Vatican Tour

If you are heading to the Vatican City this year, you might consider hopping on a guided tour.  Of course, visitors are not required to be part of a tour but the Vatican Museums' outstanding art collection and the sheer size (stretching over 9 miles) of the Vatican Museums really does require a bit of guidance.  

There is a plethora of options for touring but keep in mind that the quality of tours can vary immensely.   The tour company you choose can make or break your trip so be sure  to do your research in order to find the tour company that best fits your requirements. 

 A few suggestions on creating a memorable visit at the Vatican: 

  • Galleries.  The Vatican collection is one of the largest in the world so the itinerary of the tours could vary greatly depending on which company you tour with. For example, will you visit Raphael's works? it would be a pity to travel so far and to skip right over this master Renaissance painter's works. The reason that 'Vatican Museums' is plural is because there are several mini-museums that make up the 'Vatican Museums'.  Make sure to ask where your guide will visit.  (To take a peek at the collection visit  Sections of the Vatican Museums).  
  • St. Peter's Basilica It's almost a guarantee that all tours will visit the Sistine Chapel (assuming that it's open to the public on the day of your visit) but make sure that St. Peter's Basilica, specifically the inside of St. Peter's Basilica will be included in your tour tour.  St. Peter's basilica is an architectural masterpiece.
  • Group Size.  Inquire about group size.  If you would like the opportunity to ask questions throughout your tour or to converse with your guide it is a good idea to choose a company that specializes in small group tours.  Many groups are 20 people or more which makes the visit a bit impersonal and difficult to follow so it's wise to ask about the group size in advance.  You can also book directly through the Vatican Museums at: http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/m... The Vatican Museums official tours usually consist of about 35 people.
  • Guides.  Make sure your guide speaks great English (or your preferred language) with little to no accent.  Can you sample a snippet of the tour on video?  This can be a major deciding point in whether you enjoy your tour or not. Then again, just because your guide is a native English speaker doesn't mean they're a great guide. Inquire about guides' qualifications. Are they teachers, art historians, students, academics? Have they simply memorized a script? Do the guides have a broad education or is their knowledge limited to the Vatican in itself? Are they personable?
  • Children.  Find out if the company has tours that are catered to children or if the tour is recommended for children. (Sometimes you can even make a special request for a guide who is exceptional with small children)
  • Reviews.  Check to see what past guests have said about the tour company.  Tripadvisor is a great place to start. Or, sometimes the tour company will provide you with references and you could call or write to their past guests.
  • Long Lines.  Nowadays everyone has the ability to skip the line by reserving tickets in advance directly with the Vatican Museum Ticket Office .  It is no longer necessary to join a guided tour in order to skip the line.  You can simply by tickets online and walk right into the museums at your own leisure.  Since everyone can skip the long lines today, it is quite rare for a tour company to not offer the opportunity to skip the line as well.  Only a select few tour companies can enter inside the museum before 9 AM though.  If you find an agency that can enter at 8 AM, you are in luck as this is the time of day when the museums are the least crowded.  But remember, joining a tour is not about skipping lines, it's about enhancing your visit and learning alongside an expert so don't let this sway you from joining a tour guide.
  • Wheelchair use.  If you or a member of your group has physical difficulty with stairs you may want to use a wheelchair (which are available for free use in the Vatican Museums lobby). If you have your own wheelchair, it is a little known fact that you can actually go straight to the front of the cue and the guards will let you and one person with you in for free.  When you go inside to get your ticket, a handicapped person will also get a free ticket to the Vatican Museums. 
  • Tours & Wheelchairs.  Keep in mind that oftentimes wheelchairs are not usually welcome on group tours because the Vatican Museums' layout is such that one in a wheel chair would need to take a different path through the museums due to lack of elevators. You can usually get a good deal on a private tour if you mention you are in a wheelchair. Check with the tour company.
  • Walking Tour or Bus Tour? Some tour companies advertise their tours without mentioning that the first half of the tour will be spent on a bus and that the actual time spent admiring the Vatican's treasures will be very limited--an hour or less.  Once you reach the Vatican City, no buses are allowed entry-all tours will be walking tours.  Be sure to get the facts straight.  Rome is very small so hotel pick-up is rather a nuisance if it means losing 1 or 2 hours of indulging in art, when, in reality, you could get to the Vatican on your own just as easily using public transport.
  • Related Reading. Prepare yourself before you leave for your trip to Italy, read a book that is related to the Vatican's history, its artists, its Popes, and its religion.  That way, you will be able to engage in the tour and pose questions to your expert guide.  
  • Tour Cost. Compare prices and find the best deal for a quality tour. Just because the price is high does not mean the quality is high.
  • Extras.  In addition to the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica there are also some lesser known attractions of the Vatican City: the Vatican Gardens, the Scavi Excavations Tour underneath St. Peter's Basilica, the Papal Audience, the Pope's tombs, Michelangelo's Dome (which you can climb until the late afternoon), and the Vatican Historical Museum. Give yourself plenty of time to explore and book in advance to ensure you get to see all of these areas as the crowds tend to fill up spots very quickly.
  • Learning while traveling is a real joy so hopefully you will choose to reap the benefits of joining a guided tour. Whatever your decision, have a wonderul visit, remember the dress code in the warm months (women must cover knees and shoulders and men must wear long pants-no shorts or tank tops allowed), relax, and delight in the Vatican City State!