Vatican City and the Vatican Museums are must-sees for anyone visiting Rome and need to be at the top of your list of what to do in Italy. It should not matter if it’s your first visit to Rome or your tenth. Similarly, even for non-Catholics, the Vatican’s historical and spiritual elements are too significant to disregard.
Previous visits to The Vatican Museums
I made my third trip to Rome last fall as well as my third visit to Vatican City and the Museums. As I am Roman Catholic and very much interested in religious history, I can’t stay away! I made my first visit back in 2006 with my sister. She and I were traveling together around Italy on basically a backpacker’s budget. Therefore, we did not splurge on any guided tours. We opted to explore the Vatican Museums on our own, which meant standing in line for hours waiting to get in. It wasn’t so bad then but now, at my more advanced age, I look back and think, “Never again.” We took our time navigating the corridors and managed to see a fair amount of the exhibits. Aside from the Sistine Chapel, though, sometimes we really didn’t know what we were looking at.
That’s why, on my second visit five years later, I decided we would do a guided tour of the Museums. Plus, I was with different people, one of whom was my then 2-year-old daughter. There was no way we could have waited in long lines for tickets and for admission with a toddler. And then who knows how long she would have lasted if we had done it on our own. Typically, tour guides keep you on track, pointing out the most significant exhibits and artifacts. They also know shortcuts and workarounds. All key when traveling with young children.
From that second visit, one thing stuck with me; a negative, if you will. The Museums were exponentially more crowded than on my first visit. So, when planning my third and most recent visit, I was set on again doing a guided tour. Not to mention, I was with people who were visiting Italy, including Rome and Vatican City, for the very first time. I wanted to make sure their experience was as positive as possible.
In researching, I learned about LivItaly Tours. Their Early Entrance Vatican Tour caught my eye. Based on my previous experiences, I realized gaining access to the Museums before they opened to the public was the best idea ever.
How an early entrance Vatican tour works
After booking the tour with LivItaly, you will receive an email with instructions on where to meet your guide and other important details. (As of publishing date, the meeting place is Caffe Vaticano across the street from the Museums.) Another thing worth mentioning about this early entrance Vatican tour is that LivItaly guarantees a maximum of 6 people per group. This makes for a very personalized experience.
After locating our guide, Deborah, she led us into the queue for ticketed guests. While we waited for the doors to open, Deborah explained what we should expect over the next few hours. She had these laminated placards with images of significant exhibits within the Museums. Deborah went over the important points of each exhibit, including the Sistine Chapel, so we went in with some advance knowledge. It helped to know ahead of time what we were looking at and what it all meant. There are two advantages to this approach: 1) we could easily hear everything she said because we were in such a small group; and, 2) the time went by very quickly. Since we were occupied, it seemed we were waiting in that line for just a few minutes.
The typical visit to the Vatican Museums ends with the Sistine Chapel. It is what a good number of visitors want to see the most, and understandably so. But the route through the exhibits and corridors is designed so that visitors can’t just race ahead to the Sistine Chapel and then backtrack. That is unless you’re part of this early entrance Vatican tour. Since we entered the Museums one hour before they opened to the general public, we headed straight for the Sistine Chapel so we may marvel at and enjoy it without throngs of people. As it was my third time witnessing one of the greatest artistic achievements in history, I can say it was the most enjoyable. On my previous visits, we crammed into the chapel, elbow to elbow with hundreds of people. Some were shoving and jockeying for the best position and many had no regard for personal space. With the early entrance Vatican tour, there was plenty of space to gaze upward and take it all in without worrying about being jabbed in the ribs.
We had a set amount of time to spend in the Sistine Chapel. Once it expired, Deborah led us back through the Museums and to the main entrance so we could essentially start over from the beginning. Soon after, the doors opened to the public and in swept a flood of humanity.
Is the early entry Vatican tour with LivItaly worth it?
I answer this question with an emphatic YES. As I’ve stated, this was my third visit to the Vatican Museums and it was way more crowded than I’d previously seen. In some spots, like the Octagonal Courtyard, the crowds blocked the view of most of the sculptures. Luckily, Deborah knew the right places to convene and from where to observe so we could still get a glimpse despite the crowds.
Another advantage is that we had somewhat of a head start on the general public. In certain parts of the Museums, like Raphael’s Rooms, we were the only ones in there. We were able to hear Deborah’s explanations of the masterpieces surrounding us. The absence of large crowds allowed us to fully appreciate and immerse ourselves in the historic grandeur.
I am thankful our time in the Vatican Museums ended when it did. The crowds were beginning to become unbearable. To complete the tour, Deborah led us to St. Peter’s Basilica. There, she pointed out the most significant sections and artworks, like Michelangelo’s Pietà. Shortly after, the tour officially came to an end, but not before Deborah gave us instructions on how to climb to the top of the dome (not included in this tour). We were able to take our time in the Basilica, soaking it all in, before enjoying the sunshine and architecture in St. Peter’s Square.
Lastly, this early entrance Vatican tour runs approximately 3.5 hours. We began at 7:30 am so that means we were finished by 11:00-11:30 am. This allowed us almost a full day afterward to explore more of Rome, which we fully took advantage of.
I certainly hope this wasn’t my last trip to Rome. If and when I do return, and again visit the Vatican Museums, I will not have to think twice about booking the early entrance Vatican tour with LivItaly!
My Early Entrance Vatican Tour with LivItaly was complimentary, and the rest of my traveling party’s was discounted. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, 100% my own. Read full disclosure here.