Take a Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Tour Before or After Hours

How to See the Sistine Chapel Without the Crowds

••• Ed Freeman/The Image Bank/Getty

Visiting the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel when they're closed to the general public is an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. During normal opening hours, the Vatican Museums are almost always crowded, and the sheer mass of people can sometimes make it feel like you are being herded through the many galleries and corridors. Between the crowds and the vastness of the museums, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the experience.

Tour company The Roman Guy is one of a handful of outfits in Rome who can gain privileged, small-group access to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Depending on which tour you choose, your group of 12 or so people may be the only ones in the Sistine Chapel—an amazing and spine-tingling experience for lovers of art and history. The Roman Guy's expert guides will lead you through other important museum collections, pointing out items of special interest and providing background information.

The Roman Guy Vatican and Sistine Chapel Tours:

The premium privileged access tour is the VIP After Hours Tour, when it's just your small group and your private guide. Another option, the small group Vatican Under the Stars Evening Tour is available on Friday evenings. The 3-hour tour starts with Saint Peter's Basilica, then continues to the Vatican Museums, where you'll take a guided journey through art history, and on to the Sistine Chapel.

The museum is open on Friday evenings but to a much more limited number of people, so it will be much less crowded than during the day.

For early risers, the Pre-Opening Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St.Peter's Basilica Private Tour begins one hour before opening time, starting with the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and then continuing into Saint Peter's Basilica.

Crowds will be smaller than during regular daytime tours, although it will get more crowded toward the end of the tour.

Other Private Vatican Museum Tours

The only tour guides who are allowed to lead before or after hours tours are those who are Vatican City accredited tour operators so not all tour companies can provide VIP access. Context Travel, Select Italy and Italy With Us are among the recommended companies offering high-end, private, after-hours tours of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican Museums average 20,000 visitors per day so taking a privileged entrance tour is definitely the best way to visit. These tours should be booked at least 2 weeks in advance. Note that the Museums and Sistine Chapel are part of the Catholic Church and proper dress is required—knees and shoulders must be covered and hats must be removed.

The Vatican Museums:

With more than 1400 rooms, the Vatican Museums is the world's largest museum complex. Pope Julius II was a patron of Renaissance artists and first opened the first museum in the early 16th century to house his private collection. New popes added their collections and now there's an amazing amount of art, spanning 3,000 years of history and culture, displayed in the pontifical museums and galleries.

The Sistine Chapel:

The famous Sistine Chapel was built from 1473-1481 as both the pope's private chapel and the venue for the election of the new pope by the cardinals. Michelangelo painted the famous ceiling and altar frescoes, with the central scenes on the ceiling depicting creation and the story of Noah, a task that took him more than 4 years. Painting frescoes was a new experience for Michelangelo and he applied his knowledge of sculpting to his painting, making figures appear solid and sculptural, but also more lifelike.

Saint Peter's Basilica:

Saint Peter's Basilica, built on the site of an earlier church covering the Apostle Peter's tomb, is one of the largest churches in the world. Entrance is free but there's a lot to see, so having a guided tour is very helpful in making sense of it all.

Many important artworks, including Michelangelo's famous Pieta, are in the church. You can also visit the Pope's tombs. 

Getting to the Vatican Museums:

The Vatican Museums entrance lies between the Cipro and Ottaviano stops on the metro line A (red line). Bus 49 stops near the entrance and tram 19 also stops nearby. Follow signs to Musei Vaticani. If you take a taxi, be sure to say Vatican Museums to be dropped off near the entrance, which is not on Saint Peter's Square.

Where to Stay Near the Vatican:

For before and after hours tours, it may be convenient to stay in a Rome hotel or bed and breakfast near the Vatican. See Top Places to Stay by Vatican City.

Article updated by Elizabeth Heath.

The original writer was provided with a complimentary tour for review purposes.