for the Vatican and Game Plan

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