Five Tips for Visiting the Vatican Museums in Rome, Italy

The beautiful Pieta by Michaelangelo in St. Peter's Basilica The gilded ceiling of the Gallery of Tapestries The view from the Dome of St. Peter's is magnificent (via thetravellingmom.ca)

I’ve read that it would take ten years to view every item found in the Vatican Museums.

They would surely be worth a trip in themselves if you had the time and the interest, but if you’re travelling with kids, the odds are high you’ll only get one afternoon to absorb all of the magnificent history, art and architecture. Here are our top five tips on maximizing your visit to the Vatican Museums in Rome.

The gilded ceiling of the Gallery of Tapestries The view from the Dome of St. Peter's is magnificent (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Book a Tour

Make the most of that one afternoon and book a guided tour of the Vatican Museums. The scope and sheer size of the collections are simply overwhelming (remember that ten years timeline?). You really don’t want to spend your nose in a guide book reading about the bust of Augustus Ceasar when you could have a real, live art-history grad student telling you all about it instead.

There are a number of excellent tour companies and guides that you can book ahead of time. We pre-booked (and pre-paid) our Vatican tour with Angel Tours Rome, a locally based tour guide service with native English-speaking, highly-trained and licensed guides.

We were a small group, and met our guide at a gift shop in St. Peter’s Square at the appointed hour and day. By booking with a licensed guide, we were able to bypass the regular line-ups (which were long for a Wednesday) and get right into the Museums and started on our tour. As an added bonus, your kids may actually listen better to a stranger telling them interesting historical stories, than you trying to resurrect your art-school class history.

Laocoon and his sons (via thetravellingmom.ca)

After a brief history of St. Peter’s Square, we proceeded directly into the first section of the Museums. We viewed priceless Greek and Roman sculptures, including the incredibly detailed ‘Laocoon‘ (above) and many busts and sculptures of the various Roman emperors. From there we continued through open courtyards into a long hall to view huge maps frescoed on the walls of the Gallery of Maps, depicting all of Renaissance Italy. On a personal note, we found the frescoed map which included the small village in northern Italy where my father was born; it was a very moving experience.

The Gallery of Tapestries holds intricate 16th century tapestries depicting the life of Jesus Christ. There is one in which the eyes of Christ seem to follow you down the hall as you move. You may be amazed, and a little disturbed, by the sensation of being followed by Jesus himself.

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Linger in the Sistine Chapel

Our Angel Tour included the Sistine Chapel, which is part of the vast Museum network. It was a privilege to stand underneath, look up and marvel at all of the magnificent works of Michaelangelo, and learn more about the interesting and curious history of the man himself. Apparently, Michaelangelo didn’t like women, and his art was prone to including people he didn’t like in his artwork in very unflattering poses and positions.

I never would have known any of this fascinating information without the benefit of our Angel Tours Guide, and it really added to the high quality of our Museum visit. We were able to stay for a long time in the Chapel, before exiting to the final part of the Tour, St. Peter’s Basilica. I highly recommend drinking in this famous scene as long as you can. It’s not often we’re able to experience such historic and artistic beauty!

Feeling the brotherly love inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Spend time in St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Christian Church in the world, according to most estimations. There are many works of art to see, including paintings and sculptures such as the ‘Pieta‘ by Michaelangelo, as well as mummified remains of previous popes. Such curiosities may be of particular interest to your kids if they like the morbidly fascinating things like mine do. The impressive ‘baldacchino‘ by Bernini, is made entirely of bronze and stands below the dome and above the alter. It is a focal point in the church as its sheer size dwarfs everything else around it. If you’re a person of faith, the large confessionals are open and there are priests of every culture and language present to hear your Vatican confession. Our ten-year old was moved to take advantage of this unique opportunity and stroke of good timing, as we visited right before Easter.

The view from the Dome of St. Peter's is magnificent (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Climb to the Dome of St. Peter’s

If you’re feeling brave, think about climbing up to the viewing area on the Dome of St. Peter’s. The stairway is narrow, steep and winding, and at one point you cross the interior of the dome to access more staircases – this can be pretty hair-raising if you’re afraid of heights like I am. Luckily, our kids had no problem and practically raced up the stairs. The view of Rome from the roof is spectacular and absolutely worth the climb to get there. You can walk all around the Dome and on a clear day view the entire city and seven hills – perfect for photo opportunities and teenaged selfies.

Visit on the last Sunday of the Month

The Vatican Museums are free to the public on the last Sunday of each month. The line-ups are long, but if you don’t mind the crowds, this is the day to rise and shine early!

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A trip to Rome is incomplete without planning a visit to the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel. These 5 travel tips for visiting the Vatican Museums will help you get the most from your tour of this world heritage site. | Italy travel | thetravellingmom.ca

Photo Credit: C. Laroye

Have you visited Rome and the Vatican Museums? What did you enjoy most? Share your comments below.

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17 Comments

  • We visited the Vatican without kids – and it was a LONG, glorious day! We still could have returned for more. But with children in tow, you’d want to hit the highlights and do so in less time for sure. We climbed the dome at the end of our day, and that was a highlight :-).

    • Claudia says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences at the Vatican Museums! It is a glorious place to visit. I’d love to return and do it all over again.

  • Hi Claudia,

    I really feel booking that tour would be the smart thing to do, kids or no kids 😉 I’ve not been to the Vatican yet but seeing the scope of the place, as well as knowing just a tidbit of historical data, going the tour route would be well worth it. Have to visit one day.

    Fab job with this post!

    Ryan

    • Claudia says:

      So agree, Ryan! The tour director’s knowledge is really valuable and adds so much to the Museum experience. Thanks and cheers!

  • David says:

    Took my wife sans kids in October. We took advantage of the breakfast at the vatican in the pinecone courtyard and got a head-start on exploring before it opened to the public. Absolutely fabulous experience.

  • Diana says:

    I visited Rome and Vatican last year, in may, and it was amazing! I climbed to the Dome…all the stairs!!But the view, worth the effort! Oh, and I saw the Pope too! 🙂

  • Amy says:

    SO agree about booking a tour. This is essential, I think, given the crowds and lines at just about any time of year.

  • Tamara says:

    I would also recommend looking at a preopening tour to avoid the crowds. We’re going to Wednesday morning when the pope is getting his address it’s a little bit less crowded then.

    • Claudia says:

      Great tip, thanks Tamara. Though seeing the Pope is worth attending that free audience without a doubt!

  • One of the world’s amazing places. We did an after-hours tour with Adventures by Disney where we were alone in the Sistine Chapel with a guide. Incredible!

  • Keryn says:

    The Vatican is one of the most incredible museums I’ve ever seen… and I’ve been to the Louvre! Some of my favorite Dali pieces are housed there. Can’t wait to bring the boys!

  • Karen says:

    We literally just got back from our Italy trip today. My husband and I visited the Vatican with our 3 boys. We raced through a lot of the museum but did pay attention to the Hall of Maps and a few other rooms (one of my son’s kept asking if any number of the spectacular rooms we encountered was the Sistine Chapel!). Thank you for sharing the interesting things you learned- we were a little ‘guided out’ at this point in our trip but still had a fabulous time!

    • Claudia says:

      I’m delighted that you visited the Vatican Museums with your boys, and glad that you found our insights of use! It is an amazing place in which you could explore for months, if not years. Enjoy your summer! 🙂

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