Vatican Museum – “Skip-The-Line” or Not?

No doubt one of the most hotly debated topics on any Rome travel board is the question: Do I pay extra and purchase a “skip-the-line” ticket or do I chance it and wait in line to get into the Vatican Museum? There are many stories of 2-3 hours lines to get into the Museum and these “tales” persist into 2012. If you’re aware of the line patterns you may not need the “skip the line” feature… it’s all a matter of timing! I do understand your pain and apprehension. Our first trip to Rome many, many years ago we waited in line 2+ hours to get in. Since then, I’ve never waited!

The answer really depends on what month you are coming to Rome, what day of the week you plan on seeing the Museums, and what time of day you plan to enter. Add to that a few other variables – such as holidays and large tour groups – and you can see how difficult it is to answer this question. As a disclaimer I’ll say that my perspective is based on my experience living next door to the entrance to the Vatican Museums for a few years… but on “any given day” things can happen!

Living here, and so close to the Museum, I get asked often, “Do you purchase “skip-the-line” tickets?” The answer is, “NO, I rarely have and probably rarely will.” Why not? I guess mainly because I CAN come back later in the day… or the next day. Travelers on fixed schedules do not have that flexibility.




Some things to Consider

Since 2008 the Vatican Museums have moved to extended hours.
With the exception of “Free Sundays,” the Vatican Museums are open from 9 AM – 6 PM. The last entry into the museums is at 4 PM. These hours are far different than back in 2003, 2004, etc. when I first came. And also far different than when folks who write of the 3-hour lines were here. Frankly, other than “Free Sundays” we just do not get those 3-hour lines anymore. In the picture below, taken in 2005, you can see the hours of operation were from 8:45 AM to 3:20 PM. The extended hours and better organization of the tour groups, implemented by the new director, Mr. Antonio Paolucci, in 2008 have really cut down the length of the lines!

vatican old signSign outside the entrance to the Vatican Museum, circa 2005

The last Sunday of every month the Vatican Museums are open and FREE! Naturally, as it is free, there are huge crowds on these days, and there is no skip-the-line system in place. I would strongly suggest to avoid “Free Sundays.” The Museums become a cattle run! Some folks wait in lines for hours and still do no get in as they limit the entry times to 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and then close the Museums at 2:00 PM. In addition, it’s so crowded in there you can’t even move – Hardly the best way to see the art and treasures of the Vatican Museums. Spend the €15 (eff. Jan 2010) and “see” the Museus, rather than be carried by the “tide” of folks who swarm on “Free Sundays!”

The next “busiest” days are always Mondays.
Except for the last Sunday, Monday always follows a day when the museum is closed. Thus, folks who have limited time in Rome seem to always come on Mondays! So Mondays are very crowded and lines often run to later in the afternoon during season.

Saturdays are the NEXT busiest day because the locals go to the museum on that day …. and if the Pope is in town, avoid Wednesdays, because the Papal Audience draws a larger crowd… who then go to the museum!

Thus the best days to go
are Thursday, Tuesday, and Friday, probably in that order. If there’s a holiday during the week you come, those “trends” go right out the window… You’ll have to adjust accordingly. Days immediately before and immediately after closure days (Sundays and church holidays) are the busiest. If you’re coming During Holy Week in Easter or at Christmas, it might be better to reserve a spot… Again, I’ve gone in the afternoons during both those periods and not waited in line!

If you go in the afternoon MOST DAYS, you will have NO WAIT!
That’s correct – NO WAIT! In the off season, you can get in the Vatican Museums after 11 AM on most weekdays with no wait. On a Saturday or Monday, the lines are often gone by 1 PM. During the summer, it’s perhaps around 2 PM (or earlier) when all the lines die down.

The Vatican sells “skip the line tickets”
The Vatican sells their own ticket are you can go with a “Vatican-approved” vendor. These vendors sell them directly to you, or daily, these vendors will sell the “tickets” to “unapproved” vendors who do not have a contract with the Vatican. In 2008, the Vatican decided they could capture more income by selling these directly to the public. The result – MORE “skip the line” tickets are being sold than ever before. One downside, this does create lines for the “popular” entry times – which are 09:00 – 11:30.

*Each hour* the Vatican was allowing 1300-1500 people to use the “skip the line” feature. As a result, 1500 tickets were sold to outside vendors. These folks are admitted BEFORE the “general public” who is waiting in line along the wall of Vatican City. With people now buying through the Vatican, the Vatican ticket office opened up more slots each hour for “skip the line.” How will this play in June or July – no one knows. Folks are buying Vatican slots at 2 PM and waiting in line to pick up their “skip the line” tickets and there IS NO ONE WAITING IN THE general admission line. It would appear the Vatican is “up in sales” this year and fostering a “fear of the line” IS GOOD for business. You’ll see many post reinforcing this position on travel boards – most often from folks who were here 2-3 years ago, prior to the extended hours now in place.

The Vatican Museums open at 9:00 AM and last entry is at 4:00 PM. Closing is at 6:00 PM, although they start herding you about 5:30 PM. In the morning, all the tour groups who have BOUGHT ALL the “skip-the-line” tickets bring their groups… The result, 1300+ people who have pre-paid get preferred admittance. Thus, the general admission line forms as these folks are let in FIRST… that is why I never go early! Tour Groups like to go early so they can do afternoon and evening tours at other sites and increase revenue.

You might be “approached” as you near the Museums
to “take a tour with us, starting in just 15 minutes…” Avoid those tours. These folks are called “gatherers” and work on a commission basis for almost anyone! If you want a tour, go through a reputable vendor or someone you know!

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to “pay.”
Here’s why: I live just down the stairs from the entrance and this is where groups often form up. One day I was walking home and saw a group of about 20 British and American tourists on the steps. I struck up a conversation with them and asked, “Why are you here on the steps? (It was about 1 PM). They said they had purchased the “skip the line” feature and were waiting for the other 5 people on the list (WHO THEY DID NOT EVEN KNOW) to come so they could all get their entry passes from the “skip the line” vendor. I asked did they know where the entrance was? They said, “Not really,” as they were told, via internet and phone, to meet here.

I turned them around, pointed across the street and showed them the entrance…. At that time of day, THERE WAS NO LINE! Because they had read so much about the terrible lines – and did not know where the entrance was – they were standing across the street, paying an extra €15 to avoid a line that did not exist! Needless to say they were pretty frustrated. For this extra €15 they were not even getting a tour – just an entry…. past a line that did not exist…

Make adjustments if necessary!
I met some ladies on the Metro last week (SATURDAY!) who were totally lost. I asked them where they were headed and they said to the Vatican Museum & Basilica as this was their only day in town. I told them it was my stop and near my house and would walk them over. We got there and the line was down and around Piazza Risorgimento – at least an hour wait. They felt terrible; it was their only day… So I took them to St. Peter’s Basilica – we did about a 1.5 hour tour and then headed for the Museum. At 11:30 AM we arrived and there were NOW about 3 people in line. We went in and stayed until after 5 PM. They had A GREAT time and left having seen EVERYTHING they wanted to see… So again, it’s a matter of timing!

ViatorViatorVatican Line 1Picture taken 9:30 AM on a Monday morning

There are times you may need to purchase a skip-the-line ticket… and this advice is coming from a person who probably never will purchase one…

  1. If you are here during a holiday week, Holy Week, Christmas, or a week in which the Vatican Museum is closed one or perhaps two days, buy a skip-the-line ticket.
  2. If you have only one day to get to the Vatican Museums (and especially if it’s a Monday), then it may be best for you to purchase a ticket.
  3. If you’ve traveled 5,000 miles and you feel this is your only chance and your schedule is so compressed that this decision is driving you nuts, certainly buy a ticket
  4. If you must have everything planned out to the last minute, then Yep, buy the ticket
  5. If you’re going to take a guided tour, certainly make sure the vendor has a skip-the-line feature as one of the benefits of buying their tour.
  6. If you want to go into the Vatican Museums between 9 AM and 10:30 AM during peak season, you’ll probably need the ticket.

There are many vendors on line – Google “skip-the-line Vatican” – and thus you will have many options. The Vatican Museum tickets are €15 (eff. Jan 2010). The skip-the-line feature adds €4 more – so if you do not want a tour with your ticket, make sure you’re only paying €19. Perhaps one of the better sites now is to go directly to the source, the Vatican. Their ticket site is here: Online Ticket Office of the Vatican Museums. There are also many vendors who sell tours. Some of the most popular include these Viator options.



What about the line at St. Peter’s Basilica?

st peterThe line at St. Peter’s Basilica

In St. Peter’s Square, there is often a line to enter the Basilica. This is unfortunately an unavoidable line if you’re only going to the Basilica, Cupola, or Tombs. This line is the security line as the Basilica is Free. But you, and the thousands of other folks lined up, must all go through the X-Ray machines.

Despite 8-10 units available, usually only two or three are manned so you just have to wait in line. The good news is the line moves very fast and even if it is”wrapped” all the way around through the colonnades, it will be usually be less than 30 minutes. Often, much quicker than that!

You can also “skip” this line…. if you’re purchasing a ticket to the Museum. One you’ve completed your Vatican Museum Tour you will come to the Sistine Chapel. There you will have two doors to exit. The door on the left (with the “Last Judgment” at your back) will take you back into the Museum through the Library – Great if you want to do more exploring of the Museum treasures. The door on the RIGHT will take you the back way to St. Peter’s Basilica. Yes, it says for groups only but I often go this way and rarely is it ever manned. Or just fall in with a group leaving! (NOTE – As of late, many visitors are reporting that the “group”only policy is being randomly enforced so FYI).

Vatican-line Sistine Chapel

You will head down a marble staircase and exit outside the Chapel, adjacent to St. Peter’s – AND BEHIND THE SECURITY LINE. (Pictured above) Walk down the stairs on the left of this picture and you are in the Portico that fronts the Basilica. (The line you see on the right is headed to the Tombs – also free.) So this is a great way to avoid the lines if you are going to the Museum first!



Good Luck!

Again, there are many “skip-the-line” options out there. If you can go in the afternoon, you will save some money and frustration, and you can walk right in. The Vatican Museums are a wonderful group of Museums with many, many miles of corridors. There is plenty of art and history for all to enjoy! I’ll be one of the folks entering the Museum after 11:30 AM but if your time is limited, or your schedule requires you to go on one of the busier days, consider any of these skip-the-line tours:

Skip the Line: Vatican Museums Tour of Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and St Peter’s
Skip the Line: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Half-Day Walking Tour
Skip the Line: Vatican Museums Tickets
Skip the Line: Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Tour
Skip the Line Private Tour: Vatican Museums Walking Tour
Skip the Line Private Tour: Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Art History Walking Tour
Private Viewing of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums

Header: 360° Panorama Piazza San Pietro – Photo by SEIMA


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112 Responses to Vatican Museum – “Skip-The-Line” or Not?

  1. Pingback: The Vatican Museums | New LatiDude

  2. Ajay says:

    Hi Ron,

    Just wanted to thank you for your advice on going to the Vatican museums around the afternoon time. It worked brilliantly for us. We were slightly late at 1:50 – 2:00 pm…and we were the only people entering. We walked straight to the Sistine Chappell like we wanted to and spent one hour in there until they were closing.


  3. Carolyn says:

    Dear Ron,

    Thank you for your advice. You probably don’t remember, but my husband and I were on a cruise ship with a one-day stop in Civitavecchia on May 24. We were planning to take the train into Rome, tour the Vatican Necropolis, tour the Vatican Museum, and return to the port on the train.

    Everything worked out fine. We arrived at the Vatican earlier than expected and had time to tour St. Peter’s while it was mostly empty. The necropolis tour ended in the Vatican Grottos, but the usual exit was locked (the Grottos were closed that day); the guide had to take us through the Grottos exit on the north side of the basilica.

    The necropolis tour ended at 11:55 a.m. and it took 15 minutes to reach the Vatican Museum entrance. We had made reservations for 12:30 p.m. in case there was a long line. Even though we were 20 minutes early, we were immediately admitted to the museum.

  4. Ron in Rome says:

    Nathalie, It is possible to do ALL those “sites” in one day, but you’ll be tired. After the Scavi, you can certainly re-visit the Basilica.

  5. Nathalie says:

    Hello Ron,

    very good website. We are going to Rome the last week of August. Sunday is the free entrance day, so I was thinking of going on Monday. Do you think I can clime the copula at 8AM, be at the museums at 10AM with a skip the line ticket, and do my scavi tour that I have booked at 3PM. We do linger alot in museums and chuches though. I was thinking of doing the basilica either before the visits (7AM) of after the scavi tour (4.30PM). What do you think of this? I have to work around the scavi tour that has already been booked.


  6. Ron in Rome says:

    Ricky, you are probably better off going on Friday rather than Saturday… but that may depend on if you’re there during a holiday. After 12 noon, again depending on what month you’re headed there, there will be fewer if any lines on a Friday.

  7. Ricky says:

    Hi Ron,

    Just want to say thanks for the wonderful website you have here. Lots of valuable info.
    I have a question about visiting the Basilica and climbing the Cupola. I am only able to visit Basicilica on a Friday Afternoon or on a Saturday. Which day should I pick? and what time should i be going to avoid the crowds. Thx

  8. Ron in Rome says:

    Sarah, yes – I would buy a skip the line ticket if you plan to go in the AM. If the Vatican site is “sold out” you might try a vendor like Viator… Good Luck!

  9. Ron in Rome says:

    Grace, June 6th is not a holiday for the Vatican (or Italy) so “general” rules apply. If the Pope has an Audience, the Museums may be less empty early, but this is peak season… so the decision is your’s as to whether to buy a “skip the line” ticket.

  10. Ron in Rome says:

    Tony, yes the same rules apply, although the lines do run later into the day. Generally, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the “least” busy days – but summer is always busy!

  11. Tony says:

    Ron, your website is brilliant! Thank you!

    I’m going to Rome with my family in July. Yes, I know, it will be far too hot but that is when we have time.
    What I would like to know is, do the same “rules” about times for the Vatican Museums apply in the height of summer, too? Is Thursday also a good day in July?

  12. Grace says:

    Hi Ron ! Thanks for great website ! We want to visit the Vatican on Wednesday 6 June! Is it a holiday? Should we do ” skip the line ”

    Would really appreciate your advice ! Thanks


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