It's easy to transform a simple trip to the Vatican Museums into a miserable travel experience. Like most people, my friend and I didn't visit this massive institution to see classic statues and holy relics; we went to admire the Sistine Chapel. However, getting to the chapel was easier said than done.
1) You Can’t Enter from St. Peter’s Square
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are right next to each other, but you can’t enter the Vatican Museums through St. Peter’s Square. You have enter and exit in the same place (unless you’re on a special tour), which is on the north side of the Vatican City on Viale Vaticano. If you’re in St. Peter’s Square, you’ll have to exit the square and walk all the way around the wall. It takes about 15 minutes. It’s a pain in the ass.
2) There’s a (Long Ass) Line to Get In
As diva as it sounds, I’m not used to waiting in line at a museum. I usually just walk in, grab my ticket, and get started. Unfortunately, the Vatican Museums have the most ridiculous queues in the world. It's like Six Flags, but the ride is a rollercoaster of emotions.
If you're walking along the eastern wall of the Vatican City and you see a line wrapped around the wall, get in it (unless you already have your tickets). The last thing you want to do is walk all the way around the block to the entrance and then have to backtrack when you realize that the line is indeed for the museum. But of course, always double check to make sure it's the right line. Don't just follow people blindly like sheep.
The wait at the Vatican Museums is only 15-30 minutes early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but during the busy times, you could be waiting up to two hours - especially in the spring and summer. If you don’t want wait in the unforgiving Roman heat, you can buy a (non-refundable) “Skip the Line” ticket on their official website for an extra €4. The additional fee is actually just an online booking fee. Anyone who already purchased a ticket can skip the line and go directly to the “Advance Sales" ticket booth. They'll print off your tickets there.
Make sure you only buy tickets on the Vatican Museums' official ticket site. Do not purchase tickets from people on the street.
3) The Cafe is Sad & Closes Early
By the time we toured St. Peter’s Basilica, walked all the way around the wall to the museum entrance, and waded our way through security, we were starving. We needed fuel immediately. Unfortunately, when we got down to the cafeteria, everything was closed. Our only options were chips and ice cream. So if you plan on eating at the museum, make sure you get there before 3pm.
4) There are a Sh*t Ton of Groups
One of the reasons why the lines are so long is because a boatload of tour groups are constantly being dropped off. I have never seen so many tour groups in one location in my life. We were suffocated by them. It was like a herd of cattle. We didn’t even get to really appreciate the artwork because we were so annoyed by the tour groups.
They also love to stand and block the flow of traffic. There’s only one way traffic moves in the Vatican Museums, so you can either yell at people to get out of the way, or wait for the tour guide to stop ranting on and on. Can you guess which one I chose to do?
5) THERE’S NO AIR CONDITIONING
I don’t know how the art doesn’t melt. It’s so damn hot in that place. They just open these big ass windows and call it good. It may have felt nice if there were only a few groups in each area, but when you’re in the middle of a herd in a standstill, you just wanna die a little.
6) IT’S AN ENDLESS MAZE!!
There are no shortcuts to the Sistine Chapel. You have to walk through every. single. exhibit. to get there. Some tour groups get to cut through a couple of sections, but even then, it’s a loooong journey. I almost turned around and left quite a few times. I honestly didn’t think we were ever going to make it there.
Since we didn't know we couldn't just cut over to the Sistine Chapel, we took our sweet ole time at the beginning in the New Wing. Once we realized we had to go through every exhibit, we started rushing our way through to get to the chapel before the museum closed. Touring the Vatican Museums is like a 20 course meal; the first few courses are exciting, but you quickly realize that you've made a terrible mistake and you just want it to be over. I enjoyed the museum at the start, but I couldn't wait to be free.
Heads Up: If you decide to walk through the New Wing, which houses the papal collection of classic sculptures (which you should!), you'll have to backtrack to get back on course. There’s no outlet. I’m getting upset just thinking about it. It’s not a small wing...
7) There are No Photos Allowed in the Sistine Chapel
After getting squashed by tour groups and sweating our balls off through the labyrinth on empty stomachs, we got to the chapel and realized that we weren't even allowed to take photos or video. (But of course we snuck in a photo. Everyone does.) So if you’re planning on having a photo shoot or setting up some elaborate Instagram shot, I hate to tell you this, but it’s not gonna happen.
It never ends.
So How Long will It take?
If you want to appreciate everything in the Vatican Museums, you're going to need to devote an entire day. Go early in the morning to get a head start on the crowds. You'll actually be able to admire all of the artwork and there won't be tour guide flags and dozens of sweaty people in all of your photos.
If you only want to see the Sistine Chapel, you're still going to need about 2 hours. I estimate that it takes about 45-60 minutes to power walk through the exhibits when it's crowded. I also suggest that you get a ticket in advance and skip the line if you're planning on going during the peak hours. You don't want to be in the line longer than you're in the museum.