The Vatican Museums contain a vast store of artworks which range from the ancient to the contemporary, including the world-famous Sistine Chapel. Touring the Vatican Museums can easily take two hours or more (days if you have a broad range of interests), so it is imperative that you have an action plan when you visit. You may have works of art that have meant something to you all your life that you want to see firsthand. Or, you are an architecture buff and want to make sure you see all the architectural details.
There are many museums ranging from a lapidary museum to an Egyptian museum. There are an impressive carriage museum and a collection of contemporary art. So, it's important to tailor your visit to your interests. The Vatican website also maintains a current list of opening and closing times for the museums which will help you with your planning.
Here is a list of the top attractions to look for when you visit the Vatican Museums including key works of art, archeological areas, architecture and more. For a complete list, visit the Vatican Museums website.
The Vatican Museums' curators were wise to put the Sistine Chapel at the end of the museum tour, as it is the absolute highlight of the visit.
Here you can take in the majesty of Michelangelo's ceiling and altar frescoes as well as paintings by other Renaissance greats such as Perugino, Botticelli, and Rosselli.
The Sistine Chapel stands on the foundation of an older chapel which was named the Capella Magna. In 1477, Pope Sixtus IV ordered a restoration of the chapel which, upon completion, was named for him.
The Raphael Rooms are important to visit. Raphael worked on the mesmerizing frescoes in these four rooms—the apartments of Pope Julius II—while Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel. The paintings include several significant scenes from Christian history.
The most famous room of all is the Room of the Segnatura, in which Raphael painted The School of Athens, a scene that incorporates the likenesses of Raphael's artistic contemporaries, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
The artist Pinturicchio painted the rich frescoes in the rooms of the Borgia Apartment, the area on the first floor where Pope Alexander VI lived. The rich, colorful frescoes depict scenes from Egyptian and Greek mythology and speak to the lavishness of the Vatican Palace.
Gallery of Maps
This incredible hall has maps frescoed on both walls showing various parts of Italy from the 16th century. These historically significant frescoes of the Italian cities, the countryside, and geographical features, such as the Apennine Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea, are a joy to inspect, as is the gallery's sumptuously decorated coffered ceiling. The gallery was reopened in 2016 after a restoration of the art.
Some of the most beautiful and vibrant 15th-century frescoes, painted by Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli, are in the diminutive Niccoline Chapel. Named for Pope Nicholas V, who worshiped here, this chapel is located in one of the oldest parts of the papal palace.
Greek and Roman Antiquities
The Pio-Clementine and the Gregorian Profane Museums are dedicated to treasures of antiquity. Highlights include the Apollo del Belvedere, "a supreme ideal" of classical art; the Laocoön, a large marble composition from 1st century A.D.; the Belvedere Torso, a Greek sculpture from the 1st century B.C.; the Discus Thrower, a 5th century B.C. representation of an discus athlete in movement; and a collection of Roman mosaics.
Taking a guided tour is a great way to navigate the vast maze of things to see in the Vatican Museums.
There are tours for individuals, families, groups, religious pilgrims and for blind or deaf visitors. You can tour the museums, villas and gardens, and archeological areas. Some tours are guided.
Tickets to visit the Vatican Museums can be purchased online.