Home >> Europe >> Touring the Sistine Chapel … Step by Step Instructions [A travel memory]

Touring the Sistine Chapel … Step by Step Instructions [A travel memory]

I forgot how annoying the whole Sistine Chapel experience was for me … so here is a complete breakdown of my process.

Step by Step instructions on how to visit the Sistine Chapel

  1. Always check the website for the Vatican Museums for current Chapel hours, prices and special closures. I would also check the Rome tourism site (www.romaturismo.com). The museum inquiries number (0039 06 6988 4947) can be helpful, but there is not always an English speaker available. Operating hours do vary, so it’s important that you make sure that the Chapel will be open when you plan to go – assume that the chapel will be closed for every Christian holiday.
    • Also everything in Italy will cost you some money … check the prices of tickets and budget for your trip to the Sistine Chapel when planning your daily expenses. Entrance on the last Sunday of each month is free, but you can count on spending a decent amount of money on any other day.
  2. What are the best days to go to the Vatican? (I’ve taken this from Ron in Rome)
    • Everyone has an opinion on this! My “best” two days are Tuesday and Thursday. This is more a process of elimination.
    • Never go on FREE SUNDAYS unless you enjoy being herded like cattle. On a free Sunday, the Museum is open from 9:00 AM, with last entry at 12:30 PM. The Museum then closes at 2:00 PM and starts chasing people out at 1;30 PM. I’ve seen people wait in line 2+ hours on FREE SUNDAY… only to be subjected to the BIGGEST crowds ever inside the Museum. NO THANKS!
    • Avoid Mondays because the Museums are usually closed on Sunday so folks with limited time in town HAVE to go on Monday. I say avoid Wednesdays if the Pope is in town and doing a Papal Audience.
    • The Museums are LESS crowded in the AM while he is speaking, but then the 10,000 – 25,000 people at the outdoor Papal Audience head for the Museums and Basilica when he is finished, so it can get very crowded. Also, while he is doing the outdoor audience, the RIGHT side door of the Sistine Chapel is locked because you are not allowed to go to the Basilica (It’s closed while he is addressing the crowd) – security issues! Saturday is the day that many Italians come into town and they go to the Museums so that day lines tend to be longer…
    • So that leaves Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday… in that order! If you go in the afternoon, you’ll probably never have to wait in line. I usually plan to enter the Museums about 12 noon – 1300 (1 PM). The last entry is 1600 (4 PM) and you can stay in the Museums until 1800 (6 PM), but they will start herding you to the exits about 1730 (5:30 PM). Do make sure you get to the Sistine Chapel before 1725 (5:25 PM) or your stay will be VERY brief!
  3. Buy your tickets online and plan to get there well before the Chapel is scheduled to close. I don’t normally heed these type of instructions but for such a popular attraction, they stop admitting people long before the actual closing time (in order to make sure everyone gets through in time)
    • There are often long queues at the entrance – even at opening time. As a rule of thumb, if the line has reached the corner of Viale Vaticano, it takes about half an hour to reach the door. You stand a much better chance of walking straight in if you visit in the afternoons (though note opening times below).
  4. Assume that your tour of the Vatican Museums will take about 2 hours, and this is if you’re not into art. Even if you try to rush through the entire thing to check it off your list, you can’t help but find one thing that will capture your imagination. As for the Sistine Chapel, since it is at the end of the museums, actually getting to the Chapel and then going back to the exit takes a long time.

  5. IMPORTANT : Wear proper attire for your visit: shorts, mini skirts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed. This is a very important point to keep in mind, as they will refuse entry to those not dressed properly – I’ll explain …
    • Rules in Italy are inconsistently and randomly enforced … no shit Sherlock! However, if there is a place where the DRESS RULES are enforced, it’s at the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. You do not want to pre-purchase tickets, or wait in line, only to be told at the the door you cannot enter! The guidelines are fairly – FOR MEN AND WOMEN – Shoulders and knees must be covered. If you wear a sun dress bring a shawl or scarf to cover your shoulders. Tights seem to be okay. But don’t wear a tank top and shorts and expect to get in. They are adamant about enforcing these rules!
    • Many websites will tell you that the “rules” are different for the Vatican Museums than they are for St. Peter’s Basilica. Yes and No! If you are going from the Museum to the Basilica the “back way” then you will have to dress correctly, as the rules are MORE adamantly enforced at the Basilica.
    • Don’t make the mistake. Like most rules in Italy, it depends on who is enforcing them at the door … and once you’ve been “told NO,” they will not back down. Debating will not work!
  6. Prepare to be uncomfortably crowded when you finally make it into the Chapel, no matter what time of day you go.
    • One of the reasons the crowds are so bad is that the famous sights are crammed into relatively small spaces – the Raphael Rooms, the Sistine Chapel and the Octagonal Court are virtually always busy.
    • Seriously consider visiting in the winter months – it won’t be quiet, but there is less chance of being shoulder-barged while you attempt to enjoy the frescos.
    • You can also reduce the problem by visiting the quieter galleries and museums (the Etruscan, the Pinacoteca, for example) at peak times, and heading for the high points towards the end of the day.

  7. The signs are confusing … get over it, just ask a guard when you see one. Note that while there are tons of signs saying “No Photos”  … if you use your cameras without flash, you should be fine.

    There are hundreds of tourists visiting the Chapel and other Vatican Museums at any given time, so being shoved and prodded is all but unavoidable

  8. As for taking photos, I would assume that the lighting is poor and taking photos in sepia and monotone will come out great.

  9. You would figure that the museum takes in tens of millions of euros in entrance fees every year, how they could not spend a couple thousand to actually label stuff in there or provide a decent handbook … but they don’t. In fact, I would say that the labelling of thing is a completely clusterfuck. Take your phone and download a Vatican app or print something online that tells you more or get an audio guide at the desk downstairs. Don’t line up at the front – there are two more desks at the top of the escalators.

If you want to see the Sistine Chapel ONLY : Many people say I do not want to see the Museums, just the Sistine Chapel.

  • In order TO GET to the Sistine Chapel you have to walk through the museums . (I’ve taken this from Ron in Rome)
  • But you can use another “shortcut.” After you’ve walked, and walked, and walked… you’ll go through the Gallery of Maps (the Map Room), and after exiting, you will go through another room of Tapestries… then you’ll come to a dead end… Directly in front of you is an doorway with an undecorated hallway. This is the DIRECT path to the Sistine Chapel. Most other folks will be turning LEFT and heading to the Raphael Rooms from which they will take a seemingly endless trek back to the Sistine Chapel. But if you GO STRAIGHT from the Gallery of Maps room, through the Tapestry room, and into this doorway, you’ll go through an unspectacular hallway and end up just outside the Sistine Chapel… so if you’re looking for the fastest path, this is the way!
  • On the other hand, if you want to see the Raphael Rooms (which I recommend) then take a left at in this tapestry room and follow the crowd. You will walk through the incredibly beautiful paintings of Raphael (probably packed with people…) and then you will take a circuitous route and end up at a set of stairs BELOW the Sistine Chapel. Be warned. The Raphael Rooms are GREAT but you will have to walk , and walk, and walk up and down stairs through the modern art wing of the Palace if you take this route. This walk takes 8-10 minutes AFTER you leave the Raphael Rooms.

About rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a PeopleSoft HRMS Project Manager and Oracle Solution Architect. Over the past 10+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 2 major consulting firms. He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @Rishiray and on Facebook. He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at rishi@rishiray.com
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