The idea of visiting the Vatican for a family trip or even when traveling solo may seem like a great idea. Cut to you standing in a sea of tourists including screaming children on an exceptionally hot Italian day. There’s nothing worse than dealing with crowds when traveling, so check out our list of tips to make your day in Vatican City a bit easier.
There’s not just one thing to do at the Vatican. There are several museums to explore like the Pio Christian Museum, the Gregorian Egyptian Art Museum and the Classical Antiquities. These museums date back to the 1500s and the architecture is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. You can explore the Vatican on your own easily, but if you have a family in tow you’ll definitely want to see our tips for making this experience a bit more palatable. As with all travel, you want to be flexible. Sticking to a strict itinerary while traveling usually doesn’t make for the most pleasant trip.
1. What’s the price?
The price for entering the Vatican (and this includes all museums as well) is about 15 euros. For students, getting into the Vatican is only 8 euros and unlike many other places in Italy, you’re likely to get in the door if you look like you’re still in university. Of course we don’t suggest lying at the headquarters of a religion. If you’re a college student, be sure to bring your ID just in case they check (plus you’ll need it to get other student discounts throughout Italy). If you pre-book your tickets for the Vatican online, you’ll definitely need a student ID if you opt for the student discount. The Vatican tends to be the most busy on the weekends, Mondays and holidays. On these days, you’ll want to show up early, but expect some waiting no matter how early you get there.
2. Avoid Free Sundays at the Vatican
The Vatican is open from 9 AM to 6 PM which has reduced lines in recent years. On the last Sunday of every month the Vatican is free, so on this day you can expect the longest lines. 2-3 hour waits are normal on Sundays, so be warned. You may be able to pop in and have a shorter 20-45 minute wait, but that’s if you have the time and luxury of popping back and forth to check on the line. There are horror stories of folks waiting for up to 4 hours and never getting in, so keep in mind that this is a possibility on Free Sundays. Aside from the waiting, if you do get in, you may be rushed since the museums close at 2 PM on Sunday. There will be hurried crowds, so if you want to move at your own pace, spend the 15 euros and make the visit worth your while.
3. Avoid the Vatican if the Pope is in town
On Wednesdays if the Pope is in town avoid the Vatican at all costs. Of course if it’s your life’s goal to see the Pope perform a service, you can try your luck at getting in and wait in line, but it may be a cattle call once the service begins. A massive crowd is always there when the Pope is in town.
4. Go mid-day to the Vatican
This seems to be when the Vatican is the least busy in terms of waiting in line. Yes, you may still encounter crowds once you’re inside and going through the museums, but you won’t be waiting outside in the heat (should it be during hot weather). On weekdays and Saturdays, lines seem to calm down around 11 AM and stay this way until mid-afternoon. After that, the crowd that wants to close their day with the Vatican trickles in and it gets swamped.
5. “Skip the Line” tickets
These tickets are sold by the Vatican to official vendors. In recent years these “Skip the Line” tickets have also been available to the public. These tickets cost a bit more (not much) and allow you to skip to the front of the line. The tickets can be purchased online or at the Vatican ticket office. Keep in mind “Skip the Line” tickets are common knowledge and purchased by many tourists, so don’t expect VIP treatment because you’re shelling out a few more bucks. Beware that many unofficial vendors sell “Skip the Line” tickets, but we don’t suggest buying them from those outlets. There are many scams out there and you may end up without tickets in the end, which could throw off your trip if you’re visiting Rome with the intentions of visiting the Vatican. If you have flexibility in your trip, try your luck on a weekday at noon (or around that time) and if you can’t get in, then spring for the “Skip the Line” tickets.
6. Be careful with tours
Official tours are great, but be sure your vendor has purchased “Skip the Line” tickets before signing up for the tour. You don’t want to snag a tour deal and then find out you’ll have to wait in a ridiculously long line. You can check out reviews of tours on TripAdvisor to get a feel for what people experienced when participating in a guided tour.