We could spend years in Rome and never finish discovering its nooks and crannies. The Eternal City, as its name suggests, always has something new to offer. But since, unfortunately, our holidays and travel times don't last forever, I'll tell you how much time you'll need to visit each of its key points, and I'm sure it will help you organise your visit!
How long does it take to visit the Vatican Museums?
The Vatican Museums are infinite: there are thousands of works, frescoes, busts, statues and galleries where you could spend days. But it is recommended to spend between two and three hours to discover the essential works.
If you buy tickets to the Vatican to discover the museums on your own, first organise which rooms are of most interest to you so that you don't wander aimlessly through the museums. You can also ask for an audio guide at the door to help you find your way around. Personally, I recommend stopping in the room with the maps, the room with the busts and, above all, the Sistine Chapel.
If you join a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, it will usually last between two and three hours. The guide will stop to explain the main rooms and give you an overview of the main artists involved in the creation of the most important works in the museums.
How much time do I need to discover the Sistine Chapel?
It is a diaphanous room full of details and if you want to appreciate them well, I recommend that you buy your ticket to the Sistine Chapel and spend at least 20 to 30 minutes there. If you join a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel (which I recommend 100% to contextualise the works you will see), the guide will give a previous explanation of the most popular Michelangelo's frescoes of the Chapel's vault.
Keep in mind that inside the Chapel you can't talk (nor take pictures) and you have to maintain strict silence, so the guides make the relevant explanations before entering the tour, in front of explanatory panels at the doors of the museum. This helps you to concentrate on the details and appreciate the grandeur of the place.
How long does it take to climb the Dome of St. Peter's?
It will take you at least an hour and a half to climb St. Peter's Dome. To this you will also have to add the waiting time, whether you walk up or use the lift for the section where it is available. Bear in mind that there are many visitors wanting to make the ascent to the Dome every day and the queues can be long.
Bear in mind that the way up is quite narrow and that once at the top you will want to stop (to rest) and enjoy the wonderful views of Rome, so allow about 90 minutes to go up, stop at the top for a while and come back down. Take it easy and think that this is a unique experience that you have to do at least once in your life. I'll tell you more about it here: Climb St. Peter's Dome in Rome.
How much time will I need to tour St. Peter's Basilica?
You will need between 60 and 90 minutes to tour St. Peter's Basilica, whether you do it on your own or join a guided tour. In addition to the enormous dimensions of the nave of the Basilica, as you pass through the temple you will find small chapels, images and true works of art such as Michelangelo's Pietà, a sculpture carved in marble to which you will undoubtedly dedicate several minutes, because it is well worth it.
When you visit St. Peter's Basilica, stop to admire the enormous dome and its details from the inside, as well as the giant bronze Baldachinus (or atrium) in the middle of the Basilica. Depending on the number of visitors on the day, they may set up "lanes" to form a circuit, but if it's not too crowded, you'll be able to move around at your leisure. Also note that the long queues for access, if you haven't booked a guided tour, can take up to two hours or more.
How long does it take to visit the Vatican Necropolis and crypts?
The visit to the Necropolis must always be accompanied by an official Vatican guide and always lasts 90 minutes. It is the perfect time to discover the galleries and to understand the history and rituals of the burials of the Popes.
The site is quite narrow and is considered a very delicate sacred place whose preservation is essential for the Vatican officials, so you will not have the opportunity to wander around the area at your leisure and you will not have any free time during this visit to the Vatican Necropolis and Crypts.
How long will it take me to explore St. Peter's Square?
Access to St. Peter's Square is free and there is no time limit on how long you can spend inside. Personally, I recommend you spend an hour there, walk around the circular colonnade, admire the details of the central obelisk and the fountains that guard it.
I wouldn't rule out buying an ice cream and having it sitting under the spectacular columns while you gaze at the façade of San Pedro. You can also take a break before or after an intense visit to the Basilica or the Museums.
Keep in mind that if you haven't booked a tour of St. Peter's Basilica, you will have to wait in line to enter the church in the middle of the square, which can take up to two hours, so you will have time to see it (even if it's from your place in line!).
How long is the Sunday Papal Audience?
The Papal Audience usually lasts less than an hour. The Pope will go out to greet the pilgrims from the various congregations who gather in St Peter's Square to hear his blessing. During the Audience he usually reads the Gospel and greets the religious groups that are there that day.
Normally, despite booking your ticket for the Papal Audience, you will have to arrive well in advance to get a good spot (although there are usually screens where you can see it bigger), so expect to need to spend a couple of hours on Sunday morning. For more details, check out my guide on how to watch the Papal Audience at the Vatican.
How much time should I spend in total in Vatican City?
If this is your first time in the Vatican and you want to visit at least the Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, you will need at least half a day (you can visit in the morning or in the afternoon). To avoid unnecessarily long visits, plan ahead and book your tickets in advance: you will skip long queues and enter the Museums and the Basilica more rested.
If, in addition to the basic visits, you want to complete your Vatican City experience with a visit to the Dome or a guided tour of the Necropolis, I recommend that you block off a whole day in Vatican City so that you don't have to rush and can enjoy every visit to the fullest.