If you want your visit to Rome to be perfect, one thing you should know before you travel is that organising your visit to the Vatican requires a bit of advance notice. If you want to be more flexible and get there on the day you feel like it, you run the risk of encountering long queues under the sun that will make you enter the Vatican already tired.
To avoid this, the best thing to do is to buy your Vatican tickets online and with enough time in advance. Here's what to look out for:
Get skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican
As much as you like to be spontaneous and flexible during your travels, the best thing to do when visiting the Vatican is to buy your Vatican tickets as early as possible.
If you do it online, you will have several advantages: you will be able to compare different prices (depending on whether you want to buy a standard ticket, with audio guide or with professional guide), you will have the possibility to cancel them for free if something unexpected happens and most importantly, you will skip the queues.
The prices between the website and the Vatican ticket office do not need to vary if you know where to buy and if you allow me a tip: try to avoid by all means having to queue at the ticket office. The long lines go all the way around the Vatican City Walls. It is an area with no shadows and waiting in the sun can be exhausting.
Skip the lines throughout the Vatican with the best value for money
If you are determined to buy your tickets in advance and online, you have two options: get the standard ticket on the official website of the Vatican for 17 ¤ (with the disadvantage that you will have to choose the exact date and you will not have the right to changes or cancellations) or complete the day with a guided tour of the Vatican with an official guide for just over 40 ¤ with Hellotickets.
With this guided tour of Hellotickets you will not only skip the queues at the Vatican Museums, but you will also have preferential access to St. Peter's Basilica and you will not need to wait again the long queues to enter the temple. This is the most convenient option if you want to make a complete visit to Vatican City.
Skip the lines to visit the Sistine Chapel on a Premium guided tour
If as well as skipping the queues at the Vatican you want a much more premium experience, there is an Early Bird option so you can visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning and before it opens to the general public.
Yes, yes, you read that right: every morning, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel open their doors so that a privileged group of visitors can enter the Museums and, accompanied by an expert guide, discover the wonders of the Vatican in silence, in a much more relaxed and authentic atmosphere.
The price is obviously higher than the standard guided tour (it costs just over €100 on Hellotickets), but believe me it's worth it. Visiting the Vatican without the crowds is unique. Here are all the details you need to take into account to organise your visit to the Sistine Chapel.
Enter St. Peter's Basilica without queuing up (yes, you can!)
St. Peter's Basilica is free to enter and you can enter without a ticket, but as you can imagine, the queues are very long and there are no shady spots inside St. Peter's Square either.
So, a great option is to book a tour of St. Peter's Basilica (it lasts about 60-90 minutes) and this will allow you to enter the Temple together with your guide, so you will have priority access and won't have to wait in the long queues.
Another option is to buy the standard guided tour of the Vatican, which not only includes the Museums and the Sistine Chapel, but also takes you to see St. Peter's Basilica, and of course, without queuing.
How to avoid the crowds at the Vatican
It is clear that buying your tickets online and in advance, avoiding the long queues at the ticket offices, will allow you a quicker and more direct access to the Museums and the Basilica. However, if you also want to enjoy a quiet visit, I recommend you avoid weekends and public holidays.
Fridays are also very busy days at the Vatican and on Wednesday afternoons, if the Pope holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square, there are also more people than usual in and around the Square. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday mornings and Thursdays are the best days to visit.
Also, if you can, avoid long weekends and religious holidays, where in addition to international tourism there are usually large groups of pilgrims, religious congregations and a lot of national tourism.
Also watch out for Christmas and Easter, when the Vatican becomes the epicentre of Catholic celebrations and, in addition to finding more people than usual, some days the Vatican may close its doors to celebrate a special Mass, such as the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or Easter.
I have written a guide with these and other practical tips for visiting the Vatican that you can consult when you are organising your visit.
Skip the queues at the Colosseum too by buying a combined Vatican + Colosseum ticket
Surely during the planning of your trip to Rome, besides the Vatican, you are thinking about visiting the Colosseum as well (which I highly recommend). If so, you're in luck, because there is a combined ticket option for the Colosseum and the Vatican that saves you time and money.
The ticket includes an official guided tour of both sites and, of course, priority access without having to queue at either the Colosseum or the Vatican.