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Vatican City, the ancient seat of the Pope and the spiritual and administrative heart of the Catholic Church, is home to some of the world’s most famous and beautiful art and architecture. The Vatican itself, surrounded completely by Rome, is small and easily walkable, but because of the overwhelming amount of history contained in the walls of its museums and churches, a tour guide can be an invaluable resource. A good tour company will provide both a guide who is an expert on religious and art history and the Vatican itself, and they’ll also often help navigate the sometimes-complicated processes of getting tickets and entry to some of the museums and chapels. Want someone to give you the inside scoop? Take a look below at the best Vatican tours to book today.
Best Comprehensive Museums Tour: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & More
Avoid getting confused and overwhelmed by the labyrinthine buildings that make up the Vatican Museum complex and instead let your guide lead you through, entering by a special entrance and weaving through from masterpiece to masterpiece. Your guide will help you understand the context and history of the Gallery of the Maps, the Gallery of the Tapestries, Raphael’s Rooms, the magnificent Sistine Chapel with its Michelangelo frescoes on the wall and ceiling, as well as the massive St. Peter’s Basilica. An after-hours experience and small-group upgrade are both available, as well.
Best Sistine Chapel Tour: Sistine Chapel Private Viewing
This tour takes visitors on a behind-the-scenes private VIP experience through the Sistine Chapel and several lesser-seen rooms in the Vatican Museums. Guests will enter through a private entrance, accompanied by a Vatican guard, who unlocks special rooms and hallways just for you and your guide. Which rooms are visited during the tour is dependent upon which are being used for formal papal or church functions, but typically includes the Bramante Staircase, the treasure-filled Sala degli Ori (Room of Gold) and the Fra Angelico frescos in the Niccoline Chapel. The highlight, however, is the small-group after-hours tour of the Sistine Chapel itself, which includes commentary from your guide (disallowed during regular opening hours). The Sistine Chapel portion lasts at least a half-hour, so you really get to stop, relax and absorb the beauty of the place while learning about the painstaking process of its creation.
Best Private Tour: Vatican With Early Entrance
Roll out of bed early and meet up with your guide for a special private tour that begins a full hour before the museums are officially opened to the public. The tour lasts about three hours and includes highlights of the Vatican Museums’ extensive visual art collection, the Sistine Chapel (live commentary is not allowed, but your guide will get you up to speed before you enter), plus the extravagant St. Peter’s Basilica, via a special private passageway that allows you to skip the line at the latter. At each stop, your guide will illuminate specific pieces of art and the symbolism and theology behind them, and further offer insights into the millennia of history, politics and interpersonal intrigue contained within these walls.
Best VIP Tour: Waking Up the Vatican: VIP Small-Group Tour Before Museums Open
The Vatican’s a trip of a lifetime for Catholics and art lovers of all religious persuasions — why not do it in style? Get the backstage tour when you arrive early in the morning and accompany the Vatican clavigero (key keeper) while they open the doors and flip on the lights in the maze of elaborate rooms and chapels, including Raphael’s Rooms and the Gallery of the Maps. You’ll get some private time inside the Sistine Chapel, accompanied by a guide — a rare treat that is not available during normal opening hours, when strict silence is enforced inside the chapel. Got questions? Ask away! After the lights are all on and the Vatican is opened up, you’re invited to help yourself to a buffet breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard.
Best Combo Tour: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum & More
Squeeze in two tours in one day with this skip-the-line priority entrance tour that starts the day touring the extensive holdings of the Vatican Museums and, of course, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s. After some time off to get lunch on your own — your guide will happily recommend lunch spots, if you need ideas — you’ll meet back up for a tour of the Colosseum, the ancient Roman amphitheater where gladiators and Caesars once walked. You’ll also visit the neighboring Roman Forum and climb Palatine Hill, whose summit gives you a view of the ancient Circus Maximus. It’s a day that’s packed with education, history, art and fun, and particularly with the cost savings that come with the package, it’s a fantastic deal.
Best Breakfast Tour: Exclusive Breakfast at the Vatican w/Early Museum Access
Breakfast at the Vatican? Sure, why not? Start your Vatican tour in either the Pinecone Courtyard or the Vatican Cafeteria for a hearty breakfast, followed by an optional 45-minute, open-air coach ride through the Vatican Gardens where you’ll see everything from the meditation gardens used by popes to the private heliport located on the grounds. After this excursion, it’s back to the Vatican Museums for a guided tour through their most notable rooms, as well as the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, where your glamorous morning finishes.
Best Tour for Kids: Vatican for Kids Private Tour
If your kids prefer Michelangelo and Raphael in their Ninja Turtle form, you might dread trying to drag them through the Vatican Museums, but this tour is catered specifically to keep it fun and exciting for them (and plenty informative and fascinating for their grown-ups, too). You’ll skip the lines (crucial) and your guide will point out the most important art pieces, but also kid-friendly art objects, including Emperor Nero’s massive bathtub and the real mummy that’s housed in the Vatican’s Egyptian Museum. You’ll also, of course, visit the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, but your guide will ensure that both of those stops are a blast for the whole family.