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Visiting the Vatican Museums before they open?! How you can do it too!

Having a quiet moment in the Sistine Chapel without crowds was a once in a lifetime moment. You can do it too! This tour allowed us to visit the Vatican before it opened to the general public, and it’s so much more special seeing the museums this way.

Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with Musement.

The Vatican Museums are the world’s largest private art collection. They’re full of history, incredible art, and some of the most beautiful architecture. Because of this, they’re incredibly crowded and it’s hard to truly admire some of the artwork.

One way to avoid these crowds is to avoid high season. For me, this isn’t a problem, as I live in Rome, but for tourists travelling whenever they possibly can, it’s a little more difficult. Before I was living in Rome, when I was younger, I visited the Vatican Museums in the peak of high season. I remember being so squished in the Museums and the Sistine Chapel. I remember the crowds, not the art. So when visiting the Vatican this time around, I knew I didn’t want to go in high season!

The Vatican Museums Before Opening Hours

Musement recently took me along on the Early Entrance to the Sistine Chapels Tour, which is honestly such a game-changer. You get to enter the museums before they even open to the general public. How cool is that?! We met the group at 7:15 am and got to watch the sunrise whilst sipping a cappuccino, and at 7:30, we were off! Our guide, Claudia, was amazing. I’m usually a little hesitant to take guided tours, as I find they can be a little boring and information-overload, but this wasn’t the case here. Claudia was funny, knowledgeable, and so sweet. She told us all about the Sistine Chapel while we waited to get into the Museums, and then we went straight into the Chapel. It’s absolutely incredible, and so so soooo much more beautiful without the crowds.

It is absolutely amazing to sit in the Sistine Chapel when it’s empty. You can truly appreciate the art, get up close to the details, and just sit there and admire it. We had half an hour to do just that, and I left so inspired and awestruck by it. With crowds, it’s much less pleasant.

You then get to take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums. There’s so much art in these museums and it can easily get a little overwhelming, but Claudia made sure we flew by the less important things and got to spend time learning and looking at the famous pieces. This was the perfect way to do it – we didn’t miss out on seeing anything, and we weren’t bored and glazed-over by the end of the tour. It was interesting the entire time and so lovely.

I was shocked at how empty the museum was. The museum just started to open to the general public, but we were ahead of them, so we still had most of the museum to ourselves.

After making our way through the Vatican Museums, we were able to head back into the Sistine Chapel to exit. If you’re on your own, you exit the Vatican Museums, then have to line back up to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. This line usually takes a fair bit of time. Guided tours are able to go through a separate exit, where you can skip the line and head pretty much straight into the basilica.

Skip the Lines to St. Peter’s Basilica

I really appreciated how we also got a tour of the Basilica. There are so many Papal traditions that most of us don’t know about, and having a guide really helped us navigate the basilica with the facts that helped us appreciate it more. Did you know that there are NO paintings in the basilica and all of the images are MOSAICS? That’s absolutely insane, and I would have had no idea without Claudia’s knowledge.

The tour ended in St. Peter’s Basilica, so we were free to spend as long as we wanted exploring. There’s also the option of climbing the stairs or taking the lift to the top of the basilica, and you can go into the downstairs area of the basilica where you can see where the previous Popes were buried.

It’s free to go downstairs, but going to the top of the basilica is an extra cost. It’s 10 euros per person to take the lift (and then 300 stairs) up to the top of the basilica, and it’s 8 euros per person to climb the 500ish stairs to the top. It’s cash only, so bring cash if this is something you’re keen to do!

My Recommendations

We took this tour through Musement, which provides easy ways to book tours all around the world! It was really convenient to be able to show up with the reservations on our phone, as it’s not always easy to get a reservation printed up abroad. We took this tour, but there are plenty of other tours around Rome, Europe, and the world. I honestly had such an amazing time visiting the Vatican with them and I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone who wants to see the art inside the museums without hoards of people obstructing their view.

If you don’t want to take the tour, Musement also offers skip the line tickets to the Vatican, which lets you just turn up and enter! I recommend buying a skip the line tour for as soon as the Museums open so you avoid the crowds.

After you’ve finished the tour, it’ll be about lunchtime. I recommend either grabbing a bite near Piazza Navona, or if you want something close to the Vatican, Zanzaro is recommended! If you want a cheap eat, Alice Pizza, specifically the one located at Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 35, is amazing.

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