Vatican Museum opening hours, closures, and last entry times can be confusing! Displaying more than 20,000 works of art and including the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum is crowded and a bit chaotic. Plan ahead for your visit and pre-book online express skip-the-line tickets a few months before your visit. There are various special entry options that will give you entry before the general public opening hours. Here are the best times and opening hours to visit and everything you need to book to see the Vatican museum.
When to go
As you might expect, the Vatican Museum(s) is busiest when the weather is nicest. That means the museums are particularly busy between April and October.
The best time to visit the museum, therefore, is from November to March when the number of tourists is somewhat reduced. As you are inside, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing outside (except if you want to spend time in the Vatican Gardens!)
An added issue, however, is the holidays at this time of year. Try to avoid the major holidays, especially around Christmas in Rome.
Also try to avoid weekends in high season when all of Rome’s attractions are packed!
Vatican Museum Opening Hours and Opening Days
Tip: Although parts of Vatican City may be stated as open, such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Gardens, or even St. Peter’s Square, in reality, this is a working precinct for the Pope and his Cardinals and so the Square may be closed because the Pope is giving a Mass or an Audience. The Basilica opening might be restricted to the sides and back of the building because a mass may be occurring. There will be no entrance from the Vatican Museums to the Vatican Gardens when there is a mass being said in St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican museum is open Monday to Saturday, from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm. There are extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays during peak season when they are open from 8.30 am to 10.30 pm.
Be careful with opening times: the last entry to the Vatican Museum is two hours before closing.
Sistine Chapel opening hours and early closing time
The Sistine Chapel has the same opening hours as the Vatican museums, but it closes at 6.00 pm – half an hour before the rest of the Vatican museums.
Generally, the museums are busiest from late morning to early afternoon, so you might find it less crowded either first thing or late afternoon (just not on Sundays!) I like to see some of the major sites, just popping in before the last admission time if I’ve been before and there are a few specific things I’ll head straight toward. I wouldn’t advise entering just ahead of final entry if it’s your time at the Vatican.
Tip: You can exit the Vatican Museum into the Vatican gardens to take some time out, and then head back the same way you came, past the public bathrooms and the cafeteria.
Free Entry Opening Days
On the last Sunday of the month, the Vatican Museums are open and entrance is free – but this obviously attracts the crowds, so beware, bargain hunters!
If you want to take advantage of being able to visit the Vatican free of charge, then, of course, this is the time to go, but if you want minimal crowds – stay away on the last Sunday of the month!
There are no guided tours on the last Sunday of each month.
2023 Calendar of Vatican Museums Opening Hours, Days & Closures
Here are the official opening hours and closures for you to plan when to visit the Vatican Museums in 2023, including all the extraordinary openings and public holidays.
Vatican Gardens – opening days are the same except for the days when the Pope conducts mass in the Basilica, and opening times are mid-late morning only.
How to book an official ticket or guided tour
Booking a ticket is one of the more intimidating parts of visiting the Vatican museums but it’s really very easy if you do it from the comfort of home and it means you can plan other Rome experiences on the same day.
The most important tip is not to go to the museums without booking in advance. Hundreds of people continue to head for the ticket office every day, so the lines are extremely long. Expect a waiting time that is regularly about 2 hours – and that’s just for the ticket line – next is the security check line (which is, for the Basilica at least (another hour or so).
The Vatican’s official site has a booking system with adult “skip the line” tickets at €17 (plus €4 booking fee). There are also a number of concessions for children, students, etc.
It’s important to book tickets as soon as you have chosen your desired date for visiting because they do sell out. Part of the problem with securing a ticket is that often travelers are only in Rome for a few days, and the Vatican Museums may be closed on one or more of those days.
And it’s worth bearing in mind that this is the no-frills option. Such is the immensity of the museums, you might get a lot more out of your visit with a tour guide or audio guide.
I have NEVER been able to score one of the official tickets. I always buy a skip-the-line ticket several months before I will be arriving in Rome. Get Your Guide tickets are fully refundable if you cancel 24 hours before your entrance time, so I often book several so that I can be flexible about my days when I’m in Rome. If you’re going to do this, make sure you set a diary alert to cancel each ticket more than 24 hours before their admission time.
Some users also complain that the Vatican’s site is not user-friendly, and so resort to using tour operators even for the basic tickets. These are the three most popular express ticket entrances for the Vatican Museums and including the Sistine Chapel. Together these three tickets are booked several hundred times each day. They are fully cancellable up until 24 hours before your visit.
Tour operators also offer “last minute” tickets at increased prices – a good emergency option if you were not able to book in advance.
Ticket Bundles or Combos
As well as the Vatican Museums, some tickets give you entrance to some of Rome’s other top attractions: be careful with these. While they help you avoid the aggravation of booking tickets on various sites and apps, they might not offer you savings.
Here are the best three Rome bundles:
The city itself offers the Roma Pass, but this does not include the Vatican Museums, and at €32 for two days, it basically offers one free entrance to a site, unlimited travel, and discounts. Do the math before you buy!
The Best Value Vatican Ticket Bundles
Especially if it’s your first time to visit the Vatican, it’s unlikely that you’d only want to see St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, or the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.
If you’ve gone through all the hassle of getting to the Vatican at a time and day when it’s not completely seething with tourists, it’s open, and there are tickets available then you may as well go the extra mile and get fantastic bundles tickets to see everything in a half day.
The Sistine Chapel is of course a MUST-SEE (hint: I bring mini binoculars to Rome just so I can start up at the ceiling!), but so too is St. Peter’s Basilica
These are the three best-value Vatican Ticket Bundles and they’re by far the most popular and time-efficient way to visit Vatican City, its museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica:
Like all of Rome’s blockbuster attractions, there are extraordinary openings or VIP tours when, for a price, you can explore parts of Vatican City without the crowds. Here are the best of them:
What to see
And now the fun part! Deciding what to see.
First things first, visiting Vatican City isn’t the same as visiting the Vatican Museums. You can enter Vatican City for free and walk around St Peter’s Square – where the Pope addresses the faithful in his Papal Audience.
St Peter’s Basilica is also free entry – although it’s best to book a free ticket in advance because numbers are limited.
St Peter’s Basilica
So, a word about St Peter’s Basilica before we make it to the museums!
St Peter’s Basilica is believed to have been built on the site where Peter, Jesus’ disciple, was crucified. There is even a relic of the Chair of St Peter, a wooden chair preserved in a gilt bronze casing.
And Michelangelo might be most associated with the Sistine Chapel, but his hand in St Peter’s Basilica is very evident. Make sure you see La Pietà, his moving sculpture of the Virgin Mary bearing the dead body of her son.
The Basilica began in the 4th century as a church and over the centuries became dilapidated until Pope Nicholas V decided to build a larger new church on the site. But in the end, it was art-loving Pope Julius II (who donated his private collection to the Vatican), who decide to demolish the Basilica and commissioned Michelangelo to produce an extraordinary dome – and boy did he deliver for Pope Julius II!
It is worth noting that there is a strict Vatican dress code that applies to both the Basilica and all the museums: shoulders and knees should be covered, as should tattoos. Caps and hats are to be removed, and any ripped or transparent clothing is off-limits.
If you have booked a tour, even those that just get you through security and then leave you, you will be denied entry or made to buy a large scarf to wear as a skirt.
The entry line to the Basilica loops around Vatican City – it’s the longest entry line in the Eternal City!
The chapel is actually the last room in the Vatican Museums but is obviously number one on anyone’s list.
One of the most famous artistic sites in the world, the Sistine Chapel was consecrated in 1483, and then took some 25 painstaking years to complete.
It can in no way be described as minimalistic! The sheer quantity of artworks rather floods the senses, which is another reason why a guide – either a human or audio one – can really help you not to feel overwhelmed.
The two most famous frescos book-end all existence.
The Creation of Adam is immediately recognizable. One of the most imitated and parodied works in the world has the Father conferring the gift of life through his fingertips to his first creation.
The Last Judgement, on the other hand, depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment of all humanity. It doesn’t come much more epic in scale.
Michelangelo painted the first in his early 30s and the second in his 50s, so it is not outrageous to wonder if the contemplation of his own mortality influenced him.
The chapel is not exclusively the work of Michelangelo, and you can find frescos by many masterful contemporaries of his, including Botticelli.
The Raphael Rooms
While Michelangelo is the undisputed main draw for visitors, his best-known disciple Raphael is arguably a close second.
The Raphael Rooms consist of four rooms that exhibit some of Raphael’s major works.
Perhaps most notable of all is the Stanza della Segnatura. Here, Raphael’s four paintings represent the concept of theology, poetry, justice, and philosophy.
The last of these are depicted in The School of Athens. This fresco depicts a lively congregation of Greek citizens with Aristotle and Plato holding court at the center of them.
In a lighter touch, Raphael is thought to have included a portrait of Donato Bramante, one of the inspirations for the piece, a young duke of Mantua – and himself.
The Gallery of Maps
If Rome is a region we associate with an all-encompassing world empire, it is perhaps natural that it should be the home of The Gallery of Maps (Galleria delle carte geografiche).
This is possibly my favorite gallery! These maps, commissioned in 1580, chart every region of Italy and feature detailed perspective paintings of their main cities.
The precision is startling – the maps are said to be more than 80% accurate.
Like the Chiaramonti museum, the setting itself is breathtaking. The 120m-long gallery is on the west side of the belvedere courtyard, and its incredibly ornate ceiling of the gallery transports the visitor to a time of opulence.
Just as the Sistine Chapel was largely the pet project of one genius, here Ignazio Danti spent three years completing the 40 panels of the amazing Gallery of Maps.
Gregorian Egyptian Museum
While many of the treasures of the Vatican Museums are a testament to its place at the heart of Christendom, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, opened in 1839, houses a collection of pieces from both Egyptian-influenced Rome and Roman Egypt.
While the British Museum’s Egyptian collection was built on a more recent pillaging, the majority of the pieces here were brought to Rome at the behest of Emperors. One example is Hadrian, who furnished his villa in Tivoli with pieces from Egypt, which have since found their way to the Vatican.
Pope Pius VI and Pope Clement XIV created the Vatican’s most important museum for Greek works in addition to medieval mosaics and ceramics and 15th and 16th-century Flemish tapestries.
The Chiaramonti Museum is set out in a loggia – a long covered courtyard – which makes for a picturesque setting that belies the tumultuous past of its exhibits.
In 1797, Napoleon ordered the Papal States to hand over most of the masterpieces in the Pio Clementino Museum to France. Almost ten years later, a campaign combining diplomacy and financial firepower began as the Vatican City attempted to recover as many of the works as possible.
While the museum is named after Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti, it was sculptor Antonio Canova who worked the diplomatic lines and set out the pieces to showcase the three sister arts of sculpture, architecture, and painting.
Two years before opening the Egyptian Museum, Pope Gregory XVI inaugurated this museum dedicated to antiques from the ancient region of Etruria, to the northwest of Rome, after many excavations in the 1830s uncovered important artifacts in the area.
Previously discovered pieces from Etruria were added to bolster the collection, which was further enhanced by acquisitions in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The works allow visitors to trace the history of the Etruscan people from 9th century B.C. until the 1st century B.C. when this civilization was swallowed up by the expanding Roman state.
This convergence of two civilizations is also demonstrated by the area showing Roman antiquities from up to the 5th century A.D. which were produced in former Etruscan cities.
Final Thoughts on visiting the Vatican Museums
As you can see, apart from the must-see Sistine Chapel, there is plenty to see when you visit the Vatican Museums, so choose your dates and times wisely, book a tour that at the least gives you express entry, and then be blown away by the hand of Michelangelo and the other great painters and sculptors whose work is exhibited here.