Visiting the Vatican Museums is an unforgettable experience that requires strength, stamina and patience. You’ll need to be on top of your game to endure the inevitable queues – if not for a ticket then for the security checks – and enjoy what is undoubtedly one of the world’s great museum complexes.
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the museums are housed in what is known collectively as the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. This massive 5.5-hectare complex consists of two palaces – the Vatican palace nearest St Peter’s and the Belvedere Palace – joined by two long galleries. On the inside are three courtyards: the Cortile della Pigna, the Cortile della Biblioteca, and, to the south, the Cortile del Belvedere.
You’ll never manage to explore the whole complex in one go – you’d need several hours just for the highlights – so it pays to be selective. There are several suggested itineraries, or you can go it alone and make up your own route.
Each gallery contains priceless treasures, but for a whistlestop tour get to the Pinacoteca, the Museo Pio-Clementino, Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) and the Sistine Chapel. On the whole exhibits are not well labelled so you might find it useful to hire an audioguide (€7) or buy the Guide to the Vatican Museums and City (€10). There are also authorised guided tours (adult/concession €30/25), bookable on the Vatican’s online ticket office. The museums are well equipped for visitors with disabilities: there are four suggested itineraries, lifts and specially fitted toilets. Wheelchairs can also be reserved in advance – fax 06 698 85 433. Parents with young children can take prams into the museums.
- PAPAL AUDIENCES: A ticket – always free of charge – is required for attending the General Audience on Wednesday mornings or other papal ceremonies. They are issued by the Prefecture of the Papal Household reached by way of the Bronze Door. The office is open Mondays from 9:00 to 13:00 and Tuesdays from 9:00 to 18:00.
To request a ticket:
telephone +39.06.69883114 – +39.06.69884631; or fax +39.06.69885863.
ST. PETER’S BASILICA: The Basilica is open every day from 7.00 to 19.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 18.00, October to March. To preserve the sacred character of the church, groups consisting of more than five members and accompanied by a guide are kindly requested to use “audio-guides” which can be rented at the entrance to the Basilica. Proper dress is required for admission to the Basilica.
- VISIT TO THE VATICAN MUSEUMS: The Vatican Museums are open weekdays from 10:00 to 13:45 during November – February (except during the Christmas period when they are open from 8:45 to 16:45). During March – October the Museums are open Monday – Friday from 10:00 to 16:45 and Saturdays from 10:00 to 14:45. On the last Sunday of each month the Museums can be visited free of admission charge from 9:00 to 13:45. Entrance to the Museums is not possible from 75 minutes before closing time.