On your visit to Rome, the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and its world-famous museums will likely be near the top of your list of places to visit in Rome. And with good reason. Standing in front of the impressive Renaissance church, you might have to reset your conception of what a church should look like. The museums’ papal collection of art can send even the most art-resistant into awe: there’s the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, the Raphael Rooms, the Apollo Belvedere, the Laocoön, and I could go on and on. But because everyone who heads to Rome will at some point head to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s good to know when is the best time to go. So read on!
The slowest months for tourism in Rome are the colder ones (excluding the Christmas and New Years holidays): late November to early December, mid-January to the end of February. So that means these months are the best months to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Unless you’ve booked a special early-bird tour, it would be impossible to view the Sistine Chapel under similar uncrowded conditions. And while you will not have the place to yourself, you will at least be able to get a wooden seat and enjoy the ceiling without too much jostling. The rest of the museums are a joy to visit during these months too as you can certainly have some private time with a statue of Augustus or a Muse.
The museums are closed on Sundays with the exception of the last Sunday of every month when from 9 am to 12:30 pm the entrance is free. This Sunday closure means that all the weekenders head to the museums on Saturday morning—so if you have a week in Rome, avoid Saturday at the Vatican. Friday could just be the best day to go, with Tuesday and Thursday coming in at a close second. Wednesdays are popular at the Vatican because the Pope hosts a papal audience at St. Peter’s Square in the mornings. Friday in the summer (from May to October) is also a good day at the Vatican because the museums are open from 19:00 to 23:00. Reservations are required, so check the official Vatican site before you go if a late-night at the museums interests you.
For some reason most people head to the Vatican Museums in the morning, so if you want to avoid the lines, do the opposite and go in the early afternoon. Right around lunch time, the marbled halls start slowing down and it’s not uncommon to be able to walk right in at 15:00 (and you won’t have to wait at all at 15:00 on a Friday afternoon in January). The ticket windows close at 16:00, with the museums themselves closing at 18:00. The staff starts clearing everyone out at about 17:30. Keep these times in mind if you are going in the afternoon as it does take awhile to get to the Sistine Chapel and you probably don’t want to rush once you’ve made it all the way there.
N.B. Of course you can forget all this nonsense and buy your ticket online. With your Vatican ticket in hand you can skip the queues. If the people standing in the long line skirting the Vatican walls give you glaring looks as they fry in the sun, just ignore them as you are right to go to the front where you show your ticket and go quickly inside.
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