Written by: Kate Zusmann
During the Roman holiday, a visit to the Vatican City Museum and Sistine Chapel is one of the essential things on any traveler’s list. The Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) are Christian art museums inside Vatican City. There are masterpieces from the impressive collection gathered by popes throughout the centuries. Moreover, the collection includes Roman sculptures and worldwide known Renaissance artworks.
The museums contain almost 70.000 works, where 20.000 of them are on display. Also, 640 people work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments. The museum exhibits 54 galleries (sale), including the Sistine Chapel, and is one of the largest museums in the world
Note that the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are located in two different parts of the smallest government in the world. It is better to come earlier to the Vatican to explore it without crowds of tourists since there are many things to see. You can plan your visit to the Vatican by booking our private guided tour to pass through queues and discover the museums with maximum comfort.
The Vatican Museums offer group tours which you can book on its official website for an additional payment. Another option is to get an audio guide. Moreover, a specific itinerary is incompatible with the guided tours for visitors in a wheelchair. Please note that it is better to visit the museums with a tour guide, who will explain everything since there are many things to see inside. Plan your trip and consider the option to visit the Vatican right before its opening to save your time and not stand in long queues.
If you want to make the most of your visit, guided tour is an amazing option.
The basic entry to the historical museums costs 17 euros (+4 euros for the reservation if you book tickets online). Planning your trip and reserving tickets online is always a good idea because thousands of visitors want to visit the art museum daily. Usually, queues at ticket desks are endless.
When you plan to visit the Vatican Museums, you should better avoid ticket offices in high seasons and choose admission tickets online with a reservation fee. However, if you decide to buy tickets offline in any ticket office, you can pay an additional price for the audio guide or guidebook or get a group tour.
If you use an online service, the languages for the online ticket office are Italian and English. During the online reservation process, you have to choose a particular ticket time when you want to enter the museums. The Vatican Museums’ official site tickets.museivaticani.va only accepts Visa and Mastercard.
If you purchase tickets online in advance, the entrance fee cost is 17 euro + booking fee is 4 euro, which helps you to skip the line. Don’t forget to take your passport!
Once you have completed the online purchase, you will receive two emails: one to confirm your payment and the second one, which contains your voucher for the Vatican Museums ticket. Print out the first page of the voucher. Then, come to the museums 15-30 minutes earlier on the day of your visit. Once you pass through security, go to the left, where the “cassa” is located, and turn in your voucher for an actual ticket.
Read step-by-step instructions on how to buy tickets to the Vatican Museums.
Many types of tickets have various prices, reductions, or unique free entry reserved for different visitors. Moreover, tickets cannot be refunded. The ticket is valid only on the day on which it is issued.
You should better buy Vatican Museum tickets in advance!
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Friday Night Openings is a unique opportunity to visit the Vatican Museums after sunset. Every Friday from April 20th to October 26th, the museums host visitors from 7 pm to 11 pm, with the last entrance at 9.30 pm. Night tickets have the same price as regular admission tickets.
Booking online for night openings is mandatory. Also, you have to exit from the galleries 20-30 minutes before the closing time
Breakfast at the Museums is available with a guided tour or audio guide. The reservation includes an American buffet breakfast, the Museums, and the Sistine Chapel entrance. Notably, tickets can be reserved up to 60 days prior to the date of the intended visit. You can enter the Museums at 7.15 am, before the official opening time, and enjoy breakfast. The full price is 68 euros, while the reduced price is 59 euros. Identity cards of all participants are needed for the purchase online and before the entrance.
Official pontifical residence located in Castel Gandolfo, 24 kilometers southeast of Rome. It provides multi-lingual tours to the botanical garden and architectural gems that belong to the Vatican.
Also, there are special tariffs for families. Note that you can make a reservation up to 60 days before the needed date and change it up to 72 hours before the date of the visit. For example, suppose you book a walking tour to the Barberini Gardens and to the Antiquarium of Villa (both individual and group guided tours available) on the day of the visit. In that case, an admission ticket for the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo will have a reduced cost of 7 euros per person.
The Vatican Museums’ working hours are from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm, with the final entry at 4 pm. Every last Sunday of the month from 9 am to 2 pm (final admission at 12.30 pm) is free entry (if it does not coincide with Easter Sunday, June 29th Sts. Peter and Paul, December 25th Christmas day, and December 26th Feast of St. Stephen)
Below you can see the opening days and hours schedule of the Vatican Museums for 2023:
According to the timings indicated above, the Vatican Museums will have an extended opening time on the 18, 19,20,23,24, 25, 27, 29, and 30th of April, the 2nd and 4th of May, and November 2nd, until 7 pm (final entry at 5 pm).
Closure days are Sundays, except the last Sunday of each month and January 1st, February 11th, March 19th, April 22nd, May 1st, June 29th, 14th, and 15th of August, November 1st, 8th, 25th, and 26th of December.
Vatican Museum is free the last Sunday of the month. In 2023, free admission to the Vatican Museums will be:
Main Entrance is located on the street Viale Vaticano. A good landmark is the Caffè Vaticano located on adress Viale Vaticano, 100. Attention, in no case do not order in this cafe. Read the reviews on google maps first. Use this cafe only as a landmark for entering museums – it is opposite across the road.
There are different entrances to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Plan your root in advance. St. Peter’s Basilica is not included in the Vatican Museums’ ticket; it is a church. However, there is no fee to go inside. It is closed on Wednesday mornings during the Papal Audience and reopens around 12-1 pm on that day. If you are on a group tour, there is a privileged passage directly from the Sistine Chapel to the basilica.
The dress code for visiting the Vatican is the same that spreads to visiting any church in Italy. Both males and females have to cover their knees and shoulders. Moreover, it is better to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. It is mandatory to follow the dress code of the museums.
In the 15th century in the Vatican, the famous Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) was built. Architect Giovannino de Dolci created a modest church decorated from the inside by the greatest masters of Renaissance painting: Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, and Pietro Perugino. A gem of the chapel became a fresco by Michelangelo di Lodovico – “The Last Judgment.”
In the late 15th – early 16th centuries, another monument of architecture and art – the Borgia Tower (Torre dei Borgia), appears in the Vatican. Again, Pope Julius II founded the tradition of collecting fine items. In the 16th century, he actively began to collect copies of ancient Roman sculptures and arranged a suitable space for their exhibit.
According to the statistics, the Vatican Museums are the 5th most visited art museum in the world. There were 6 million visitors in 2017
The Museums trace their origin to the marble sculpture purchased in the 16th century: Laocoon and His Sons. It was discovered in 1506 in a vineyard near the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) in the Eternal City. Pope Julius II asked Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarotti to examine the sculpture. Thanks to their recommendation, the pope purchased the sculpture from its owner and put it on public display at the Vatican one month later after its discovery. Lately, Benedict XIV founded the Museum Christianum, where some of the Vatican collections gave birth to the Lateran Museum, which Pope Pius IX founded by decree in 1854.
On 1st of January 2017, Barbarra Jatta became new Director of the Vatican Museums, replacing Antonio Paolucci
One of the wealthiest art collections globally represents worldwide known masterpieces from the most notable artists. Read about the best things to see in the Vatican Museums:
The Belvedere Courtyard (Cortile del Belvedere) is considered a significant architectural work of the High Renaissance at the Vatican Palace. Donato Bramante designed it in 1506.
Its concept and details were taken for the architectural planning of courtyards, squares, and gardens throughout Western Europe for centuries. The long Belvedere Court is an open space that connects the Vatican Palace and the Villa Belvedere with many terraces connected by stairs. Unfortunately, Bramante did not see his work completed. Moreover, by the end of the sixteenth century, the artwork had been altered by a building across the court, which separated it into two courtyards.
Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI commissioned the Museum of Pio Clement (Museo Pio-Clementino) to collect Greek and significant Roman artifacts in the Vatican. Visitors first passed through a square vestibule and a small room with a marble cup to enter the Cabinet of Apoxyomenos, named after a Roman copy of an original Greek bronze masterpiece by Lysippos in 320 BC.
Bramante’s Staircase stands in the next room, which Julius II commissioned in 1512. The Staircase connects the Palace of Innocent VIII and the city of Rome. In addition, the Museum of Pio Clement contains the Octagonal Courtyard (1772), named after its shape. Next to the courtyard is the Room of the Animals, with a collection of Roman statues and animals. Also, there is a Gallery of Statues, Room of Busts, Room of Muses, Round Room, Greek-cross Room, and Cabinet of Masks, where visitors can find art masterpieces from different epochs.
Pope Gregory XVI founded the Gregorian Egyptian Museum (Museo Gregoriano Egizio) in 1839. It occupies nine rooms and a terrace of the “Niche of the Pinecone,” where different sculptures are located. The collection of the museums contains material from Roman Egypt and from Egyptian-influenced Rome. However, there are many masterpieces of Roman production. They serve as an embodiment of an important moment in the history of pharaonic culture.
The Court of the Pigna (Cortile Della Pigna) forms the northern end of the Belvedere Courtyard. The Court takes its name from the large bronze pine cone, bounded by the Braccio Nuovo on the south side, east by the Chiaromonti Gallery, north by Innocent VIII’s Palazzetto, and on the west side by the galleries of the Apostolic Library. Publius Cincius Salvius cast the bronze statue in the 1st or 2nd century. Initially, the pinecone was situated in Campus Martius and served as a fountain. However, in the 8th century, it was moved to the entrance hall of the medieval St. Peter’s, and in 1608, the giant pinecone fountain was dismantled and moved to the place where you can find it today.
Apostolic Palace (Palazzo Apostolico) is the official residence of the Roman Catholic Pope and Bishop of Rome. Moreover, it is known as the Papal Palace or the Vatican Palace. At the same time, the Vatican refers to the building as the Palace of Sixtus V. Inside, there are the Papal Apartments, offices of the Catholic Church, private and public chapels, Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Library, Raphael Rooms, and Borgia Apartment.
The four Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) are famous for their frescoes painted by Raphael and his workshop. Along with Michelangelo’s ceiling art in the Sistine Chapel, these frescoes mark the High Renaissance in Rome.
Originally, the rooms were intended as apartments for Pope Julius II, who commissioned the work to Raphael. The Raphael Rooms are located on the third floor of the Palace of the Vatican.
The Borgia Apartments (Appartamento Borgia) are a suite of rooms in the Apostolic Palace, constructed for private use by Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borgia). In the late 15th century, the representative of the Borgia family commissioned the work of the Italian painter Bernardo di Betto (Pinturcchio) to decorate apartments with frescoes. The paintings were executed between 1492 and 1494. The masterpieces are connected to themes from encyclopedias, including an eschatological layer of meaning.
Most of the rooms are now used for the Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1973
Pope Gregory XVI founded the Gregorian Etruscan Museum (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco) in 1837. One of the first museums dedicated to Etruscan antiques contains the artifacts from excavations carried out during the preceding years in the sites of the most important cities of ancient Etruria.
There are collections of Falconi (1898), Benedetti Guglielmi (1935), Mario Astarita (1967) and Giacinto Guglielmi (1987). In addition, the museum includes a section dedicated to Roman antiquities (Antiquarium Romanum) with artifacts from the end of the Western Empire (5th century A.D.), where works are made of bronze, glass, and terracotta and ceramics from Rome and Latium. The section dedicated to the Greek collection of figurative vases allows visitors to observe the history of ancient paintings.
The Vatican Apostolic Library (Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana) or the Vatican Library (the Vat) is the Holy See library established in 1475. It is one of the world’s oldest libraries with one of the most important collections of historical texts. There are 75 thousand codices and 1.1 million printed books. Moreover, it is considered a research library for history, law, philosophy, science, and theology.
Photocopies from the library for private study of pages from books published between 1801 and 1990 can be requested in person or by mail in digital version. The library contains online manuscripts catalog.
The Chiaramonti Museum (Museo Chiaramonti) is set among the small Palace of the Belvedere and the Vatican Palaces. The museum is called after Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti (1800-1823). In 1797, under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino, Napoleon ordered the Papal States to transfer the major part of the artworks in the Pio Clementino Pio Museum to France. The museum contains over one thousand examples of antique sculptures on display and represents one of the most important collections of Roman portrait busts. Moreover, there you will find masterpieces of idealistic and funerary sculpture.
The Vatican Historical Museum (Museo Storico Vaticano) was founded in 1973 at the behest of Pope Paul VI. Later, in 1987, it was moved to the main floor of the Apostolic Palace and opened in 1991. There is an impressive collection of portraits of all the Popes, important items of the Papal Military Corps of the 16-17th centuries, and religious paraphernalia connected to rituals of the papacy. In addition, the floor plan contains Popemobiles, carriages, and motorcars of Popes and Cardinals.
Pope Paul VI inaugurated the carriage Pavilion in 1973. The Papal Carriages Museum of carts has an exciting history of the movement of pontiffs: dozens of carriages, 12 cars, the steering wheel of a racing Ferrari, palanquins, harnesses, saddles, aircraft model, locomotive, and even a ship.
The Vatican Museums encompass some of the most essential and famous arts globally, from Roman and Egyptian antiquities to paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
St Jerome in the Wilderness is an unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci which depicts Saint Jerome during his retreat to the Syrian Desert. The painting represents him kneeling in a rocky landscape, looking toward a crucifix with a rock in his right hand. The lion, the stone, and a cardinal’s hat serve as the traditional features of the saint.
The Stefaneschi Altarpiece is a triptych by the Italian medieval painter Giotto, commissioned by Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi to present as an altarpiece for one of the altars of St. Peter’s Basilica. Nowadays, the triptych is at the Pinacoteca Vaticana.
Lament over the Dead Christ by Giovanni Bellini formed the upper part of the altarpiece that the painter created in Pesaro for the high altar of S. Francesco between 1473 and 1476. The Lament sees Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea around the dead body of Christ. The composition has a sorrowful tone and binds the protagonists with an intimate emotional connection.
The Oddi Altarpiece is an altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin created in 1502-1504 by Raphael for the altar of the Oddi family chapel. Today, it is moved from the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia to the Vatican Pinacoteca.
The Transfiguration is the last masterpiece made by the Italian High Renaissance artist Raphael. Cardinal Giulio de Medici (Pope Clement VII) commissioned the painting. Moreover, it represents the culmination of Raphael’s career and locates in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.
Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno artwork was first painted on the wood panel but later transferred to canvas. The painting was previously located on a high altar of the church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. Today, one can find the masterpiece in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.
The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio was created in 1603-1604 for Santa Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova), but now it is in the Vatican Pinacoteca. Moreover, artists such as Rubens and Fragonard have copied the painting.
Decemviri Altarpiece created by Pietro Perugino in 1495-1496 is housed in the Pinacoteca Vaticana. The Decemviri (Ten Men) of Perugia commissioned the artwork for the chapel in the Palazzo dei Priori.
The Vatican Museums contain the red marble papal throne taken from Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (the Bishop’s official seat in Rome). The red marble material is a representation of royalty and includes mosaics and frescoes. Moreover, there are depictions of two engraved lions.
The Collection of Modern Religious Art of the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani Collezione Arte Religiosa Moderna) represents a collection of paintings, graphic art, and notable sculptures. It includes 55 rooms with the Apartment of Alexander VI, the two floors of the Salette Borgia, several rooms under the Sistine Chapel, and other rooms on the ground floor.
The Pinacoteca Vaticana was located in the Borgia Apartment until 1932. Nowadays, it houses a variety of notable paintings such as Raphael’s “Oddi Altarpiece” or Leonardo Da Vinci’s “St. Jerome in the Wilderness” mentioned above. You should visit if you are a Renaissance art lover.
The Gallery of Maps is on the west side of the Belvedere courtyard. There are many painted topographical maps. It was commissioned in 1580 to Ignazio Danzi, who completed the 40 panels within three years. Moreover, the gallery is 120m in length.
The Vatican Museums are primarily famous because of the Sistine Chapel. It was built by the architect Giovannino de’ Dolci at the end of the 15th century by order of Pope Sixtus IV. The chapel is always open for visitors, except when the procedure of electing a new pope is processed. Moreover, it contains famous frescoes on the ceiling by Michelangelo. In addition, it is not allowed to take photos inside, and there are always crowds of tourists interested in a visit to the chapel. Therefore, it is better to visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with a tour guide and prepare for your visit in advance.
Note: you can’t visit the Sistine Chapel solely without buying ticket to the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museum shop contains many interesting products connected to the smallest government in the world. For instance, you can buy accessories, pieces of jewelry, medals, watches, prints, or books there. The production is unique and highly popular among all visitors to the Holy See.
There are different prices, and one can find an unusual and perfect souvenir that matches his preferences because of the impressive variety of the saint things. For example, the average price for watches is 60-70 euros, while prices for books start from 10 euros per book.
Interestingly, one can also buy features for home décor as sculptures or busts, where the prices for artistic reproductions start from 50 euros. For visitors interested in the history of the Vatican, there are various books and DVDs on various historical topics. Moreover, there are puzzles with the depiction of the most notable artworks in the city-state territory.
A visit to the Vatican Museums is a unique experience since it will take lots of time to explore all the notable collections that are present on the territory of the smallest government in the world. Have you ever been inside the Vatican Museums? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Author: Kate Zusmann
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